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Food is Jen’s obsession, so much so that she dropped her entire life and went to culinary school. She has since worked as a line cook, pastry chef, and cooking instructor. Today, Jen is a full-time recipe developer, food photographer, and she’s working on a cookbook. On her blog, Savory Simple, she focuses on well-tested recipes, bold flavors, and quality ingredients.
I am so happy to have Jennifer Farley of Savory Simple joining me here on the show today.
(*All images below are Jen’s.)
On Going to Culinary School:
I don’t know that you really ever get the courage to do it. You just have to go for it. A lot of people, I think, were trying to talk me out of doing it. But my boyfriend at the time, now my husband, was very supportive. He knew that I wasn’t very happy in my job, and we both really wanted a change and it just felt like the right thing for me to do at the time. I knew I wanted to do something. I had gone through a lot of different possible career changes over time and none of them seemed right. Culinary school is the thing that I kept coming back to. And finally, I just decided it was now or never, and you only live once, and I just went for it. I figured the worst case scenario, I could always go back to a desk job. But it worked out.
A typical day in school involved getting up extremely early, and I’m not a morning person. I think during the first phase of school, I was getting up around five in the morning, getting to school while it was still dark out, changing into my chef’s uniform. You had to change into it there, because you didn’t want any outside germs getting on it. Doing prep. I think it was a two-hour demo and then going into the kitchen and cooking everything that we had just watched the chef instructors make. They would come around and taste it and see if it was as good as what they had made.
If it wasn’t, they would yell at us and tell us to fix it. And then we would usually have about ten minutes to eat it really quickly for lunch before we had to scrub down the entire kitchen. Maybe we would have a couple of minutes to sit and relax. Then we would go in for an afternoon lesson. And then we would be finished by 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon. That would be it for the day, except then we would have lots of homework. And you really want to practice your knife skills and cook the stuff and type up the notes.
I’m a very hands-on learner, so it really helps me to see something right in front of me and then practice and have someone modify my technique and say, “No, you need to do it like this instead.” So that’s how I learned best.
On Her Blog:
I actually started the blog in 2009, I think about three or four months before I started school. The blog was initially meant to be a diary of my school experience, but you’re so busy while you’re there. I didn’t keep up with it nearly as much as I wanted to. And I was inspired to do it by this other blog that I had read at the time called Cooking School Confidential, which has since been pulled down, but it was an amazing blog. And I don’t know how she did it. She was writing these super long posts every single day after her classes.
After school finished, I actually had time to start really blogging and documenting my experiments in the kitchen with cooking and baking. And it was so much fun for me because for years before I got serious about cooking, I had a lot of friends that were very good cooks. And I would always ask them for recipes and they would go, “Oh I just threw it together. I don’t cook from a recipe,” and that always really pissed me off. And so I always decided I loved the idea of putting things down, of actually making recipes for people so that when they said, “Oh, this is delicious. Can I have the recipe?” I could go, “Sure. Here’s the recipe and here’s a photo.” And that’s where everything came from.
When I first started doing it, I had no idea that it was even something that I could evolve into a career. It was just really a hobby. I think I first realized it could be something more… I believe it was in 2012 I attended a food blogger conference, and I just wanted, for fun, to meet other people, to become more a part of the community. And all of the workshops were really eye-opening. There were workshops about how to make money and how to find your voice and how to optimize your blog. The whole thing made me go, “Oh wow, I can make money at this?” And that really set me off on the path to try to turn it into a business. And over the next few years, while I was working other jobs in the industry, I started trying to build it up on the side to get where I am today.
On Baking and Desserts:
I learned it in culinary school for sure. Every single day we did a three-course meal. We did an appetizer, entree, dessert. And it was very eye-opening for me, and I think that the desserts were my zen moment in the middle of chaos every single day, because there was this scientific precision to everything, especially when they would come around to check on us and make sure everything was right. It was a lot easier to get the desserts right, so I would gravitate towards them because I didn’t like getting yelled at. And I knew there was a better chance of me getting them right, and I also just found there was something very soothing about making desserts.
I liked it so much more than I thought I would, to the point where actually, halfway through the culinary program, I wondered if I should switch to the pastry program which was completely the opposite of where I was when I started. I didn’t think I was interested in doing desserts at all. I already had a blog called Savory Simple. I was there to learn how to cook. So it was a complete switch. But I absolutely love it now. I specifically went and worked as a pastry chef for a while before I stopped working at restaurants so I could get some additional experience, which was really, really helpful to this day. I loved doing desserts. They were my favorite things to make.
On Her Cookbooks:
I did a sponsored post for Zoku and they loved it. And they loved it so much that they asked me if I would do the book for them. It was exciting; it was amazing. It was the first time. It was one of many times, I think, where I’ve just sat back and said to myself, “I really made the right decision going to culinary school and changing my career because I just had a company offer me a cookbook.” And it was really exciting. It was my first cookbook but it was very guided. They knew exactly what they wanted. It was done in a very short period of time. It was all drink based. It’s technically my first cookbook. I made the recipes but it was just as much them, I think, as it was me.
It was a fun little device to work with, and I liked the challenge in some ways, because it forced me to think outside the box a little bit and I learned that some things did not work in it at all that I thought would. It was also difficult creating recipes for a company, because I would sometimes give them recipes that I thought were delicious and they would go, “No, we don’t like this at all,” and I was like “What, this is wonderful! Why don’t you like this?” And then they would come back with an idea that I thought was just not nearly as good as what I had given them, but I was working for them, so I would always do what they wanted. It was challenging but I think I came up with some good recipes for them.
(On her next cookbook.) It’s for Simon & Schuster. It’s going to be, I think, around 125 to 135 recipes. I’m doing all the photography in addition to the recipes. It’s quite a labor of love. It’s going to be out sometime next year. I’m not sure what it’s going to be called yet, but it is a full range of recipes, both savory and sweet. And I really hope everybody likes it. It’s a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
I used to watch Top Chef. Now I don’t really watch any of them.
I watch Big Brother and So You Think You Can Dance, because I don’t want to watch anything that has anything to do with cooking. I just like to mentally escape.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
I think that there’s great recipes on bonappetit.com. I also think Smitten Kitchen does lovely recipes. I love 101 Cookbooks. I know I’m forgetting some good ones. We’ll stick with those three for now.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook that make you happy?
Oh, there are so many wonderful people that I follow on Instagram and Pinterest. I tend to just gravitate towards people that share a lot of really beautiful photography. I love following Local Milk, and Call Me Cupcake, and Adventures in Cooking, and Reclaiming Provincial. I’ll stick with them.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
My most treasured item in my kitchen is my Vitamix, and no one can have it ever. I use it every day for something.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
I used to dislike rosemary and now I love it. I used to associate it with bath products. Same with lavender. They’re delicious. You just have to use them within reasonable, small quantities and not go crazy.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
The Flavor Bible is amazing. It’s really, really wonderful for anyone who wants to cook without a recipe, and I highly recommend it. It’s got lots of different ingredients and it pairs all of these different ingredients. So if you have broccoli and you want to know what to do with broccoli, it will list all of these other complementary flavors. I love that one. And I also love all the different cookbooks that have been released by America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated. Those are solid, well-tested recipes.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
Something ’80s, new wave dance. We’ll say Depeche Mode, Violator. It is so redundant but I like dancing to the Xanadu soundtrack and working to it. It’s electric light orchestra. It’s disco-y. And Jeff walks home sometimes and catches me in the kitchen cooking and singing to it.
On Keeping Posted with Jen:
Definitely my Facebook and my Twitter. I’m very active on both of them.