When the pandemic hit last spring, Lidey Heuck already had a plan in place for escaping New York. The food blogger and recipe developer had rented an apartment in Belfast for the summer and was looking forward to working at The Lost Kitchen in Freedom.
For Heuck, 29, it was all part of plotting the next chapter of her life after working more than six years for Ina Garten, acclaimed cookbook author and host of the “Barefoot Contessa” show on the Food Network. One of her last assignments from Garten was to test recipes for Garten’s latest cookbook, “Modern Comfort Food,” which came out Oct. 6.
“Didn’t we have FUN?!!!” Garten commented on Heuck’s Instagram the day the book was released. “How many times did we make that Boston Cream Pie? And you added the ingredient that made it perfect.”
Heuck says she’s “not totally sure” what that ingredient was because they tested the recipe “over and over and over.”
“I can say, though, it’s out of this world and well worth the effort.”
Heuck, originally from Pittsburgh, is a graduate of Bowdoin College, contributes recipes monthly to the New York Times, and has her own food and entertaining blog, lideylikes.com. (Lidey is short for Elida, which is an old English variation of Eliza.) She has been featured in Food & Wine and the Food Network magazine and has more than 80,000 followers on Instagram.
Heuck lives in New York with her fiance and Winkie, her Welsh terrier, who has his own Instagram account (@winkiethewelsh) with more than 9,000 followers. We spoke with her about her career and her summer in Maine at the end of October, as she was preparing to return to New York, where she will be focusing on her blog and recipes for the Times. She also plans to work on developing recipes for her own cookbook, featuring “approachable, seasonal and delicious food.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You originally went to work for Ina Garten as a social media manager, but did you always want a career in food?
A: I kind of fell into it. I liked to bake when I was growing up, but it was never something I thought I would do for a living. In college at Bowdoin, my friends and I cooked a lot. We had weekly dinners, especially in the winter when there was not a whole lot to do. Cooking was just one thing we did for fun, and that was where I started to enjoy entertaining for friends.
I have this connection to Ina Garten through a friend’s father, and I just have always admired her. There was something about her I found so intriguing in terms of just being a beloved culinary figure and also a businessperson. I just thought, wouldn’t it be fun to work for her, especially for my first job out of college. I didn’t want to do something in an office, I wanted to do something fun and exciting. And so I sent her a letter through my friend’s father, just introducing myself. She happened to be looking for someone to help with social media, so I went down (to the Hamptons) and met with her. Obviously it turned out to be one of the best things I ever did.
Q: It sounds like you did a little of everything for her, from running errands to testing recipes.
A: Yes, it’s a very small organization, just three or four people, so in the beginning I was doing social media and some other personal assistant type duties – a lot of grocery shopping, and whatever else needed to be done. Every once in a while, I would get into the kitchen and get to test her recipes. When Ina’s longtime assistant who did the bulk of the recipe testing retired, I stepped into that role and took on a lot more of the recipe testing. In the process of learning how Ina creates the recipe, how she tests the recipe, I started noodling around on my own and found it to be fun and something I enjoyed doing, and so I started my own blog.
Q: What have you learned from Ina Garten over the years?
A: How long do you have? I’ve learned almost everything I know, especially with regard to writing recipes – how to write a recipe that works, that’s easy to understand. I’ve learned how to season food properly, and how to put finishing touches on something that could be as simple as a roasted vegetable but with a specific garnish at the very end that can really elevate it. And I think I’ve learned that the simpler foods are often the better ones. Starting with good quality ingredients, you’re going to end up with something delicious. You don’t have to fuss around with it too much.
Q: Why did you leave?
A: It was an incredible six-plus years. It was really hard to leave. But I wanted a new challenge, and I was really enjoying doing recipes on my own. Toward the end – I think it was the spring of 2019 – I started contributing recipes to the New York Times Cooking app and website. That was a big boost in confidence and made me want to go off and do more on my own.
Q: Why did you want to work at The Lost Kitchen? Had you worked in restaurants before?
A: I hadn’t. I knew when I left my job with Ina that I wanted to get some restaurant experience. I thought about all the different ways I could do that, but I have always loved The Lost Kitchen. I hadn’t eaten there but I had been aware of it, having gone to college in Maine, and I was pretty familiar with (owner Erin French’s) story. I just loved the idea of this beautiful restaurant in Maine making delicious seasonal food with ingredients that came from Maine. My cooking has always been very seasonal, so the food really appealed to me, and I loved the idea that I would be working with this group of women. It just seemed like a dreamy way to get some restaurant experience. I was able to get in touch with Erin through a mutual friend and go up and meet her and see the restaurant and see if she might be interested in taking me on for the season.
Q: Did you work in the kitchen?
A: I did a lot of prep kitchen work and then I did a lot of work during the dinner shifts, too. Obviously, this year has been an unusual one for all restaurants, The Lost Kitchen included, so it was a little different than the summer I had anticipated, but it was still just an incredible experience and a memorable time to be working in a restaurant.
Q: What did you take away from that experience?
A: As I expected, cooking in a restaurant is really different from home cooking. One of the first things I did was break down 20 or so chickens to make fried chicken. I had cut up chicken before, but to do 20 in a row is a completely different thing. I felt like it took all day. By the end of the summer, I could do it in a few minutes. Really, the quantity of the food and the scale of what you’re working with in a restaurant is so much different, and that repetition of tasks – you just learn. It’s almost like going to a foreign country to learn a different language. You learn so quickly because you have to, and by doing so many tasks over and over, they become second nature.
Q: Have you been cooking and eating a lot during the pandemic, like the rest of America?
A: I have been cooking and eating a lot. The Lost Kitchen had this weekly farmers’ market. I would place an order and get this big box on Saturday full of stuff and then figure out what to do with it. I did a lot of experimenting. Summer cooking for me is always simpler and easier. Also, I don’t have a dishwasher in my apartment in Belfast. I’m usually such a messy cook, and I have dishes all over the kitchen, so I was really trying to figure out what are simple, delicious dishes to make without making a giant mess. I’m still working on it. I’m staring at a pile of dishes right now (laughs).
Q: Your motto on Instagram says, “Never Not Cooking.” Do you work on recipes every day?
A: This summer, I worked in the restaurant three to four days a week, and the other days, whether it was for the Times or for my website, I always had some recipes in progress. Sometimes I’d get up really early. I remember getting up to try to finish a scallop recipe, before going into the restaurant, and cooking scallops at 8 a.m. But I get up, check my email, work on a recipe. I find – and I learned this from Ina – you can’t cook all day long. When I’m working on my recipes, I need a mental break. Walk away and come back fresh the next day.
Q: What are your favorite Maine ingredients?
A: I would just say (anything from) all of these small-scale farms and producers I’ve been exposed to. There are these cheese curds that we love. They’re not really an ingredient, we just eat them out of the container. To be in an area that focuses on these local, smaller farms has been great. I feel like cheese specifically stands out in my mind because I’ve had so many good cheeses that have been made in Maine. And blueberries. I could give you all the obvious examples, but the price of a quart of blueberries that are the best blueberries you’ve ever had alone makes me want to live here forever. Incredible.
Q: Do you have any favorite places to shop in Maine?
A: There’s a great farm (in Lincolnville) called Ararat Farms, and they have really great produce. The Blue Hill Co-op, I have been over there several times this summer and I always make a stop. There’s another co-op in Brooks that’s great. I like the small country stores and co-ops, and I’ll stop in one whenever I see them just to check it out and see what they have.
Q: What is the food style you’re going for in your blog, and how much has Ina Garten influenced you?
A: I would say that working for Ina has definitely influenced the type of food I like to make, and I have definitely learned from her what people find really appealing. I think my cooking tends to be kind of hyper seasonal, taking inspiration from whatever season, and I would also say that my cooking tends to be very vegetable forward. I eat anything and I cook anything, but I’m aware that a lot of my friends don’t – one doesn’t eat dairy, one doesn’t eat beef. Some don’t eat gluten. So I feel my cooking tends to be flexible and creative. I always try to keep in mind that increasingly people have different diets, and you can still make really delicious food that can fill all those different bills.
Roasted Delicata Squash with Walnuts and Quick Balsamic Glaze
2 pounds delicata squash (about 2 medium squash)
Half a medium red onion, halved and sliced ¼-inch thick (about 1 cup sliced onions)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
⅔ cup walnuts
½ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, for serving
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, for serving
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Trim both ends of the squash and cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Slice the squash crosswise into ½-inch-thick pieces.
Place the squash and onions on a sheet pan. Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with the salt and pepper, then toss well and spread the vegetables out into one even layer.
Roast for 15 minutes. Add the walnuts to the sheet pan, toss, and roast for another 10 minutes, until the squash is tender and browned and the nuts are toasted.
While the squash roasts, make the balsamic glaze. Pour the vinegar into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally, until the vinegar has reduced and coats the back of a spoon. You should have 2 to 3 tablespoons of glaze. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Arrange the squash, onions, and walnuts on a flat serving dish. Drizzle with the glaze, then sprinkle with the parsley and sea salt. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Copyright 2019, Lidey Heuck, All Rights Reserved.