By Vic Dolcourt
Amy Fothergill’s new book, The Warm Kitchen – Gluten-Free Recipes Anyone Can Make and Everyone Will Love, is now published and available. It is a work of love, sharing and delicious, nutritious meals. Vic Dolcourt spoke to Amy in September about how the book came to be. More about Amy, her blog and cooking classes, can be found on her website The Family Chef.
Vic: Amy, when did you start thinking about writing a cookbook?
Amy: Actually, it is a little more complicated than that. For the past five years I’ve wanted to write a cookbook, something along the lines of “simple cooking.” But during that time I was also cooking gluten-free, first for my daughter and then for myself. In 2011 it all came together. I decided a gluten-free cookbook would make the most sense because it would help the most people.
There are a number of gluten free cookbooks, some of them by celebrity chefs, but I wanted mine to be different. I didn’t want to scare my audience away with recipes containing a huge list of ingredients. In addition, I wanted to share culinary tips from my food service experience that separate success from failure, or at least success from mediocrity. Finally, I wanted to create a cookbook featuring foods that gluten-free people generally don’t get because of dietary restrictions. Although our family doesn’t have celiac disease, we all must eat gluten free. That means that we are frustrated by not being able to eat regular chicken pot pie, pizza and cake at restaurants and events. The bottom line is that I cook the things I miss most.
V: Dietary restriction beyond gluten is a very real thing. I’m lucky that gluten is my only bugaboo, but a number of my friends don’t eat soy, or eggs, or dairy, or potatoes, or corn, or …. You know the drill.
A: I definitely know the drill, and that is where my food service experience comes in handy. There are a number of “chef” tips that help the cook substitute for allergen ingredients. These recipes aren’t absolutes. They are strong suggestions with options. My goal is to encourage the cook to think about what is possible, instead of what is not possible. I want people to feel that they have the flexibility to be creative. In some cases where I substitute a gluten-free ingredient for one that is not, I want to duplicate texture and taste to the greatest possible extent. I provide replacements for the most common allergens like dairy and eggs. Except for the occasional use of soy sauce, there isn’t soy in my recipes, and most nuts are optional.
V: You mention foodservice experience. Is your cookbook an extension of your experience working in restaurants?
A: Yes, because when you work in a restaurant, you learn a lot about culinary techniques and seasoning. That information is one of the things that makes this book unique. It’s more than just recipes; it’s a how-to guide. For example, I share how to cut vegetables, make broth, prep efficiently, etc. That’s straight from the big kitchen.
However, a lot of my experience as a cooking teacher influenced the book, not just my restaurant background. I want the cookbook to be a learning experience. There are over 40 tips called out in the book.
A restaurant chef could use the book to create dishes in their restaurant, scaling for proportions. It might give them ideas on how to make a sauce without a roux, use cornstarch instead of flour in their crepe, or make lasagna from polenta instead of pasta. Of course they have to be aware of cross-contamination.
V: What is involved in creating a cookbook for us amateurs? Are there considerations about ingredients, complexity, and lack of formal culinary training – those sorts of things?
A: That is one area I really focused on. I’ve read some cookbooks that are low on important details: Step one: Cook the chicken. That is not what I wanted. I tell you exactly how to cook the chicken. After that you know how to cook chicken. I wanted the instructions to be clear and complete, and hopefully concise. To that end, I had a small army of 10-20 people helping me test recipes. If there was something that I didn’t explain well enough or something about the food they didn’t like, they told me. I added their comments throughout the book because I thought that was more reliable than a simple book review.
V: How many recipes are in the book?
A: I cut the number down to 150. While I was in the publishing stage I really wanted to include some more, but I guess that is the next book. This cookbook weighs over two pounds!
V: Did you use a professional photographer or a food stylist?
A: No, I took all of the photos myself, sometimes 10 of the same dish, and picked the one I liked the best. As far as a food stylist goes, I’d rather have pictures of real food that you can actually eat. In fact, a number of my photos are in-process photos: this is what the meat looks like in this step. But I did get professional help assembling the book and cover, and I’ve gotten someone to help me with publicity.
V: How are book sales so far?
A: I’m getting a great response from the gluten-free community and surprising response from people who are not gluten free but are buying the book, most likely because of the cooking tips and the recipe flexibility.
V: Where is the cookbook sold?
A: On Amazon, and in some of your favorite stores like New Leaf Community Markets, Draeger’s Markets, and some independent book stores. You can check the cookbook’s website for new locations, book signings and demos. The website also has nine wonderful meal planning ideas.
V: Good luck on your book, Amy. Can’t wait for the next one.