Lidey Heuck Releases First Book ‘Cooking in Real Life’

A typical day for Lidey Heuck starts with a decent breakfast — so she doesn’t start cooking with the needle on empty. “It’s like how you shouldn’t go grocery shopping hungry. Then you’re not distracted.” She definitely needs to stay focused: In addition to developing recipes for the New York Times, Heuck has a blog, Lidey Likes, where she shares recipes, entertaining ideas, and travel stories. Her first book, Cooking in Real Life, comes out this month from Simon and Schuster. We met up in Central Park one sunny day (she brought along her adorable dog, Winkie) to talk about her philosophy, process, and career.

Lidey Heuck cuts up mushrooms on a wooden cutting board in her kitchen.

Heuck grew up watching The Barefoot Contessa after school, and loved looking through Ina Garten’s books. When she graduated college, she took a leap of faith. “I got this harebrained idea that maybe I could work for her.” Through a connection, she sent Garten a note asking if she needed help with her social media. And, as a matter of fact, Garten did. “It was crazy lucky timing.” She started three weeks after graduation and stayed for over six years.

Working with a Legend

In addition to managing social media, she did everything from helping with the shopping to recipe testing. “Because I was a new cook, I think that was actually helpful. I was like a guinea pig, just a regular person making the recipes.” Over time, her role increased. “I really liked the recipe development process and — at Ina’s encouragement — I started developing my own.”

An interior kitchen with beige walls, a wooden dresser in the back, and a table with a green printed tablecloth.

She and Garten share a philosophy about food and home cooking: that people want really simple ingredients and simple recipes that are approachable and don’t take all day — yet are still in some way remarkable. “The thing I like about her recipes, and that I try to emulate in mine, is that there’s always a twist or something special that makes you come back to it.”

Creating Recipes for a Living

During her last six months with Garten, she began to develop recipes for the Times, mostly at night and on weekends. “They were growing like crazy and I pitched them a bunch of ideas.” This, she says, helped give her the confidence to strike out on her own. “I just felt ready for a new challenge. It was time.”

A living room interior shows a wick chair, a dark brown dresser with photos on top, and a small brown and black terrier dog in front of the dresser.

Because she felt she needed restaurant experience, she reached out to Erin French, who runs The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, Maine, saying she’d prep cook or do whatever was necessary. She was scheduled to begin in June 2020. Oops. But it turned out to be a fantastic experience. The restaurant managed to stay open with outdoor seating, and to maintain a farmers’ market for its hurting vendors. “It was great to have something to do, to get out of the house. All the weirdness contributed to it being a very special time.”

Trying Something New

Her testing process, done in her home kitchen, begins with a Word document containing a sketch of a recipe, an educated guess at the ingredients, with blanks left for amounts and other details. “It’s like a backbone, which I then print out and mark up.” The blanks — two shallots, a teaspoon of salt, cook for 10 minutes — get scribbled all over the page. She tries not to over- or underexplain, preferring a middle ground “where joy and practicality meet.”

A cover of the cookbook "Cooking in Real Life" by Lidey Heuck featuring a picture of a pasta recipe in a white dish.

She enjoys working outside of her comfort zone, like when the Times asked her to develop a recipe for prime rib, not part of her usual repertoire. “People want to feel confident when they’re going to spend a bazillion dollars on a hunk of meat and don’t want to mess it up.” Living in a rural area, she understands it can be hard to find ingredients. And while she’d love to have a top-notch stove and oven, having standard appliances makes sense, because “people are going to be working with similar equipment.” Where she probably differs from her reader is that her dining room table is covered with dishes, pots, and pans. “We more often than not will eat at the kitchen counter.” And a side benefit of cooking all day? She loves leftovers.

Check out a Crispy Chicken Thighs with Leeks and Mushrooms recipe that Lidey Heuck made just for TABLE Magazine. Plus, attend her Book Launch Party for Cooking in Real Life on March 13 at Bass and Bennett.

Story by Stephen Treffinger / Photography by Tara Donne

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