6 questions for Marcella Hazan, queen of social media

Is that really the Marcella Hazan commenting on my blog? Turns out it is!

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    The revered 87-year-old cookbook author is one of the most interactive Facebook celebrities I’ve ever encountered.
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The person posting on the Internet as “Marcella Hazan” had the legendary cookbook author’s voice down pat: Gracious, authoritative, opinionated, fully capable of delivering either reproofs or praise.

Still, I assumed the “Marcella Hazan” commenting on a blog post I wrote wasn’t really Hazan, author of the classic cookbooks creating “the definitive roadmap” to Italian food. It’s partly that Hazan is 87 years old, living a quiet life in Florida, and not the first person I’d expect to find posting on blogs and Facebook and throwing around words like “blogosphere.” I assumed the commenter was a hoax because Hazan is the “godmother of Italian cooking,” a luminary in a way that few are even in today’s celebrity-chef obsessed culture. Although I had interviewed Hazan and her husband Victor on a book tour when her memoir was released in 2008, seeing her comment on pasta books and rice cookers and measuring cups was as surreal as picking up the iPhone and finding Julia Child on the line.

Such is the strangeness of the modern world, though, that I could stop by Hazan’s Facebook page and ask if “Marcella Hazan” was truly Marcella Hazan. (“Yes, my dear,” she replied). And even more intriguing is the fact that the octogenarian author is one of the most interactive Facebook celebrities I’ve ever seen, using the social media service as a personal home page rather than a promotional tool. No, she doesn’t play Farmville, but she writes elegant short essays in the “notes” function, she recommends magazine articles, she engages with friends and fans (currently numbering 3,232), and she leads discussions on food culture. She answers fans questions on issues such as whether prawns can be added to her recipe for fennel risotto. Her information page innocuously (but accurately) refers to her employment as “Self.” (Education: “Studied Biology, Paleonthology at University of Ferrara.”)

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I wondered what Hazan gets out of Facebook, what else she’s reading and writing about online, and whether we can expect to find her on Twitter next. She graciously answered questions via email:

1. Why did you join Facebook? And why join using a personal page (limited to 5,000 “friends”), rather than a "fan" page?

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when I joined Facebook. I even thought I might drop out of it in short order. But it very quickly developed into something I have always deeply enjoyed and that has been missing from my life since I retired from teaching, direct contact with people who cook and moreover with those who like to cook from my books. I am cyber ignorant and don’t know the difference between a personal page and fan page.

2. What are your guidelines for accepting friend requests? And which people do you send "friend" requests to yourself?

I try to accept requests only from those who have some mutual friends or who include a message that indicates they know and are interested in what I do. I do not accept, or if I have already accepted I unfriend, those, even if they are in the media, who I believe have a hostile or argumentative agenda. I do not send friend requests.

3. What has the experience been like so far? Do you consider it a social activity or a business-related one? Do you have any interest in Twitter or other social media sites?

It has been a terrific experience because I have established a warm epistolary relationship with people around the world. Facebook has also provided me with a platform from which I can discuss issues about which I have strong feelings. I am old, I have greatly diminished mobility, I no longer travel anywhere, and I lead a very quiet life on a barrier island in the Gulf. I am not looking to expand social contacts and I would not need FB to do it if it were to interest me. FB is an activity related to my professional interests and philosophical positions. It relieves me from even considering starting my own blog, for which I do not have the energy. I am not interested in Twitter or other social media sites.

4. I noticed that you had also commented on author Michael Ruhlman's blog. What sites do you regularly read online, and what inspires you to leave a comment or start a discussion?

I do not regularly read any blog. I have subscribed to Google alert, which brings to my attention references to my work that I could be interested in commenting on. Sometimes, a friend will tell me that there is a discussion going on that I might like to join, and I look it up.

5. When we last spoke in person, in 2008, you were on a book tour for your memoir. Are there other books you would like to write, or are working on now?

I have signed a contract with Scribner to write a book about ingredients.

6. The question you have probably been asked in every interview over the years: What are some of the things you are cooking these days?

I cook the food that is in my books. I am cooking less meat than I once did. We have both store-bought and homemade pasta regularly, with very simple sauces, risotto, soup, and always as many vegetables as I have the energy to prep. For the first time in decades, I have no kitchen help. We basically have one main meal a day: coffee only in the morning, a full meal at midday, and a very light supper after 9 PM that sometimes consists of just an apple, or a caprese, or a slice or two of prosciutto, or an English muffin.

Seattle writer Rebekah Denn blogs at eatallaboutit.com

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