Mona Wise and I first met last summer at a foodblogger lunch.
I had been following life at the Wise household for a time prior to our ‘actual’ meeting, and had been intrigued and impressed by life with so many kids running about! How do you keep calm with such activity going on about you?
When Mona and I met – it was almost like instant friends – we seemed so to be on the same wave length.
Since that first meeting we have visited each other, met each others family and shared food together.
It was on a visit to Galway in October that Mona told me about THE BOOK which she had just started a month earlier! So I feel I have lived through the whole writing process with her. I’ve seen the sneaky previews, wowed at beautiful photographs, and even had the first book off the presses in my hands!
No chores were completed the day I finally got my copy of THE BOOK. I started to read it over breakfast and that was it…. I just kept going until I came to the end. As you read this book… because it is not just a ‘cook book’ this is a combination of a good read and good recipes… you will experience anger, love, sadness as Mona shares their life experiences.
And to totally top off all the excitement – can you imagine our reaction when we discovered that there is a photo of our ham in the book! Thank you, guys!
I just know you are all going to want to get your hands on a copy! So you can. Just leave a comment below and we will draw the winner on Sunday 17th June. And, yes, anyone can enter, we will ship worldwide.
I had to think of some way of helping to promote the book… and this is my contribution. It is the longest post I’ve ever done, but I know you are going to enjoy the read.
Best of luck to Mona and Ron with The Chef & I
An interview with Mona, the Author….
Where did inspiration for book come from?
The first night Ron invited me over to his home, in 1996, I noticed that his recipe books were a little tatty and torn. They were well loved you could say. We had just started dating but I told him that I would type them up for him and make them in to a nice little book. I did not think it would take me so long to get around to doing that.
Was it an easy decision to put your private life out there in public view?
This was never something we felt needed a decision really. I am a story teller by nature and we have always had strong line of communication between the two of us. I think living in America, where people are a lot more open with their lives, hearts and homes, we were comfortable with the fact that there is nothing much to hide. We have an interesting story. It is not a roses-in-the garden kind of story. It is more nettles and weeds with a few nice shiny hydrangea moments piercing through occasionally.
You’ve opted for self-publishing – why? Are there challenges to this route?
We are both control freaks. From the start I have wanted to self publish my first book. Many people call it Vanity Press but I wanted and need to learn about the publishing industry from the ground up. I made a huge decision to ‘quit working and earning’ and go back to college as a mature student. You could say, that this self-publishing venture is my way of being the ‘coffee girl’. I am learning the ropes with the first book. By the time I get finished with the second and third book I should be good at it and I might submit a proposal for my fourth book to a publisher.
Are there challenges to this route?
Yes. Of course there are challenges to this route. The road is filled with learning experiences. Mine is a little different, first time around, because I have a real-live-editor assigned to my coursework in college and he works for a decent sized publishing house. I am not saying he has given away all the publishers trade secrets or anything but there has been a nice amount of guidance from him that has helped me feel confident with my decision to self-publish.
The photography – did you take the photos yourself?
I am a hobby photographer. I took a few of them and we asked a very good friend of ours (www.Annie Atkins.com) to come down for a weekend and take as many photos as she could to bring ‘us’ into the book. She is an incredibly talented woman, which we already knew, but she loves food and kids too – that made our time together even more fun. This was Annie’s first ‘au natural’ food shoot and she delighted in being able to eat everything we cooked for the book.
What next? Are there more books to come?
There are. The Chef & I … a nourishing narrative is one from a series of three books. The other two books The Chef & I … with kids and The Chef & I … breakfast and bread will be coming out sometime over the course of the next two years. We do have a fourth book in the works but are not releasing the details of this one just yet. All I can tell you is that it will be bigger and will take two years to write it.
With four children, how did you schedule in writing time?
They are all in school now thank God. Monday through Thursday my routine is set in stone. I am an early riser so I always do a bit of reading or writing from 6:30am to 8:30am. The kids start school at 9:30am and I usually drop them off and get right back to my desk. Then I write from 9:30am – 12:30pm and take a half hour break for lunch.
I subscribe to the 50 minute work hour. Work for 50 minutes then play on Facebook or Twitter or check emails for ten minutes. The Chef arrives home around 3:30pm with the kids. He and I like to take a walk – alone – for an hour then he gets cracking on supper and my Mum helps the kids (Mon – Thurs) with their homework. I know how lucky I am – I know.
I go back to my desk from 4:30pm to 6:00pm and just read whatever I have been working on or even continue writing a bit if it was a good day and there was more ‘story’ flowing.
Usually, because the Chef is one of the main ‘characters’ in the book, I chat with him about the stage of the book I am on while we walk and that always helps flesh things out a bit if I am stuck.
The cooking…. all done by the Chef, or are you allowed?
Ha ha ha – allowed yes. But not ‘required’ to cook. Margaret. He is a great Chef. There is no point in me jumping in trying to compete with that. If he does not feel like cooking then there are plenty of things I can throw together – I am well capable. He has trained me well.
What/who are your food inspirations/ styles that you admire?
Wow – what a lovely question. Lets go with the ‘What’ food inspires me first, ok?
I love anything that grows in our garden. I was raised by parents that grew a lot of their own produce. I can still taste fresh summer bibb lettuce, a few slices of hard boiled egg and green onions all slathered with salad cream in between two slices of Mum’s white soda bread. I have always been very visual so I think food that is rich and vibrant in colour always draws me in. We have always had a large and beautiful vegetable garden and now that we are home in Ireland and have a polytunnel we are coming to terms with a 12 month growing season. That is a real treat.
I also love fish. Any kind of fish and especially Sushi.
As far as the ‘Who’ inspires me, or who’s style I like when it comes to food?
Wow – that feels like a mountain of a question and I hope my answer is ‘enough’. I love Patience Gray. She is my favourite food writer. I also love Edward Behr (The Art of Eating) and Paul Bertolli (Cooking by Hand). I also love love love Fred Plotkin (Italy for the Gourmet Traveler) and wish he would write these books for every country. He does not sugar coat his experiences when he travels. I love ANYONE that just tells it how it is. Respect.
I love Martha Stewart – for style of course. She is a machine and her earlier books and magazines made me want to make everything ‘pretty’ in our home and in our garden. To add to the reading pile, a man by the name of Charles O’Rear has a book (Cabernet. A photographic journey from vine to wine) and the Chef gave it to me as a Christmas present. There is not a lot of text in it, mainly just beautiful images. I fell in love with his style of photography in that book. I knew when I held on to it that I would someday make a beautiful book just like it. We also own a lot of cook books and many of them have gorgeous photography. The Charlie Trotters series come to mind because, again, they are big heavy beautiful books.
How do you encourage the children to try new foods?
Hmmm …. I might catch hell for this but here goes. We do not really encourage them to try new foods Margaret. The Chef & I made a very conscious decision, when our firstborn arrived, that we were only going to cook one dinner. Something that everyone would eat. So, and because he is in charge of the cooking, the kids eat everything because they know there is nothing else coming I guess? They are all past the toddler stage now and they get really excited when we test a new recipe on them.
Children get excited by colour from a very early age. Before they can even focus on our facial features when we are still bottle feeding them, they can identify shapes and colours. We have always loaded up their plates with lots of colour. A larger amount of raw food (leafy green salad, tomatoes etc.) a smaller amount of potatoes, rice or pasta and a small amount of meat or fish.
I used to think that our eldest would starve to death if she did not eat. But actually, if you feed on demand and allow them to eat when they are hungry, not when you ‘think’ they should eat, they have excellent appetites for whatever you put in front of them. And granted, the food around here does taste good too Margaret.
How do you decide what you will cook for the family? Do you plan a menu?
Not my area of expertise at all. The Chef does all the gardening and cooking. He likes to grow a lot of what we eat and depending on the time of year and what we have ‘lots’ of … he devises a weekly shopping list of necessities and then does the shopping. We eat vegetarian at least once or twice a week and then have fish once or twice and pork/beef/lamb for the remaining days.
We have planned menus in the past when we have really hectic weeks and this helps a great deal to keep organised and keeps the grocery bill low too. But for the most part we just discuss our weekly plan orally on Friday afternoons before the Chef does his weekly shop.
I do, however, love to plan and write up ‘La menu’ when we have friends over.
How long did it take to complete the book?
Well, considering that I had to do this for college Margaret, it took exactly 24 weeks. Twelve weeks before Christmas and twelve weeks after Christmas. I am not sure that even my teachers expected me to have it finished, as in ‘printed’ by the April 12th deadline, but I was determined it would be done. I would also like to go on record stating that this is not a ‘hurried’ book either. It is what it is.
Have you favourite recipes from the book?
The recipes in the book are kind of what sustain us. There is no difference between ‘school night’ suppers and the meals we prepare for friends when they come over. So. I actually love all the recipes in the book. I think that my favourite dish is the Cioppino but overall our family favourite is Mexican Night – recipes for this will be in the second book!
Have you a picture in your mind of who the ideal reader of your book will be?
I hope that the book appeals to those that are hungry Margaret. Hungry for love, hungry for life and hungry for good food. I wrote the narrative part of the book in little vignettes so readers can sit down and read it one story at a time.
Do you have any advice you’d like to share with aspiring food writers?
God yes I do. I know a lot of writers Margaret. Published or otherwise. I meet them in college, in my work life and in my personal life. They seem to be consumed with writing book proposals and getting that huge publishing (or movie) deal. Then, they face – sometimes several months later – the rejection slap in the face because the book proposal did not entice the agent or the publisher enough. My advice is very simple. Stop writing book proposals.
Start writing the book.
and then with The Chef – a man of few words :)…
Who are your food inspirations?
Mario Batalli and Nigel Slater influence me greatly and reading food journals like Edward
Behrs’ ‘The Art of Eating’ keeps me up to date on global food tends and topics.
What food styles do you admire the most?
Regional cuisines always taste better. The less handling of food the better it tastes.
How would you describe your cookery style?
Italian cooking is my style, leaning heavily on my French classic training.
Coming from the USA, have you had to rethink your cooking style to adapt to Irish ingredients?
I spent most of my time living in the mid-west and the diet is similar to the
Irish in that it was a very ‘meat and potatoes’ kind of place.
What do you miss food-wise from America?
I miss coarse ground Italian sausage, good pepperoni, Cajun food and really great Asian
What impresses and annoys you about Irish food?
Impressed: Ireland has excellent quality of meat, fish, and produce. It is a gardening and
Annoyed: All the brined ‘ham’ products.
The huge variety of Irish cheeses available is nice but yet Fontina and Queso Blanco are
nowhere to be found?
What is your opinion of food fads and fashions? Molecular cooking and Scotch Eggs are seemingly the latest craze for 2012.
Molecular gastronomy is nice for a change but I do not see every home cook having a
canister of liquid nitrogen in their kitchen.
And finally, have you mastered the art of making an Irish Coffee yet?
No. I leave that to my wife. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
So come on, leave a comment and be in with a chance to win!