Martinis, Meals and Something Found

Isabel Vincent, photographed at home. Sandy Mangold photo
Isabel Vincent, photographed at home. Sandy Mangold photo

By Michelle Trauring

For five years, Isabel Vincent’s best friend was a nonagenarian.

Her friends found that strange.

But for Vincent — an investigative journalist for the New York Post in her mid-40s, barreling out of a failed marriage — it was the most natural relationship in the world. Edward was exactly the man she needed.

Once a week, he invited her to his apartment on Roosevelt Island, where he served her the perfect martini and one of his favorite meals, all locally sourced in Manhattan and Queens, and cooked from scratch.

Jazz played softly in the background as they ate and talked about life, theater, poetry and love, she helping him as much as he was helping her. Edward had just lost his wife of 69 years, and was grappling with his will to live. He would have rather died than be without her.

After every dinner, when Vincent returned home, she would write in her journal — inspired and compelled to record every dish and every story.

This would continue for five years, and became the raw material for her book, “Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship,” which hit bookstores last year and will soon be adapted for the screen.

“At the beginning, when we first met, I think he intuitively knew something was wrong, and after I left his home, every time, I just felt so happy,” said Vincent, who will discuss her book on Saturday at Canio’s in Sag Harbor. “There was this element of joy, and I can only describe it as that. It sounds crazy, it’s a word I never would have thought I would use, but that’s how I felt — and that there was life beyond my own miserable existence, at the time.”

The pair met through Edward’s youngest daughter, who was a friend of Vincent’s in her native Toronto. When the journalist decided to move to New York — where she now splits her time between the city and Westhampton — she agreed to check on her father from time to time as a favor.

Dinner with Edward

Her first impression of Edward was his appearance. He was tall, lanky and very distinguished, she recalled. He looked, and spoke, like a true, “no-bullshit” New Yorker, she said, curse words and all.

When Edward told Vincent about his wife, Paula, and the plays they wrote together — and the poetry he wrote about her — a new side of him opened up.

“He had several copies of a colored photograph of his wife that he displayed in different places of his apartment so he could always look at her — when he was cooking, when he was reading a book, and I just thought that was really sweet,” she said. “They would give these elaborate dinners periodically, but when she died, he stopped.”

With Vincent, he found his way into the kitchen again, with his cane and all. After about a year, he hosted a dinner for his neighbors — a real cast of characters, from the Czech artist and his producer wife, to the dentist “who had lived in the building forever” and a group of Albanian refugees.

Nobody was allowed to do the dishes, Vincent recalled with a laugh. “That was his thing,” she said. “The atmosphere was so wonderful, and everyone was so impressed with him. There was greatness in that and I wanted to tell his story, and honor this person who would otherwise be anonymous — but not to the people who knew him.”

Vincent told Edward that she was writing a book, but he didn’t believe her until he held the manuscript in his hands. “Dinner with Edward” read the front cover.

“I thought you should read this,” she remembers saying, before he burst into tears.

That night would be their last sit-down dinner. He died in April 2015, just shy of his 95th birthday, Vincent said. When the book was released a year later, it was both a celebration and a memorial for the man who became her best friend.

“At the book launch, there were over 100 people there, most of them neighbors who stood up and told about their diners with Edward. It was very moving,” she said. “People would talk about martinis and food he made for them — the same kind of thing I talk about in my book, but it was multiplied by 100.

“After he read the manuscript, he sent me a letter and it said, ‘This is great, but who is going to care about my life? I’m not a celebrity, you’re not a celebrity, so who cares?’” she continued. “The crazy thing is, a lot of people care. I just wonder what he would think to know that I just received copies of the Danish edition of the book and the book’s in China, and that it’s going to come out in France and Germany, and somebody’s making a movie about it. People care. It’s one of those stories.”

These days, Vincent says she cooks all the time, often preparing the same dishes that Edward gave her — including apple galette, one of Edward’s great desserts, which she will bring to Canio’s.

“I cooked before, but now it’s really intense. I make my own sourdough bread, which takes three days. I’ve become crazy,” she said. “And every time I make an apple galette, which is a lot, I think of Edward.”

Isabel Vincent will discuss cooking and creativity, and will share a recipe for apple galette from her book, “Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship,” on Saturday, November 25, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Canio’s, located at 290 Main Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, please call (631) 725-4926.