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From the Heart

David Leite and his Portuguese Heritage

by Joseph Montebello

With his first cookbook, The New Portuguese Table: Exciting Flavors from Europe's Western Coast, David Leite brought Portuguese cooking to the forefront of international cuisine and introduced it to a whole new generation of food lovers.

Pair that with his immensely popular food blog Leite’s Culinaria and you have someone who is not only a talented cook and food lover but someone who loves to share his knowledge.

“I started the blog by accident,” Leite explained. “In 1999 I was writing for the Chicago Sun-Times and decided to start a website where I could showcase some of my recent articles and, when I was pitching a new idea, I could send a prospective publisher to the site to read some of my pieces. There were only a few search engines at the time but people found me and that’s how it started.”

It is now one of the popular and influential food blogs, having won numerous awards, including the James Beard Award for Best Internet Food Site.

Leite did not start out wanting to be in the food world. Indeed, he very much hoped to be an actor.

“I was sure a movie scout would discover me and cast me in a sequel to The Sound of Music” Leite said. But, although he was cast in several commercials, the road to stardom came to a dead end - and that turned out to be a good thing.

He went on to the world of advertising where he wrote copy for some of the largest agencies at the time. Pursuing a career in food had still not occurred to him. That didn’t happen until a moment in the kitchen when his husband, Alan, was baking a cake.

“For some reason, I took a lick from the bowl and tasted the batter and suddenly remembered that my grandmother had been an amazing baker. That’s when I realized that I needed somehow to honor her and my Portuguese heritage. I went off to the Culinary Institute and learned how to bake.”

At that point, Leite, whose father was born in Portugal, had never visited the country. Although he loved his grandmother’s cooking, none of her recipes had been recorded before she died. Leite realized how important it is to preserve one’s heritage and he wanted to honor her memory.

“I submitted a query letter to several newspapers pitching the idea of an article about Portugal and its cuisine,” he said. It wound up in the New York Times.Eventually he was approached by a New York publisher to write a Portuguese cookbook. Along with Jean Anderson’s The Food of Portugal, The New Portuguese Table is considered the essential book on the cuisine.

Leite is about to publish his second book and it is a departure for him. It is called Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression.

a book about being gay, bipolar, loving food, and my search for comfort. I wasn’t properly diagnosed (as being bipolar) until I was 35. I grew up knowing something wasn’t right. I was terribly depressed and anxious - only the hours I spent watching Julia Childs made me feel calm. I wound up writing a piece about that for Julia Child’s hundredth birthday. The book has about 10 recipes that were instrumental in my life story.”

Once the book is published Leite has plans for a new cookbook based on his website.

Meanwhile he will appear at the Women’s Forum in Litchfield on Thursday, October 6th, 2:30 PM at the Litchfield Community Center. He will discuss his heritage, his love for food, his new book and offer samples of his cooking.