WHO: Charlotte Silver
WHAT: In her debut memoir, ‘‘Charlotte Au Chocolat: Memories of a Restaurant Girlhood,’’ the 30-year-old daughter of Deborah Hughes, the co-owner with Mary-Catherine Deibel of UpStairs on the Square, recounts an earlier era for the restaurant and Harvard Square, when UpStairs was located above the Hasty Pudding Club. The book is coming out next month.
WHERE: On Feb. 28, Silver will read at the Harvard Book Store (where she once worked), 1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-661-1515.
Q. When and why did you decide to write this book?
A. I wrote the first draft when I was a senior in college at Bennington. It only dealt with UpStairs at the Pudding and not the newer restaurant, UpStairs on the Square, after the Pudding closed in 2001. I put the book aside and only came back to it a couple of years ago. I actually think that with the book, which is kind of nostalgic in tone, waiting to publish it and revisiting it now that the Pudding has been closed for 10 years, that to me is an appropriate cast to the story. The book is kind of a period piece, about a certain era that doesn’t exist anymore, a pre-Food Network world. It’s a portrait of a Boston and, specifically, a Harvard Square that doesn’t exist anymore.
Q. How has Cambridge’s restaurant culture changed?
A. Practically speaking, there’s probably a lot of better food now. More fashionable, more sophisticated people, not just in Cambridge, but in the country. To me fashionable food is not of interest. Although I come from a rather rarified food background, and have had the privilege of eating very luscious and wonderful food all my life, and for that I am grateful, I’m not interested in eating fashionable food. I don’t care about things that are trendy. In terms of Cambridge, I miss the rather scruffy, kind of old preppy particularity of Harvard Square.
Q. What have we lost?
A. I think we’ve lost the kind of restaurant that was festive and beautiful - restaurants that have no ego other than to make you happy. The Pudding was that kind of restaurant. It was a beautiful room, beautiful lighting. I love that experience, being feted in a sumptuous way without the waiter having to spend eight minutes telling me where everything in the appetizer comes from. You know, local foods and so on. I have no objections to local foods, but I don’t want dining to be complicated in the way that I think it has become.
Q. The late Julia Child was a regular at the Pudding.
A. She loved my mother’s roasted red pepper soup. It was a sexy and voluptuous soup. It had lots and lots of heavy cream and lots of butter. Those, of course, are Julia Child staples.
Q. Did you feel any pressure to go into the family business?
A. From a young age, I wanted to be a writer. People always find this interesting, but I myself do not cook. I live a fairly nondomesticated life in New York City now, eating out often. I don’t actually consider myself a foodie. I don’t even own any pots or pans. It’s quite in contrast to the restaurant. My mother has a wonderful distinction about the world: She says people are divided between front room people and kitchen people. I was always a front room person, more comfortable in the dining room than in the kitchen.
Q. What was it like growing up in a restaurant?
A. It was quite wonderful and quite sensuous, quite vivid, sort of magical. I want the book to have a feeling of magic. This is not a portrait of a woeful or dysfunctional childhood. I think we’re all used to those kinds of memoirs. It’s not a vengeful memoir or an angry memoir.
Q. There’s a lot of beauty and appreciation and whimsy in it.
A. It’s really a portrait about the romanticism of childhood, about the very special and romantic state of being a child and the special things a child can observe.
Interview was condensed and edited. Glenn Yoder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.