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Brette Warshaw Helps Answer the Question “What’s the Difference?” in the Kitchen

what's the difference book cover

Writer Brette Warshaw knows a lot of things. She’s an Apple News editor and has written for publications including Food52 and Lucky Peach. But she realized there are also so many things she doesn’t know. So she started a newsletter called “What’s the Difference?” that she has now turned into a book focusing on culinary differences, one of her favorite topics. What’s the Difference?: Recreational Culinary Reference for the Curious and Confused was released June 8th and makes the perfect host or hostess gift for any summer dinner party. Read on for our interview with Warshaw.

How did “What’s the Difference?” the newsletter come to be?

A few years ago, I was debating with my friends the difference between a sweet potato and a yam, and I was shocked to realize I didn’t know the answer. I then couldn’t stop thinking of how many other topics I had questions about — the difference between a lake and a pond, or bourbon and rye, or a sea lion and a seal, for example. I polled some friends for more ideas, and started writing.

Why did you decide to translate it into a book, and why did you decide to focus on food?

Honestly, I was originally thinking of the newsletter as a hobby, but I had a number of subscribers write in about what a great book it would make. I eventually got my act together and pulled together a proposal! As for the focus on food: Once I started thinking about what a book could look like, I realized there was potential for lots of “What’s the Difference” books — a food book, a science book, a grammar/language book, etc. Food seemed like a natural category to start with, since my background is in food media.

brette warshaw

How much of what you publish do you already know and how much do you discover when you write about it?

I would say that with the majority of the topics, I learn about them as I research them! That curiosity is what drives most of my work. The most fun ones are when I think I know the difference, but I end up being wrong.

What is one of your favorite specific differentiations?

The aforementioned sweet potato vs. yam is definitely a favorite. I also love buckle vs. cobbler vs. crumble vs. crisp because of all of the funky words used to describe those types of desserts.

How is the content in the book different from your newsletter?

The vast majority of the book is brand-new stuff — and with the topics that had already been covered, I was able to go a bit deeper than I could originally. Plus, Sophia Foster-Dimino’s illustrations really bring the words to life!

What are one or two differences people are most surprised by?

Button vs. crimini vs. portobello mushrooms…that’s a surprising one. And lox vs. Nova vs. smoked salmon.

How should people use the book?

I think it’s best used as a fun reference to have around, either in your kitchen or on your coffee table — pick it up for a few minutes, read a few entries, learn something new. Also, you’ll want to be able to reference it when the inevitable debates start up at your next dinner party.


Sarah Strong

Sarah Strong is a New York City based writer who holds a master’s degree in food studies and is obsessed with television. You can follow her on Instagram at @feedsstrong to see where she eats, what she cooks and what sneakers she’s wearing.


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