Last Autumn, I received a publishing deal with Ryland Peters & Small to produce a Vietnamese recipe cook book. I was really happy. Even more so than I had imagine being. I have been writing since I was seven years old, moving my mother and her friends to tears. They were mainly letters to my father, every day I would look to the sky and see aeroplanes, recites my mother, but it has been two months and you have not returned…
I couldn’t believe that I had actually gotten a book deal because sometimes you think things are just impossible especially when these things have been cooked up in dreams from childhood. I had always had a big love for beautiful smelling books and I wanted to have one myself! I got that feeling people talked about, when an author is published for the first time. That awesome awesome feeling. I shook so hard with joy. I celebrated with my agent. I rode my bicycle very drunk with the biggest fattest smile on my face in the rain!
Crispy chicken wings with sweet chilli fish sauce
My dream had come true and it had been staring me in the face for the past few months. I went to Vietnam to do more research and to take photographs. We have shot and produced a BLAD (book layout and design) for the Book Fair in April. The book will contain 50 recipes written and tested, 60 styled (by me) recipe photographs by Clare Winfield; 40 travel photographs by me.
I have been cooking over 50 dishes in the last couple of months, maybe three times then asking a friend to follow my recipe to see if it works. They have been amazing in helping me adjust the flavour as well as instructions.
Udon noodle soup with dill fish cakes
It has been very interesting to see how people follow recipes. Some follow every detail and some find it very difficult to even when given the exact recipe someone else had accomplished with ease. Some people can’t believe how little cooking time is required with Vietnamese cuisine and cook further or do not understand that everything is in the prep.
It is so easy for people to confuse teaspoons (tsp) with tablespoons (tbs); a squeeze of lime depends on how juicy the lime is, a pinch of salt depends on how your pinch is; a splash of wine depends on what you regard as a splash and so on.
Therefore, I have been faced with different scenarios. The same recipe I have created can be produced in almost every way possible depending on whose cooking, their mood, how many distractions, how seriously they take the task, how well they know about oriental cooking, how fast or slow they are, how competent they are in the kitchen, how precise, if they bother to measure with scales and measuring jugs..
sea bass congee
What I have noticed is that most people never taste when cooking when following a recipe (only afterwards when its done) and that there is this a blind trust in the author’s recipe and what will be will be with the fate of the dish. Which is why it is so important for me to test the dishes several times with different friends.
I am lucky to have so many good friends who are offering their time and dedication to my cause, to my book. I’ve had some fabulous evenings as everything gets eaten in the end over long conversations and laughter.
I have noticed that tasty food always makes people so happy that they give me so much back in friendship, love and respect. Sometimes, a group of my friends will gather from all over London to help me out and then to even comfort me on rainy days. Then I find out that in fact, they didn’t really come for the food but to just be there for me. I thank everyone whose helped me with all my heart.
I am finishing up recipe writing. Next will be some prose and then 3 weeks of photography – my favourite bit.
The book will be out in September 2013.
Ca phe creme caramel
NB: These are not photos of the book, but tested recipes.