The Epicure Next Door: Nancy Winters

I’ve been having a good run at Dan’s Papers lately—I’ve had the opportunity to interview Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert and Jean-Georges Vongerichten—then along came Nancy Winters. Great!

Winters dropped down right in my neighborhood after several years in England. Sag Harbor is a tiny village where fabu people fall from the sky. I caught up with Winters and invited her out for lunch at Pierre’s in Bridgehampton. She heartily approved of the fare and opened up about her wild ride of a life to date.

Winters, you may well recall, wrote for the International Herald-Tribune before her stint at the New York Post, where she wrote about dining trends and everything that moved her. Many magazine articles on travel and a cookbook (Feasting Afloat) later, Winters became a full-fledged novelist, spending most of her time in England. Her books that stand out in my mind are There’s No Place to Cry at the Ritz and How to Train a Man. The latter, she freely admits with a chuckle, was “way beneath me,” then she points out that it was a big hit in Bulgaria, as well as in the English-speaking world. “It didn’t degrade men, it just told you what breed you were dealing with!”

What did Winters miss about Sag Harbor when she was living in London? “Snow, the Tomato Lady, good corn, bluefish, Dreesen’s donuts—powdered, plain AND sugar, blueberry pancakes, swimming in the ocean, local produce.” She now gets her fill of some of these goodies at the Fair Foods Market every Saturday on East Union Street in Sag Harbor. She likes to walk there and chat with the vendors.

What’s up next for Winters’ fans? She’s in the process of completing two books—one on Cole Porter and the other, a novel that includes a semi-autobiographical scene of a young girl drowning off of Shelter Island. She’s too shy to cry out for help.

This doesn’t sound like the Nancy Winters I know! She’s come a long way from her southern roots and years of convent boarding school. The content of her Cole Porter book is top secret, but historical characters are not a new focus for her. She penned Man Flies, the story of Alberto Santos-Dumont, a stylish Brazilian balloonist who lived in Paris, in 1997. It’s a slim and elegant edition, rather like the man himself. For several years Santos was on top of the world, recognized as the first man to fly. Though later eclipsed by the Wright Brothers, his name will remain as one of the pivotal figures in the history of aviation, as well as the inspiration for Cartier’s best-selling wristwatch, the Santos.

Winters had two sons from a previous marriage when she met and married legendary cartoonist Gahan Wilson, over 40 years ago. In a twist of “ultimate romance” the two are still together and living quietly in Sag Harbor full time.

It’s hard to say what Wilson is most famous for. It could be his antiwar cartoons that many Vietnam soldiers carried in their helmets, or his over 50 years of cartoons for Playboy or his many cartoons for the New Yorker. You know the ones—people with googly eyes, that Santa skeleton in the chimney, disgruntled children.

Winters says, “All he cares about is DRAWING.” But right now they’re engaged in a joint project—cataloguing his work and work materials. Winters is settling into East End life, but she misses her fencing club back in England.

“En garde, anyone?”

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