Monday, 17 August 2015

My Debut Cookbook, plus a Behind-the-scenes Sneak Peek

Gosh it's been ages. The past months have flown by, a mix of ups and downs and twists and turns that I'm not going to go into. There is one particular thing though, that I have been waiting for the longest time to share and now I'm finally allowed to let this giant balloon of excitement pop.

I've been working on my debut cookbook..! Watch out for Chicken and Rice, published by Fig Tree (Penguin Books), next spring. It will be a collection of Southeast Asian recipes, with a focus on using what's British and seasonal to create authentic home-style/ hawker dishes*. I'll definitely be banging drums and shooting party horns closer to its release but I thought I'll give you all a heads up and a tiny behind-the-scenes sneak peek.

It's been pretty crazy. Weekdays were a crazy juggle of work and late night recipe-writing. Saturday mornings often involved cycling across London picking up ingredients from the markets/ butchers/ fishmongers. Saturday afternoons were spent cooking or heading back out with a grumpy sigh to get whatever ingredient it is I had forgotten again. Sundays were the best. I would gather my friends round and cook up a feast. They were happy recipe testers, guinea pigs and dishwashers, and I'm at my happiest feeding people.

The final Sunday feast took place at my wonderful agent Emily's place. Her partner Pete's a chef and she herself is one hell of a baker. What that bit meant: A massive kitchen (probably the biggest room in her house) decked with every pot and pan and tool you could need, stacks of cookbooks, and rows of Japanese handcrafted knives hanging neatly on the wall. We also had a great outdoor wood fired oven and little charcoal barbecue in the garden to work with, i.e. my dream come true.

I roped in Sean, my partner-in-crime when it comes to cooking, gardening, foraging or just eating really, and we lugged our mortar and pestles to Emily's early in the morning. I'd left all the barbecue recipes to the end so that we could have a giant smoky feast in summer. The menu was an ambitious one: minced pork stuffed squid with dill nam pla prik, Nyonya grilled quails, sticky soy sauce wings, corn on the cob with Thai basil butter, Malay chopped herb rice, kohlrabi som tum, and coconut sticky rice for dessert. I was a little bit stressed to say the least; the worst part being that I had to look my best with smoke billowing in my face. Susan the photographer was a genius though, and she managed to snap photos of me before I could freeze up awkwardly.

My friends arrived soon after in a merry noisy hungry gaggle, beer bottles in hand. I did finally relax, especially once the food was out and the rain (yes, damn it England) cleared up. It was just like any other Sunday after all– good food, good friends and lots of messy finger licking. And book or not, this was always what cooking was about to me.

Anyway yes that's the good news. The final manuscript's off to the editors, there's much more to go of course, but I'll be watching from the sidelines. I have my weeknights and weekends back so hopefully I can start dusting the cobwebs off this space– the lil' ol' blog that started it all. Who would have thought? :)

A big thank you to Emily (and Pete) for lending us your home and for pulling me into this madness in the first place. To Anna and Juliet my patient food-obsessed editors, and to Alison the designer and the rest of the design team (please make my book beautiful). To Susan and co. for driving from Brighton on a Sunday with gigantic cameras. To Sean the man. To my favourite people for volunteering their stomachs.

All the beautiful photos i.e. first group photo, photo of me dishing up som tum, and my hand reaching for more chicken wings are by Susan Bell. The other hasty iPhone shots from me/ friends.

Related reads:
*A rant on authenticity, and recipe for Kohlrabi Som Tum

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