Global Dialogue: How to Feed a Dictator
April 28, 2021
What was Pol Pot eating while two million Cambodians were dying of hunger? Did Idi Amin really eat human flesh? And why was Fidel Castro obsessed with one particular cow?
Traveling across four continents, from the ruins of Iraq to the savannahs of Kenya, Witold Szablowski tracked down the personal chefs of five dictators known for the oppression and massacre of their own citizens--Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Uganda's Idi Amin, Albania's Enver Hoxha, Cuba's Fidel Castro, and Cambodia's Pol Pot--and listened to their stories over sweet-and-sour soup, goat-meat pilaf, bottles of rum, and games of gin rummy. Dishy, deliciously readable, and dead serious, How to Feed a Dictator provides a knife's-edge view of life under tyranny.
NYU DC Dialogues along with the NYU Remarque Institute and The NYU Eastern Europe Workshop hosted this dialogue with Witold Szablowski on his book, How to Feed a Dictator: Saddam Hussein, IDI Amin, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot Through the Eyes of Their Cooks.
Moderated by Larry Wolff, this discussion included Laura Shapiro, Ruth Reichl, Krishnendu Ray, and Bill Buford.
Witold Szabłowski, Award-Winning Polish Journalist and Author
Witold Szabłowski is an award-winning Polish journalist. At age twenty-five he became the youngest reporter at the Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza’s weekly supplement, Duży Format, where he covered international stories in countries including Cuba, South Africa, and Iceland. His features on the problem of illegal immigrants flocking to the EU won the European Parliament Journalism Prize; his reportage on the 1943 massacre of Poles in Ukraine won the Polish Press Agency’s Ryszard Kapuściński Award; and his book about Turkey, The Assassin from Apricot City, won the Beata Pawlak Award and an English PEN award, and was nominated for the Nike Award, Poland’s most prestigious literary prize. Szabłowski lives in Warsaw.
Laura Shapiro, Journalist and Culinary Historian
Laura Shapiro was a columnist at The Real Paper (Boston) before beginning a 16-year run at Newsweek, where she covered food, women’s issues and the arts and won several journalism awards. Her essays, reviews and features have also appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Gourmet, Gastronomica, Slate and many other publications. Her first book was Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century (1986), which the University of California Press has reissued with a new Afterword. She is also the author of Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America (Viking, 2004), and Julia Child (Penguin Lives, 2007), which won the award for Literary Food Writing from the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2008. Her work is represented in the Library of America’s American Food Writing, The Virago Book of Food, and Best Food Writing 2002. She is a frequent speaker and panelist on culinary history, and contributed a regular column on a wide range of food topics to gourmet.com, the Gourmet magazine website. During 2009-10 she was a fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.
Ruth Reichl, Author and former Editor in Chief of Gourmet Magazine
Ruth Reichl is the author of My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, a cookbook published in September 2015. She was Editor in Chief of Gourmet Magazine from 1999 to 2009. Before that she was the restaurant critic of both The New York Times (1993-1999) and the Los Angeles Times (1984-1993), where she was also named food editor. As co-owner of The Swallow Restaurant from 1974 to 1977, she played a part in the culinary revolution that took place in Berkeley, California. In the years that followed, she served as restaurant critic for New West and California magazines.
Ms. Reichl began writing about food in 1972, when she published Mmmmm: A Feastiary. Since then, she has authored the critically acclaimed, best-selling memoirs Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, and For You Mom, Finally, which have been translated into 18 languages. In 2014 she published her first novel: Delicious!
Ms. Reichl hosted Eating Out Loud, three specials on Food Network, covering New York (2002), San Francisco (2003), and Miami (2003). She is the executive producer of Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie, public television’s 30-episode series, which debuted in October 2006 and Executive Producer and host of Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth, a 10-episode public television (2009.) She was also a judge on Top Chef Masters.
Ms. Reichl has been honored with 6 James Beard Awards (one for magazine feature writing and one for multimedia food journalism in 2009; two for restaurant criticism, in 1996 and 1998; one for journalism, in 1994; and Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America, 1984. In 2007, she was named Adweek’s Editor of the Year. She received the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism, presented by the Missouri School of Journalism, in October 2007. Ms. Reichl received the 2008 Matrix Award for Magazines from New York Women in Communications, Inc., in April 2008. She holds a B.A. and an M.A. in the History of Art from the University of Michigan and lives in Upstate New York with her husband, Michael Singer, a television news producer.
Krishnendu Ray, Associate Professor, Food Studies; Department Chair Nutrition and Food Studies, NYU Steinhardt
Krishnendu Ray received his Ph.D. in Sociology from SUNY Binghamton in 2001. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science from Delhi University, India. Prior to joining the NYU faculty in 2005, Krishnendu was a faculty member and an Acting Associate Dean for Curriculum Development at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA).
A food studies scholar, he is the author of The Migrant’s Table: Meals and Memories in Bengali-American Households (Temple University, 2004). He co-edited (with Tulasi Srinivas) Curried Cultures: Globalization, Food and South Asia (University of California Press, 2012). His most recent monograph is The Ethnic Restaurateur (Bloomsbury 2016).
Bill Buford, Author and former Fiction Editor of the New Yorker
Bill Buford was the fiction editor of the New Yorker for eight years, where he first came upon Walton Ford's work to illustrate some of the stories he published. He is now a New Yorker staff writer. He was also the founding editor of Granta and has written two books, Among the Thugs and Heat: An Amateur's Advantures as a Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany. He lives in New York City with his wife Jessica Green, and their two sons.
Larry Wolff (Moderator), Silver Professor; Professor of History; Former Director, Center for European and Mediterranean Studies; Executive Director, Remarque Institute; Co-Director, NYU Florence
Larry Wolff works on the history of Eastern Europe, the Habsburg Monarchy, the Enlightenment, and on the history of childhood. He tends to work as an intellectual and cultural historian. He has been most interested in problems concerning East and West within Europe: whether concerning the Vatican and Poland, Venice and the Slavs, or Vienna and Galicia. In the book Inventing Eastern Europe (1994) he developed the argument that Eastern Europe was "invented" in the eighteenth century, by the philosophes and travelers of the Enlightenment, who attributed meaning to a supposed division of Europe into complementary regions, Western Europe and Eastern Europe. Professor Wolff has analyzed Western perspectives on Eastern Europe as a sort of "demi-Orientalism," negotiating a balance between attributed difference and acknowledged resemblance. In books about Venetian perspectives on Dalmatia (Venice and the Slavs, 2001) and Habsburg perspectives on Galicia (The Idea of Galicia, 2010), he has attempted to explore the meaning of "Eastern Europe" within imperial frameworks and the ideology of empire. His research on the history of childhood has included books on child abuse in Freud's Vienna (Postcards from the End of the World, 1988) and child abuse in Casanova's Venice (Paolina’s Innocence, 2012). His most recent book, The Singing Turk (2016), concerns Turkish subjects on the European operatic stage during the long eighteenth century, and analyzes musical and dramatic representations in the context of European-Ottoman relations. His current research concerns Woodrow Wilson and Eastern Europe. Professor Wolff also writes music and opera criticism.