The Art of Italian Cookbooks: Giuliano Hazan's rise as an Italian cooking authority

Giuliano Hazan's rise as an Italian cooking authority.

It would be easy to paint Giuliano Hazan's success as an appendix to his mother's career. Marcella Hazan wrote the seminal Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which Jeffrey Steingarten predicted would "become the essential Italian cookbook for an entire generation." He was right.

But it wasn't quite his mother's name that allowed Giuliano Hazan to create a career as a cooking instructor and cookbook author that reflects her own. Although this Sarasota resident has won multiple awards for both his teaching and writing, instructed thousands of people in the art of cooking at home, and become an authority on Italian cuisine in his own right‚ with the new Giuliano Hazan's Thirty Minute Pasta hitting shelves this week‚ he never planned on a life in the kitchen.

"I grew up eating well," Hazan explains, "but I didn't really start cooking until I went away to college." He'd planned to follow in his mother's footsteps in an entirely different fashion‚ as a biology major. Marcella has doctorates in natural sciences and biology, and worked as a researcher before she embarked on a cooking career. But that mother-son similarity — in science, at least — was short-lived.

"I was interested in theater," says Hazan, "but I ended up majoring in French literature almost by default." He pursued a theater career for a couple of years in Providence, Rhode Island, but barely got his feet wet before he stepped back into the family business and started teaching cooking classes of his own. It was familiar territory after spending some of his teenage years assisting at his mother's cooking school in Bologna.

When his mother signed on as a consultant for a new Italian restaurant in Atlanta, Hazan moved to the South and got his feet wet in his first restaurant kitchen. "I was supposed to keep them true to her recipes," Hazan says of his time there. He made all the pasta and desserts for the restaurants, which allowed him to stay away from the kitchen during the hectic service hours. "That wasn't my best place," he says. "It wasn't my kind of thing."

Despite that, Hazan took a gig as executive chef at a soon-to-open restaurant in Portland, Oregon in a move that surprised everyone, including him. "I took a call for the chef," he says. "It was a head hunter and they offered me the job."

The move was good for his career, although not because of the restaurant itself. During the months it took to get the new spot ready for the public, he had time to pen his first book, The Classic Pasta Cookbook.

"Like everything else, it was all about who you know at the right time," Hazan says of his first cookbook deal. He was teaching a pasta class, where he met a student "who was friends with a DK editor who wanted to start a new line of cookbooks." He got a call, was offered a deal, and said "sure." Simple.

"I don't know if everyone is like this, but that first book took the least amount of time to write, maybe 9-10 months," says Hazan. His second, Every Night Italian, took five years from start to finish, and his third, How To Cook Italian, took over three years. "I think you use up your ideas in the first one."

In the years since The Classic Pasta Cookbook, Hazan managed to shift from a restaurant chef to a career as an established and esteemed author and teacher, with four books in print and another in the early stages. Those four books also gave him a crash course in the fine art of cookbook writing.

During production for the first book, Hazan was in Portland while the photographs were being shot in England. After a brief visit for author photos, and to give the stylists an idea of what some dishes should look like, he had to look on from afar. "It wasn't the age of digital," he says, " so they'd mail Polaroids to me." When the stylists had trouble finding rolled pancetta in London shops, he overnighted them a single slice for a shot.

After the manuscript was submitted, there was almost a year of edits, copy edits, page proofs and photography. "I don't know what it's like to carry a child, but ..." says Hazan. When Classic Pasta came out, it was a huge commercial success.

He sold his second book to Maria Guarnaschelli, a famed cookbook editor who was then working at Scribner and editing the revamp of Joy of Cooking. Scribner also published his second book, but by then Hazan had realized that the publisher didn't meet his needs. "Partly, it was the photographs," he says. Classic Pasta, done by DK, was loaded with pictures. The Scribner books were more dry, with photographs clustered in just a couple of sections. "The best connection they had to the recipes was a page number."

The choice to leave Scribner was an aesthetic one, but also a practical concern. "Go to a bookstore and watch people flipping through cookbooks," he says, "and they'll spend more time with the ones that have more photos." Although he was more interested in casual cuisine, Scribner also convinced him to devote his third book to a massive, comprehensive tome of Italian recipes. "I kind of felt that my mother had already written that book."

Hazan moved his latest book, Thirty Minute Pasta, to the photography-friendly Stewart Tabori and Chang, and codified many of the lessons he's learned from the innumerable cooking classes he's taught across the country, as well as in the cooking school he started with wife Lael and Marissa Allegrini, of the famed Allegrini Italian wine family.

"People always write a list of ingredients with measurements," but like many accomplished cooks he never measures. Instead of forcing the reader to know how many onions they'll need for a 1/4 cup of diced onions, he simplifies it to 1/2 a small onion. He's also become dedicated to recipe testing, although he prefers to do it himself. "Others can't know how I wanted it to turn out," says Hazan.

Besides the new book, Hazan is also working on a television show with A La Carte Communications, which produces shows like America's Test Kitchen and Martin Yan's China for public television. "I originally had a meeting with the director of programming for the Food Network, and he loved it but said it wasn't for them," says Hazan. "I think they said it was 'PBS material'."

For Hazan, the TV show is a natural extension of the career he fell into but grew to love, a way to teach cooking classes to a much bigger audience than the 30 or 40 he might see at kitchen stores around the country. He's also working on his next book, the topic of which is still a secret but will likely be devoted to more home cooking.

"Eating together is not what we do just because we have to eat," says Hazan. "That's a clue for the next book."

See two exclusive recipes from Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta: Tagliatelle with Chick Peas and Linguine with a Pink Shrimp Sauce.