curiosity and candor | take 4: Steve Radbourn

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Some of you may remember a series I introduced back in 2017 called Curiosity and Candor: Insight into Another Reader’s Recommendations. It’s a series where I ask authors, bloggers, book-lovers, friends, family members and industry professionals about books, reading and everything in between.

To quote my first-ever Curiosity and Candor blogpost and give you some insight into the series origin: So many of us love books, but we don’t all have time to write down our recommendations and reviews, or to list our favourite most recent books for someone, or even get into an in-depth discussion as to why we like the books we do, and how books make us have all the feels. I hope that Curiosity And Candor will give my readers some new perspectives and offer insights into a variety of genres, and I thought it would also be a great exercise for my interviewees to reflect, share and get real with the emotions that may spark when they read. Most importantly, it’s going to be fun!

Well, this is all to say that Curiosity and Candor is BACK! I’ll be conducting interviews this coming year to help me help YOU. I will do my best to curate a group of book lovers with diverse preferences in hopes that you learn about a new book, come upon an emerging author, or rediscover a genre you used to love… after all, we are in a pandemic and a moderate amount of escapism is most likely necessary.

Helping me launch this reboot is my dear friend and master cook and baker, Steve Radbourn. Known to many of his friends as “Steveo” (the original, in my opinion), he is my go-to for all things in the kitchen, and our family loves testing out all of the treats he makes. Steveo is also in a book club, and is well-versed in many areas, including the topic of pop culture. I thought Steveo would be a great person to interview right now, seeing as many of us are stuck at home with nothing to do but EAT! He has so many great tips on cookbooks, baking, his favourite reads, and what it’s like to self-publish. We also discuss how he has gotten creative during the pandemic, so I cannot wait for everyone to read this interview and take away something valuable!

So, without further adieu, please check out Curiosity and Candor Take 4 with Steve Radbourn below.

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Curiosity and Candor | Take 4 | Featuring Steve Radbourn

KFT: My dear, wonderful friend Steve(o). Where do we even start? It’s always so funny to interview someone you’re close to.

You are someone who loves to read, and I always appreciate when you post your latest five-star books on social media. This question will be a two-parter: What is your favourite genre to read (if you have one) and what were some of the stand-out reads you have read in the last year? (Note: they don’t need to be books released in the past year- I just want to hear about the best and most impactful that you have consumed!)

SR: What a great place to kick things off, but I’m going to make it hard on you and say that I don’t really have a favourite genre! My reading list is always too long, and filled with a relatively even balance of fiction, non-fiction, memoirs and personal essays. I would say in the grand scheme it probably leans in the fiction direction, but overall I just always feel an endless need to switch things up. If I read too many serious things, I need something lighter. If I read too much lighter fare, I feel like I’m not pushing my brain to explore something challenging.

The pandemic is a huge bummer but will say that a silver lining has been the extra time for reading. My favourites have all been fiction actually (so much for staying balanced!): The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel; Normal People by Sally Rooney; Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, and The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. That last one made me full on sob.

KFT: I have heard really great things about The Glass Hotel, and I will definitely be adding that and the others to my ever-growing list.

I get what you’re saying about constantly needing to switch up your reading genres. I think that’s why I switch it up so often too, however sometimes I feel like I get stuck in a genre for a while before climbing my way out to something else. (I tend to do this most frequently with memoirs). Speaking of memoirs, have you read any recently that you have enjoyed, or are there any on your must-read this for 2021?

SR: I also get stuck in a genre! My fiction list is about four miles long right now, so I have been actively trying to plug away recently. On the memoir front, right at the start of the pandemic I read Too Much is Not Enough by Andrew Rannells, which was delightful. It’s essentially his life as he grew up and worked to get his big shot on Broadway, and it was the perfect salve for someone who misses going to live events. I also read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I don’t know if I should classify it specifically as a memoir, but you learn so much from the story of his life, that you can’t deny it has similar elements to the memoir genre.

KFT: I will definitely be adding Too Much is Not Enough to my list! And I loved Between the World and Me. (Note to readers, my review of it can be found here).

SR: I try to bounce between memoirs that are serious and revelatory, and ones lean closer to humour. Top of my list for this year will be to read A Promised Land by Barack Obama, Here For It by R. Eric Thomas, and The Meaning of Mariah Carey, by Mariah Carey!

KFT: A Promised Land is a big one! I finished The Meaning of Mariah Carey a few weeks ago and I highly recommend it.

I would love to switch it up a bit and talk about your other passion: being in the kitchen. In my Quarantinversary blogpost I mention your name several times. You are such an incredible cook AND baker, and have even self-published your own cookbook. Would you mind describing that process to everyone?

SR: Oh jeez. How much time do you have? I suppose it really all started with my love of food and being in the kitchen. The thing I love about cooking and baking is there’s an infinite amount of lessons to learn. Eventually, you spend enough time in a kitchen and you become not only skilled enough to know the ins and outs of a recipe, but also what goes into creating your own recipes.

As I spent more time in the kitchen, my own recipes weren’t only receiving positive responses from family and friends, but people actively asking how to make what I was sharing. And so in an effort to not only ensure I never lost them, but to answer those requests, I started writing them all down. As the number of recipes soon ballooned past 50, I then had the idea of creating a personal cookbook of my own recipes, having them printed, and then giving it away as a Christmas gift to family and friends. That was the gist of the idea: it was a Christmas present!

I worked with Asquith Press, which operates out of the Digital Innovation Hub at the Toronto Public Library and helps to print small, independent runs of books. They helped me in getting proper formatting templates, thinking about cover design, and all the ins and outs of getting a cookbook published (long story short: a lot of formatting and editing). As my list of recipes swelled beyond 100, I quickly realized this had become the length of a real-life cookbook. And if that was going to be the case, why not go all the way? The end result was everything I hoped it could be, from the font choice to the recipe style to the acknowledgements page. It’s the most genuine expression of myself I’ve ever written, but overall the most important aspect was to be able to give it to those I care about and whom I knew would appreciate it. The book is dedicated to my grandmothers, and when she opened it at Christmas and told me it was the “most wonderful gift she had ever received,” all those nights staying up and editing until 3am became worth it.

KFT: Wow, I just teared up. What an incredible gift for your grandmother. It is such a beautiful cookbook, and it seems like another lifetime when we were cheering you on to complete it! I remember receiving the book from you at Christmas and I was just so utterly proud of you!

What are some of your favourite cookbooks? Old and new, go-to’s and ones for special occasions? I have seen your cookbook collection, and feel like I should let our readers know that you could open a small library with the number you have!

SR: Ooh, now we’re really getting into a subject I can’t stop talking about. I am first and foremost a stan of Julia Child and Martha Stewart, which probably sounds supremely old-school, but there are reasons those women are legends. With Mastering the Art of French Cooking not only will you learn that so many techniques are not nearly as hard as you thought, but you learn to appreciate how many amazing dishes actually don’t require very many ingredients. The thing I love about Martha is she has a reliable recipe for EVERYTHING. Martha’s American Food will give you the foundations for everything a North American kid will likely be familiar with already, from chili to fried chicken to cherry pie.

There are too many great cookbooks out there that navigate a specialty but also are broad enough to use regularly. Favourites include anything by Yotam Ottolenghi (but especially Plenty) for veggie-friendly cuisine, Bravetart by Stella Parks and Dessert Person by Claire Saffitz for baking, Salad for President by Julia Sharman to up your salad game, and Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook, which basically lives open on my kitchen counter from November – January.

I realize I am already being super wordy on this but you have landed on my fave topic, which is that cookbooks are more than just recipes. So many incredible chefs have incredible stories as well, ones filled with challenges and hardships and also just some really wild tales. There are some really amazing cooks in history who are also just fantastic writers. Learning their recipes also gives you the chance to learn their stories. For truly amazing cookbooks where the stories are just as good as the recipes, I need to recommend Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton, Appetites by Anthony Bourdain, and A Cookbook by your hometown fave, Matty Matheson.

KFT: I love all of these recommendations and appreciate the detail as to why each book is important. And of course, I appreciate the endorsement of my hometown celebrity chef, Matty Matheson.

Over Zoom this Fall, you taught our friend group how to make Julia Childs’ clafoutis. (I talk a bit about this in my Quarantineversary post). You then went on to teach a live clafoutis baking class to a larger audience of university alumni from all over the world. Tell us a bit about what that experience was like, and what cookbook(s) you may recommend to someone who may want to dip their toe into beginner baking.

SR: What a fun experience that has been, teaching others how to bake! We had been hearing from our community at work that they wanted more content that was fun, family-friendly and less formal. My years of bringing in treats to the office have left me with a bit of a reputation around campus, so I was asked if I would be willing to test the concept out. The biggest challenge is finding a recipe that, during this pandemic, can be relatively universal to anyone, regardless of their baking skill. A clafoutis was perfect because it requires very few special tools (a bowl and a whisk), and the ingredients you likely already have in the house!

Honesty, I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun doing something for work. Despite being an extrovert, I don’t love being the centre of attention, so this let me live out my dreams of hosting a cooking show while not having my face on a billboard. The best part however was seeing how many people participated and the photos of their successful baked goods afterwards. Teaching it and getting to talk about food with people was pure joy, but also knowing I didn’t cause anyone to burn their house down was a nice bonus.

Lots of people are afraid of baking. “It’s so precise!” they say, but that’s exactly why I think it works for many people. My three to recommend are two previously mentioned, Bravetart by Stella Parks and Dessert Person by Claire Saffitz. Bravetart really bases the recipes on the science of baking, but makes it all easy to understand. If you are looking for great recipes for classics like chocolate chip cookies, birthday cake, brownies, or a loaf of white bread, buy this book. Not only are the recipes great, but Stella’s going to explain it all to you so you feel secure in what you’re doing. Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person is the same way. She originally became well-known when she was on staff at Bon Appetit, and her training as a pastry chef and recipe developer really shines here. Her recipes have a bit more gourmet flair, so buy this if you want to learn the ropes but like something a bit fancy at the same time. You can also check out her wildly successful YouTube channel.

Finally, the mother of all bread books is Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast by Ken Forkish. Again, well-detailed, and for anyone who during quarantine wants to learn more about breadmaking. Curious what a sourdough starter is and why it will change your life? This book is for you.

KFT: I am sure the audience was thrilled to have you instruct them. We are all craving something new and creative- especially a year + into the pandemic.

Thank you for all of the baking book recommendations. I love that two of the books you initially recommended are also great for beginners! I’ll have to buy them… and then I won’t have to bug you with so many of my own baking questions. I also chuckled at your recommendation of Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast by Ken Forkish because I initially thought it was the same book that Ian has been reading (Salt Fat Acid Heat) but quickly realized they are different!

I have taken up enough of your time, and I want to say that I appreciate your thoughtful responses and how generous you were with your time. I have learned so much from you about baking this past year, and am so grateful for you and your friendship in general, always. This past year has highlighted how lucky I am to have you in my life.

Is there anything else you would like to add to this post about books, baking, cooking or life in general? If not, we can say goodbye for now. I can’t wait to see you in person and hug you once we are allowed. You’re a great hugger. MUAH.

SR: Thank YOU for interviewing me! I have loved your blog for eons, so this really made my day. Since we have talked a lot about both books and food, I’ll say that a big reason why I love both reading and cooking is largely what they have in common: No matter what direction you choose to go in, chances are you’re going to learn something you didn’t know before. Both are some of the most enjoyable ways to expand your horizons and indulge an interest at the same time.

To which, my last recommendation will be to concur about Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat! It’s a great cookbook and a fantastic read at the same time. Hope you and Ian enjoy!

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I hope you all loved my interview with Steveo, and learned something too! Stay tuned for Curiosity and Candor | Take 5 next month and until then, happy reading!

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Check out the past Curiosity and Candor posts here:

1- Gavin Reynolds,

2- Jane Lalonde

3- Brigitte Truong

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