Scarlett Johansson Bakes!

Published in Gourmet Live 03.23.11
She’s hot, all right, even in the kitchen, Adam Sachs reports

We’d been talking about bagels. Scarlett likes to cook and eat, and recently she’d been contemplating learning to make her own bagels because you can’t get a decent bagel in LA. And then we were talking about the little carrot cakes that she pulled from the oven just before leaving to meet me here at this greasy spoon coffee and pie shop in Los Feliz. And now we’d sort of shifted from the contemplative pleasures of baking for friends to gory medical TV shows. She’s a fan. Impact on her appetite? Negligible. “My sister’s the same way,” she says. “We’re watching these trauma shows and shoveling in a big lamb shank while someone is having their goiter removed.” To be honest, I’m not sure how we got to goiter removal. And to continue being honest: it hardly mattered. Talking with Scarlett Johannson, you do not think, I want answers. You think: Let’s keep talking.

So, about those bagels.
I looked online and there was a bunch of videos. It’s not as hard as you think it would be. I’m not a big bread person. I mean, I like to bake cakes and pastries and cookies and things like that. And pie. But I’m not a person who is like [imitating the crazy smile of the bread obsessive] ‘Mmmmm fresh baked bread!’ I don’t like the idea of active yeast. The chemistry of it just seems like a pain in the ass. But bagels I’m curious about because it is impossible to get great ones here. It’s all about the water, the minerals.

We should order some pie here. It’s the House of Pies, after all. No banana please. I detest banana.
That’s too bad. I like banana cream pies. Those pies are just hilarious. No lemon meringue pie. I don’t like lemony things.

Key lime OK? And more coffee—though I’m a little jumpy already. I’m normally a very calm person.
That’s what jumpy people always say. Relax. You’re making me nervous.

So how do you spend your days when you’re not eating pie?
I don’t eat pie every day. I would love to eat pie everyday but I don’t have the time. I don’t have the time.

You made carrot cake today?
They’re little tea cakes. Individual carrot cakes. With icing. Somebody’s coming over for tea later.

You’re hosting a tea?
Not high tea! I don’t have scones or anything like that. But this friend of mine is coming over and he said ‘I’ll come over for tea.’ So I thought, what do we have with tea? Little tea cakes. I heard you’re a food writer. Surely girls are just like cakes and pies? You can write about them in a similar way.

[I think about this for a moment—about Scarlett Johansson and her likeness to cakes or pies and about the cozy tea she’s planned at home—and am somewhat derailed by these thoughts.] Is there something we should be talking about?
You’re the one with the briefcase and the tape recorder...

It’s not a...
Sorry, a murse. It’s a man bag. You’re the one with the satchel and the tape recorder. Is there anything you should be asking me?

What is it you like about cooking?
I like big productions if I know there are going to be a lot of people to enjoy it. It’s hard for me to get up for the idea of chopping for hours for one other person. For me sometimes poaching an egg is harder than making a big fancy meal. Because a big fancy meal is just about the steps you take to get there. I learned to make bouillabaisse. It wasn’t hard—just time consuming. I cook a lot of simple things, just dinner at home. You have a glass of wine, it’s very relaxing. And you know if it’s good. You’ve tasted enough things that you know what is working. Would you serve something that’s bad?

Bad, no. Flawed, yes. I’m tough on myself about the doneness of pasta.
I like undercooked pasta. Really undercooked. Very al dente.

Do you cook when you travel?
Marcel [her publicist] and I were recently in the Champagne region. We stayed in the Moët Chandon chateau there. [She does for the champagne house what she’s done for Vuitton and Mango and Dolce & Gabbana: makes them look good.] The food was amazing. We spent our whole day off cooking with their chef Pascal Tingaud (formerly of Michelin-starred à L’Auberge de Condé). It was really interesting. I just never thought about champagne as something you pair with courses like other wine.

This diner seems very LA to me. You grew up in Manhattan. Do you miss it?
You have moments in New York that are just incredibly romantic. You have them with people and you have them alone. And it’s rare in life to have romantic moments alone. You don’t just stop for a piece of pie and read a newspaper and look at people and just enjoy what you’re doing. In New York, I have those moments all the time. Sometimes you just see people busy with their day and you step back and look at them all going in their different directions. I don’t know, I just love it. I feel very isolated there in a very wonderful way sometimes.

There are a few bites of key lime pie left between us. It is an electric green and probably has a shelf life of many years. “You could bring it home, put it under glass and watch it,” Scarlett says. “What’s this?” There’s a stray piece of red, gooey unidentifiable something on the plate. She probes it with a mangled straw and eats it. That’s your first instinct, I ask, to taste it?

“It’s like strawberry or something. What’s the worst it could be?”

Subscribe to Gourmet