For the love of books
Leafing back through 30 years of writing for home cooks
Travelling around the South Island on my booksigning tour this month, I’ve been reminded of how many passionate book lovers there are behind the counters at bookstores around the country. Today is New Zealand Bookshop day, so it’s the perfect time to celebrate the important role that bookshops and their dedicated staff play in our lives.
I have more reason than most to be grateful to our country’s many wonderful booksellers. It’s 30 years since I stood in my garage looking at the thousands of copies of my first book that had just been delivered, hot off the press, wondering how on earth I was going to sell them. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to be strongly supported by bookstores across the country, and together we’ve sold literally hundreds of thousands of cookbooks and helped put millions of tasty meals on the tables of New Zealanders.
When I look at the cover of my first cookbook, with its bowl of green-shell mussels sitting on a balcony looking out past banana palms to Auckland Harbour, everything about the making of that project comes flooding back. And that hair! Oh yes, I remember that hair, and all the padded shoulders that went with it! Just like that, I’m back in 1987, sitting on the floor of my living room with designer Sally Hollis-McLeod, surrounded by layouts, undertaking the painstaking process of cutting out strips of copy that had typos or grammatical errors, and pasting new ones back on to the layout. It’s hard to imagine now, but before the digital era, that was what we had to do! Deciding which recipes to include from the columns I’d written for the NZ Listener, and curating them into chapters around events and rituals, was a giant, complex jigsaw puzzle. But I was hooked – from that moment on all I wanted was to make cookbooks.
Between book number one and number 26 (my latest annual, Cheap Thrills) there have been some amazing moments. Making my TV show, The Free Range Cook, and the books that went with it was another high. The first, The Free Range Cook, broke New Zealand publishing records, selling more than 160,000 copies in less than a year. Wow, that was a moment — for me and for the book industry!
More recently I’ve enjoyed exploring a soft-cover “bookazine” format that reads more like a magazine than a book (but without all those annoying ads!) I love the way annuals like Cheap Thrills allow me to layer in lifestyle inspiration with ideas and recipes around a theme or series of themes, and my bookseller friends tell me the affordable price tag has helped my recipes reach a whole new audience. The idea of helping to create change in people’s lives is what makes me want to leap out of bed in the morning.
When I look at Essential, my biggest and most beautiful book project ever, I see the culmination of this journey in a comprehensive collection of the best of all the recipes I have cooked over the past 30 years.
Food is like fashion. While the dishes I have cooked may have looked different over the years, and increasingly embrace a global pantry of flavours, at their heart is the idea of honouring and respecting nature, and a belief in nourishment, love and friendship. I look forward to sharing that as I continue my tour of South Island bookshops in the days ahead.
This week’s recipes feature on the covers of three of my milestone books, and tell the story of how our cooking has changed over the years – from a traditional mussel dish from my first book (fondly known as “the pink book”), to the Kiwi favourite roast pork from 2010’s The Free Range Cook, and an on-trend fried rice with fried egg and sriracha from the newest publication, Cheap Thrills. Enjoy!
SRIRACHA SESAME FRIED RICE