Jennie Cook uses her years of experience in the California culinary scene to present creative, delicious, and versatile recipes along with smart tips and whimsical anecdotes in her beautifully illustrated cookbook Who Wants Seconds? Sociable Suppers for Vegans, Omnivores, and Everyone In Between.
You say writing this book was a project of the heart. Please explain that.
I’ve been making parties for 30 years, and when I’m in the kitchen and everything is going well, it feels like I’m doing good work. When I’m in the field at my events, and I see all the happy people breaking bread, eating and having fun, it lights up their soul and my soul! Sharing food spreads love, and that’s my mission.
What is the core of your message about healthy eating?
Our food system and our relationship to food is so broken. We reach for processed food and quick things. If we can change our diets, we can change our lives! People are beginning to realize this and real food is finally getting the attention it deserves in the media. As a nation, we have to shift how we eat and become mindful of the choices we make to get food on our plate. From a catering perspective, my food stands out in Hollywood because it’s healthy. I insist on lots of vegetables all the time.
How do you envision people making this change?
It’s about redefining delicious. Always be willing to try new things. Start attaching food to feelings—“if I eat this, I feel like this.” Awareness of our own operating system is key to making a change.
Give us some suggestions.
Stop buying products and create by-products! In the book, I tell readers that one way to learn about what they’re eating is to make their own sausage. Casings aren’t necessary, just patty it up. Sausage is great example of less-is-more when it comes to meat. It’s easily crumbled into soup and stew recipes. Adding more vegetables and less meat creates a healthier meal and a healthier human.
Why are you such a fan of cabbage?
Cabbage is delicious. Crunchy, sweet, often spicy, it packs a punch and is very filling. It’s a strong, formidable vegetable. It comes in many varieties, keeps well in the crisper, holds well after making recipes and is crazy affordable. The chemical makeup of cabbage is legendary. Its beneficial enzymes have been a long-time homeopathic cure to tummy ailments. Cabbage needs more attention.
What’s the best way to balance a meal?
Stop worrying so much, for starters, and think about the plants. Keep it simple and be artistic! I always plan it around seasonal vegetables. I serve two and I mix up the colors – one green and one orange or red. You can keep the meat, but highlight the plants.
What are some of your favorite recipes in this book?
Pickled cranberries. I discovered them at a favorite local restaurant, and thought “where have you been all my life?” And lacquered chicken is a recipe that one of our chefs, Miriam, brought to the catering company back in the ’80s. Something delicious happens when you combine the soy sauce, red wine and honey—it creates a crispy finish and a rich, earthy flavor.
You also illustrated this book very beautifully. Was it difficult?
It was a very intense but most enjoyable process. It was tricky figuring out which to do first, but I found my rhythm in the end and really embraced the process. I was well supported by my family and publisher.
Please tell us about “Make It and Take It”—your famous pie-making event .
It’s in its sixth year and it’s our biggest, most popular pie making flash mob party of the year. We make and freeze 120 piecrusts and provide all the ingredients for folks to make pecan, apple and pumpkin pie. One hundred of our biggest fans come and make their holiday pies. Local families, friends, neighbors, and kids are all in attendance, plus Triple Chicken Foot, a local string band playing old-time music. I serve a vegan-friendly lunch with beer from Eagle Rock Brewery, my famous elixirs and chai. This happens on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and, because we’re in California, we spill into the parking lot, settle in and have a great afternoon kicking off the holiday season in sunny Los Angeles surrounded by food love. Flour is everywhere, it’s crazy and great!
And we hear that you not only cook good things, but do good things such as chairing RootDown L.A. What do they do?
RootDown teaches high school students how to prepare and identify their veggies, and most importantly, eat them! We provide lessons in cooking and gardening, using local produce (e.g., zucchini and tomatoes) and by partnering with other community groups, in particular WECAN and Nuevo South. It’s wonderful for teenagers; they come in and take ownership. Growing, preparing and sharing food is the key to change. And it’s instantly gratifying; teenagers like that.
Will you write another book?
I’d do it again should the opportunity arise. I do have more to share.