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Claudia Fleming Transcript

 “The Pastry Pro’s Pasty Pro, Claudia Fleming”

Carla Lalli Music: Hi I'm Carla Lalli Music and you're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe.

Kerry Diamond: Hi Bombesquad. Welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe, the number one female focused food podcast in the universe. I'm your host Kerry Diamond. Today's show is a personal thrill for me. Earlier this year, I sat down with Claudia Fleming, the wildly influential pastry chef and author of The Last Course, the cult cookbook that has been out of print until now. Claudia's book, which she wrote with Bombesquad favorite, Melissa Clark has been reissued. And she's here to tell us what she's been up to. Thank you to our sponsors Le Cordon Bleu culinary schools and Emmi cheese from Switzerland. Show them some love because they love the Bombesquad and make our show possible.

Kerry Diamond: Before we get to this all star episode, let's do some housekeeping. Miami, we are headed your way for the next op on the Radio Cherry Bombe food for thought tour. We'll be at chef Lorena Garcia's new restaurant Chica on Monday, November 18, to talk to some of the women changing the Miami food scene. It's our very first Florida event, and we can't wait to hang with the Florida Bombesquad. Tickets are $30 and includes snacks drinks and the live podcast recording. For tickets and more information, visit If you don't live near Miami, tell your foodie Florida friends who do. Thank you to Kerrygold for supporting our tour.

Kerry Diamond: Before we get to my conversation with Claudia, let's hear a word from our pals at Emmi. Hey Bombesquad, let's talk about Emmi cheese from Switzerland. Emmi's beautiful variety of cheeses are crafted from the freshest milk from local Swiss farms. One of our favorites, is Emmi Raclette. It's a fabulous cheese that you can grill or melt over your favorite foods. Or, you could take a page from Erin McDowell, author of The Fearless Baker cookbook and the upcoming book on pie, and to make her pear and Raclette stuffed french toast, made with thick slices of brioche, sauteed pears and lots of Emmi Raclette. It's a delicious way to spice up breakfast or brunch at home. Or how about some of Erin's holiday baking recipes. There's her skillet citrus almond danish with gooey Raclette caramel. The showstopper combines flavors are bright blood orange, almond cream, and a truly rich caramel sauce made with nutmeg and Emmi Raclette.

Kerry Diamond: If you are looking for a new recipe to wow them with this season, look no further. You can find these recipes and more at And you can find Emmi's delicious cheeses from Switzerland, the ones with a distinctive blue and red logo, at your favorite grocery store or cheesemonger.

Claudia Fleming: The Last Course is coming back. So it wasn't The Last Course?

Claudia Fleming: No, no, thankfully. Thankfully it was not.

Kerry Diamond: It's the next Last Course?

Claudia Fleming: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: So tell us how the new one is different from the original, which came out in 2001.

Claudia Fleming: I know. It's not really different. And it was explained to me that because it's not digital, that it was just cost prohibitive to make many changes. So, they basically just changed the cover.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, great. Okay, so all the gold that's in there-

Claudia Fleming: It's all the same.

Kerry Diamond: It's all the same?

Claudia Fleming: It's all the same.

Kerry Diamond: Okay, great. So, you worked on this with Melissa Clark?

Claudia Fleming: I did.

Kerry Diamond: Like we said, back in 2001. Before she was the cookbook queen.

Claudia Fleming: Exactly. I mean, that could never happen today.

Kerry Diamond: How did you two cross paths?

Claudia Fleming: At that time, the New York Times was running a series whereby they would choose a chef and do six weeks, I think it was of recipes. And Melissa was the co-writer. So she was my co-writer, and we just hit it off. She's just wonderful. Just wonderful. She is just like a shining star.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, we love her, here at Cherry Bombe. So the cookbook is back, you are back, in a way. I mean, even though you were in Long Island, you probably felt like you were many countries away.

Claudia Fleming: Yes, you are. When you're outside of the metropolitan area, you're all but dead.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah, yeah.

Claudia Fleming: I mean, you know, people are like, "What are you doing?" I'm like, "I run a restaurant." Like it's not like I'm not doing anything. So, but because it's not in New York, it's just not recognized as much as things here are.

Kerry Diamond: So we always love to start at the beginning. And you did not set out to become the pastry chefs' pastry chef?

Claudia Fleming: No I did not.

Kerry Diamond: You set out to become a dancer?

Claudia Fleming: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: So can you tell us how this young girl growing up in Long Island decided that she was going to be a dancer?

Claudia Fleming: Yeah. You know, I asked my mom that later in life. I'm like, "Mom, why did I go to ballet classes?" She said, "Because that's what you did. You sent your girl to ballet classes and you just took to it. So we just kept sending you." And I developed a passion for it and just kept going, and took it as far as I could, which wasn't very far.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. Were you baking and taking ballet you were little?

Claudia Fleming: No. No.

Kerry Diamond: With mom, baking grandma, dad?

Claudia Fleming: It's funny because, you know, obviously I've listened to a lot of the podcasts and I am so not that kid that grew up by her grandma or mom side helping bake this and the other thing. That was not me, I was dancing. But I did grow up in an Italian family where food was extremely important. And good food was just to be gotten always. Always we just had good food. We never had frozen or canned vegetables. And so, wholesome delicious food was part of my life.

Kerry Diamond: Who cooked at home?

Claudia Fleming: Mom.

Kerry Diamond: And was she from Italy or?

Claudia Fleming: No, my grandmother was.

Kerry Diamond: Okay.

Claudia Fleming: And my grandmother during the depression worked, which was very unusual. And my mother had two sisters, and they did all the housework and the cooking. And, my mom just became a really great cook. And she did like to bake as well.

Kerry Diamond: Did grandma live with you?

Claudia Fleming: No, no, but we saw her every week. And when she came to visit, she'd bring fennel and pomegranates. Those are my two favorite things.

Kerry Diamond: It was exotic for back then.

Claudia Fleming: I know.

Kerry Diamond: I don't think I ate a pomegranate until I was like, my 30s.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah, I know. That's what I mean. So the good food was always around and unusual things were around.

Kerry Diamond: That's amazing. Tell us the next step. So you decide you want to pursue this professionally, and you come to Manhattan?

Claudia Fleming: I come to Manhattan. My sister is the most nurturing, wonderful, giving, generous person ever. She's 10 years my senior. And when I was 15, as my birthday present that year, she invited me to live with her. She lived in Manhattan, and she paid for my dance classes. I know. Like what 25 year old wants their 15 year old sister living with them all summer. My sister-

Kerry Diamond: Wow, that's really nice.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah. So I would take the bus to Lincoln Center every day and take classes at ABT, go to the library after classes and just read, read, read all about dancing and stuff. And so she was really super encouraging. But then, you know, I was in high school and I just kept taking classes, blah, blah. I mean, I was decent, but I wasn't going to be an ABT or city ballet or-

Kerry Diamond: But did you know that at the time?

Claudia Fleming: I think I did.

Kerry Diamond: Okay.

Claudia Fleming: I think I did. Yeah. I mean, all you have to do is look around the class and, you know, my legs aren't dancer legs. So, she found a school in Hartford. It was affiliated with the Hartford ballet, and it was a teacher training program. So I enrolled in that and learned and got certified to teach, which I really had no interest in. So, one of my instructors there was from New York. And while I was there, I got very interested in modern dance because, again, my body type is not ballerina, it's much more suited for modern dance. After school, I came to New York to dance with Janet Garrison, that's her name, and pick up performances here and there. But it was the 80s and it was a little crazy and I was not as dedicated as one needs to be or talented enough. I mean, just you at a certain point, you have to just say, okay, this is not going to go anywhere for me.

Kerry Diamond: So what were you doing to make ends meet?

Claudia Fleming: I was working in restaurants. And I loved it.

Kerry Diamond: Waitressing?

Claudia Fleming: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: You loved it?

Claudia Fleming: I loved it.

Kerry Diamond: You were a waitress at the early Union Square, right?

Claudia Fleming: Jams was my first.

Kerry Diamond: Jams was your first-

Claudia Fleming: Well, Jams wasn't my first, Jams was my first you know-

Kerry Diamond: Good place?

Claudia Fleming: Great restaurant. Yeah. Yeah. And that was transformative. I mean, that was incredible. Jonathan was-

Kerry Diamond: Jonathan Waxman was-

Claudia Fleming: Freshman of, you know, from Alice Waters and Michael McCartney. And he came east to open the first California restaurant, California style restaurant. And it was super exciting. I mean, anybody who is anybody was there like Mick Jagger, Robert Redford. It was nuts. And so fun. It was just fun. Like the pace and the-

Kerry Diamond: How were the tips?

Claudia Fleming: They were great. They were great. It was a good living. It was a really good living.

Kerry Diamond: So you catch the restaurant bug?

Claudia Fleming: I catch it hard, yeah. But, was really attracted to working in the kitchen, for whatever reason.

Kerry Diamond: Who gave you Your first break? How do you go from front of house to back of the house?

Claudia Fleming: Well, I told Jonathan I thought maybe I wanted to cook, and he said, "Well come into the kitchen and, you know, see if you like it." And, you know, Jonathan was way ahead of his time and he ... The three women who ran, basically ran the kitchen, there were women, which was a little unheard of in the mid 80s. And they were super encouraging and very inspirational to me.

Kerry Diamond: Did you gravitate immediately toward pastry?

Claudia Fleming: Not at all.

Kerry Diamond: Okay.

Claudia Fleming: No, I wanted to be a cook. And I went to Peter Kump's, and at that time it was in a two story Brownstone-

Kerry Diamond: The only cooking school back then.

Claudia Fleming: ... on 94th Street.

Kerry Diamond: The only school.

Claudia Fleming: Yes, yes. And it was ramshackle and it was funny. It was a very quirky little place. And it was, I don't know, a two month course, a three month course. I don't know, it was something silly like that. And then I went to Union Square, but again as a server because as we've just mentioned, it's a good living. It's hard to make the transition from front of the house to back of the house.

Kerry Diamond: It's still is.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: But that was an epic time to be at Union Square.

Claudia Fleming: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Danny's first restaurant the time, still he has only one probably, right?

Claudia Fleming: Oh, yes. Yeah, for that until Gramercy Tavern. It was only one. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: What was that like in the early days?

Claudia Fleming: Completely transformative. I mean, he is, as we know, a genius. And the whole hospitality ... I mean, at that time, it was still a very French scene or fine dining was French. And a super hospitable not, highbrow server wasn't the norm.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah, he was codifying modern American hospitality.

Claudia Fleming: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. And it was cool. It was fun. Like you could be yourself. And if you like to make people happy, then that was all you needed to do. And luckily for me, he recognized that in me and is pretty great at recognizing that in everybody or anyone who has it. And so it was just a group of super warm, nurturing, loving people trying to make people happy, creating memories as we say.

Kerry Diamond: How did you wind up back of house there?

Claudia Fleming: Asked Michael Romano if I could and he said, "Of course." And I started in garde manger.

Kerry Diamond: Explain to people what that mean, who don't know the Birgade system.

Claudia Fleming: The salad station.

Kerry Diamond: Which wasn't as glamorous as it sounds, right?

Claudia Fleming: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: Okay, so you're doing garde manger.

Claudia Fleming: Doing garde manger.

Kerry Diamond: When does the seed, the pastry seed get planted?

Claudia Fleming: Well, it's going to take a little bit longer to get there. But my personal life is now in crisis. And I want to leave New York. It's summer. I don't want to spend another summer in stinky, dirty hot New York. So I reach out to a friend from Jams.

Kerry Diamond: Which it was in the 80s. That's another thing.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Stinky, dirty.

Claudia Fleming: Stinky, dirty. Oh, gosh! It was bad. And he hooks me up with a friend in Colorado in Aspen, where I can go to work for the summer. Why not? Right? So I go to Aspen for the summer and I come back to Union Square and Michael says to me, "Well, I don't really, I don't have anything on the savory side of the kitchen, but the pastry chef needs an assistant, interested?" I'm like, "Sure, sure you know, until you have something I can slip into I'll learn anything. Of course." That was it. I never left. But, I was older. I started cooking much older and-

Kerry Diamond: Do you mind saying what, how old you were when the pastry thing started?

Claudia Fleming: Oh, 33. I was-

Kerry Diamond: Wow. Okay.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: So that's very encouraging for everybody listening who ... We've a lot of career changers.

Claudia Fleming: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: Out there are people who would love to go work in the food industry.

Claudia Fleming: Oh yes.

Kerry Diamond: I feel like a lot of people think if you don't have it figured out by the time you're in your early 20s, but that's not the case ever.

Claudia Fleming: No, no. Especially if you come, I mean, I refer to myself as a restaurant rat. So like, if you've come up in the restaurant industry, it's a little different than if you're coming from publishing or marketing or those other things that are not quite as grueling physically as a restaurant is. And also having the dance background whereby, you know, just physically I'm strong. And can stand for 12, 14 hours a day, and it's not that, well it didn't used to be that big a deal. It's getting to be a bigger deal now. So I'm 31 and the guys on the line are like 19. And they're throwing [explicit] and playing with fire and knives, like that's scary. I'm like, "You know, I'm going to stay here."

Kerry Diamond: Did you have an affinity for it at that point?

Claudia Fleming: No. I didn't.

Kerry Diamond: Was the thing just coming together magically?

Claudia Fleming: Mm-mm (negative)-

Kerry Diamond: No?

Claudia Fleming: No. I was just like learning and absorbing and, I have to say that when I was in Aspen, the person I was living with had a copy of Nancy Silverton's first pastry book. And that also contributed to my enthusiasm to want to jump into pastry, because I read it backwards and forwards inside and out. And to this day, she is still my idol. I just think she's the greatest ever.

Kerry Diamond: It's so interesting you say that because we did a baker special and surveyed all these pastry chefs and bakers and ask them who their baking hero is and Nancy Silverton was the number one.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah. I mean, there's no one like her.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Claudia Fleming: I mean, she's just, she's a genius. There's just, hands down. And ironically, the guy that was doing pastry at Jams had been her assistant back in LA.

Kerry Diamond: We need to do a little Nancy-

Claudia Fleming: Family tree.

Kerry Diamond: Tree of influence.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah, absolutely.

Kerry Diamond: Well, because you never worked for her.

Claudia Fleming: No, I didn't. Came very close. Not to work for her. Okay, we'll tell that part later. That comes later.

Kerry Diamond: So what I'm curious about is when did you start to put together your vocabulary? Because what-

Claudia Fleming: Not till Gramercy.

Kerry Diamond: Not till Gramercy?

Claudia Fleming: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Okay.

Claudia Fleming: I mean, and I think that, that's, like this is very important. In that you don't get to do that right away. If you do, you're very lucky. But working in restaurants is not about being creative. It's about learning your craft and practicing and getting right, and doing it wrong, and learning how to fix it.

Kerry Diamond: And consistency.

Claudia Fleming: And consistency and efficiency.

Kerry Diamond: Because if you have a regular, they want it to taste the same.

Claudia Fleming: The same every time. Yeah, a restaurant is nothing if it's not consistent. It's probably the number one, you know, most important thing in being a successful restaurant is consistency.

Kerry Diamond: So when I said vocabularies I meaning like, the things that you became, you were well known for.

Claudia Fleming: That wouldn't happened for five, six, seven, eight years.

Kerry Diamond: Okay.

Claudia Fleming: I never dared to try to do my own stuff, until I was encouraged by Tom to do it. You know, working in restaurants will give you a very stylized version of what desserts are. So, I'm at Union Square, and I'm there for a while and also in between my working in front of the house at Union Square and working on the floor at night, I was staging at Monche also. And so Drew was opening Tribeca Grill, and he asked me if I wanted to join the opening team there. So I went, I left Union Square to go to Tribeca Grill. And my late husband Gerry Hayden, was the pastry chef, sous chef there. So-

Kerry Diamond: We're Danny and Drew friends. Was that an okay move?

Claudia Fleming: I think so.

Kerry Diamond: Okay.

Claudia Fleming: I think-

Kerry Diamond: We all know how competitive it was back then.

Claudia Fleming: It is competitive. But I think that one of the most generous things about working in a restaurant, is the recognition that you need to move around and learn. Because, as I said, it's very stylized. So you're learning particular styles and particular things. And so when I went to Tribeca, and learned all of Gerry's desserts, I knew how to make those desserts. Did I necessarily have a good grasp of basics? I didn't feel I did. So I wanted a more fundamental education. And so I went to France and worked in pastry shops. And those pastries haven't changed for hundreds of years.

Kerry Diamond: Were you at Fauchon?

Claudia Fleming: I was at Fauchon, yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Now famous for their Eclairs.

Claudia Fleming: I had a French boyfriend who, I was working in a little tiny shop, and one day he comes to visit me after work and he's like, "Come on, I got you a stage at Fauchon." I'm like, "What?" To this day, no idea how he did it, but there I was working at Fauchon.

Kerry Diamond: And did you work there when Pierre was there?

Claudia Fleming: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: Wow.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: That's fun.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah, it was fun.

Kerry Diamond: Was he doing macarons?

Claudia Fleming: No, not yet.

Kerry Diamond: Not yet.

Claudia Fleming: His-

Kerry Diamond: He went to Laduree after-

Claudia Fleming: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: ... that right?

Claudia Fleming: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: Okay.

Claudia Fleming: And that's when the macarons, Pierre macaron became very famous. Then it was what they refer to as entremet, which are those gorgeous, well, cakes basically, with mousse and cake and all kinds of beautiful designs.

Kerry Diamond: So what did you learn in Paris?

Claudia Fleming: I learned a lot about what I didn't want to do.

Kerry Diamond: Which was?

Claudia Fleming: Those beautiful, perfect cakes and classic. I mean, they're necessary, it's necessary to know those techniques, but they seemed not as organic to me as what I was attracted to. So both Nancy and Lindsey Shere from Chez Panisse were my two to go to cookbooks. They were just more American visions of pastry and it just made more sense to me. I don't know I-

Kerry Diamond: It's so interesting how all these things are kind of coming together. So you started in ballet, gravitated to modern dance. You know, you started in restaurants, you were at Jams and Union Square, which really were, like we said, the start of modern American dining in a way, that plus Shere Panisse and obviously with Nancy and other people were doing in LA. So it's no surprise you go to Paris and to learn the basics, and you're like I want to do modern American dessert.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah. That's very interesting. Thank you for pointing that out. Yeah, that's great.

Kerry Diamond: We'll be right back with Claudia Fleming after this quick break.

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Kerry Diamond: And we're back with Claudia Fleming. So you spend a little time there though?

Claudia Fleming: Yeah, almost a year. Yeah. It was cool. But, you know, Fauchon is a factory basically. They were like 30 guys and me.

Kerry Diamond: We romanticize it so much.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: You know.

Claudia Fleming: But there are literally like 30 guys, and me. And then I was 33. And it's like, who's the grandma? Like, nobody talked to me. It was painful for a long time. I remember the first time I got invited out for coffee, it was so exciting. But it's not like I stayed friends with anybody. You know, I came and went.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Claudia Fleming: And then I came home and floundered for a little while, did some catering and stuff, and then got a call from Danny and saying that he was going to open this new American restaurant.

Kerry Diamond: And that was such a big deal?

Claudia Fleming: Such a big deal.

Kerry Diamond: Now, I mean you look at the eater list of restaurants opening and it's like, oh my God, like 100 restaurants opening each season but back then that was a moment.

Claudia Fleming: And I don't know if you remember the New York Magazine cover with, it was a white cover with four black stars on it. You know, the next four star restaurant, question mark. And so-

Kerry Diamond: The pressure.

Claudia Fleming: ... the pressure is on. There was no such thing as an American four star restaurant. It didn't exist.

Kerry Diamond: Wow. I have goosebumps just hearing. It's amazing.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah, I mean, we were all like Holy F-

Kerry Diamond: You were the head pastry chef right?

Claudia Fleming: Eh... I was... eh...

Claudia Fleming: That is such a non answer.

Claudia Fleming: Because it was such a non ... I mean, Tom will tell you, he did not want somebody who had a strong style. And like, I know that he was considering Richard Leitch. But Richard was not malleable anymore. He had his own style.

Kerry Diamond: So this was Tom Colicchio who in case you think he was, he came out of the womb and went right to Top Chef. That's not the case.

Claudia Fleming: Right. Not exactly, no. So I did his desserts for a long time. And then slowly but surely evolved into doing mine.

Kerry Diamond: So tell us the signatures of a Claudia Fleming desert.

Claudia Fleming: Well, back then it was at least three components on the plate, something warm, something cold, something crispy, something soft, something creamy, like just all this stuff. I had 10 people in the pastry department. Like it was nuts. But now we have two, me and somebody else.

Kerry Diamond: Provided they don't call in sick.

Claudia Fleming: Yes. Or have to go to a birthday party or someone's anniversary or get a flat tire or-

Kerry Diamond: Any life event.

Claudia Fleming: Oh my god.

Kerry Diamond: Wow. 10 people in the pastry?

Claudia Fleming: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Wow.

Claudia Fleming: I'm pretty sure they have that now.

Kerry Diamond: What were the things you couldn't take off the menu back then?

Claudia Fleming: The tatin. You know, winter or fall. It was apple, winter it was banana. Summer it was peach.

Kerry Diamond: Did you serve it with ice cream?

Claudia Fleming: Yes, yes. And originally that, you know, because we opened in July it was peach. And, Tom insisted on the, you know, that was it. It had black pepper ice cream. It was the days of herbs finding their way into desserts. Gael Greene hated it then, she hates it now, she has no bones about telling you. And she would say to me, "Why do you putting [explicit] I that stuff." I don't know, because that's people ... It's a trend, I'm exploring. I don't know.

Kerry Diamond: For those of you who don't know that name, she is the legendary restaurant critic, back then.

Claudia Fleming: From New York Magazine, yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. And she would come in these like disguises, but now that I think about it, you probably all knew it was her. These giant hats.

Claudia Fleming: Giant hats.

Kerry Diamond: Right, right. And no one wear hats back then.

Claudia Fleming: A big red hat. Great disguise.

Kerry Diamond: Oh my God, I can just imagine.

Claudia Fleming: No but, like would tell you just straight up how it was. Didn't sugarcoat anything.

Kerry Diamond: So how were you incorporating herbs into the dessert?

Claudia Fleming: Well, for me the easiest way to do that was always through ice cream or creams because they're, they can absorb flavor. Fat absorbs flavor very well. I was never crazy about having herbs on the plate. I mean, even mint, which is ubiquitous on it or was anyway on dessert plates. Who wants to eat a piece of mint? I don't know. It's kind of gross. So, I would infuse things with herb flavors, as opposed to putting the actual herb on the plate.

Kerry Diamond: Got it.

Claudia Fleming: And still do that. I still do that somewhat.

Kerry Diamond: But were you walking over to Union Square? The Union Square Greenmarket?

Claudia Fleming: Oh, yes. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, definitely. Yeah. I mean, both Tom and Danny were really instrumental in that movement. And, it stayed with me till to today. I mean, I don't go to the Greenmarket now, I go to farmers.

Kerry Diamond: Right, because you're out at the North Fork, where there are actual farms?

Claudia Fleming: Farms. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: So how long were you at Gramercy?

Claudia Fleming: Seven years, eight years.

Kerry Diamond: Wow. A long time.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah. Although, if you talk to veterans of Gramercy, people are there for 20 years man.

Kerry Diamond: Right, because Danny was one of the first in America to identify it as a career.

Claudia Fleming: Yap.

Kerry Diamond: Working in restaurants and making special-

Claudia Fleming: And treat people as if it were career. You know, vacations, weekends off, health insurance.

Kerry Diamond: Sadly still a radical idea.

Claudia Fleming: Sadly, yes.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: So let's go back for a minute to the book. So, 2001 The Last Course comes out. And, came out at a challenging time. It was right after 9/11. But it went, I don't know how the early sales were, but it went on to become an absolute classic. Was it identified as a classic back in 2001? Or did that take some time?

Claudia Fleming: I don't think so. I mean, it wasn't even nominated for anything. So, I don't know.

Kerry Diamond: And there was no Instagram.

Claudia Fleming: Right. Yeah, exactly.

Kerry Diamond: I'm sure it got some love but at, because now, I mean, the book is being reissued and we're going to talk about that. The book went out of print.

Claudia Fleming: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: And so it was selling for a ridiculous amount of money on eBay and Amazon and everywhere you could find vintage and secondhand books.

Claudia Fleming: I mean, people would contact me all the time and say, "Do you have any books?" I'm like, "No, I don't have any books. What recipe do you want? I'll give you the recipe." Like what do you want? I'll give it to you. I don't care.

Kerry Diamond: I wish I had save some books. I wish I had a few boxes in the closet.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: What was the evolution of this book?

Claudia Fleming: I wish I could say, I don't know. It just kind of happened apart from me. Like I didn't know it was happening, I didn't sense it was happening until kind of email and stuff became so crazy popular and people were emailing me all the time for the book. And I'm like, "Wow, this is really weird." But I have to say, I'm so honored that they are reissuing this book.

Kerry Diamond: That's a big deal.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Most books don't get reissued. I mean, it has to be a really major book to get that kind of treatment from a publisher.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah I know it's, it is really a great honor and I'm sort of grateful.

Kerry Diamond: When did you all decide you were going to reissue it?

Claudia Fleming: A publisher reached out to me probably last winter. And sure, if you want to reissue it, yeah I'm thrilled, delighted. Yeah, let's do it.

Kerry Diamond: And how different is the book?

Claudia Fleming: It's not. I'm different, 20 years later.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. Looking back-

Claudia Fleming: I'm very different.

Kerry Diamond: Looking back at the book, what makes you crazy? I mean, we did a Cherry Bombe cookbook, and you know what, truthfully, there's only one or two things that make me crazy in their photographs not the recipes.

Claudia Fleming: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: But, what's one thing you look back and you're like aah?

Claudia Fleming: More than one thing. Oh my God, I'm so, some things are so pretentious. I'm like, "Hey." It's such a young, you know, a young crafts person's perspective I feel like.

Kerry Diamond: But timeless. I mean, so many of these pictures.

Claudia Fleming: Well, yes, that would be the photographer. She was amazing.

Kerry Diamond: What eventually became the most popular recipe in this cookbook?

Claudia Fleming: Probably the tapioca, the chocolate caramel tart and the gingerbread. Because the gingerbread is so easy to make, people just love to make that.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Claudia Fleming: Super simple.

Kerry Diamond: What trends are you responsible for starting? Do you think? When you look back to that time at Gramercy.

Claudia Fleming: I'm going to say-

Kerry Diamond: You see things on menus still and you're like, okay, that might have been me.

Kerry Diamond: The chocolate caramel tart, for sure. Salt on chocolate, which was not me. Like I got that from Pierre, from French. They were doing it first.

Kerry Diamond: But yeah, that's so common now but back then that was radical.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah, totally.

Kerry Diamond: Salt on a chocolate chip cookie or something? Oh my God, no one did that.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah. Caramel, that's actually caramel. Like burned caramel. I remember Jeffrey Steingarten who came to Gramercy with Pierre Hermes, as a guy I really liked that but the caramel was so dark. I'm like, "Well yeah, if it's not burnt sugar it's not caramel." Caramel is like, it's not you know. He was like, "Oh, oh, okay. So it's supposed to be a little bit like that?" I said, "Yeah, it's supposed to be bitter like that. It's a balance to the super sweet sugar." Anyway.

Kerry Diamond: So you and Gerry have the idea for North Fork Table & Inn, which is this-

Claudia Fleming: He does.

Kerry Diamond: He did. Okay.

Claudia Fleming: We were both-

Kerry Diamond: It's Gerry's fault.

Claudia Fleming: It's totally his fault. We were both consulting at the time, which is not a very gratifying experience. It's like, kind of watching your children go off to school way too soon. It's like it's yours and then it's gone. And you don't get to take care of it. So yes he, it was always his dream actually to, he spent summers out on the North Fork growing up. So it was always his dream to go back there one day and open a restaurant.

Kerry Diamond: That matches the restaurant. You had a restaurant and a?

Claudia Fleming: And an inn.

Kerry Diamond: And an inn, yeah.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah, I know. Yeah. Just tack that on.

Kerry Diamond: All year round?

Claudia Fleming: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Kerry Diamond: At a place that's pretty seasonal.

Claudia Fleming: So seasonal. Who knew?

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. How were the first few years?

Claudia Fleming: Really hard. I mean, restaurants are hard. Like, no matter what.

Kerry Diamond: Did you have investors?

Claudia Fleming: Uh-huh(affirmative) We have investors. They're mostly friends and family. It's still an incredible challenge.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Claudia Fleming: It's still amazingly challenge because it, I mean it's getting more year round just because people work differently now. Like so many people can work from home so people are there maybe three or four days a week instead of just two or three days a week.

Kerry Diamond: Right. And people are moving out there and living all year round like Elizabeth Carmel who we just had on the show is living in I think Sagaponack or Amagansett?

Claudia Fleming: Oh lovely.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, the South Fork is a little more ahead of that than the North Fork, but there are more and more people moving out. A lot of the farmers out there are not, there like New York City transplants, like people who are looking for more meaningful life and more environmentally conscious and all that stuff. So there are many, many really cool new farmers in addition to the amazing farmers who have been there for generations.

Kerry Diamond: And winemakers. There's so much-

Claudia Fleming: Exactly.

Kerry Diamond: I mean, it's really, it's not an undiscovered gem, because everybody knew, knows about it now, but still, I just feel like slightly under appreciated for just how amazing everything is out there. So you go out there, it's not easy, and then your husband's diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: And for a job that's so physical.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: You know, you're not sitting at a desk all day.

Claudia Fleming: Right.

Kerry Diamond: You're on your feet.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: How did you to even start to deal with that? I can't imagine.

Claudia Fleming: I think you don't really think about it when it's happening. You just try to get through it. And the nature of the disease is such that it changes so consistently and frequently and you're always dealing with a new stage and more and more loss and more, it was just like, just trying to keep up with it was horrible.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Claudia Fleming: It's horrible.

Kerry Diamond: And running this business at the same time.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah. And his frustration and not being able to engage fully, my frustration in not being able to execute his vision adequately, it was very hard.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. Was Gerry only 50 when he passed on?

Claudia Fleming: Yeah, yeah.

Kerry Diamond: I'm so sorry.

Claudia Fleming: So he was, yeah 46 when he was diagnosed.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Claudia Fleming: Really young.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Claudia Fleming: Really young.

Kerry Diamond: I mean, in a way you two almost never got a chance to get North Fork Table & Inn off the ground and the way it deserved.

Claudia Fleming: I mean, I've been running it longer now without him than I was with him.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah, I hope I'm doing I'm proud.

Kerry Diamond: Aw. No doubt you are.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Claudia Fleming: Thanks to my partners, Mike and Mary Mraz.

Kerry Diamond: I mean, I remember when I heard that Gerry had passed away. I assumed you would close the place. What made you decide to continue? I mean, it was your life.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah, I guess there wasn't really a question.

Kerry Diamond: You never thought do I continue with this or do I close it?

Claudia Fleming: I mean, I think all the time do I continue with this, but closing just seems too-

Kerry Diamond: It's never an option?

Claudia Fleming: Like no.

Kerry Diamond: Okay.

Claudia Fleming: Just seems like giving up, I can't even imagine.

Kerry Diamond: So for those who haven't been to North work Table & Inn, tell us what's so special about the place and why they should all go visit you, ASAP.

Claudia Fleming: It's kind of magical, I have to say. You know my partner's Mike and Mary Mraz, who run the front of the house are the warmest, kindest, most welcoming people you'll ever meet. So you kind of feel like you're coming into our living room, or our dining room, and our front of the house staff is incredibly engaging and kind and sweet and very ... Danny Meyer reminiscent of Gramercy Tavern, Mary is from Gramercy as well.

Kerry Diamond: Do you make them all read Danny's book?

Claudia Fleming: Oh, yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Is that on table?

Claudia Fleming: I mean, we bought a case and gave it out for Christmas. No, I'm not kidding. We give it to every new person that starts.

Kerry Diamond: Alright, so they all got the book. They're fabulous. Tell us about the menu.

Claudia Fleming: I mean it sounds so trite now. But 15 years ago farm to table was-

Kerry Diamond: Well, you're surrounded by farms out there.

Claudia Fleming: Exactly. I mean, we kind of started it out there. And now there are just more and more farmers for us to procure amazing things from. And of course, all the wineries. 30% of our wine list is local.

Kerry Diamond: So much good local wine.

Claudia Fleming: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: So, so much has happened since the years when you were at Gramercy Tavern, just sort of-

Claudia Fleming: Life happens, right?

Kerry Diamond: Well, life happens, but you know, you were just sort of creating what it meant to be a modern American pastry chef. And then the internet happens, social media happens, all these things. And this whole world has sprung up online, around pastry, and baked goods, and what it means to be a pastry chef these days. And you in a way are really kind of the fairy godmother that a lot of people don't know that they have. I mean, have you watched this for a distance and just been amazed?

Claudia Fleming: I do, from a distance and to me and I feel kind of left, but not left behind, but I'm so behind. Because I don't, my life isn't about making dessert anymore. I'm running a business. Like the thought of taking out a camera to take a picture of something that I do is like, I can't even imagine. Like you do it and you move on. You doing it and you move. Like, there's so much to do in a day. I live my life minute to minute. And taking pictures of it, it's like really? I don't think so. If I had an assistant, maybe she would be doing it. But, I mean maybe it sounds obnoxious to say but I'm too busy to do that. It seems like kind of a luxury.

Kerry Diamond: You didn't grow up doing it.

Claudia Fleming: Not at all.

Kerry Diamond: I mean, I still struggle to sort of incorporate it. And you know, we have to do it. I mean, if you have a media business it's not, you can't separate your social media out from the other media. Do you ever just step back and look at this and be like, oh, my God, look at the seeds that I planted that Nancy planted, that Alice planted and what has sprung up out of the ground from this?

Claudia Fleming: I don't actually.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Claudia Fleming: No.

Kerry Diamond: You should take a little credit for it.

Claudia Fleming: I should. No, thank you. Thank you. But when it's your life, you tend to not, right? It's just, it's your life.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. But one of the nice things I know social media is so controversial these days, especially just like the raging dumpster fire that is Twitter. But Instagram is a different thing, and this pastry club, this like pastry squad that has-

Claudia Fleming: I'm going to check it out.

Kerry Diamond: ... that has sprung up is so supportive. I mean, I think you would be so thrilled and so proud of them, because it's lovely and supportive, and they're friends, and they're competitive in the nicest way in terms of just sort of-

Claudia Fleming: Like the great English baking chef.

Kerry Diamond: Exactly. Exactly. Like I think in their competition manifests itself in that each of them sort of inspires the other to do better and to push, and to be more creative and, you know, I yeah. I hope in the course of The Last Course, being available again, you get to meet a lot of these young women and they really get to sort of discover you and, what you gave the community.

Claudia Fleming: Thank you.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Claudia Fleming: It's really kind of you. Thank you very much.

Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you so much to Claudia Fleming for stopping by Radio Cherry Bombe. Her classic dessert cookbook, The Last Course has finally been reissued, and you need to go get a copy. If you are in Miami, come see us on Monday, November 18, at Chica for our live podcast event. Tickets are $30 and available at Thank you to Le Cordon Bleu Culinary schools and Emmi cheeses from Switzerland for supporting our show. Today's episode was recorded at the Wing SoHo. Thank you to the Wing women. Radio Cherry Bombe is edited, engineered and produced by Jess Zeidman. Cherry Bombe is powered by Audrey Payne, Maria Sanchez, Donna Yen, Kia Damon, and our publisher is Kate Miller Spencer. Our theme song is All Fired Up by the band Tralala. Thanks for listening, everybody. You're the bombe.

When Harry Met Sally Clip: I'll have what she's having.

Julia Marino: Hi, I'm Julia Marino, a food and brand marketer in Seattle, Washington. You want to know who I think is the bombe, Laura Hamilton. She's the owner of Book Larder located here in Seattle. And what she's created is so much more than just a beautiful cookbook shop. It's an intimate gathering space for lovers of food, cooking and community to come together. They host author events, cooking classes, demos, dialogues about important issues and my personal favorite, their Swedish inspired Fika Fridays. I admire how she took a leap and made a career to pursue her passions and created something that has truly become a fixture in our community.