I’m a big fan of cookbooks.
Oh, a big fan.
While I already foster a very disturbing addiction to books — you should see my collection! — I’ve dedicated a portion of the bookshelves (yes, plural) to cookbooks.
New ones, old ones, the kind you buy as fundraisers for school and churches. I think I have every cookbook published by every hongwanji in the state.
So when I heard that my social media pal Nicole LaTorre (@ChefLaTorre), private chef and owner of Hawai‘i Sustainable Chef, was raising funds through the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to publish her first-ever cookbook, I got excited. Like, really excited.
LaTorre, who’s self-taught and super passionate, will share more than 50 of her original recipes, from farm-to-table dishes to quickie appetizers to meals great for kids to things like a Malasada Creme Brûlée and Truffled Kalua Pork Grilled Cheese.
“Whether you want an easy recipe or a more challenging project, the goal is to get people excited about creating food at home, with family or friends,” says LaTorre, who grew up in South Jersey. “Food brings people together and I hope people not only enjoy making these dishes, but enjoy making memories with the special people in their lives.”
The book, which should be out in December, will include some of her resourceful DIY projects like making your own up-cycled produce bags and “mason meals.” And yes, there will be vegan, paleo and gluten-free options for her recipes, too.
Plus, LaTorre will include a list of locations on O‘ahu — more than 25 farms, farmers’ markets and other small businesses — where you can source your ingredients.
It’s a lot of information packed into one cookbook!
“Whether using one local ingredient or six local ingredients, each recipe counts,” she says. “Each local ingredient utilized helps support the local economy and the farmers who work hard to make these food sources available to us. I hope to showcase some new possibilities by emphasizing what we can create, by bringing multiple farmers together all on one plate.”
So right after I kicked in some cash to fund her project, I asked LaTorre a few questions about her cooking, her cookbook, and what she means by Italian-Hawaiian fusion.
CT: What influenced you to write your own cookbook? I imagine people kept bugging you for recipes! (I get that, too, and I’m not even a chef!)
NLT: It’s always been a goal of mine to publish a book and after a handful of friends asked for recipes I thought it would be a great way to share all my best recipes with others. I realized as a private chef, I can only cook for so many people on any given day. By sharing my recipes with others, they can recreate my recipes any time they want!
CT: What do you enjoy about sharing your recipes?
NLT: Sharing recipes is something that my family has done for many generations. My mom has a recipe box with recipes from my grandmother and my Great-Aunt Mary, who cooked with me as a young girl. Although they are no longer with us, their memories live on through the gifts they left behind.
CT: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your cooking?
I grew up in South Jersey, right outside of Atlantic City. I like to describe my style as Italian Hawaiian fusion because many of my dishes are inspired by a combination of my Italian upbringing and my time spent in Hawaii.
CT: What’s your culinary/food background?
NLT: I’m a self-taught chef. In high school I had a cookie and brownie business. I made $50 a day selling chocolate chip cookies and homemade brownies to my peers every day for 2 1/2 years until the art teacher sent me to in-school suspension. Apparently, it was illegal to sell anything in school and keep the profits. Many teachers supported the “Underground Bake Sale,” but all good things must come to an end.
At the time, I saw a need in the market because students were hungry and the lunch periods were either super early or super late in the day. With no other outlet to purchase snacks of any kind, my business became successful pretty quickly. It was my motivation for going to school. I lost all interest in reading Shakespeare and focusing on topics that didn’t interest me, but felt excited to go to school each day because people loved the baked goods. As soon as I got home from school each day, I’d start baking for the next day’s supply.
There was a lot of gratification in knowing people loved my baked goods and continued to purchase from me day in and day out. I felt really proud.
CT: What happened after high school?
NLT: After high school I worked in restaurants, waitressing and bartending my way through college.
I always observed the plating techniques of the chefs and tried to make my dishes look as visually appealing. I had a boss who used to say, “We eat with our eyes first.”
CT: And then you moved here and started your company in August 2012. Love it?
NLT: For the last two years I’ve cooked for an amazing family every week, cooked for corporate events, other special events and private dinners.
CT: Any last words for my readers, many of whom, hopefully, will buy your cookbook?
NLT: At the end of the day, no one can do it alone. We all need someone. Many of these recipes represent the importance of working together and also define just how much Hawai‘i really brings to the table. A synergy and an appreciation for all those that make these recipes possible, from the farmer, to the fisherman, to the cutting board shaper and the compost company. We all play a part in helping to sustain Hawaii. I hope this book helps create more sustainable chefs.
To help Nicole LaTorre publish her first cookbook, click here.