Are you familiar with CHOW.com? It’s a website about food, eating and cooking. Over the years, it has created a robust community of “Chowhounders” — passionate, smart cooks and eaters. (Hey, that describes VWK!) Chowhounders have cooked with my books, dissecting, reflecting, commenting on their experiences. I’ve long lurked on the sidelines and occasionally slipped to make a quick and polite response. CHOW’s policy was no shilling, no self-promotion. That was totally understandable but it also put up a fence for authors like me who like to engage with cooks and readers.
Last week, that policy changed according to Senior Editor John Birdsall, who called and invited me to initiate direct conversations with Chowhounders. I welcomed the idea of coming out of hiding. I thought of what to write about and settled on discussing how I managed to come up with an entire book on banh mi.
Over the weekend, I wrote an essay that opened with this:
My career as a cookbook author is one that my family and friends are proud of but also slightly mystified by, especially with regard to my latest project. “You have to work so hard to come up with ideas and then get people to pay you for them. It is amazing that you did this,” my 80-year-old mom marveled. I’d just handed her a copy of The Banh Mi Handbook, released in July by Ten Speed Press. Mom wasn’t damning me with faint praise. She was surprised at what I’d produced.
“Isn’t your new book going to be like a pamphlet?” a friend repeatedly asked during the year or so that it took me to write the book. He’s extremely bright and knowledgeable about food but couldn’t figure out how I planned to pull off a whole cookbook devoted to banh mi.
The rest of the essay is about what inspired me in America and Vietnam to create a whole book on my favorite sandwich, and how I organized the book.
The Banh Mi Handbook is my fourth cookbook and I suppose that if you illustrated my choice of subjects, the decision making process would resemble a funnel. Into the Vietnamese Kitchen took a broad look at Viet cooking. Asian Dumplings tackled a category of food. Asian Tofu examined one iconic ingredient. In publishing, the dumpling and tofu books are called single subject cookbooks. The Banh Mi Handbook was all about one dish. It’s a super (or hyper) single-subject work, I suppose. What was next? A book on salt and pepper? Har har.
We’re having a rolling conversation about banh mi at Chow.com so check it out and dive into the conversation. Jump to “How I Wrote an Entire Book on Banh Mi.”
P.S. Seattle friends, both of the banh mi events that I’ve scheduled are now up and open for registration. Given the nature of banh mi, these are modestly priced events and a copy of the book is included in the price of registration! Hope to meet up with you here:
- Monday, Sept. 15, 6:30-8:30pm: Master Banh Mi Class at Book Larder
- Wednesday, Sept. 17, 4–6pm: Banh Mi Social at Monsoon Seattle’s brand new bar!