Bob Shacochis is no stranger to achievement. His most recent novel, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, received The Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Fiction and was a finalist for the Pulitzer. He's also received a National Book Award for First Fiction, The Rome Prize in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. But perhaps the greatest of all his achievements is his long enduring relationship with his wife Barbara Petersen, known only as "Miss F" in Domesticity: A Gastronomic Interpretation of Love, his hybrid collection of essays and recipes republished by Trinity University Press in 2013. The celebrated author spoke to the Current in advance of Domesticity: A Gastronomic Evening of Love with Bob Shacochis, during which he and Petersen will engage in lively conversation to be moderated by Texas Monthly's Patricia Sharpe while students from the Culinary Institute of America prepare recipes from the book. Soon after we spoke, Shacochis sent me a photograph from a recent literary award dinner. There's blurry-handed Shacochis, caught talking mid-gesture, and there's Miss F, her smirk hinting she's heard the tale before. Together, they are perfect—the embodiment of 39 years of love, eating and storytelling.
I'm sure audiences will love to watch you and your wife bicker.
Yeah and they'll probably get to see her win ... I could have made myself anybody I wanted in [Domesticity]. I gave myself a persona that's sort of a jerk because that provides a nice tension between me and Miss F, so people are cheering her on in the book just as they might be cheering her on onstage if we have to, for the first time in our lives, bicker at a public event.
You describe the kitchen as "a workshop where sweat, and occasionally blood shall be spilled." How will you feel about culinary students whipping up your recipes?
If your kitchen involves sweat and blood, what's your writing process like?
Sweatier and bloodier. Both take the same amount of intense concentration. You're in another zone. Anybody who enters that zone is in danger. It's hard. Especially if you have multiple sauces cooking at the same time, and you're doing a complex recipe and you're trying to remember where you are exactly in the process. That's exactly like writing a novel. "Where am I?"
Right now are you spatially in New Mexico?
Yeah. I'm looking out the window into my meadow and down the valley towards the western horizon where that storm from California is going to start dumping snow on us sometime this evening all the way to tomorrow evening. I'm not happy about it.
Right, because you're leaving soon to head back to Florida?
The last thing I want to do is be snowed in. Or have to pack the truck in the snow and shovel myself out and have a heart attack.
Don't have a heart attack.
Yeah, good idea.
It's impossible to read anything by you or about you without dogs popping up. What is it about the animal that is so necessary to your life?
If you're gone for a couple of weeks for a business trip, you come home and first you're glad to see the dogs and then you're glad to see your partner. That just makes perfect sense to me because the dogs are pure joy. They make us laugh every day. They don't miss a day on that. The exchange of love is unbeatable and relentless and so gratifying. It's just a lot simpler than relationships between human beings. I can't imagine my life without dogs.
When I ordered Domesticity on Amazon I was reading some of the reviews and one lady posted a review—I guess she had taken a workshop with you—she described you as "dangerous and sexy."
Wow. I never read my Amazon reviews because the last book I did, which is a nonfiction book about the invasion of Haiti, the CIA told me not to publish it, and I said, "What are you going to do? Kill me?" And they said, "You'll be sorry if you publish it." So what they did was get on Amazon and say the book was full of lies, and for a year or two they wrote all these bad reviews that are still on there, so I just said I'm never looking at Amazon reviews again. I have no idea what's on there. But that's pretty interesting. Dangerous and sexy, huh? I wonder who that was.
What sort of advice do you give to the writers in your classes?
Since we're talking about danger and sex, I'd say, you only have one challenge here and that's to seduce your reader. That's what the challenge of food is as well—to seduce your eater.
What's the best thing you've eaten this year?
I was in Hong Kong last month ... so I got to eat some fabulous Cantonese home cooking in a restaurant that was designed to reproduce Cantonese home cooking. Mostly that's about a million and three ways to cook chicken. Everything was so good.
So that's the most memorable one I've had. Last night I just had two Italian sausages. Tonight I'll have some bay Scallops. The night before I had shrimp scampi, which was damn good.
Living way up out here in the mountains, it's in the wilderness. It's off the grid. We make our own electricity. We drilled a well for our own water. We're so far away from civilization that I find myself having a deep lust for pizza. You know, a take-out pizza, not like the ones that I cook myself, because the ones that I cook myself are better than the take-out ones. But there's something tawdry and craven and perverse and decadent and wonderful in my dreams about getting a take-out pizza.
Are you going to get one when you get back to Florida?
Yeah, and I'll eat the whole thing and it'll give me indigestion and I won't eat another one for a year.
You'll learn your lesson.
Yeah, and I'll have to keep relearning that lesson. It's like a bad former girlfriend–you keep going back to see why it was so bad and then you find out.