Here, fun and sometimes hilarious behind-the-scenes tales from authors working on forthcoming cookbooks. This month, Jill Donenfeld talks about her self-imposed exile along the Brooklyn coast.

By Kristin Donnelly
Updated May 23, 2017

Here, fun and sometimes hilarious behind-the-scenes tales from authors working on forthcoming cookbooks.

For her business, a private chef service called The Culinistas, Jill Donenfeld is out and about in New York and Los Angeles. When it came to writing her forthcoming cookbook about toast ("the perfect meal," she says), she sequestered herself in a nearly empty sublet apartment on the boardwalk in Brighton Beach, a seaside neighborhood in Brooklyn known for its huge population of Russian speakers.

"I like the feeling of being a foreigner," she says. "It's very quiet within, even though there is so much new stimulation. It's a great recipe for inspiration." That said, Donenfeld wrote most of the book during the fall when her business is especially busy, so she couldn't be more than a subway ride away.

After three months of exile, Donenfeld is convinced that Brighton Beach is one of the world's best places to work on a cookbook or any other creative project (and not just because it's an inexpensive place to live). Here are her five reasons:

1. Because you can run by the sea: "I'd wake in the morning, have my tea and then work for an hour. Then I'd go out for a run, which really gets my mind going. The beach was right outside my front door. I'm not an athlete by any means but something about the ocean makes me want to run. And the boardwalk is made of wood so it's very gentle on your knees," she says. "Also, I met a running buddy. He has been running on the boardwalk for more than 2,300 days straight, wearing nothing more than small running shorts and sneakers. He always swam in the ocean after his run, no matter what the weather."

2. Because eating brain-boosting omega-3s is easy and inexpensive: "I ate smoked salmon or salmon roe every day," Donenfeld says. "Every once in a while, I'd try a different smoked fish. It's one of my favorite foods so I was in heaven. And it's so healthy, I always felt energized."

3. Because you can taste something new every day: "Every afternoon, after a few hours of working, I made it a point to try at least one new thing a day, maybe a piece of candy or a fermented drink made from rye, called kvas (which should be the next kombucha, by the way). When I had to go to the city for a Culinistas event, I brought these adorably wrapped chocolates called Mishka Kosolapy and Belochka. They've become a signature of ours."

4. Which, of course, will lead you to new recipes: "I became obsessed with this one Georgian spread, mtsvane lobio. It's essentially an awesome vegan pâté that's oniony and a little spicy. When I asked the shop owner what it was, he said green beans, walnuts, some onion and cilantro. 'What else,' I pressed. 'Come back tomorrow at noon and we'll show you,' he said. I came back the next day and they had already made it. I went back at four different times and it was already made. He obviously didn't want to share the recipe. My version will appear in the book: It's a perfect thing to put on toast."

5. Because you can boost your immunity and de-stress at the banya: "Russians believe that submitting your body to high heat is healthy and wards off sickness. I went to the banya once a week for a few hours at a time, and during my three months out there, I never got sick so there's probably something to it. After going through the different saunas and pools, I'd eat at the restaurant—usually a pickle plate, some smoked sturgeon and black bread. It was so healthy. I'd make—what else—a little toast!"

Jill Donenfeld's book, tentatively called Better on Toast, is scheduled for release in spring 2015 from Harper Collins/William Morrow.

Kristin Donnelly is a former Food & Wine editor and cofounder of Stewart & Claire, an all-natural line of lip balms made in Brooklyn.

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