Cookbooks 'more than a collection of recipes'

  • 18/11/2011

By Laura Vincent

I was recently invited to interview award-winning New Zealand chef and food writer Julie Biuso about her forthcoming cookbook, Sweet Feast. This was rather exciting for a greenhorn like me – this book isn’t just forthcoming, it’s also her fifteenth since 1986. She’s been in the game a long time.

From the earliest days of Cuisine to the long-gone More; from contributing recipes to the New Zealand Herald’s Viva section and Woman’s Day before settling into her roles as food editor for Taste and Your Home and Garden magazines, Biuso has been there and done that and is an inspirational lady.

Indeed, one of her chocolate cake recipes from Viva was my teen birthday staple (a significant step up from the previous staple, which was a baking soda and vinegar-leavened creation which made up for in economy what it lacked in flavour and pleasing texture).

We meet at Hippopotamus restaurant and sink into our respective chairs, baroque and ornate, the sort you selfishly don’t want to eject yourself from for a long time. Before you get too jealous I had but an excellent long black; however, Biuso’s late lunch of a toasted sandwich with fries looked wonderful and more elegant than the name would suggest.

Biuso has a warm yet commanding manner which puts you at ease while reminding you that she’s significant enough to have cooked for Pavarotti. Twice. But more on that later.

She is also, naturally, a fun person to discuss food with. Sweet Feast is her first book dedicated solely to the more puddingy end of the spectrum, and the recipes are largely gleaned from the aforementioned Taste magazine, thus “giving them further life”.

Her recommendation for what to try first would be the popular Chocolate Nut Cake, with its alluring “splash of Cointreau” and hefty quantities of both titular ingredients. As well as this, the book holds the more everyday kind of recipes like fruit pies and cakes that her mother would make – she was “a great baker and pastry maker” and this is reflected in Biuso’s own love of the craft.

I’m curious about the process of making a book, and she says a lot of it is about how “a book requires a lot more recipe testing, as it’s going to be around a lot longer”. She also notes her aim to have recipes that will become classics, rather than seen as of a moment (and here we make a joke about pesto. I love you though pesto!)

According to Biuso “a cookbook is more than just a collection of recipes, it’s got to have knowledge.” I entirely agree, and reading through Sweet Feast I appreciate her anecdotes, ideas, tutorial pages interspersed throughout everything. This appeals to me much more than a book that is just recipes and pictures, with no stories.

As a person of such experience and standing in the field of food writing, who does Biuso herself look up to?

Nigel Slater is “terrific”, Jamie Oliver’s energy is admirable on and off the page, and she has “great respect” for Dame Alison Holst. We discover that we both share a love of the writing of Claudia Roden, and generally “energy, commitment, honesty and integrity” is what interests her.

In case you are sitting here thinking “yes, but I’m unconvinced,” let me remind you: Julie Biuso cooked for the late Pavarotti. Twice! So impressed was he with the gammon she made him, that he squirrelled some away in his pocket to eat at his leisure, and also returned later to talk to her further. Another time she cooked him salmon with chilli, lime juice and avocado – he’d never had it before, and loved it. “It doesn’t get much better than that,” she acknowledges.

Looking forward Argentina is a new place Biuso would love to visit, but for now Sweet Feast is keeping her busy.

Julie Biuso is an elegant lady, but with the occasional hint of the sort of person who names their autobiography Dancing On My Table - whether it’s hoisting her skirts to make herself more comfortable, revealing she could’ve been a jingle writer, or crying “delete that!” after a considerably juicier anecdote.

It’s an absolute joy talking with Julie Biuso – I can’t wait to try recipes from this new book, and perhaps to even revisit my old chocolate cake recipe of hers while I’m at it.

Laura Vincent is the author of food blog Hungry and Frozen.

source: newshub archive