My interview with Donna Dooher explores the continued popularity of cookbooks and our deep relationship to print as Canada celebrates National Cookbook Month and gets ready for the Taste Canada Cookbook Awards on October 25th, 2020.
S&S: Tell us a bit more about “There’s A Chef In My Pantry” IGTV series and your focus during October to celebrate National Cookbook Month.
DD: We started our Instagram Live series when Mildred’s Temple Kitchen went into lockdown back in March. The series There’s A Chef In My Pantry
(aka TACIMP) essentially was born out of being inundated with cooking requests like “how to cook this” or “can I have the recipe for that”. What I realized was that people were suddenly finding themselves stuck at home, scratching their heads on what to cook. So, we decided to engage with our loyal followers and cook our way through our beloved cookbook Out to Brunch every Thursday.
We’ve been gob smacked by the viewer engagement and honestly having so much fun. It’s given us the opportunity to stay connected with our regulars, friends and staff. When we eventually did re-open the restaurant (which was months after we had anticipated), we decided to keep running with the series. For October we shifted our focus to exploring the subject of cookbooks. In Canada October is National Cookbook Month and the Taste Canada Cookbook Awards ceremony is on October 25th so there couldn’t be a better time to shout out about all our favourites cookbooks.
S&S: What are your thoughts around how Covid may have sparked a return to cookbooks, or shall we say the kitchen?
DD: I think there is a silver lining if one can say that. It has exposed our vulnerability when it comes to food and feeding ourselves. I feel it’s been a good reset and given us the opportunity to pause and think about something that is so important to our survival, our relationship with food.
I do believe that Covid has pushed people into their kitchen and what’s really exciting is that they are enjoying it and finding satisfaction in cooking, whether elaborate or simple meals. I am also hearing that people are feeling physically better due to improved eating habits, more cooking from scratch, less eating out, less eating on the run. We’re shopping differently too, more direct from the farmer, or local producer. Technology has broken down the barriers to distribution and we can have farm fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and eggs delivered right to our door step. As a result, we’re tasting food differently too – which is remarkable. Suddenly the difference between salad from a bag versus the whole head of lettuce is being recognized and celebrated.
S&S: I dare ask, how many cookbooks does your collection hold?
DD: I will have to estimate here as I’d lose count if I even thought about starting to count – so I will say approximately 1200, it’s frightening. Although they are not catalogued with any discipline, I can put my finger on any given title or recipe when I need it.
S&S: Your top 10 books for any cooks library.
DD: Loaded question but here goes and in no particular order. And of course this goes without saying that Out to Brunch and Recipe Shorts should be in everyone’s library.
After compiling this list I realized that many of my choices are rooted in traditional French cuisine but titles start to tell the story of how techniques and ingredients take influence from all around the world. This is the beautiful thing about cooking; it’s this fabulous melting pot, a united nations of sorts, where all the ingredients can get along no matter where they originated.
1.Moosewood Cookbook (Mollie Katzen)
With the focus on plant based eating this book’s back in fashion.
2. The Silver Palate (Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins)
This is a timeless book and on so many levels it embraced the simplicity of cooking. The lay out of the book and recipes took cookbooks in a new direction.
3. How To Cook Everything (Mark Bittman)
A great book to lay the foundation in becoming a serious cook. An updated version of Joy of Cooking.
4. The Silver Spoon (Edward Park)
The bible for Italian cooking. A must for anyone who loves Italian.
5. Ottolenghi The Cookbook (Yottam Ottolenghi)
I love his first book - and it captured the essence of Middle Eastern cooking, one of my favourite styles of cooking.
6. The French Laundry (Thomas Keller)
This book took classic French cooking in a whole new direction.
7. The Heaven on Earth Project (Michael Stadtländer)
So much more than a cookbook – this book tells a story and takes you on a journey that captivates the fascinating relationship we have with the terroir and our relationship to the table.
8. La Technique (Jacques Pépin)
Solid instructional book.
9. How To Master French Cooking
We all need a little Julia in our library.
10. Salt Fat Acid Heat (Samin Nosrat)
I’ve just bought this and very excited to dig into it. I listen to her podcast Home Cooking and highly recommend!
S&S: The digital world continues to transform the world of cookery – whether we like it or not. What is your opinion on a digital cookbook vs print cookbook? How do you see the future of the cookbook ?
DD: Digital is here to stay and we certainly can’t ignore it. However, there is a certain intimacy that comes with a printed book that we just don’t get with a digital experience. When you speak to people about books that they love or books that have been passed along to them, they’re full of bits of history inside, like hand scribbled notes or dog eared pages for favourite go-to recipes. I feel that cookbooks become companions; so much is lost with digital to shameless self-promotion and pop-up ads that that the sensual experience of food is lost.
The market for printed cookbooks is robust and, statistically, printed cookbooks are still one of the highest selling categories. But I do believe there is a great opportunity to create that same intimacy you get with a cookbook somehow through a digital experience. I don’t know what it is, but I am sure it’s out there.
S&S: Just for fun….last 3 recipes and the book you used to cook these recipes.
DD: I rarely cook recipes from cookbooks. I definitely take inspiration from the recipes but to be honest I find so many recipes published today just don’t work. The intent is there but the development of the recipe is poor. I think this is to the determent to many of the great books that people are putting together in this market. There is a real art and science to developing a tried and true recipe. I am fiercely proud of Out to Brunch, beyond the beautiful photos, anecdotes and beautiful illustrations the recipes work.
S&S: Your deep involvement with Taste Canada must mean you see a lot of books come across your desk. What do you see as the next trend or the future in cookbooks?
DD: I really believe that story telling within cookbooks will remain an important feature. It needs to feel personal in order to connect.
Donna’s been skipping the light fandango through the Toronto restaurant scene since she and her partner, Kevin Gallagher, opened the beloved Mildred Pierce Restaurant in the city’s west end warehouse district. Always up for a great kitchen party Donna went on to create the Cookworks Cooking Studio, which parlayed into a popular Food Network show called The Cookworks with Donna Dooher, watched by foodie fans around the world discovering their love of food in their own kitchens. Donna introduced the phenomena of brunch to the sleepy town of TO when Sunday’s were just a day of ‘rest’ and went on to publish her award-winning cookbook Out To Brunch. She joined forces with the country’s top editor’s, designers and publishers to bring Wish magazine to Canadian readers and collaborated on the best seller Wish | Market to Table cookbook.
Donna’s latest venture, Mildred’s Temple Kitchen in the heart of Toronto’s Liberty Village, reflects her commitment for the return to the table and her passion for locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, simply and sumptuously prepared. Donna is actively involved in Canada’s hospitality community and a self-proclaimed ‘fork hugger’, dedicated to supporting Ontario farmers and local agriculture.
Donna’s served as the National Chair of Taste Canada, the Chair of The Board of Directors and CEO of Restaurants Canada, Co-chair of the YES CHEF! Fundraising Campaign at George Brown College and has worked extensively with Brand Canada to promote Canadian hospitality around the globe.
Donna’s approach to cooking (and life in general) - cook with love and reckless abandon!