Didriks had the pleasure of participating in a charity book signing event last night with cookbook author Joanne Chang and novelist Gish Jen, two women who attended Harvard on the fast track to a conventional career, and made left turns in their professional lives to become who they are today. Following a toast to their recent literary accomplishments, for which Didriks donated sets of Orrefors Balans champagne flutes for them to take home, they interviewed each other on their careers and their philosophies on life, vocation, and writing and cooking. Joanne Chang graduated with a degree in Applied Mathematics, only to leave her job as a management consultant two years later to go to work in restaurant kitchens, including Jody Adams' Rialto (who was also there). In 2000 she opened Flour. The bakery now has three locations. In 2007 she opened Myers + Chang, serving a menu inspired by Taiwanese and Southeast Asian street food. Her new cookbook Flour collects many of her bakery's recipes, which I had the pleasure of sampling last night.
After attending Harvard, Gish Jen moved onto Stanford Business School, where she attended very little class and soon dropped out to pursue an MFA at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her latest novel World and Town takes place in a small Vermont town where a Chinese-American retired school teacher copes with family conflicts, the return of a lost love, and new neighbors--Cambodian refugees traumatized by the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime. Acclaimed by critics, The Boston Globe's Richard Eder said "World and Town is lavish with acutely drawn incidents and characters...An imaginatively questioning and shrewdly written novel of our times."
Proceeds from the book sales benefited the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence, but the party didn't feel like a charity event, but rather a gathering of friends and acquaintances enjoying delicious food and listening to two luminaries offer fascinating and humorous bits of wisdom and autobiographical anecdotes. Gish Jen joked about how her mother wouldn't speak with her for a year after she dropped out of Stanford. Both described how their parents only finally saw their respective careers as legitimate when they received press mentions.
The food included a spread of hors d'œuvre by Ginger Park's Patricia Yeo, a table of cookies, pastries, tarts, and cupcakes from Flour, and treats baked from recipes in Joanne Chang's book by guest bakers. These guests included some folks from how2heroes.com and one of the host's fourteen-year-old daughter, who's cooking her way through Flour.
Perhaps even more beautiful than these desserts is the home the signing was hosted in (pictured below). Once a small school, architect Maryann Thompson re-designed the existing structure as a family residence, integrating it with a substantial backyard through a fantastic series of balconies, decks, and terraces that from through the house and into the yard.