Blanche Vaughan, author of In One Pot, tells us what it’s like to be a first-time cookbook author.
I never thought I’d actually write my own cookbook. I just collected and read everyone else’s. Old paperbacks by Elizabeth David and Patience Gray spill off my bookshelves, beautifully illustrated copies of Chez Panisse classics, bright River Café editions and Moro’s evocative pages are piled high on the kitchen table. A few books by special writers like M F K Fisher and Dorothy Hartley inevitably creep into my bedroom for indulgent afternoon reading. And I’ve never regretted a single book I’ve bought, or the time spent reading it.
Throughout my 20’s I worked in restaurants, cooking from dawn till dusk and beyond. I thrived on the energy, creativity and knowledge gained in such a intense working environment. Favourite cookbooks were discussed in the kitchens and ideas passed around. I filled endless notebooks, both at work and outside – secrets to how to make a recipe really turn out well, or dishes I’d eaten while travelling or trying a new restaurant. It was those scribbled words and stuck together pages I turned to when I first started planning my book.
That’s not to say everyone needs to have started with a career as a chef – and it wasn’t until I stopped working in restaurants that I really came to appreciate cooking in a domestic environment – fewer numbers and less rush. But it’s the total immersion in food and cooking that gives you the material. It could be constantly trying new recipes at home; teaching yourself and working your way through cookbooks, Julie and Julia style. Or recording and recreating things you’ve eaten that have inspired you or are connected to your life in some way – the first taste of salty, sweet sea urchin by the sea in Italy or medlar jelly from your grandmother’s larder – this is where voice and personality come from.
People always ask me how I can create a totally new recipe. Well nothing’s really new, it’s about your take on it, how you choose to make something, in your own way. That’s when you benefit from reading lots of cookbooks, getting a feel for different writers’ styles and methods. Different approaches to the same thing. Think of the Italians, there must be a thousand versions of the ‘classic’ tomato sauce.
So writing your own book is about having the opportunity to say things your way. What inspires and excites you about making these recipes. The process starts with planning the structure, writing the recipes and developing and testing everything, but in the end it all comes down to the finished dish. If it sings at the table, it’s got a place in the book. Every recipe I tested was served to friends and tasters.
If your love of food and cooking is urging you to write a book, maybe dig out those scrappy notes you may have written and do something with them. Pour your enthusiasm into a proposal, outlining a structure and including some recipes to give a sense of content. Send it off to the publishers and fingers crossed, you may be just the one they’re waiting for. It’s hard work, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable journey.
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