There can be no doubt that Vanessa Kimbell is an inspirational woman. Over a year ago, Vanessa gave up her successful career to pursue her dream of writing a cookery book – called Prepped! She came up with a new and exciting concept and landed a publishing deal with Spring Hill who jumped at the chance of giving this new author the opportunity to share her ideas through a recipe book. At the same time, Vanessa started a blog, called Writing a Cookery Book to document her journey charting the highs and lows of the process of writing her first book. Her blog gave those of us who followed it the opportunity to become part of the process, both through reading Vanessa’s posts and in some cases, through recipe testing. As a very new blogger, I was one of the lucky few to be part of ‘Team Prepped!’ testing Vanessa’s recipes for her ready-made Vanilla Pancake Mix and her Chocolate, Vanilla & Black Pepper Cupcakes.
Vanessa, what was the inspiration for Prepped! – the actual moment that you decided to write a cookery book?
The actual moment, believe it or not, was when I was visiting a hypnotherapist. I had read that you could be hypnotised into losing weight. I was talking about the fact that I was food obsessed and that I woke up thinking about what I was going to cook, that I owned about 400 recipe books, that I think about ingredients everyday, that I listen to the radio and watch the television about food and I suddenly realised that I was somewhat obsessed with food.
I wanted to stop thinking about food because I thought if I stopped thinking about it then I might actually lose some weight. Then, I thought, you know what, I don’t want to stop thinking about food, I need to do something with it. It’s a passion, rather than anything else.
So, I went to the book shop and there was nothing that answered her questions – how to do two things at once in the kitchen. A lot of people may have been doing it for a lot of years but nobody, as far as I’m aware, had tackled that particular way of cooking. It’s not what you cook its how you put it together and how you manage the process in a timely fashion.
Does it take a certain amount of confidence as a cook to be able to do that?
I think because I’ve been cooking for many years, some twenty-two years in fact, it is instinctive for me but what I observed was that it is not instinctive for all cooks and in order to make somebody do something you have to give instructions. The difficulty was translating the physical way of cooking two or three things at once into a way that people could follow it.
It took me about a month to work out how I did it myself and the only way I could describe it to someone was that I link my cooking together, like a chain. It’s not even one chain, one recipe could link to ten other things. For example, an elderflower syrup could make nine other recipes, in fact, more than that because you could substitute or swap it all the way through for perhaps a rhubarb syrup or a lemon syrup, so you can do twenty different things with one base recipe. You could make a cocktail with it, a sorbet with it, you can add it into ice cream, you can add it to a savoury dish.
Prepped! is about thinking: what can I make at the same time? How can I make two things out of one recipe? This book tackles that really nicely.
Do you think that ‘linked cooking’ is something that people can learn how to do from your book?
Oh totally, just on a very basic level if you are making custard you could make double the recipe – one half you’d use on your crumble and the other half you use as an ice-cream. And the point is that as soon as people start looking at it they are going to realise they will be doing the same amount of shopping, the same amount of cooking and the same amount of clearing up.
What have you found to be the highlights of the process of writing?
There have been so many. Meeting like-minded fantastically, amazing people who have got their own stories and their own recipes. That, to me, has been huge. Yes, as a mum, you meet other mums but through this I’ve actually met people who are like me. To be able to chat about food with other people is a joy.
Another highlight has been broadcasting through the BBC, which also brings me into contact with people. And I suppose getting to meet people like Nigel Slater, Dan Lepard, Rick Stein, Sophie Grigson and Jason Atherton. People who are really seriously amazing foodies who have been supportive and who have been kind and didn’t laugh.
In a nutshell, who is your book for?
My book is for people who are time-short foodies, people who love cooking already or who perhaps don’t cook as much as they want to because they don’t think they have enough time.
In essence, the way that I cook is multi-tasking so you end up with delicious food but with a more concise and streamlined way of cooking in the kitchen. Although I have been quite instructional and I haven’t made too many assumptions about anybody’s ability. At the same time I haven’t made people who already cook utterly bored with what they are reading.
Do you think your book will encourage the average busy cook become more adventurous?
What I’m hoping for is not that people will become more adventurous because I think that people are naturally inclined to be adventurous and that’s the fashion at the moment. What I’m hoping for is that instead of people slogging away and missing all the fun they can take advantage of any opportunity that comes their way so that things can be ready to go.
Prepped! is real because I really am a mum, I really have three children, I really cook in my kitchen and I really have to do all my own washing up. The joy of having had all these recipes tested by my team of recipe testers, ‘the preparati’ (as they called themselves) to me is the most important thing because they are all real people. We’re not all about sitting in the test kitchens of celebrity chefs who don’t even have to do their own washing up.
Having got to where you are today would you do it all again?
Yes I would and yes I will. There is a second book that will follow. But I will do things differently. I will go to bed before one o’clock. Past that time I don’t think my work was as good as it should have been. I would take longer than a year to do it. In all honesty, I had no sleep for a year. In a way it has been worse than having a baby because it has been all-encompassing.
Also, with the first book I had a huge learning curve. At the beginning I would write recipes and I would cook instinctively and not measure things. I also had some serious learning to do with photography. Though now there is a template. The first forty recipes I wrote I had to go back and re-write because they were too long for the format they were put in and that was really hard work. It was almost as hard as writing and developing them in the first place.
Is the food in Prepped! genuinely the sort of food that you cook for your kids and your family?
Yes, it is exactly what I cook and how I manage to be this ‘domestic diva’ or ‘kitchen genie’ or whatever I was described as! I have put every trick I know in the book, not only from the point of view of being a trained chef but also as a working mum.
I believe I have put everything in the pages of Prepped! that will allow a person to tackle their food in the same way.
Thank you to everyone for entering!