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Small Fires: An Epic in the Kitchen

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I didn’t make any changes. My editor at Pushkin loved the weirdest bits the most. I was expecting to be told off; I sent them a much weirder book than I said I was going to write.

Small Fires by Rebecca May Johnson | Waterstones

You’re an editor at Vittles , the publication Jonathan Nunn started during the pandemic . How does that work fit into this and the type of food writing you’d like to see more of? I loved a recent mixed-media piece by Aaron Vallance about his family’s songs at Shabbat lunch , for example.An intense thought-provoking enquiry into the very nature of cooking, which stayed with me long after I finished reading it’ NIGELLA LAWSON It’s proven that not only can you just do that stuff, but people are willing to pay for it. The subscription model is nice in that sense. Publishers always underestimate readers: “Oh, readers aren’t gonna want to read experimental nonfiction about cooking.” Readers are going to read a 3,000-word piece about, you know, Aaron’s family traditions and their songs. Tell me about how you envisioned and sold Small Fires , especially because it is so experimental and form-breaking.

Small Fires - An Epic in the Kitchen by Rebecca May Johnson Small Fires - An Epic in the Kitchen by Rebecca May Johnson

I’ve been one of those people who’s flippantly like, I hate recipes , but your book made me think about that differently. It seems like we’re simultaneously giving recipes too much authority — as you write, recipes allow you to refuse them — but we’re also not giving recipes enough credit, in the sense that intellectualizing them feels uncommon. Why do you think that dichotomy exists? I went from not being able to sink into this book, to largely enjoying it by the end. When it's tagged as 'an epic in the kitchen' I didn't realize just how literal that would be. But it's not just the food that makes this a standout book, but rather the way the author weaves philosophy, feminism, and sociology, although with a dash of classics into the mix. Small Fires is a book about cooking. But no, like, it is *about* *cooking*. As in, it is about the specificity of cooking, or, no, the universality of cooking? Or no I think it is actually, literally, about how cooking and recipes contain the means to be specific and universal at the same time - which is an almost unique, or at least very unusual and remarkable, operation that tends to get glossed over, and so proves worthy of an extended study.Why do we cook? Is it just to feed ourselves and others? Or is there something more revolutionary going on?

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