Ann Vanderhoof

Ann Vanderhoof: Author of short-listed title "The Spice Necklace"

Ann Vanderhoof, author of the short-listed title The Spice Necklace, is a former Canadian magazine editor turned writer. With her husband, Steve, she cruises the Caribbean on their 42-foot sailboat, Receta, and writes about our adventures. Steve, a former magazine and book art director, takes the photos and is Receta’s official food taster.

What was the inspiration for The Spice Necklace?
Our second journey through the Caribbean on our sailboat Receta. It was a voyage of culinary discovery, taking us off the beaten path as we meandered from island to island. Learning about local ingredients and food became our route to meeting local people, who took us underwing and shared their way of life – and their recipes. We saw that food was a mirror reflecting each island’s history, and the background and traditions of the people who live there.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing/publishing this title?

Developing the recipes for North American cooks. Few of the people I met had written recipes. They would give them to me orally – and almost no one used precise measurements. They would describe quantities in terms such as “a tip” and “a handful,” and I would have to go back to my galley and experiment. As well, very different dishes could have the same name on different islands. The second part of the challenge was providing substitutions for ingredients that aren’t widely available in Canada.

What aspect of the book are you most proud?
I particularly love that my writing seems to be inspiring readers to make their own, often extended, journeys and explore off the well-traveled path. I’m also delighted to hear that people are taking the book into their kitchens – using the recipes, and enjoying the results – and expanding their repertoire to a different cuisine.

What do you wish you knew before starting the project?
I didn’t realize that The Spice Necklace would lead to so many wonderful ongoing friendships, and knowing this beforehand would have been a psychological boost over the inevitable humps in the writing process. I stay in regular touch with most of the people who played a part in the book, and I look forward to seeing them each time we return to their island. We arrive, and they say, “Welcome home.” We also love to entertain them on Receta – though it’s more than a little daunting for me to prepare my take on a recipe for the person who inspired it!

What advice would you give aspiring culinary authors?
Wherever you are – in markets, food stands, and restaurants; on street corners, buses, and beaches – don’t hesitate to ask strangers questions about food. It’s almost guaranteed to start a conversation. People love to talk about what they’re cooking, and how they prepare a dish. It opens you to so many possibilities and, if you let it, can even go beyond the food.

Also, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s better to be in the kitchen and watch a home cook make a dish than have him or her just verbally describe it to you. When they’re not actually doing it, people often forget to mention an ingredient, or a small critical step, that makes a big difference in the result.

The winners will be announced at the Canadian Culinary Book Awards on Monday, November 7, 2011, at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

Photo © Steve Manley.

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