By Annette Hinkle
Food is a powerful memory trigger. There are certain scents and flavors that possess the ability to transport us back in time — to the kitchen of a favorite aunt, for example, or the first apartment we shared with a significant other.
The “God’s Love We Deliver Cookbook” is all about food and those emotional ties that bind. Beyond being simply a collection of cooking instructions, this book, both literally and metaphorically, is a recipe for love — 75 of them to be exact. The recipes within come from a wide spectrum of well-known individuals, from artists and musicians to actors and chefs, and each recipe includes a short story explaining why the dish is so meaningful in the life of its contributor.
The book is the brainchild of part-time Sag Harbor resident Jon Gilman and 100 percent of sales goes to “God’s Love We Deliver,” the Manhattan-based non-profit for which it is named. The secular organization began serving meals to HIV patients in 1985 at the height of the AIDS crisis. Today, it has an army of 10,000 volunteers who each week prepare and deliver 6,000 freshly made meals throughout the New York City area to individuals suffering from any one of more than 200 diagnoses, including Alzheimer’s, ALS and cancer.
Mr. Gilman has been on the board of “God’s Love We Deliver,” for 10 years and he knows the food business. For nearly three decades, he owned and operated Taste Caterers in Manhattan and in a recent interview at his Sag Harbor home, which he shares with husband Brad Learmonth, Mr. Gilman explained how the book came about.
It all began with Mr. Gilman’s close friend, Christopher Idone, founder of Glorious Foods catering in New York and the author of several cookbooks of his own.
“About three years ago, we were here having dinner,” recalls Mr. Gilman. “It was the end of summer and I was telling Christopher that my favorite part of cookbooks is the introduction. Who is this person? Why are they writing this cookbook and what’s their background?”
During the conversation, Mr. Gilman’s blackberry cobbler started bubbling over in the oven and the smell of caramelized sugar and berry juices filled the air of his home.
“I said, ‘Just smelling this brings me back to my childhood,’” explains Mr. Gilman. “I grew up in Seattle where blackberries were rampant. Christopher said ‘I’d love to do a book about food and memory. Food connects us in so many ways.’”
Mr. Gilman was immediately on board and was excited about the idea of creating a cookbook to benefit “God’s Love We Deliver.” He thought a compilation of stories along with recipes would be a unique take on the familiar format. He also felt the project would be an ideal way to keep Mr. Idone’s spirits high in the midst of his battle with terminal illness.
“This was three years ago, and Christopher had been diagnosed with cancer. I thought this would be an amazing project,” explains Mr. Gilman. “Instead of watching his body deteriorate, this would be something for him to focus on.”
“It started that night in this house. I wrote up a paragraph about what I thought the book could be,” adds Mr. Gilman who contacted friends, acquaintances and former clients to line up contributors and raise money for the book’s publication. Through his years in the food business and his involvement with “God’s Love We Deliver,” Mr. Gilman has developed an impressive list of people he could count on to be involved.
“Isabella Rossellini is a friend, I called and asked if she’d consider it, she said ‘I’m on board,’” recalls Mr. Gilman. “Also Danny Meyer, we know him through ‘God’s love we Deliver.’ Ina Garten as well. We all know how busy she is and she said ‘I’ll help anyway I can.’”
In fact, Ms. Garten signed on to write the introduction of the book and Mr. Gilman notes that in selecting participants for the project, it was important they represent a range of fields. In the end, he got just that. Contributors include chef Mario Batali, artists April Gornik and Eric Fischl, choreographer and dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, designer Michael Kors, musicians Laurie Anderson, Cindy Lauper and Roseanne Cash, writers Jon Robin Baitz and Adam Gopnik, and performers such as Meryl Streep and Jennifer Hudson.
“I learned through this process if you don’t ask you don’t get, and you have to be persistent,” says Mr. Gilman.
As the recipes poured in, Mr. Gilman’s Sag Harbor home was turned into a test kitchen
“Most all of them are very good, some are incredible,” says Mr. Gilman. “We cooked everything here. When we started off, Christopher was getting sicker and was less able to help me.”
“He gave me the courage to take on the project, but he was unable to do much after the first few months.”
Beyond the recipes, Mr. Gilman was struck by the memories that participants shared —cooking with parents or grandparents, for example, or an indelible childhood memory.
“There were also stories of courtship and meeting a wife or partner, plus kitchen disasters,” says Mr. Gilman who explains that the late Joan Rivers shared the tale of her only dinner party, which went so horribly awry, she never ventured into the kitchen again.
“There are also some sad stories about food nurturing people and how meaningful it is toward the end of life or in times of crisis,” he adds. “It was very symbolic around Christopher. He got more and more sick and had to go into hospice. He moved out of his apartment. My husband and I would cook in Sag Harbor and on our way home on Sunday we would bring him dinner.”
“He was a foodie,” says Mr. Gilman. “He spent a year and a half in hospice and even in that predicament, he would crave bay scallops. He was so happy when we brought those, or some leek soup or whatever was in season.”
Mr. Idone died last spring just as the book was going to press. Though he didn’t live to see its publication, he was able to see the galleys, which Mr. Gilman reports made him very happy.
Now, Mr. Gilman has some wonderful memories of sharing his love of food through an important project with a good friend. Christopher Idone’s own contributions to the book is a simple one — deviled eggs, from his 1985 book “Glorious American Food.”
“He wrote a beautiful story about going to the chicken coop for his grandmother every morning to gather the eggs and how the simplest things like that are heaven,” notes Mr. Gilman. “For me, what’s so poignant is that my relationship with him was based on this. Every time I drive up to Redwood to pick up eggs at the stand there, I think of him.”
On Saturday, December 10 at 5 p.m., Jon Gilman will be at BookHampton in East Hampton (41 Main Street) to share stories from “God’s Love We Deliver Cookbook.” Joining him will be contributor and writer Philip Galanes, author of the Social Q’s column in The New York Times. The book is also available in Sag Harbor at Canio’s Books (290 Main Street) and Harbor Books (20 Main Street). It sells for $50 and 100 percent of proceeds benefits “God’s Love We Deliver.” For more information, visit godslovecookbook.com.