I am not sure if I was more nervous soaking up Dianne Jacob’s words of wisdom in her writing workshop or whilst interviewing her in London. After all she is an award-winning editor, published author, writing coach, judge, guest speaker, blogger and freelance writer all on the hot topic of food – that’s one formidable CV. I grabbed some time with her at Food Blogger Connect, as the name suggests a food blogging conference in London (yes they do exist!) to chit chat cookbooks, restaurant pet peeves and pizza secrets.
- How would you describe your cooking style? My cooking style starts with going to the farmers markets. There’s about 400 where I live in Northern California – and even in my neighbourhood there’s about 45, some of which are year round. So I plan my week based on going there and coming up with dishes based on what’s fresh.
- What do you cook at home – what are your comfort foods? I make cauliflower curry, frittatas, stir-fries, fresh salads with goat’s cheese, nuts and fruit. A salad of tomatoes, raw kale, pomegranate seeds [when in season] and apples, with a dressing of honey and pomegranate.
- Do you cook at home a lot? I do. I work from home as does my husband. At lunchtime, we’ll eat something I’ve already made that’s in the fridge. Dependent on my schedule I sometimes even cook. We like to be home with whatever I make. My husband helps me in the kitchen with the preparation and washes up!
- What’s your most memorable food experience? I had a very unusual food culture growing up in Vancouver. My parents were immigrants from China – Iraqi Jews and their family came through India to Shanghai. So I was raised with foods that were very, very different from the food of most Jews from North America which is based on Eastern European food. So I grew up eating Indian and Iraqi Jewish food. We spent a lot of time in Chinatown. My mother made a lot of Japanese food. My father made pickles. My parents were obsessed with preserving their food identity.
- What’s your restaurant pet peeve? I think some of the food can get too precious. I am not a big fan of a lot of things on a plate that’s been arranged with tweezers. There might be nine elements competing for your attention but it gets too muddled for me.
- What makes a wow restaurant experience? I like to have the chef’s personality come through in the cooking. When you know who’s cooking the food, why they’ve chosen certain things, if they’re interested in local or if they’re obsessed with certain spices – [all these] make it stand out from every other restaurant you’ve been to. Also my meal at The French Laundry – I lived near there. I still remember when I went – there were just 14 small dishes, and each one so carefully crafted. 33 Executive Chefs in the kitchen. We were eating for hours and no dish was like the one that preceded it.
- What’s your favourite restaurant in the world and why? Chez Panisse [in Berkeley, California]. I really admire what Alice Waters has done – connecting restaurants with farmers, cooks and non-cooks to farmers, farmers to farmers markets – her focus on organic produce and sustainability. She is a very influential and powerful woman. Every meal I have had there, has been memorable.
- What are your top three food blogging tips for our readers? Do it for love, not because you think you are going to make money or become famous. Study food photography because blogs are a visual medium and it’s not enough to have text. And do it because it’s fun and you have something to say that you can share with people. This will drive your interest in posting on a regular basis. Otherwise once it starts being work you won’t want to do it anymore!
- Your book Will Write for Food is my bible. You also co-wrote Grilled Pizzas and Piadinas with Chef Craig Priebe. Are you planning any more books? I am working with some authors. I am not a professional chef, just a home cook and would like to partner with people who cook for a living and help them get cookbooks out.
- I hear differing opinions on whether you can make good money out of a cookbook? What are your thoughts? Yes but not very much. But you can make money as a collaborator, if you were to partner with chefs and you were very good at writing, testing recipes and getting the chef’s voice on the page. You can make money that way because someone has to be able to pay you.
- And finally, what’s the secret to making good pizza at home? Not handling the dough too much. Make a base of olive oil, dried spices – thyme, basil, oregano – and chopped garlic. Brush it on the dough and it really takes the flavour level up. In the book, we talk about how we make pizza on a stove top, in the oven, on a grill, even in a George Foreman grill – we’ve tested it on everything. I love the taste of grilled pizza. Ever since I learnt how to do that, it’s hard to make pizza in the oven. The problem is that home ovens don’t get hot enough to have super crispy and charcoal burnt spots that taste so good, and you can get that on the grill. Takes a few minutes – grill one side then turn it over put the topping on and grill that side.
Oh and here’s how I put my learnings from Dianne’s writing workshop into practice – a culinary travel feature on my birthplace Cyprus for The National.
Would you love to learn from Dianne? Shall we fly her over to Dubai for a writing workshop?…and a pizza lunch?!