Before we finally met in person on a muggy March morning at an airport in India, Lee and I spent countless hours on email and on the phone working on short videos for my previous employer, Accion. When I got the chance to go on a shoot with Lee, I was excited to spend time with her and see if she was as cool in person as she had been virtually. Not only was she an amazing travel companion – curious, energetic, adventurous, fearless – but, as I would later find out, she’s also an incredible cook.
I had flown from Boston to London and from London to Chennai – almost 24 hours in transit – when I met up with Lee and our photographer and videographer, John Rae, at the Chennai International Airport. They, too, had made a long journey from New York, and we still had one more flight to catch to our final destination, Tiruchirappalli.
We were there to interview business owners who had received financial services from Accion’s partners. As any long trip goes, we endured some hardships together – getting lost, sitting in traffic for hours, eating things we couldn’t identify, and melting in the sun while shooting hours of video and photographs. It only brought us closer together. (I also made some new friends. See pictures at the bottom of this post.)
Months later, when I was visiting my friend Cristina in Brooklyn, Lee had me over for dinner. She and her husband Loch own a film production company, Off Ramp Films. We, alongside their two wonderful children, spent an evening feasting on Lee’s cooking and telling each other anecdotes. Here’s one that you’ll appreciate.
Remember seeing that Budweiser Super Bowl commercial with the guys going “Wassup?!” to one another on the phone? You have Lee to thank for the idea.
Many moons ago, Lee worked with a bunch of guys at a production company called Woo Art. Charles Stone III was one of them, and she noticed how he and his buddies at the company greeted each other making silly noises, sticking out their tongues, and jeering things like “Wassup?!” So Lee told Charles that he should make a video featuring this playful habit. Charles liked the idea, and eventually made a short film, titled True, where the custom was shown. True went on to be the inspiration for the Budweiser ad campaign, which, incidentally, won both the Grand Clio and the Cannes Grand Prix in 2000 – the ad industry’s highest honors. True story.
The pasta we had that night was divine. It’s a dish that is beautiful for its simplicity, a combination of familiar flavors that works magically – the melted brie caught in every nook of the pasta, the taste of garlic-infused olive oil, the sweetness and slight acidity of the roasted tomatoes, the distinct aroma of fresh basil – all covered in grated Parmesan and eaten with some crusty bread and a glass of red wine. It’s hard to think of a more comforting meal than this.
Lee said she got the recipe from her Italian friend Elena. The dish is so forgiving, no measurements are required. When I Googled it, I found several websites attributing the recipe to the Silver Palate kitchen. This doesn’t surprise me, as so many amazing dishes came from that famed Manhattan Upper West Side deli.
Whether this recipe comes from Lee’s friend, the Silver Palate kitchen, or some other variation, who cares; it’s a fantastic and delicious dish that will forever remind me of Lee.
PASTA WITH ROASTED TOMATOES, GARLIC, BASIL, AND BRIE
- 1 to 2 pounds of plum tomatoes
- 1 pound brie
- 1 to 2 cups of shredded fresh basil
- 1/2 cup of olive oil, or more to taste
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 1/2 pound fusilli or farfalle (bow-tie) pasta
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Salt to taste
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or to taste
- Make sure your ingredients, especially cheese and tomatoes, are at room temperature.
- Roast tomatoes in the oven at 450F, whole, for 25 to 30 minutes, until they are concentrated and beginning to caramelize.
- Take the skin off and dice.
- Cut brie into small, bite-sized pieces (with the rind on).
- Combine tomatoes, crushed garlic, shredded basil, diced brie, salt, pepper, and olive oil in a very large bowl and mix gently so as not to puree the tomatoes.
- Boil the pasta in plenty of salted water. Drain and do not rinse.
- Add the steaming pasta in the bowl and mix gently. The heat from the pasta will help the brie melt.
- Serve with grated Parmesan and some crusty bread.
My new friends