David Rosengarten: It's clear -- everyone is retreating from tortured food for emotional and financial reasons. So many people have suffered; people don't feel comfortable being ostentatious. They are looking for simple comfort foods. Chefs were going nuts with ingredients.
Bankrate: You are probably the most successful chef to meld sophistication and accessibility; how do you do that?
David Rosengarten: The two worlds are very important to me. I make no distinction between caviar and tuna salad. A great experience is a great experience. I'm looking for quality. I can be just as obsessive with a BLT as with foie gras.
Bankrate: I understand you are working on a screenplay. What's it about? Where are you shopping it?
David Rosengarten: I'm not even shopping it. I am being very circumspect about it now; I know how ideas can be taken. It's about the food world.
Bankrate: How did you decide what direction to take in life?
David Rosengarten: Well, my Ph.D. is in theater. My dad was a "garmento," but got into restaurant management. He worked for two years, 16 hours a day. I helped him as a high school student. He had seven partners, but they weren't willing to lose some money to make more down the line. It left -- pardon the pun -- a bad taste in my mouth, so I never wanted to open a restaurant. I was a private chef for a New York psychiatrist ... I think he was the head doctor for Riker's Island. He had a contract that made the state hire a personal chef for him. I was difficult, though ... I would send him to the store if they didn't have the exact ingredient I wanted. He said, 'It's like I'm working for you.' The 1980s were a tremendous time of food growth. While I was teaching at Skidmore, I also taught at a local cooking school. I wrote an article, with 10 recipes, about balsamic vinegar. It was around, but nobody was talking about it. I sent it to "Gourmet" magazine ... and they sent me a check for $1,500! Score!
Bankrate: What gourmet item provides the most value for its price?
David Rosengarten: Hellman's mayonnaise. Jiffy corn muffin mix, I put in butter and apples. Boxed pasta is incredible, at only $1.69 a box!
Bankrate: What is completely overrated?
David Rosengarten: "Fresh" pasta in the stores. It's gummy.
Bankrate: Do you manage your own money?
David Rosengarten: No. I'm kind of a disaster with money. I'm very immature, but it's changing now. Money doesn't "represent" things to me, like security or success. It just buys things. My dad was like that. We had a middle-class to upper-middle-class upbringing, but he always rented -- cars, homes. About three or four years ago, when I was starting to make a little more money, at the urging of my dad, I hooked up with a manager that represents celebrities. They even pay my bills. We have a meeting to discuss what to do with what's left over.
Bankrate: Do you have any favorite investments?
David Rosengarten: I did some investing, but the last couple of years, I've been going through a divorce. I was the earning spouse.
Bankrate: Did you have any scroungy times starting out?
David Rosengarten: No, because I was able to go to my dad. He would ask, "What do you need, rent?" I had no dark moments. I worked off-off Broadway. I also sold wine. I proofread for a gardening magazine, for $1 a page. That was tedious.
Bankrate: Are you involved with any charities?
David Rosengarten: Yes. The Rosengarten Report gives $5 per subscription to charities. It's in escrow right now. We will probably use Share Our Strength, a brokering house for charities, to work for prevention of hunger.
Bankrate: What is a splurge for you?
David Rosengarten: Four months ago, I would have given a different answer. I would have said, "Tapas in San Sebastian, Spain." When I worked for "Gourmet," I had an expense account of $100,000 a year. I would think nothing of dropping $400 for a meal, even my own money. Now, I'm part of the recession. Now, a splurge is a great pizza and a bottle of Italian red.
Bankrate: What is a waste of money?
David Rosengarten: To spend a lot on a car. It gets you somewhere, to a restaurant. I don't know or appreciate the mechanics of a car, the way I do with food.
Bankrate: What is the secret to your success?
David Rosengarten: Passion and dedication. I've never been dedicated to success, per se. I love food.