The Tuesday Thirteen: John Gregory-Smith & The Mighty Spice Cookbook
The Tuesday Thirteen
John Gregory-Smith, The Mighty Spice Cookbook
John Gregory-Smith has done what many people tend to shy away from. He wrote an entire cookbook based around spices. Intimidating spices you may not have heard of, and familiar spices that we cook with everyday. His cookbook, Mighty Spice Cookbook, has allowed us to step outside our comfort zone, and into an array of different cuisines that we may have otherwise been unfamiliar with.
I received Mighty Spice Cookbook as a gift from my mother-in-law. She thought I would like it due to its fancy looking foods. She thought it would be too much for herself to cook from but me, she thought I could handle it – and handle it with enjoyment. I flipped through the pages and upon first glance I thought the recipes looked delicious yet maybe a step past novice cooking. Upon further inspection, they didn’t seem too difficult and I decided I would cook my way through many of the recipes just to try something new. So led me to the Mighty Spice Cookbook Challenge. I immediately got in touch with the author, John Gregory-Smith and let him know what I was about to do. He welcomed the idea and gave me just a few guidelines of how many recipes I could actually print online. From there, we connected via Twitter and he followed along with the challenge! I made more than I blogged, so I am thinking I will go back and add to the list.
“Fast, fresh and vibrant dishes using no more than 5 spices for each recipe.” That is the cookbook tagline. Pretty cool huh? The recipes that I did try were super simple (like ridiculously easy) and for the most part, I could find all of the ingredients at my local market or Whole Foods Market. Those two things are key for a home cook. So what about taste? Let’s just say, this one is a keeper. I like this book because it fits a particular craving. I know which book to flip to when I am in the mood for a Fattoush Salad. Like most cookbooks, not every dish agrees with everyone in the family, but many were likable and memorable. I’ve made a few of them multiple times already. Other things I love about the cookbook are the headnotes that explain the origin of the recipe, or just tell John’s story about the meal, the descriptions and explanations of each particular spice throughout the book and each recipe has a few pairing suggestions for other recipes in the book. Beautiful, mouthwatering photos, bound by a sturdy hardcover, make this a great cookbook worth trying if you are looking for something different. Well done John. Well done.
Mighty Spice Cookbook opens with a wonderful story about your mother and your childhood. Please tell us what age you started cooking and how and why you became so interested in fresh food.
John According to my mum I was bossing everyone about in the kitchen from the age of about 6 and had fully taken over by 8! I always loved eating and I discovered that if I did the cooking then I would get first dibs on everything. My mum never really fed me anything processed so I guess that’s how my palette developed – thanks mum!!
Great mom indeed! Speaking of great moms, I received Mighty Spice Cookbook as a gift and I am so happy I did! Not too many people think to make a book around spices, what was your inspiration for this kind of book?
John I LOVE spices and cooking with them – they smell amazing, taste even better and can bring the exotic into your kitchen, basically what’s not to like. I have always been passionate about these ingredients and showing people how easy they are to use. I originally launched a spice brand of my own and after giving up the business I decided to write a book to introduce the ingredients I loved so much in a really fun accessible way.
The inspiration came from my travels all over the world – not a bad job to have right?
No, it’s not a bad job at all – wish I had thought of it first!
Mighty Spice Cookbook is about making fast fresh recipes with only 5 spices or less. Many of us shy away from using spices out of our comfort zone, what do you think makes America different from the rest of the world when it comes to experimenting with food?
John Americans love American food, which is not a bad thing at all, but it can be a challenge introducing new flavours and ingredients. However, I found that most Americans have been more than happy to give my recipes (and hence spices) a whirl and on the whole they have loved them!
Do you have an absolute favorite spice? What would you say is one spice that is often overlooked because home cooks are intimidated by it but shouldn’t be?
John My fav is the chili – in all shapes and forms I revere it and love it. I am completely addicted and add it into most things I cook at home. I have taken to adding it in different forms to one dish, like a pinch of dried flakes, a chopped fresh chili and a dollop of chili sauce!
Lots of cooks freak out with whole spices – the hassle of dry frying and grinding terrifies and to an extent bores people. But you know what a little pinch of say cumin seeds or Sichuan pepper (yummy!) into hot oil before making a curry or stirfry adds so much flavour and texture without doing anything!
I know you didn’t learn all about spices from the internet and encyclopedias. How much time and travel have you put into learning about different spices?
John Haha, this is something I am very strict about – learn on the job not online! I feel that to really get to grips with my subject matter I have to go all over the world to see where spices are from and how they are used in different parts of the world. It is really important to me to create dishes and use techniques that most people wont know. In my head, fill a book like this and it’s worth buying! You can spot a re-hashed recipe a mile off!
Many people (myself included) would like to write a cookbook someday. I know it’s no small task, so what was your process for finding a publisher and creating the book? How long did it take the cookbook to go to press?
John You need a really strong concept that is easy to understand, unique recipes and an editor who is amazing (Grace is my amazing Editor and I salute her!). It’s a slow process, about 1-1.5 years, to get everything right and on shelf.
Not only are your recipes amazing and photos beautiful, you have wonderful headnotes that help explain more about the recipes. In your opinion, what are the elements that contribute most to the essence of a great cookbook?
John First of all big thank you for that – you have been a firm supporter of my book and that is hugely appreciated!
For me content is king; clearly laid out, functionally and beautifully. I like books that inspire me and are easy to use. Again, I am really fussy about content – it bores me when I see cookbook with the same old recipes in different guises, it’s lazy!
I follow you on Twitter and you still seem to be traveling and eating with families in different countries. Where would you say you found the cuisines that intrigue you most? Is travel something you will continue to do?
John That’s so hard as all the cuisines are so different. I have just got back from Shenyang in NE China and it was amazing! Shenyang is a “small city” of 8 million people, on the border of north Korea and Mongolia. The food was wonderful, unlike anything I had ever seen or tasted before in my life. I am quite faddy with food and what I eat. Right now is all about Shanyang – BBQ and boiled dumplings – Yummy!!
I will always travel to learn new things and be inspired. #toughlife
Being American, there are many recipes in your book that I have not seen before. What is your process for recipe development? Do you start with an idea or a written recipe?
John I start by flinging myself off somewhere with a note pad and credit card to learn all I can about a particular cuisine. I make notes, eat everything and barge my way into every kitchen I can to see what’s going on.
My brain puts things together all the time and I write this down as well. It can be that a part of a dish inspired me, or the essence of meal, for example.
I develop my recipes from my notes, putting them down on paper then hitting the kitchen hard (this is the part my family and friends like the most!) to get them perfect.
I have had a chance to cook many recipes from your book and I must say that on the surface they look intimidating but they were easy to follow and delicious. The Malay Yellow Mussel Curry is one of my favorites. Was it your goal to make this book “home cook” friendly?
John I am a home cook so this was hugely important – who wants to make restaurant food at home? That’s what you go out for, right?
I wanted to make a book that was super easy to use, had recipes that were a bit different, but easy to understand. It was important everyone could give them a go. My wonderful dad is not blessed with cooking skills (he loves his food!) and I wanted to include the likes of him, which I have done. He made my Turkish lentil soup a few times. I was thrilled!
If someone picked up Mighty Spice Cookbook today and had to cook one meal from it tonight, what would be the first one you suggest they try?
John A meal – right, I would do the alleppy prawn curry with the Jetalah pineapple, cucumber and chilli salad (I love curries with cold salads) as they are super easy and go beautifully together.
For pudding, dark chocolate cinnamon and clove brownies- these are quite simply the most rocking brownies on the plant, and trust me I have eaten many!
Your book would definitely be a great start! How do you suggest we home cooks start experimenting with spices on our own? Should we delve into research or just jump in trial and error style?
John Haha – buy my book as a guide!
No, seriously, start off with a few basics, like chilli, cumin or lemongrass. Start adding them to simple things like grilled chicken or coconut sauces to get a taste for them and go from there. Spices are not hard to use and they have so much flavour, without fat and salt, which = a good friend in the kitchen!
What are the upcoming plans for John Gregory-Smith? Please tell me there are more cookbooks in the making! Television maybe?
I am working on my next book which will be out next year in the UK and USA. I am working on some cool digital media as well that will tie in. I love America and have a few projects on the go, so watch this space – I will be coming over soon!
Awesome! I am looking forward to staying in touch and seeing what you come out with! Thanks for an amazing interview John!
To follow what John has coming up or to connect with him as he travels the world exploring foods and spices, follow him on Twitter and Facebook and visit his website. Purchase Mighty Spice Cookbook on Amazon and at other retailers.
The Tuesday Thirteen is an interview series that asks thirteen questions to your favorite people in food. If you have questions you are curious to ask food bloggers, cookbook authors, publicists, food photographers, etc., please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.