Love, Home Ec, And The Food Story Behind SUGAR

One of my favorite questions that keeps popping up after people read Sugar is this:

“Kim, have you ever studied at a culinary school ?”

I get a little shiver of happiness whenever this question is posed, first because I want to look like Giada and cook like Ina.

Photo by Buzzfeed

I’m not exactly batting 300 for either of those hopes. Ina has mad skills and she lives in the Hamptons and sometimes Paris, both of which are a lot like Des Moines. And as for Giada, does anyone actually believe that woman eats pasta? I, for one, do not.

The other reason I get the shiver is because it means that people who read Sugar are buying in. They are getting lost enough in the story of Charlie and Manda and Avery and Kai that they think I know what I’m talking about when I get to the foodie stuff.

Isn’t the foodie stuff fun?

I have a weakness for good food and good writing about food. Here are a few things I picked up when studying food and restaurant culture throughout the writing of Sugar.

1. Disclaimer Number One: Um, no. I did not go culinary school. In fact, my private Christian middle school was so poor, we didn’t even have home ec. I didn’t even get to sew a pillow. I want you to feel sorry for me right now. Thank you.

Here I am in a photo from that period, forced to abandon any hope for pillow making and instead to turn to stringed instruments, unfortunate haircuts, and flowered shorts.

I did not go to culinary school, but I do love to cook and bake. I’m the weirdo who reads every word of Bon Appetit every month and who reads cookbooks cover to cover, even pausing for a good while to take in the index. I’m that person. I hope this confession doesn’t make you stop wanting to talk to me at parties. I might be the bizarro cookbook index girl but I can still dance! Just ask my kids.

2. Real, live chefs who do Charlie’s gig every day are heroes. Some of them are jerks, like Felix. Ahem. (If you haven’t read about Felix yet, I’d recommend picking up a copy of Sugar for a little bad-boss therapy. We have all worked for a Felix and we have all wanted to do to Felix what Charlie does to Felix. Glory!) So some of these people are total nut jobs. But many of them are not, and I was fortunate to follow around a couple and pepper them with my many questions. My uncle, Robert Lewis, is a grad of the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, NY, which is chef-speak for saying he’s the real deal. He writes cookbooks and speaks all over the country about eating delicious food while managing diabetes. He’s wonderful and answers all of my questions all the time, that is, when we aren’t laughing and making inappropriate comments during solemn extended family moments. He’s that uncle. I’m a fortunate girl.

George Formaro is a local legend. His restaurants are phenomenal, and we five at this house find ways to visit all of them as often as is possible. This weekend, for example, I had to physically remove my children from the chocolate fondue fountain during brunch at Malo, but I only got around to it after tucking into George’s chipotle shrimp tacos wrapped in warm, house-made corn tortillas. I dare your mouth not to water. (You can read all about my visit to Chef George’s Centro and his fantastic team here.)

3. People in the food industry spill their guts and write memoirs. In fact, an entire new crop of these kinds of books comes out every release season. There are so many to mine, but I found this, this and most things by Anthony Bourdain or Ruth Reichl fascinating. Be aware: Chefs have potty mouths.

4. I found lots of fantastic food blogs and food writers throughout this process. My favorites, in no particular order, are:

Jenny Rosentrach of Dinner: A Love Story;

The delightful (and North Dakotan!) Molly Yeh;

Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen;

Damn Delicious food blog (again with the cussing, but merited here);

Le Creme de la Crumb food blog if only for the slow cooker mashed potatoes;

And another (delightful!) CIA grad Lei Shishak of Beach Town Baking. Make and eat everything Lei tells you to and you will lead a long and happy life. The end.

5. I loved, loved, loved getting to peek behind the curtain of the restaurant world. It was my personal Oz, and I’m not done peeking. Perhaps another novel is in order?

In the meantime, stop by the Davenport Barnes and Noble this weekend and get a signed copy of Sugar, as well as a glimpse of Chef Robert Lewis in action. He’ll be cooking up something, right there in the store, a dessert inspired by Sugar. I’m assuming he’ll need me to taste test everything. Cross to bear.

Happy weekend!


Signing details:

Barnes and Noble, North Park Mall, Davenport, Iowa

April 1, 2017, 1-3 pm

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