Tori blogs at Eatori, and today, she’s here to talk about her career progression from food blogger to cookbook author.
By the time I reached high school my tastes had broadened somewhat. With step parents now part of the family there weren’t the ready strings of genetics to bind a group at a table. Food became more important. The plain rice puddings of yore were replaced with bright risottos and paellas; bland noodles with rich arrabiatas. By the time I was 17 I had honed my day time diet to a constellation of apples and bread. It was only after some serious health wobbles in my early twenties that I realised that I needed to broaden what I ate beyond the white stuff. And it was only when I met Andrew (aka The Hungry One) that a true love of food was born. His appetite – both for food and for life – was infectious. And for a girl who loved strident political theatre and a martial arts devoted Bondi life saver, there wasn’t much else that we had in common. Food became our bond- and our happiest times have come from sitting at a shared table.
In 2007/2007 I was working in jobs that were interesting (PR and communications for Family Planning- where I met some truly wonderful women and then later for the Arts Council), but weren’t necessarily creative. I needed a spot to pootle about. I’d been reading quite a bit of Ruth Reichl (her early memoir Comfort me with Apples remains one of my favourite books) and I was inspired to try and view important events in my life through the lens of what was on a plate. The blog started as a place to share stories about food- and later when things got a bit prickly after The Hungry One’s mother very suddenly died in some pretty wretched circumstances we started the quest for the best (a madcap endeavor over four years to try and eat at the ten best restaurants in the world), and it became more of a dossier of a life well lived.
How would you describe your cooking style, and has it changed over time?
I’m certainly a much better cook now than what I used to be. I fully ascribe to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10 000 hours theory. Repetition certainly helps hone a skill. I’m much more precise now- in the beginning I was much more about freewheeling with flavour and texture – a handful here, a splodge there. Writing the books has forced me to be more methodical about recipe testing. I’ve also become more committed to a slow carbohydrate lifestyle. I love white carbs. More than anything. They just don’t love me that much. Since those early days I’ve become much more experimental with international flavours thanks to some escapist travel and comfortable cooking with pulses and seeds like quinoa and chia. They may sound like a recipe for hipsterism, but they do make me feel better (and helped me from blowing out too much when I had baby Will last year).
What was your photography and cooking like in the early days? Have you ever deleted a shameful recipe post from your archives and what was it?
Some of it is pretty mortifying- the photography in particular. It was something I came to reluctantly when I started writing more consistently in 2010. I had never seen myself as a photographer ( I still don’t). I was a writer, who cooked. But blogging – and food blogging in particular- is a very visual medium. I have gone back and re shot some of the dishes from the earliest Oscars feasts- the Steak Tartare from The Fighter and the Polenta Triangles with Heirloom Tomato Relish for ‘The Kids are Alright’ .
What’s your most popular recipe?
The white chocolate and raspberry cookies get a pretty good reaction- though they’re definitely not part of the slow carb regime. From there, the black bean, chorizo, pumpkin and coconut salad ) is the most popular- and a modified version of that is actually the cover recipe of the new book ‘Cut the Carbs’. But in terms of hits, the banana, oat and dark chocolate breastfeeding cookies are it (something I never really thought would become such a staple in our house). Oh, the perils of trying to feed another small human off your own frame.
How much work does it take to get a recipe ready for a book?
Some recipes are easy- an idea comes, you test it once, you take notes and a photo, you test it again, take notes and a photo and then it gets tested a third time before publication. That’s easy if the recipe works- or if the people you’re testing for agree with you. In ‘A Suitcase and a Spatula’ I had a week where I made the chicken schnitzels and black forest strudel every night. The Hungry One kept telling me they needed work. Turned out the first version was really fine- he just wanted to eat schnitzel and strudel for dinner every night for a week. There are some which haunt you – in Cut the Carbs it took eleven tries before I was happy with the ratios for the Salzburger Nockerl (a Salzburg dessert of berries and a souffled meringue cloud). But then there were others like the smoked paprika chia frittatas which I happened upon, first go. Though the greatest tests of all are when other people test a recipe for you (an interpretation of fine dice, or a pinch can vary greatly)- or when it comes to the shoot- when time is of the essence and you desperately need the recipe to work. If it doesn’t, it’s an easy way to make a day spin from hard, to savage.
Did you contact a publisher or did they find you?
The story of how ‘A Suitcase and a Spatula’ came about was a long one. We’d moved to London in 2010. I was looking for comparable work in arts communication or marketing- but the GFC was in full grasp and jobs were hard to come by. The Hungry One and I had a frank conversation about what I wanted to do. I said that writing was what really made me happy. So we agreed that we would budget for six months for me to try and make it work. The end game was a book deal. Some of what followed was serendipity. I did my first full Oscars menu and it was published on The Huffington Post. We had a small party to watch the Oscars and one of our new friends asked if she could bring her new partner along to the party. There wasn’t much of a difference between serving a ten course meal for nine and a ten course meal for ten, so we said sure. The next day our friend called to say thank you and that her girlfriend Sarah had loved the food- and we should talk. It turned out she was an editor for Hodder – her next big project was Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course. Sarah then introduced me to my agent, who then got me the deal for ‘A Suitcase and a Spatula’. I signed the deal the day before that six month deadline was up.
How did it feel to hold your cookbook in your hand?
Pretty magical. Suitcase was a long time in the making- it was 18 mths between when I first signed the deal and when it was released. It was even more special when I held the first copy of ‘Cut the Carbs’ earlier this month- largely because the whole process of it was so intense. I signed that deal while I was in labour- I was checking emails in between contractions as a distraction. I had twelve weeks to write and test it all- which were the first twelve weeks of Will’s life. I cooked on the shoot with him strapped to my chest and did the edits while we were at Tresilian trying to teach him how to sleep (something he still hasn’t quite grasped). The birth of that book has been so closely entwined with his, that it’s a pretty heady thing to hold.
What advice would you give an aspiring food blogger?
Never underestimate what might come from your next dinner party! In all seriousness I think that being open is the key- to travel, tastes, new experiences, new people. For me food blogging isn’t about recipes, or photos, but about stories and making connections. I had some pretty dark days after Will was born- I was almost going mad with sleep deprivation. In many ways, it was the blog that saved me. It turns out I need to write the way that The Hungry One needs to run. The recipe for white bolognaise isn’t just a great freezer-stocking staple. It was a life raft- in many ways. I’m always quick to point out that I’m a writer who cooks, rather than a stylist, photographer or chef. If you need to write, or you have things to share, then do it- but do it for you- not for anyone else.
Finally, what terrible food do you adore? No quinoa, activated almonds or verjuice cocktails here. You’re in a safe place Tori. Take a breath and release your shameful secret.
I’m a total sucker for a toasted ham and cheese sandwich . It’s my kryptonite (it was also the first thing I ate after I had Will and I couldn’t stop crying. Maybe it was the hormones, but maybe it was that a sandwich can really be that good. But if I’m going to get picky, the ham has to be thick cut Christmas style ham and the cheese has to be properly melted. If it’s not, then it makes me sad. I’m also very partial to nachos (shhh). The Hungry One has been overseas for the past two nights and I’ve taken great glee in making myself quick black bean nachos. The secret is to make the bean mix first- a good hit of ground coriander, chopped coriander stems, ground cumin, chipotle and some cocoa powder go in with softened onion, drained black beans and a tin of chopped tomatoes- they get simmered until the sauce hugs the beans. I then place a good mound of that in the centre of a soup bowl and lay good quality organic corn chips (Doritos also make me sad) around the outside, like a crown- that way the chips stay crunchy (soggy chips make me very sad). I then sprinkle grated mozzarella over the top and put it under the grill until the chips are golden and the cheese is burnished. I add a good thwack of guacamole (avocado, lime juice and chopped coriander). Add a margarita, or a glass of pink wine, tracksuit pants and an old episode of West Wing and it’s bliss. And lastly- most of the time I have to convince myself that coffee eclairs don’t exist. If they did, I’d be the size of a house. But if we’re in Paris- all bets are off.
Hit us Tori: three favourite recipes on your blog:
Truffled (lowish) fat cauliflower mac and cheese: from the middle of the forty weeks of feasting. When I want to carb-out, this is what I turn to.
Chicken, lemon and white-bean soup: - this is what I turn to everytime I’m poorly. It was also such a blast to make the video with my friend Oliver in London. It takes me back to Borough Markets every time I watch it (it really was my Peter Pan Happy Place)
Duck with roast apple sauce: this was a fun project, reimagining the menus from my late Grandmother’s hand scribed recipe book. They were fantasy menus she drafted when she first got married, before war and four children intervened. When we moved to London I recreated some of them- this was the contemporary version of her Roast Duck with Apple Sauce.
Sadly, we never did make that Sex Dictionary.