Zibby interviews Ali Rosen about her fiction debut, RECIPE FOR SECOND CHANCES, an enchanting second-chance romance set against the backdrop of an Indian-Italian wedding in Umbria, Italy. Ali, an accomplished cookbook author and TV host, discusses her transition from writing cookbooks to fiction. The conversation also touches on Ali’s approach to writing, how she balances work and family, her plans for her next novel (this time set in Ireland!), and her advice for aspiring authors, especially about finding joy in what they read and write. The interview concludes with a discussion about Ali’s TV show, her cooking philosophy, and the importance of prioritizing personal happiness.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Ali. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Recipe for Second Chances. Congratulations.

Ali Rosen: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me on.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. Your book is really good. You’re a good writer.

Ali: Thank you.

Zibby: It’s smart women’s fiction, rom-com, great voice, all the things you look for in one of these escapist, rom-com abroad, all of it. It’s great.

Ali: I wanted to write a book that I would have fun reading, which I think is kind of what happened to all of us in 2020. We’re like, we think we need a little easier things that also tackle issues but that you know end happily. You don’t have to worry about it. I’m so excited for it to be coming out and for people to start reading it.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. First of all, tell everybody what it’s about and then how your own chef-dom, cookbook writer, James Beard stuff, TV host, all of that, comes into the book and how you bring your own unique point of view for the foodie parts.

Ali: The book is a second-chance romance about a woman who is really at a crossroads in her life. Professionally, she writes recipes for a living for a magazine. She’s going to one of her best friend’s weddings in Umbria in Italy. She runs into the man that she had a difficult breakup with almost a decade before. The book goes back and forth where you see what went wrong before and in the mix of this beautiful wedding in the Italian countryside. It’s an Indian Italian wedding, so it’s just filled with fun and food and joy. I took a lot from my life because I’m a cookbook author. I also host a show on public television about food. I love Italy. It was a way to take all the things I love and then bring them into the other thing that I love. I’m such a voracious reader. I love the romance category and just how smart and interesting it has become in recent years, which is not to diminish past romance. That space that you said in the beginning of kind of between women’s fiction and romance I think has really gained in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. People want something that they know will end okay, but we also want to be challenged a little bit along the way. I was just really inspired to write something fun and different from the cooking things that I normally do. That turned into Recipe for Second Chances.

Zibby: Not everyone can just be like, I’m going to try writing a novel, and have it come off this way. Usually, there are several in a drawer. You’ve been thinking about it or trying it. Speaking from personal experience here. How did you do it? Did you try a few others, or did you just go at it cold?

Ali: It was COVID burnout. I’ve been a reader my whole life. Whenever people ask for writing advice — I’m sure you say this as well. You have to be a reader. I had always been a much more, I don’t want to say literary reader because I think that diminishes the genre, but I had sort of read the things that I felt like I was supposed to be reading. During COVID, I was like, I need to just read things that are escape. I discovered so many authors that just blew my mind. I was like, wow. There is this space between women’s fiction and romance that I fell in love with. It really started percolating for me, oh, what if I wrote this kind of story? A particular idea, this idea, came to mind. I just started writing kind of as a writing exercise. I’m burnt out. I had finished my second cookbook. In the summer of 2021, I was like, I need to do something different. I started writing, really, with no agenda. I didn’t tell anyone in my life because I was like, who wants to hear about your novel? I don’t have an MFA. I haven’t been doing this my whole life. I really fell in love with this little story, and so I just kept writing it. It turned into this book, which is still wild to me. I sort of chalk it up to, if you read a lot, hopefully, you can find your own voice and your own way to bring something new to the space that you love.

Zibby: I haven’t read your cookbooks. Although, now I have to get them. Are they your voice? Is this basically the same voice-y — do you know what I’m trying to say?

Ali: Yes. It’s been really funny to have my close friends read my fiction because they’re like, it sounds like you talking to me. My cookbooks have always been, also, very approachable. I’m a mom of three kids. I live in New York City. I work full time. My cookbooks are very much not precious. They are for people who are busy and want to get stuff done. The first book is about potlucks. The second book is about freezer food. My next book is about fifteen-minute meals. I have always seen it as, let me hold your hand and guide you through it as a fellow person who has no time. I admire authors that have the ability to take on completely different voices. I’m not sure I’ll ever be that person. Yes, I think my writing reflects me. I don’t think writing for cookbooks and writing for fiction is that different. It’s a different narrative. It’s a different story. It’s a different structure. Writing is writing. It’s just about how you structure it.

Zibby: I think we need a Moms Don’t Have Time to Cook sub-brand here. You can be the champion of that.

Ali: Moms, we don’t have time for anything, and yet we do everything.

Zibby: Do you still cook for your family every night after doing all this stuff?

Ali: No. Every night, that is impossible. Some nights, it really is like, here are some grapes and salami and leftover pasta. You’re welcome. 15 Minute Meals really came out of COVID when I was cooking all three meals for my whole family. I was like, god, there just has to be an easier way to get this on the table. I’m very lucky to be able to do the work that I do. I get to work from home. We have a lot of help. All of those things make it possible. I think cooking every single day for your kids, you just have to figure out the way to balance meal prep with doing it in the moment, with also not — just forgive yourself when it’s taco Tuesday and you’re shoving tomatoes and cheese into a taco shell. That’s fine too. The kids are fine.

Zibby: Breakfast for dinner again.

Ali: Always. Who wants eggs?

Zibby: My husband did all our cooking in COVID. He’s amazing. He’s from an Italian family. Loves it. He relishes his time in the kitchen and will take as long as it needs and just enjoys it and then would come up with these meals and put them out for us to enjoy. Of course, the kids are like, “I don’t like this. I don’t like this.” Two minutes later, we’re done. He’s like, “You’ve taken all the joy away from cooking.”

Ali: There’s a time for both. People look at it as one thing or the other. You can cook something great super quickly, and you can also spend the whole day laboring over something. They’re both valid. It’s really just about forgiving yourself. One of the things that I love about your podcast and what you’ve done is that people need to give themselves permission to do things the way that they want to. I think that’s been the biggest lesson for me in recent years. I’m going to read what I want to. Everyone has told me I have to read this book. I don’t want to. I want to read something else. I want to cook something else. You have to give yourself the permission to find the joy in the things that you find joy in, the way that you find joy in them. Cooking is not a joy for everyone. If you can find the way to make it joyful, for me, then that matters so much more than doing it the exact right way.

Zibby: That’s interesting what you say about the books you should read, the things you should like. Even now, I was in my bookstore the other day, and everyone’s like, “Everybody loves this book.” I was like, I am the only person who does not love this book. What’s wrong with me? I thought I had sort of popular taste. What am I missing? Maybe I’m weird. It feels like there’s something wrong with you if you’re the one who doesn’t like something that everyone else in the world seems to be liking. Then you’re ashamed.

Ali: It’s hard because you think your opinion isn’t valid. The thing for me as a first-time author that’s been very helpful is I’ve gone to the Goodreads pages of books that I adore, and I read the one, two, three-star reviews. I’m like, this book that I love is not for everyone. I especially love books with really complicated female characters that are not necessarily always the good guy. I don’t mind them messing up. Certainly, readers of my book, if you don’t like a complex heroine, please don’t read my book. That is the feedback that I have gotten from Goodreads. On the flip side of that, the people that love it really love it. The people that don’t connect to it don’t connect to it. That’s totally fine. Every book is not for every person. That’s okay. One of the things that is great about podcasts and review sites in a way that is so different to how we grew up with, here’s the review in the newspaper, and this is the definitive thing, is that you get a little bit more context.

Sometimes from the two-star reviews, I get more context about a book. Oh, this has a really messy, tragic heroine. Actually, I might like that. You didn’t like that, but I will. In a romance book, I don’t love a third-act breakup. I don’t like when there’s some contrived breakup thing. Sometimes I see that in a review, and I’m like, oh, great, then this book isn’t for me, but I know so many readers who love that. I think getting that context as a reader is really special because there are so many great books. You look at the list and the things that people tell you what to read. It’s like we’re all supposed to be reading the same fifteen or twenty books a year. That’s insane. The number of interviews that you do with authors is just a testament to how many amazing books there are. You get to choose. The reason there are so many great books is because there’s a reader for every type of book. You don’t have to read the book that’s at the top of the best-seller list. That’s okay. In fact, you shouldn’t because you have something interesting to say.

Zibby: I want to frame this whole thing.

Ali: Read more. Read what you want.

Zibby: By the way, it’s really hard for me to narrow it down. I know that sounds ridiculous. To narrow it down to 365 podcasts takes so much time and work. There are so many other books that I don’t even cover because this is just my personal taste. Like you, I have things that I like, but there are plenty of things that other people would like that I pass on. Not to say they’re not good. They’re so good. They’re just not what I want to read. Very interesting. When you talked, by the way, about, not to say comps, but books that you love that inspired you to write Recipe for Second Chances or that you looked to as models, what were some of those? Who are some of those authors?

Ali: Oh, god, I could go on for all eternity. Tia Williams’s book, Seven Days in June, is one of my all-time favorites. I love Kate Clayborn. She’s another author that, again, people either adore her or totally dislike her. It’s not a big plot. It’s more emotional. It’s an emotional journey. If you like those types of books, all of her books. Her most recent book, Georgie, All Along, just really floored me. I loved it so much. All of Abby Jimenez’s books I think are fantastic. Part of Your World and Yours Truly, her recent books, I adored. Then a lot of the debuts this year have just been amazing. You, with a View by Jessica Joyce, I loved. You, Again by Kate Goldbeck. Again, a very stereotypically unlikable heroine, but I adored her. If you like cranky, difficult, really New York women, You, Again, it was just perfection. It’s amazing to me. I, like many people, started on the Emily Henry track. Then you start to realize, oh, wow. I think Emily Henry probably is one of the greatest writers. I would read anything that she writes. It’s amazing to me how many — Ashley Poston, The Seven Year Slip and The Dead Romantics that she wrote are just beautiful. At this point in my life, that’s all I want to read. My TBR list is so long. The authors writing in that space, it’s really floored me to be like, wow, we’re living in a golden age of women’s stories. They don’t have to all be tragic in the way that a lot of literature makes women. So many great books to read.

Zibby: Are you going to write another novel?

Ali: I am. Actually, my next novel comes out next May.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. In 2024?

Ali: Yes, in 2024.

Zibby: That’s so soon.

Ali: I really adore my publisher. I’m with Amazon Publishing, as I know you are for your next book. I’m with Montlake, their imprint. They are very much on the train of, once somebody likes an author, we want to get them their next book. My next book comes out quite quickly. It’s called Alternate Endings. Similarly, it’s another New York woman who finds herself Ireland for reasons. It’s kind of the same vibes. I’m hoping to write many more. I have to find the way to balance cookbooks, TV, and writing. It’s so special to be able to escape into someone else’s world. As I’m sure you feel now, it’s scary to put something out into the world. People who comment on cookbooks don’t have quite as strong opinions as people do about fiction, as I’m learning. My editor, the other day, was like, “Just so you’re prepared…” I was like, “I’m a woman on TV aging. What have I not heard?” Fiction and the community around fiction is just special. I hope to write for a long time.

Zibby: I’m still trying to get over that you wrote a second novel and that it’s already coming out. That’s amazing.

Ali: I’m very tired.

Zibby: My editor is like, “We should think about another novel.” I was like, I’ve been waiting my whole life for this, and yet…

Ali: The churn of publishing. The things on your plate, learning to say no is really great, finding the things where you’re like, I don’t have the capacity for this right now. Your next novel will come when you’re ready for it.

Zibby: Thank you.

Ali: I can’t wait to read this one.

Zibby: I have to send it to you. I feel like maybe you’ll like it with your — I don’t know.

Ali: I would love it. I know. I’m sympatico.

Zibby: Now I’m like, maybe my cover is wrong. Anyway, whatever. Rethinking everything. Tell me more about the TV show. How often do you do it? You were nominated, or you won an Emmy? Something.

Ali: I was nominated. I’ve never won anything. It’s been really lovely. I’ve been nominated for so many things. I never win. I still have things to look forward to, I guess. My show is called Potluck with Ali Rosen. It airs on NYC Life in the New York Metro area. It’s a show all about the food creators, producers, chefs of New York. My job for the last ten years has really been to get to ask chefs all the questions that I would want to know. I feel stupidly lucky that that’s what I get to do all day. We used to do two seasons a year. Since COVID, I basically — the station has been so supportive and lovely. Again, saying no. I was like, I do not have the capacity to do this twice a year. We’re now doing one season a year. We just finished our fifteenth season. Now next year, we’ll have our sixteenth. Public television is amazing because you get to be nerdy. We can be like, let’s talk about the difference between firm tofu and extra-firm tofu. We’re going to talk about that for seven minutes with an expert who makes tofu. I don’t feel like food TV lets you do that anywhere else anymore. It’s all like, let’s vote someone off the island. I don’t know how I get to keep doing this where I just get to nerdily talk to people about food. I feel very lucky because I get to go to school every day and interview chefs. It feeds into every part of my life. It’s so New York. Chefs and people and food in New York are the most diverse, interesting group of people on the planet. Everybody who comes to New York to work in food in any capacity just has such passion for what they’re doing. To get to interview people all day, as you know, it’s such a joy.

Zibby: It’s such a joy. I have to introduce you to my husband’s cousin, Robbie Felice, has a bunch of restaurants. He’s this up-and-coming — he’s probably thirty. Now he has four restaurants. It’s in New Jersey. I don’t know if you venture over there. It’s called Viaggio. It’s amazing. He’s amazing. I’m going to put you in touch.

Ali: Yes, please.

Zibby: He’s tattooed, rockstar. He’s got the thing going.

Ali: He’s that chef look.

Zibby: Yeah, got that chef look. I’ve been watching as he builds his business and being like, oh, yeah, I know more about the restaurant industry because of this.

Ali: Everybody always says to me, oh, my god, would you want to ever open a restaurant? I’m like, oh, the last thing I would do is open a restaurant. It’s the hardest business, the margins and the — I have so much respect for chefs. People who open restaurants and people who open bookstores, they are my favorite people. I don’t think I could ever do it.

Zibby: What’s your secret dream of something you would start?

Ali: The thing is, I love what you’re doing, but I worry that so many of those things would then ruin — I love being able to read and write and not have to — if you have a restaurant, you sort of have to then pick favorites and do — with a bookstore, how do you decide what to carry in your store and who to support and how to pick? I don’t know. Someone said to me, they said, “Oh, you’re a writer. You should start reviewing romance books for some outlet.” I said, “Yeah, but then it would be work as opposed to the thing I find the greatest joy in.” I don’t know. I’m doing the things I want to do, which feels totally insane to say out loud. I have three kids. I had a whole fun fertility bonanza to get to that. I’m kind of living in this moment of, something’s going to go wrong again, for sure. We’ve had a lot of difficult things. In the moment, I’m like, okay, I have my books. I have my show. I’m just going to ride it until something happens.

Zibby: I did not, in any way, mean to imply you needed to add something more to your plate or that you —

Ali: — No, but it’s always the question. What else is there for you? Listen, as you are discovering, you find one piece of an industry, and then you say, this is also a special place to be. It’s all so interconnected that it’s always interesting to think, where to next?

Zibby: My secret dream is opening a hotel. I’ll just throw that out there.

Ali: A bed and breakfast-y hotel or a big ?

Zibby: A very bookish boutique hotel. That’s my dream, where it’s all about books and reading. Sounds fun, right?

Ali: I would hide there. I want the library in Beauty and the Beast in a hotel where you’re going along that ladder. This is heaven. By the way, do that somewhere outside of New York where you can come and pick out books and sit, spa. You’re onto something.

Zibby: I’m thinking LA. I want to do it in LA so they could go to the bookstore. I don’t know. This is my dream, but I don’t have time for this. I know people ask you this a lot, I’m sure. I hate being asked this, but I am curious. In terms of when you do what or how you do it all, how do you answer that question? What’s a hack or two that you have? How do you deal with your life?

Ali: The first answer is being not a jerk and acknowledging that I have a nanny. That’s an undeniable thing. If you look in my cookbooks especially, I’m always like, thank you specifically to this person who I cannot live without. I would say that the hack is to stop watching TV, which I know sounds kind of judgmental. It’s kind of amazing to me. I don’t think most people realize how much time they spend — people are always like, how do you read so many books every year? I’m like, I just stopped watching television. I am able to read and write and do all of these things because I don’t spend four hours of my day binging a show that I don’t like that much. I think a lot of that came from, the type of TV that I like — I want positive content that isn’t dramatic or include murder — is much harder to find. Comedy is much harder to find. It was kind of easy for me to get rid of television from my life. I know that’s not an answer for everyone because people love television. Also, it sounds a little gross and judgmental, but it’s not meant that way. That, for me personally, has been the way — people say, when did you find time to write a book and read so many books? It is that in the evenings when my kids are asleep and I am not doing anything — my husband works all day and then likes to veg out. I was like, this isn’t how I want to spend my time. I think figuring out the things that fill you up and then cutting out the things that you should be doing, the doom scrolling, the TV. You’d be amazed how many more hours there are in your day if you limit your screentime, which is hard. It’s easier to say than to do. Once you get in the habit of reading and not watching — I’m sure you feel this way. Once you’re in the habit of reading, it becomes your entertainment. I don’t need TV.

Zibby: Don’t watch TV, says the woman on TV.

Ali: I know.

Zibby: Only watch my show. Then log off and read.

Ali: Watch wholesome cooking content, and then read wholesome —

Zibby: — Books I wrote.

Ali: Books I wrote, yeah. Just live in the Ali Rosen universe if you like food. It’s really hard, the “How do you do it all?” question. Nobody does it all. My kids, every single day, they tell me that I didn’t spend enough individual time with this one. I didn’t do this. I forgot to order the Cub Scout uniform. I didn’t bring the extra underwear to my daughter’s preschool. You don’t do it all. You just kind of laugh and keep going and make time for yourself. My son is eight, so he now has a lot of questions about why my husband and I want to go on dates together. I’m like, “I promise when you’re older, you will appreciate that you had parents who liked each other and made time for each other. That’s important.” I think especially with kids, people get caught up in the, oh, my god, I should be doing this for them. I think if you’re happy, they’ll be happier. Woman goes on podcast and says she’s selfish. That’s her advice.

Zibby: That is not your advice. I feel like we need to continue this over coffee or something.

Ali: Anytime. I know. I need more literary world — with people in the book space, I’m like, be my — I have so many food friends. They’re like, I don’t know what you’re doing with this book stuff. I would love that.

Zibby: Ali, to be continued. In the meantime, congratulations. Recipe for Second Chances. Thank you for coming on.

Ali: Thank you for having me. Good luck with the rest of your interviews today.

Zibby: Thank you. Bye, Ali.

Ali: Bye.


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