Food & dining

Q&A

For the Pollans, informal dinner is a family affair

From left: Dana, Tracy, Lori, and Corky Pollan have combined to write a family cookbook.
John Kernick
From left: Dana, Tracy, Lori, and Corky Pollan have combined to write a family cookbook.

Family dinner is important at Corky and Stephen Pollan’s home. When their old refectory table could no longer be expanded to accommodate their growing brood of 21, which includes children, grandchildren, and in-laws, they renovated the dining room by pushing it out into the driveway.

Their four grown children, now in their 40s and 50s, all share a lifelong love of good food, including son Michael Pollan, a journalist and author, and three daughters, Lori, Dana, and Tracy Pollan. The women have collected three generations of the family’s recipes in “The Pollan Family Table: The Best Recipes and Kitchen Wisdom for Delicious, Healthy Family Meals.”

Corky and her daughters are based in Manhattan. She writes for the Cooking Channel blog (blog.cookingchanneltv.com). She is also former style director at Gourmet magazine and former Best Bets editor at New York magazine. Dana and Lori Pollan are cofounders of the Pollan-Austen Fitness Center in Manhattan. Tracy Pollan is an Emmy award-nominated actress and is married to Michael J. Fox.

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Q. What was family dinner at the Pollan household like when everyone was at home?

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Corky: Dinner was more than a main course, a side, and a salad. It might be make-your-own-taco night or it could be rack of lamb. It would vary a lot. I was very lucky that the kids were not picky eaters at all.

Tracy: The typical family dinner at our house was delicious. It was the thing that got us through doing our homework and whatever else had to be done. So we all have amazing memories of sitting down together at the family table.

Dana: Corky was such a creative cook. Now we realize that was unique.

Lori: We would really spend our afternoons doing our homework at the kitchen table. Then it was the meal. It created tight bonds and a feeling that this is what family is all about.

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Q. Where did this strong appreciation for eating well come from?

Corky: I know it came from my parents. My mother was an incredible cook and her mother before her. Cooking was a very natural thing.

Dana: Corky’s father had a huge produce warehouse business. He would get all the local fruits and vegetables. He was always so excited to come in and cut open a peach and say, “Taste it. It’s sweet as sugar.” He had such an enthusiasm that it really rubbed off on everyone.

Corky: Especially Michael. Michael started gardening because of my father.

Lori: We understood that food came from the earth and how tasty it was. And then our grandmother Mary was an amazing cook. It’s in our DNA at this point. All of us have kids now who love to cook and get the same joy out of being in the kitchen.

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Tracy: Ultimately, food and family are very connected.

Q. What are big family dinners like today?

Corky: There are so many of us. Everyone participates and it’s not at all a formal meal. It’s very much of the moment. Everyone, including the kids, participates in the cooking.

Dana: A few days before, we’ll start e-mailing and texting each other saying: What should we have for dinner on Saturday night?

Tracy: The extended family dinners are something that all of us and our children look forward to so much. It’s that social time and getting together and cooking together.

Lori: From a young age, the kids started coming into the kitchen from outside and fighting over the potato peelers or who could stir up the crumble topping.

Q. How did the book come about?

Corky: This really came about by my daughters.

Dana: We thought of busy moms who are challenged with a vexing question: What am I going to make for dinner tonight? We constantly text one another. I think we realized that if we have that conundrum, probably tons of other people do too.

Corky: They’re all dinner recipes, which was important. I think that is the most challenging meal that families have.

Lori: We wanted to appeal to people who were starting out and be able to say, you can do this. We have great tips and what you should have in the pantry. What we’ve found is that sometimes we get into a little rut or forget what to cook when life gets kind of crazy.

Q. What was it like to work together?

Dana: Logistically, it was so easy because we all live close together. We’d decide let’s work at Lori’s house today or Corky’s house.

Corky: It’s multiple voices that sort of come out as one.

Q. How conscious were you of trying to pass along an interest in food to your family?

Corky: I think it just came about almost organically. I don’t think I ever thought of it.

Dana: I think you just loved to do it.

Related coverage:

- Michael Pollan on the benefits of home cooking

- Michael Pollan, author, food evangelist

- Book review: ‘Cooked’ by Michael Pollan

Interview has been edited and condensed. Michael Floreak can be reached at michaelfloreak@gmail.com.