Saturday, August 29, 2009

Author Interview: Dina Guillen and Michelle Lowrey

Today, I had the chance to chat a little with Dina Guillen and Michelle Lowrey, authors of Cooking Club: Great Ideas and Delicious Recipes for Fabulous Get-Togethers. Be sure to read my review of the book!

Jennifer Walker: Tell us about other writing/book projects you have--past, present and future.

Dina and Michelle:
Past would be our first book, The Plank Grilling Cookbook. It was published in 2006 and it has done extremely well, with over 30,000 books sold to date. Cooking Club: Great Ideas and Delicious Recipes for Fabulous Get-Togethers just came out this year, and we are also trying to build an online cooking club community, so we started writing a food blog, that focuses on cooking club stories, advice, tips, profiles, etc.

Jennifer Walker: Out of all of your cooking club members, how were you two elected to write this book? Did the other members contribute?

Dina and Michelle
: We co-wrote The Plank Grilling cookbook with our other cooking club members, Maria Everly and Gretchen Bernsdorff. When the opportunity to write the second book was offered to the four of us, both Gretchen and Maria decided that that the time commitment was too great, and they opted out of the project. Gretchen has since moved, and is not part of our cooking club anymore, but the support and enthusiasm for the project by both of them has been so gracious. In fact, everyone from our cooking club has been so supportive. It’s been so fun writing about our dear cooking club friends, and letting the public “in” on our fabulous group!

Jennifer Walker: Did anything fun or interesting or unusual or otherwise noteworthy happen during the course of writing Cooking Club?

Dina and Michelle:
If you asked us about the Plank Grilling Cookbook, we would regale you with stories about all the fires we started while grilling on those pieces of wood. But this book was pretty non-eventful. We are incredibly organized. We prepared an outline for the book, set a timeline, and turned in our manuscript to our editor on time.

Jennifer Walker: How did you get started as published authors?

Dina and Michelle
: We are very proud of how these books came to fruition. When Dina came up with the idea for writing The Plank Grilling book, we did not have an agent, a lawyer, or anyone else helping us along. We did everything ourselves, and shopped the book around to different publishers. We were so pleasantly surprised that even more than one publishing house wanted to publish the book. Plank Grilling was a new phenomenon back then, and hey, we were on to something! Once we settled on a publisher, we did the negotiating ourselves with the help of a mutual friend Suzanne Nielson. Yes, we were green, and had very little knowledge of what we were doing, but we learned a lot. The Cooking Club book came next, and was offered to us by Sasquatch books (the publishers of our first book.) We had a nice opportunity to sit down with Biba Caggiano from Biba’s restaurant, here in Sacramento. She was so kind and gracious, and gave us great advice on how to negotiate a book contract. We actually thanked her in the book! Michelle had the opportunity to give her a copy of our book, and she was so impressed by it. That was such a nice compliment, coming from such a well know Sacramento institution such as Biba.

Jennifer Walker: Tell us about your families. How supportive are they of your writing...and of cooking club?

Dina Guillen
: I have an incredibly supportive husband, Roland, and a wonderful 9-year-old son, Andrew. They encourage me to try new dishes, and experiment with exotic flavors and cuisines. Since they are not picky eaters and will try practically anything, I have the flexibility and freedom to go crazy in the kitchen and have an appreciative audience at the same time. When you are in a cooking club, and writing cookbooks, you need honest taste testers with good palates, and I have that in my own home. It doesn’t get better then that!

Michelle Lowrey: They are of course, very supportive. My Mom is an amazing chef, and I grew up eating beautiful food. My Mom was always cooking something delicious, and that love of food was fostered in me from a very young age. The fact that I have written two cookbooks just tickles my parents to no end!

Jennifer Walker: Have you had any mentors or influences in your writing career?

Dina Guillen
: I was a Journalism major in college, and one of my journalism professors, Dr. Art Margosian, encouraged my writing abilities, mentored me, and gave me the confidence to pursue a career in writing. I have had a love of food and cooking from a very young age, and it comes from having a very large family who loved food. Every occasion was celebrated w ith a feast, whether it was a graduation, a baptism, or simply losing your 8th tooth – it was always about the food. One of my aunts, Aunt Vera, would ask me to smell or eat a fruit at its peak of ripeness, roll her eyes and groan in ecstasy as she was enjoying it herself, and go on and on about how delicious it was. How was I going to grown up not loving food? With the combined influences of Dr. Margosian and my Aunt Vera, it seems I was destined to be a food writer.

Michelle Lowrey: Well, my Mom is my biggest mentor. But, a very happy memory of my childhood is sitting down with my Mom and religiously watching The French Chef with Julia Child. We both loved that show, and I think back on that with such happy memories. When the movie Julie and Julia came out this summer, I couldn’t help but think of my Mom, but also how much Julia Child influenced so many people. There’s not many chefs out there that won’t say that Julia didn't influence them in some way or the other. She really was a fascinating woman.

Jennifer Walker: Do you have a "day job"?

Dina Guillen
: I am a marketing director at Wiley Design Communications, Inc., a brand development and marketing firm in mid-town Sacramento.

Michelle Lowrey
: I actually went to culinary school in San Francisco, and worked as a pastry chef for 5 years before I left the food industry to stay at home and raise my two kids. The writing of the two books has been so much fun for me because I got the opportunity to write about something I loved…food! These days, I work at my children’s school three days a week. Something I really enjoy.

Jennifer Walker: Do you have hobbies outside of writing and cooking? What are they?

Dina Guillen
: I love to read, and could spend hours on a sofa reading with contentment. I also love to go hiking with my friends and family. I’ve never hiked outside of California, and I would love to plan a vacation hiking (and eating) my way through the trip.

Michelle Lowrey: It’s funny, because when I started thinking about my hobbies, they all seemed food related somehow! I mean, I love reading, but they are always books on food or chefs, and I love to entertain, but that involves cooking! I do love to hike, and my husband and I love living here in this area because of the closeness to the Sierra’s and all the great hiking trails. I love yoga, and have been doing bikram yoga for a few years now. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but my husband Corey has just gotten into running, and I have started running a little myself.

Jennifer Walker: What is your favorite restaurant, and why?

Dina Guillen
: Locally, my favorite restaurant is Mulvaney’s in Sacramento, because I am a huge fan of lamb and no one prepares it better then Partick Mulvaney. But if I were to choose anyplace in the world, I would travel to New Orleans and eat at Chef Susan Spicer’s restaurant, Bayona. Each time I’ve had a meal there, it is consistently amazing. And she makes the best sweet breads.

Michelle Lowrey
: This question, I really thought about a lot. I love food, and think about it all the time, and my answer to this questions changes every time I answer it depending on my mood! Right now, at this very moment, I’ve been obsessing over this tiny little place in New York City called S’mac, where the only thing they serve is macaroni and cheese. I’m a comfort food love r, and this place is where you need to go to get your fix. They serve every flavor combination imaginable, but my favorite is the gruyere cheese with slab bacon. They even make their own noodles. Seems silly, but to say that this place is my FAVORITE restaurant, when I’ve eaten at so many amazing places, but this is no ordinary macaroni and cheese let me tell you!

Jennifer Walker: If you had to pick one type of cuisine to make and eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Dina Guillen
: Middle Eastern food.

Michelle Lowrey
: I love Cajun/Creole food more than any other. In our book, we did a chapter on food from New Orleans, and testing those recipes was so much fun! I love having a pot of homemade gumbo cooking on the stove. It just makes me happy!

Thank you to Dina and Michelle for stopping was so fun getting to learn a little more about you!

Stay tuned for their guest post on food writing.

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