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The Bojon Gourmet
Alanna is a self-proclaimed recovering pastry chef, and on her blog, she shares her amazing food photography and recipes, many of which are vegetarian or gluten-free.
I am so delighted to have Alanna Taylor-Tobin of the Bojon Gourmet here on the show today.
On Being a Recovering Pastry Chef:
Well, it’s a little bit tongue in cheek, but I worked as a pastry chef for several years here in San Francisco, and two and a half years ago, I left my job to work on my blog full-time.
I don’t know if you’ve worked in restaurants? But they’re kind of crazy. When I left I just felt like, “I’m so relieved that I’m not working in restaurants anymore.”
It was just hectic and kind of a challenging place to work.
On Moving from Pastry to Cooking Savory Foods:
I’ve always loved cooking. I’ve always loved making anything I possibly can in the kitchen, including cocktails and savory foods also.
The reason I became a pastry chef is because I’m really squeamish and I don’t like touching raw meat and having to handle it. My very first job in the food industry was as a pantry cook at a restaurant. And I hated having to cut up big slabs of bloody fish and meat and stuff. So then when I went to work in a bakery I was like, “Oh, this is great! I get to do all of the food making, but I don’t have to touch all the yucky meat and seafood and stuff.”
That was actually the main reason why I went to pastry school and became a pastry chef.
But I’ve always loved cooking. I just cook mostly vegetarian at home because of the squeamish factor. I tried to make a balance of sweet and savory recipes on my blog and I tried to alternate recipes, but it is a little bit challenging sometimes because I get stuck in dessert mode.
I have to tell myself to think about like, “Okay, we need to have something substantial to eat.” So sometimes I have to just force myself to just go for something savory just so we’re not inundated with sugar all the time.
On Her Passion for Food and Cooking:
My whole family is a very food-oriented family, and nobody actually works professionally in food. They’re all psychologists actually. My whole family are psychologists but they all really love food and as a kid my favorite times were going out to restaurants with my parents. Or, my mom would always have the Bon Appetit subscription. She always had a great cookbook collection.
I have an older brother and I think I was about nine and he was dating a woman who was a pastry chef. And that was the first time that I was like, “Oh my God! That’s a thing? You can just get paid to make desserts for a living forever? That’s so cool! I want to do that!” So I kind of had it in my head from a very early age that I wanted to be a pastry chef.
My parents are divorced and my mom lives in L.A. My dad lives in Oregon. And usually when they come visit we tend to take them out to restaurants because we live in San Francisco and it’s just an incredible restaurant culture here. But we do potlucks and stuff.
The only holiday that I really enjoy is Thanksgiving because we always do a big potluck at my brother’s house in Berkeley and I get to make as many pies as I want. That’s my very favorite thing.
On Vegetarian and Gluten-Free Cooking:
My sister has known that she is allergic to gluten for 20 years I think now. She was gluten-free before it was cool. I think that kind of runs in my family. For the last ten or so years I’ve been experimenting with less gluten and just more whole grains and stuff.
I grew up not eating a ton of meat. I didn’t have a super meat-centric family and my mom’s always been really interested in health and nutrition.
When I first moved out of the house, I just ate Kraft mac and cheese for every meal because I was like, “Yeah!”
That got old really fast.
So I just started cooking more and one of the first cookbooks I owned was by Deborah Madison who’s mostly vegetarian. She’s founded Greens, the vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco. Just her whole aesthetic really inspired me.
When I moved in with my partner, he had been vegetarian for many years. It was just sort of natural to cook vegetarian. He’s not vegetarian anymore but he still eats mostly that way as do I.
As for the vegan, it’s not really a huge concern for me. I do have friends who are vegan. Or who are lactose intolerant and such. It’s kind of nice to have those recipes in my repertoire so I don’t have to be like, “Oh my God! A vegan’s coming for dinner. What do I do?”
That kind of mindset, of the meat is where you start from, is just kind of backwards from how I think. Even when I go to restaurants, I always look at the side dish, even if I get a meat entree, it’s because it has these awesome potatoes or the greens or something like that. I tend to start more from the vegetable aspect of it and sort of build a meal from there.
I tend to look at what’s in season. Or, “Oh, I’m craving sweet potatoes.” So then I’ll make a dish around that, like enchiladas.
I don’t think so much in terms of I need protein. I’m going to substitute this out for the protein or something.
I do eat a ton of cheese. I just love cheese. It’s my very favorite thing in the whole world. I probably eat more cheese because I’m needing the protein.
I guess I would say if you’re looking for a protein substitute, well, dairy obviously, but you can’t do that if you’re a vegan. Mushrooms are a really good source of protein, beans and nuts and all that kind of stuff. I don’t tend to think like that.
I tend more to start with the vegetable or the grain.
On Turning Down a Cookbook Offer… Twice:
I had really mixed feelings about whether I should talk about it at all in a public way. It seems like cookbooks are kind of the equivalent of having a baby where you’re not allowed to tell anybody in the first few months until really you’re sure it’s going to happen.
I was nervous about talking about it. But I just felt like, I was personally so confused and lost having to try to figure out whether this was a good offer or not. I just wanted to put the information out there to help other people because I know publishers are reaching out to tons of bloggers now.
We don’t always know how the publishing world works and whether what we’re being offered is good or not. And we have to stick together, you know?
So I put that information out there and I was just shocked at all of the great responses that I got. From people saying, “Good job. Good job for turning that down.” And then there were also a few people who said, “Hey, I work in publishing and that wasn’t a bad deal.” That was a good perspective to hear also because I tried to make it really clear that my whole point was that I just didn’t know.
I wasn’t saying this was a crappy deal and I turned it down. I was saying I didn’t know if this was a good deal or not, and I need to explore that some more. So it was kind of good to hear both sides of that from commenters.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
When I was in college I loved watching, The Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver. And I loved watching Iron Chef when it was all in, was it Japanese, I think?
What are some food blogs or websites that we have to know about?
Oh my gosh! I follow 200 blogs or something like that on Bloglovin‘.
There are so many fabulous blogs out there. It is so hard to choose, but I’ve recently become friends with a few bloggers. I’ve been more actively following their blogs.
One of them is Snixy Kitchen and Sarah Menanix is the author and her photos are just gorgeous. She’s got this beautiful light in her space, and she’s a really adventurous cook and baker. So she’ll just make anything. She just posted these gluten-free scallion pancakes and they’re just insanely good. So I highly recommend checking out her site.
And then another one is The Pancake Princess, and Erica is the author and her styling and attention to detail is just amazing. I love her photographs and recipes so much.
Another blog I really love is Circa Happy by Pang, and she’s Thai. Her recipes have a lot of Thai influence, and she’s only been doing food photography for less than a year and they’re totally professional caliber photographs. They’re just absolutely stunning.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter that make you happy?
I mostly use Pinterest as a personal way to collect recipes, but I do check Instagram constantly. I love Instagram so much. A friend of mine, Ana, and her blog is Fluxi On Tour. She takes the most beautiful Instagram photos. They’re all on her iPhone and a lot of them are landscapes and cityscapes. She’s a travel and food writer, and she just blows me away with the caliber of her iPhone photography. I don’t know how she does it but they’re just incredible. So I always love seeing her posts on Instagram.
What is something all home cooks should have in their pantry?
I would say maybe a variety of cooking oils, like olive oil and a neutral oil like sunflower or grape seed.
I’ve been really using a lot of ghee lately. It’s nice because you can keep it at room temperature even though it’s derived from butter, and it has a really high smoke point. So it’s really great for making popcorn or anything that you need really high heat for, and you want that kind of warm flavor like pancakes. You don’t get the butter burning in the pan because it’s got such a high smoke point. And it just adds this delicious warm richness to anything that you make.
I usually purchase it. A good friend of mine actually gave me a big jar of homemade ghee for a holiday gift.
I was just like, “Wow! This is the best gift ever!”
Name one ingredient you cannot live without?
I’d have to say, well, chocolate is really obvious, but for a savory ingredient? Maldon Salt is just my favorite finishing salt. It’s such a small and simple thing, but it can just make any dish, even sweet things, it just adds this crunchy amazingness that makes people go, “Wow! This is awesome!” And it can be the most basic thing but it has this delicious flaky, crunchy salt on top.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
Oh boy, cookbooks. Well, one that I just have in my head because I used it the other day is The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz. And it’s all ice creams and it’s kind of like the ice cream bible. It was the first ice cream book that was a very natural and fun and really thorough way with ice creams.
I’m a huge Deborah Madison fan so I love her book on soups. I use that one a lot. And she has one called Local Flavors that’s all about farmers market cooking, and it’s not one of her better known books. But I’ve probably made a third of the recipes in that book and every one is just fabulous! They’re really unique and they’re simple and they’re just super good. It’s things that I would never think of to cook. I feel like I owe a lot of my aesthetic to Deborah Madison.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
I would have to say Lovely Day by Bill Withers is just one of the most fun upbeat songs that I’ve ever heard.
Keep Posted on Alanna:
I would say Instagram is probably a good way to keep in touch with me. And my handle is The_Bojon_Gourmet. (BojonGourmet.com)