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Chef Stacy believes that cooking from scratch and using the best ingredients are the secrets to preparing delicious and memorable meals. She has created dozens of classes for the home chef and teaches students how to master culinary techniques and recipes in just one session. Read on to see what she's dishing up for The Oakland Press today....

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Recipe for Publishing Success

Many of you know that a cookbook is the next project on my agenda; something I cannot wait to delve into! Last week, I attended a cookbook writing workshop at The Chopping Block in Chicago. The Chopping Block is similar in some ways to Mirepoix. Think of it as Mirepoix merges with Williams Sonoma. Only, I like the Chopping Block better because it is local and exclusive to Chicagoans and has a more personal touch. No disrespect to my former employer, Williams Sonoma – it just has a different feel.

My trip to Chicago was literally a whirlwind. I flew in on Saturday and then flew right back to Detroit on Sunday afternoon following the class. My expectations when I enrolled in the class were that I would learn about the lengthy and laborious process of book writing; how to construct the book, how many recipes to include, etc. What surprised and thrilled me was that the focus of the workshop was about the publishing process, something that seemed so daunting to me, I had no idea where to start. Writing comes naturally, but the work of getting the book published was a true mystery.

The workshop was hosted by Lisa Ekus-Staffer and Virginia Willis. Lisa is a successful literary agent out of Massachusetts and Virginia is the author of “Bon Appetit, Y’all” (now in its fourth printing), and one of Lisa’s many clients. Both women were incredibly informative and approachable. I was expecting to be met with an aura of chef/author snobbery, but found that they were both eager to shed light on the very important and complicated business of culinary publishing, and they were both incredibly generous with their information.

As I read both of their bio’s and listened to their story, I was impressed at what Lisa has accomplished in the last 28 years. She has an excellent reputation within the industry as an outstanding, hard-working and professional agent. I was impressed by her open and friendly personality and even more impressed by her honesty.

Once I considered how she must have faced many challenges in the last 28 years as a woman working in the publishing and PR industries, I knew she probably had to be made out of terrycloth-covered steel (approachable, reassuring, and comfortable on the outside, but really, really savvy underneath). It was clear that Lisa is a very loyal advocate for her clients and they are in excellent care when in partnership with her.

Virginia shared her experiences as a food professional who longed to write a cookbook, and, I found in her sort of a kindred culinary soul. As she spoke about her personal food philosophy and her expectations about how her book should be published, I found myself nodding my head and smiling as she spoke.

Virginia Willis does not compromise – it’s clear she has high expectations for herself and wants only the best. Her book is a reflection of those qualities I immediately admired. It is a gorgeous full-color, hardcover book with wonderfully warming stories about her love affair with food and how her family introduced her to fresh, comforting, and traditional southern recipes, as well as her professional culinary background.

Lisa went on to describe the process of how publishers sell your book to booksellers and how the chefs go about promoting it. Months of travel (I think Virginia said she was home only a couple weeks out of 2009 from what I can recall – regardless, she traveled A LOT), numerous cooking classes and demos, special speaking engagements, etc. are all the types of work that the chef author commits to in order to bring attention to their book.

When commenting on the promotional work, Virginia said, “I feel like I’ve hand-sold every book”, and, I have to say, it is absolutely true! There was no way that I was going to walk out of The Chopping Block without “Bon Appetit, Y’all”, who couldn’t want this woman to succeed?! Since I was leaving early, I quietly let myself out the back door and made my way out to the sales floor to pick up a copy of the book. When I realized there were none on the floor, I let myself back into the classroom, picked up a copy and walked back out. To my surprise and delight, Virginia abandoned the discussion, ran out into the store just to sign a copy of my book!

I left the seminar about 30 minutes early to make my flight. I made sure to keep the book in my carry-on bag (even though it is HEAVY). I found that my short flight seemed even shorter as I flipped through the pages and reading about growing up in the south and her sweet family, a glimpse into her professional training in France, as well as working for notable culinary giants such as Bobby Flay and Martha Stewart. Also, the photography is exquisite (she styled all of the food herself – a brilliant business move if you have the know-how and experience).

Over the last week, I’ve been sitting on my couch with Lucy and Mia, more interested in the stories that precede each recipe, I’ve read through it like it was a novel. I’ve so enjoyed the recipes in “Bon Appetit, Y’all”, that I requested to reprint one of them here for you to enjoy at home. Being the gracious woman she is, Virginia sent me three recipes and photos; all perfect for this holiday weekend.

I hope you will make these recipes and I hope you will visit Virginia’s website at Be sure to sign up for her newsletter as well!

If you are a food professional, I urge you to visit Lisa’s website at

Lisa offers media training for culinary professionals as well as many other public relations services for those in the culinary industry. I am confident that investment in your career and professional development with Lisa will bring a pay-off that cannot be matched.

Georgia Pecan Brownies
Makes 24
For the most part, Mama has always made everything from scratch. Homemade cakes, cookies, and pies were the norm, but she would open one box when she made brownies. My father worked for a company that made, among myriad other things, brownie mix. I remember opening the Christmas gifts from corporate friends that contained a potpourri of company products, including the familiar red box—the brownie mix. Perhaps one of the reasons I am so fond of these brownies is that they represent my first solo forays into baking. Other than turning on the oven, I was allowed to prepare the brownies all by myself.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for the dish
2 cups sugar
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
11/4 cups cocoa powder
11/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
12 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush a 9 x 13-inch baking dish or pan with butter.

In a saucepan, melt the 1 cup of butter over medium heat; add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Keep warm.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter mixture and stir to combine. Add the eggs, vanilla extract, chocolate, and nuts. Stir until the chocolate is fully melted and the ingredients are combined (the batter should be very thick). Alternatively, you can mix the batter in a heavy-duty mixer. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the top with an offset spatula.

Bake until set, 25 to 35 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. Cut into pieces and serve. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Fingerling Potato Salad
Serves 4 to 6
While I lived and worked at La Varenne, we often dined outside on a terrace overlooking miles of Burgundian countryside. One memorable day, I cut off the tip of my left thumb while preparing potato salad for one of our outdoor feasts. I quickly wrapped my hand in a towel and raised it above my head. I grabbed the severed bit from the cutting board in my right hand, walked into Anne Willan’s office, and told her I had cut myself. She asked to see it. I refused. She insisted. Finally, opening my right palm, I said, “Well, here it is.” The grand dame Anne blanched and replied, “Oh dear, I think we need a Cognac.” After a trip to the hospital I did enjoy the feast, but declined a serving of the potato salad.

31/2 pounds fingerling or red bliss potatoes, halved
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup mayonnaise (page 282)
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

To cook the potatoes, place them in a large pot of cold, salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain well in a colander. While still warm, transfer the potatoes to a baking sheet and drizzle with the vinegar. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

To make the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, and mustard in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

To assemble the salad, add the cooled potatoes, onion, celery, and parsley to the dressing and stir to combine and coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Coca-Cola–Glazed Baby Back Ribs
Makes about
20 pieces
Coca-Cola is to Atlanta as Guinness is to Dublin. Friends and family liked my Coca-Cola–Glazed Wings (page 24) so much that I decided to try a similar combination on pork. Pork has a natural affinity for sweet, rich caramel flavors. These “nouveau” Southern ribs are by no means traditional, but they are lip-smacking good.

Scotch bonnet peppers are intensely hot, but their fire is tempered by the sweetness of the sugar and Coke. To tone down the heat, substitute jalapeños instead.

1 cup Coca-Cola Classic
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
11/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 Scotch bonnet chiles, chopped
2 racks baby back ribs (3 pounds total)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the glaze, in a small saucepan, bring the Coca-Cola, vinegar, brown sugar, and chiles to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until syrupy, about 10 minutes. Decrease the heat to low and keep the sauce warm while the ribs cook.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Liberally season both sides of the ribs with salt and pepper. Place the ribs on a broiler pan and bake for 30 minutes, glazing the ribs occasionally with the Coca-Cola mixture. Turn the ribs over and continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes, glazing occasionally, or until the ribs are tender and the meat is starting to pull away from the bone.

When the ribs are cooked through, set the oven to broil. Liberally spoon half of the remaining glaze over the ribs and broil until glazed a deep mahogany brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn over; repeat with the remaining glaze, an additional 5 to 7 minutes.

Serve immediately with lots of napkins.

*All recipes were reprinted with permission of Virginia Willis

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