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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Lazy Gourmet: An Interview with Robin Donovan and Juliana Gallin

Juliana Gallin and Robin Donovan are the authors of The Lazy Gourmet: Magnificent Meals Made Easy —a hip, fun, and practical guide to cooking strikingly sophisticated, yet surprisingly simple dishes. With more than 125 delightfully easy recipes, the book shows that anyone—even those short on time, patience, skill, or experience—can cook impressive meals with minimal effort.

Everyone who knows me knows about my utter lack of cooking ability. That's why I was so excited to chat with Robin and Juliana and learn all about their book!

Shelly Rachanow: I love the title of your book, The Lazy Gourmet! What inspired you to write it?

RD & JG: We’ve been friends since college, where we were housemates in a huge old Santa Cruz Victorian that we shared with five other students. We all took turns doing the chores, including cooking. That was the beginning of our friendship, and we’ve continued to enjoy cooking together since then.

RD: Back then I was already very comfortable in the kitchen. I grew up in Berkeley in a very foodie family. My mom was a food writer and a professional restaurant critic, and I always helped her in the kitchen. I don’t actually remember “learning” how to cook—I just learned by helping my mom in the kitchen and became a fairly competent cook by the time I went away to college. As a result, I’ve always had a certain natural confidence in the kitchen.

JG: I, on the other hand, had no early kitchen training or foodie sensibility. My favorite foods were hamburgers, french fries, Pringles, and Doritos. As I got older I became more interested in eating and cooking real food, but I was a by-the-book, devoted recipe-follower—completely convinced for many years that I just had no natural talent in the kitchen. I stuck with it though, learned some rules and techniques, started experimenting more, and eventually became a pretty good cook. The most important thing I had realized during this transformation was that some of the best dishes were also some of the most simple. There didn’t seem to be any direct relation whatsoever between the difficulty of a recipe and the quality of a meal.

RD: And that’s the premise of our book. Over the years we talked more and more about the idea that cooking really good food doesn't have to be difficult, and that anyone can do it. At some point we decided to write a cookbook about this idea. We basically wanted to create a collection of our most elegant, delicious, exciting recipes—the kind of dishes you would serve at a dinner party when you want to impress your guests—that are deceptively easy to make.

RD & JG: As far as the title goes, the original title was How To Impersonate a Gourmet Chef, but that was too much of a mouthful. Our publisher urged us to change it and that’s when we came up with The Lazy Gourmet. This helped us to clarify our focus for the book—the concept that it can be really easy to cook well. Even for people who are kitchen-phobic, intimidated, time-constrained, or just plain “lazy.”

Shelly Rachanow: So many people think it takes hours to cook a fabulous meal, or days to prepare for a dinner party. Is that really the case? Can cooking good food really be simple and easy?

RD & JG: Yes! We like to say, “Cooking a gourmet meal can be just as easy as cooking a crappy meal.” And it’s so true. We firmly believe that cooking delicious, interesting, “gourmet” food can actually be really easy. It’s just a matter of using good ingredients and combining them in interesting ways using very basic techniques.

Shelly Rachanow: One of the things I love about your book is that it’s given me (someone who, as my friends will attest, cannot cook–at all) the confidence to help my fiancé (a chef) in the kitchen. What do you say to people like me who lack confidence or experience when it comes to cooking?

JG: I would tell them that I used to lack kitchen confidence myself, and now I’m a cookbook author! One of the light bulb moments for me, as I mentioned before, was realizing that elegant, impressive gourmet dishes are often exceptionally simple. To start building up your confidence and comfort levels, make a dinner where you basically have only one recipe to follow—pick a very simple, but interesting, entrée. Then pair it with a couple of side dishes that seem special but basically require no work at all, like black rice, or roasted asparagus, or even a prepared vegetable dish from a fancy deli. This is a great way to get your toes in the water without having to cook a multi-course meal from scratch.

RD: We also like to remind people that a recipe is just a suggestion. Don’t get too hung up on following it word-for-word. Substitute one ingredient for another; leave something out if you don’t like it; double the quantity of another ingredient that you love. This will break your dependence on recipes and help you become a more natural, comfortable cook.

Shelly Rachanow: Tell us more about the types of recipes in your book, and share one or two of your favorites.

RD & JG: Our primary audience for the book is the novice cook—people who don’t realize how incredibly easy it can be to cook really well, and to impress guests with “gourmet” dinners. But we also wanted the recipes to appeal to experienced cooks. We measured each potential recipe against the following three criteria, to decide whether or not we thought it was worth pursuing: easiness, impressiveness, and that extra “certain something” that makes a recipe interesting and special.

Because we wanted to be absolutely certain that our recipes would be easy to follow, we enlisted more than 50 volunteer testers who made our recipes and then filled out detailed feedback forms where they rated each recipe for easiness, clarity of instructions, deliciousness, impressiveness, visual appeal, availability of ingredients, and more. We then made adjustments based on their feedback.

Some of our favorites recipes are Orange Crème Fraiche Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Drizzle; Asparagus and Meyer Lemon Tart; Savory Blue Cheese Shortbread; Artichoke and Endive Panzanella; Fig, Mint, and Pistachio Salad; Bombay-Style Vegetable Sandwiches; Smoked Trout Brandade; Roasted Salmon with Garlic Confit; and everyone’s favorite—Charmoula (a magical Moroccan condiment made of lemon juice, garlic, cilantro, mint, and spices).

Shelly Rachanow: And last, the 'If Women Ran the World Blog' question for everyone - What would you do if you ran the world?

JG: Wow, every single honest answer that comes to mind makes me sound like a real evil maniac. So I’ll just suggest that we let tiny, fluffy lap dogs run the government. I don’t think they would do a very good job, but it would be fun to cuddle them at their fundraisers!

RD: I like Juliana’s answer! But if I ran the world, I would make organic vegetable gardening and cooking required subjects in schools. I think it’s so important for kids to have an idea of where food comes from and how it gets from farm to table. Growing and cooking your own food gives you so much more of an appreciation for it, and I think makes you more inclined to choose wholesome, unprocessed foods. I think if we fostered this kind of connection to healthy food from an early age, we’d solve a lot of the health problems our society faces today.

For more information, visit:

Blog: http://www.twolazygourmets.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TheLazyGourmet
Twitter: http://twitter.com/lazy_gourmet

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Juliana, I am so delighted with your "Wow, every single honest answer that comes to mind makes me sound like a real evil maniac," answer to what you would do if you ran the world.
    In admiration,