Ten Money Questions for Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough
Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough are known as the creators of the best-selling “ultimate” series of cookbooks including the hardcover compendium, The Ultimate Cook Book: 900 New Recipes, Thousands of Ideas. Read on as they get personal about the cost of the artisanal food movement, the financial impact of being out and how to stretch your dollar on a foodie vacation. Enjoy!
1. Are there economical ways to cook for two? Name a few tricks.
Bruce: Avoid bulk purchases. Stay out of big box stores. Saving 40 cents a pound on dried porcini mushrooms doesn’t do you any good if you need to buy and store 20 pounds of them—and watch them turn to dust over 2 years. However, dried porcinis are great to have on hand in small quantities because they do double duty in small-batch cooking. Soaked, they offer up a delicious stock to use in a pan sauce so there’s no need to buy a whole can of beef stock or vegetable stock when a recipe for two only requires a small amount. Sun-dried tomatoes and shallots are also staples for the twosome pantry. They store well and add a boost of flavor in small amounts. Plus, there’s no need to buy a whole head of celery. If you need one rib, shop the salad bar at your market.
2. What is your most significant memory about money?
Bruce: My father died in his mid-40s and it was a surprise to me and my family that we were completely broke. Dad never denied us anything; he went into debt instead of ever saying “no.” It was a painful, tragic lesson to learn; but I decided then that being open about money and finances with Mark was the only way to live. We make financial decisions about investments and purchases together as a team. Mark and I are planning our future together; neither of us wants to be caught unawares.
Mark: When I was in the eighth grade, my parents cashed out most of their life savings and my dad went into business for himself, opening a small insurance brokerage in Dallas, Texas, that grew over twenty years into an insurer of large, multi-national accounts, particularly invested in shipping lanes and the like. They both worked in that agency and it was a long process: from his earning a good salary as an exec-VP company man to their making zilch in a fledgling start-up and then to retiring successfully and securely at 58. When I was a kid, I could never understand why they bought all those boring CDs at the bank, why they rushed to put bonuses into long-term accounts rather than, say, taking a trip to Paris. (You can just hear my gay, fourteen-year-old whine: “Why can’t we go to Paris?”) Now, in retrospect, I see that their savings allowed them to lead a better life—which has included those very trips to Paris in their retirement. It also allowed them to go into business for themselves and not run into debt. And this has been the hallmark of the food-journalism / book-publishing / corporate-spokesperson career for Bruce and me: no debt. Other than our mortgage, we are strictly pay as we go.
3. What is your worst habit around finances?
Bruce: Well, prior to getting Quicken, I used to hand over giant boxes of receipts to our accountant every year, all unorganized and unfiled. Now, receipts get filed away into the computer in huge patches, often the night before seeing the accountant. It’s not a great system, but it’s better.
4. Are artisanal foods over priced? Does the quality warrant the investment?
Mark: There’s a wide disparity in what’s actually “artisanal,” but there’s no doubt most of it is more expensive. For us, buying grass-fed beef at the farm about 30 minutes from our home or picking up a stunning blue from a local cheesemaker just over the mountain or getting our produce in the summer by buying shares in a CSA (community supported agriculture) carry big returns, not financially per se, but spiritually and emotionally. We are better connected to the food we eat: we see the cows, we talk to the farmer, we listen to the cheesemaker. We get to know these people and so break (or perhaps at least fracture) the faceless façade of the marketplace. All that said, a pot of $10 mustard from a high-end grocery store is still a $10-dollar pot of mustard. The question is then solely economic: is it worth the money? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. As in everything in the faceless marketplace, caveat emptor.
5. Has being openly gay helped or hurt your career?
Mark: It’s been a double-edged sword. Early on, it was a hindrance. We had a hard time convincing publishers that a gay couple could sell cookbooks which are, for better or worse, connected with family-values issues, with nesting and often with traditional gender roles. Our first three books were actually fronted by Bruce—and homophobia played a part in those decisions. Our break-through came not with fussy big-house publishers but with magazine editors who could have cared less if the thing was written by two men, two women, or two squirrels. They simply wanted the articles on time and in good shape—period. And so those forced, crazy deadlines of magazine work worked in our favor—and helped turn the publishers away from feeling that one of us had to front the career while the two of us wrote the books.
6. Did your parents ever disagree about money? Are there any similarities with how the two of you handle and negotiate finances?
Bruce: My parents never talked about money so there was little to argue about. My dad handed over whatever my mom said she needed—sometimes with a smile and other times through clenched teeth. Mark and I have got a different plan of attack. Since we have a joint career, we have a shared income, so it’s easier to plan together. No, we don’t always see eye to eye on big ticket purchases but we talk it through and always know what’s going on.
Mark: My parents rarely argued about money; they saw their savings as a joint venture. So I suppose sharing our finances comes naturally. When we were first together, before we went “joint” on everything, I’d occasionally pay off his credit card bill or he’d simply transfer his paycheck into our joint checking account when it got low. It all seemed to go smoothly—and has since. Yes, we do argue about money now, but it’s because our career puts us in charge of both receivables and payables: we have to bill clients, we have to collect the bills, we have to be involved with all levels of our income. More stress, I suppose. But everything goes in to joint accounts—especially now that we’re legally together in Connecticut.
7. Can you recommend a favorite foodie vacation?
Bruce: Paris, naturellement. And I can do this without ever stepping foot in a restaurant. Well, okay one or two. But the chocolate shops and the bakeries alone can keep me as occupied and sated as the bistros and restaurants. I don’t need anything fancy. On our last trip, we found a tiny steak place run by a former butcher (“Le Severo”). Monsieur plied us with mounds of steak tartar and charcuterie to stop our hearts. Back in the states I have my favorite treats in my favorites cities. I walk to New York just to have fried dumplings at 5 for $1 on Mosco street. I run to Austin for a smoked brisket sandwiches at Ruby’s BBQ. And I crawl all the way to San Francisco for crab. A real foodie can find happiness almost anywhere.
8. You make your living as writers but I assume you also wear the hat of small business owner. Has this been a challenging role?
Mark: As I said earlier, we’re in charge of all levels of the finances in our business: billing, collection, payment, the works—plus searching for that business, those gigs, in the first place. In our case, that means placing those articles and getting those books sold. It’s a constant search for work—even from two guys who’ve published 14 books, who’ve got three national columns, and who’ve written countless articles for all the glossy food rags. For me, this has indeed been a challenging role. For years, I was an academic, teaching literature at both large public and small private universities. A paycheck just appeared in my account every month. Now, I am keenly aware of my finances—and the better for it (although a few sleepless nights now and then do take their toll). We find some people refuse to treat the writing life as a business. But indeed, it is, all romantic notions aside. Editors buy a product from us and we’re expected to turn it around in good shape and on time—and to negotiate any changes in good faith and humor. It all sounds like most any business relationship to me.
9. What is the best gift you’ve ever given each other?
Bruce: Mark shared his life with me. I know that sounds clichéd, but in all of my other relationships, there was a large part of the guy that was never opened to me—friends, family, colleagues. Mark brought me into every part of his life right from the beginning. Some of his friends are the best gifts ever. We travel with one couple every summer and one of his dearest female friends—an artist who helped him through his divorce—officiated at our commitment ceremony in Maine nine years ago where Mark bought me a spectacular piece of pottery by Steve Tobin that I still drool over.
Mark: Bruce is fearless most of the time. Over the years, he’s taught me that you don’t get anything except by asking for it. So the best gift he’s given me is both to teach me not to be so timid (you know the story: southern gay boy, raised in a conservative Christian home) and at times to go to bat for me when my cultural and personal tendency toward hesitation has made me hang back. That said, if we want to talk a real physical present, it was definitely opera tickets. We’d been living together about four months, we were trying to make it as writers, we didn’t have two nickels between us, and for Christmas, he went out and bought two, tenth-row center tickets to three operas at the Met—about $175 a ticket at the time. I had always wanted to go to the Met, had dreamed of its being part of my life when we lived in New York, but I would never have been so brave as to go out and just spring for those tickets. It was an incredible extravagance—and I certainly don’t look back now and think, well, shoot, I wish we had that money in the bank.
10. Do you remember how money first came up in your relationship?
Bruce: Mark moved to New York to move into an apartment I’d been renting for 6 years. It was rent stabilized, and there were rules. Mark wasn’t allowed to sign his name to the rent checks. The first one returned was a realty check: we had to accept that our housing didn’t belong to us both even though we both paid for it. The alternative was to move into a place that was officially ours but at double the cost. We talked about that a lot. So the discussion of money started early on. (By the way, we stayed in that apartment another 11 years.)
Mark: Bruce got involved in the last of some very nasty divorce proceedings from my past life. I was in Austria—with my parents, living it up in their retirement with their children. While I was away, he had to work some negotiations between my ex-wife’s lawyer and mine over liens and such. I remember being embarrassed by the whole thing: like tawdry rags dragged out in public. But I also thought, well, this is certainly breaking the money barrier between us. He saw what my divorce cost, he saw the amount still to be paid and received, and he saw the entirety of my financial status. Divorce bills to a gay man in his early 30s are like student loan payments for straight people. What? You have those? So I was a little embarrassed—and then grateful he handled it and grateful that we got over the hump without much hesitation.
More about Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough
Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough are the creators of the best-selling “ultimate” series of cookbooks, published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. The series includes a 900-page, hardcover compendium cookbook (“The Ultimate Cook Book: 900 New Recipes, Thousands of Ideas”) and ten single-subject companion volumes, ice cream to party drinks, shrimp to potatoes, brownies to peanut butter. They have also written Cooking for Two and Grill Thrills and have ghost-written The Stonewall Kitchen Cookbook and Dr. Phil’s Ultimate Weight Loss Solution Cook Book. In January, 2009, Morrow will publish their next “ultimate”: The Ultimate Pizza Book. In April, 2009, John Wiley and Sons will publish their newest hardcover: Cooking Know-How.
Bruce and Mark are Contributing Editors to Eating Well; they file several features a year, work extensively on the cookbooks, and write two columns: “Serves Two” and “Farm Finds.” They are featured columnists for Relish Magazine (“The New American Farmer”), on weightwatchers.com (“Everyday Gourmet”), and in Today’s Health and Wellness (“Quick Gourmet”)—and as of 2008, they will found a new column in Cooking Light, a column based on simple kitchen techniques like braises and sautés.
Bruce and Mark find their peace in rural Litchfield county, Connecticut, where they share their several acres with resident moose, beavers, bears, and a dog named Dreydl.
Read other Queercents interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.