Brainstorming recipes for my "Chinese Soul Food" cookbook, which will feature home cooking, restaurant favorites and feast dishes.
The other day, I was listening to a colleague describe his work studying a specific "molecular machine" in cells, I got distracted by the data he had projected on the screen. He had organized the information using heirarchical clustering. This is not a new method to convey data. But seeing it in that moment as the bones of my cookbook are forming in the back of my mind kicked a few more gears into motion.
A month ago, I posted this announcement about deciding to self-publish a cookbook, which also included a link to this survey. (I still would love more voices represented in the survey. If you have a few minutes to answer six questions, I would appreciate it.)
Even though the sample size of responses wasn't huge, the survey revealed some insights: In general, people want to learn more about how to cook Chinese food, but they are unfamiliar with ingredients and techniques and therefore afraid to make the attempt. Because the ingredients are unfamiliar, people also easily get overwhelmed by the number of ingredients in a recipe. There are many Chinese cookbooks on the shelves and new ones are being published every season, including books that feature easy Chinese recipes for home cooks. So, it makes me wonder what's missing.
My sense is that many people haven't figured out how to integrate Chinese cooking into their repertory so that it's as second nature as making pasta and sauce or a pot roast. Even ingredients that you can find at your everyday neighborhood supermarket seem foreign: you may use them once or twice and then they languish in the back of the cabinet. So I've been thinking about how scientific data visualization methods can help me organize the content of my book so that cooks not only learn how to make a recipe, but understand the context of the ingredients within the context of the recipe within the context of technique within the context of a way of thinking about cooking and menu planning. If the cookbook were like Google Maps, you could zoom in and out to the level of granularity you need to comprehend and then internalize.
The book is mostly in my head right now, except for a few pages of brainstorming notes. But, I have committed to participating in National Blog Post Month for November, which means I have to post once a day for the entire month. My hope is to use this opportunity to articulate the structure and create an outline for the content. Thanks for your support!
P.S. There is still a space or two in my "Weeknight Wokking" class from 6-8 p.m. on Nov. 9. It's $85 and features these dishes: Kung Pao Chicken, Ma Po Tofu and Chile-Garlic Eggplant. Info and registration