Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Why do YOU cook, Dianne Jacob?

Dianne Jacob

If you are a food blogger or an aspiring food writer, there is a good chance you know Dianne Jacob, author of Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More, now in it's second edition. She's an editor, a writer, a teacher, a cook and a coach. She has helped countless people get book deals and polished their writing. After meeting her at a book signing years ago, we've gotten to be friends and I've been lucky enough to share the stage with her at various conferences.

In addition to Will Write for Food she co-wrote Grilled Pizzas and Piadinas, and past work experience includes both newspaper and magazine editing. Her popular and provocative blog addresses food writing and blogging issues, but it doesn't answer the question--why does Dianne cook? So, I'm happy to give her that opportunity here.

"I’m a storyteller first, not a chef. As far as cooking goes, I’m just an enthusiastic home cook who makes food in a small kitchen with no Viking range, no Sub-Zero refrigerator, and without the countertop appliances I covet, such as a panini maker, rice cooker or slow cooker.

I started cooking as a teenager in high school. My mother got a job working evenings so she wasn’t home to make dinner for my dad, sister and me. She was an amazing ethnic cook but would not allow me in the kitchen because she said doing so would ruin the food. As the eldest daughter I was suddenly in charge of dinner and on my own, leafing through the Wednesday food section of the Vancouver Sun because we had no cookbooks.

That year I made dinner dishes foreign to our family, like red peppers stuffed with rice (tasteless), battered fried chicken (still bloody) and a frozen coffee dessert where I used coffee grounds instead of the specified amount of brewed coffee (inedible). My dad pretended he didn’t notice on all occasions, but was particularly miffed to not be served meat at every meal.

So began my culinary adventure. It has morphed over the years according to fads (crazy about Moroccan food currently), whatever I’m reading (usually from a stack of cookbooks next to my bed), and interest in my parents’ heritage cooking (Iraqi and Indian Jewish cuisine.)

I take inspiration from the farmer’s market, because I aspire to a mostly plant-based diet.
I love seeking out whatever’s in season, including produce I don’t know much about. It was only a few years ago that I discovered greens, and now they are common in my refrigerator. Other times I find produce that reminds me of home. My mother boiled fresh fava beans in salted water. I began with that simple preparation, but now I mash them with olive oil, fresh thyme and garlic, and spread the green paste on little toasts.

Today I cook because I prefer my own food. I didn’t think I would ever say that, because outside my house is much tastier and more complicated cooking, available for purchase. But my food is generally healthier than what’s served in restaurants, so on a daily basis, it’s better for me. And I like the transition from long hours at my desk to the kitchen, using muscle memory instead of my brain.

As a food writer, I cook to learn new techniques and to understand recipes, particularly when I am testing them for publication. Sometimes I cook to try new kinds of foods. I just bought my first bag of almond meal and have only made one baked item with it, a sensational apricot tart on the cover of Farmer's Market Desserts. I served it to my book group at the height of summer. That reminds me of another reason why I cook: to pamper people I adore.

My husband and I are both home during the day and we eat our meals together. I find it difficult get to the store sometimes – let alone restaurants -- so we are dependent on what I make. Right now I don’t have much other than raw produce waiting for me in the fridge, so I’d better get to work."