Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Interview with S. M. Harding Part 2

You earned your living as a chef? Why not now?

Yes, for the last ten years. I took early retirement because
the arthritis in my hips and knees was getting too severe. I
don't think most people realize how much physical stress
professional cooking takes on the human body. Lifting,
toting, unloading, loading items that can weight up to
seventy pounds is normal in the course of the job. I'd
always been very physical -- loved hiking and cross-country
skiing, done a lot of remodeling and landscaping -- and I
think all of it combined with eight to ten hours a day on my
feet in the kitchen for another ten years forced surrender.

Does the old life ever tug at you?

No portion of food service business "tugs" at me at all for
a number of reasons: the physicality of the work; its
repetitive nature;the lack of opportunity to experiment
until you hit the top and have the ability to create your
own menu. There's no way anyone could get me back in a
professional kitchen!

Do you ever think, "I could write a great series of novels
with a chef as a protagonist. All the staff and suppliers
and customers . . . the plots would be endless!"?

No! At this point in time, there are a number of series
based on chefs, caterers, restaurant owners, bakers,
chocolatiers, etc. so I don't think I have anything really
fresh to add to that sub-genre. But by doing occasional
short stories, I get to play with the character, the
kitchen, do it quickly, and keep the situation fresh for me.
I'm sending one of those stories out now. Called "The Last
Chef Standing," it's about what happens when the owners of
the restaurant where Kate is executive chef enters her in a
local version of the Iron Chef. Naturally, the chefs start
falling over at the first day of shooting. It's a fun story.

I have been working on a series featuring Samantha Wolfe
who's a nature photographer and professor at a small college
in Pennsylvania. It's based on another past life and because
I don't keep her on campus very much, it's not hard to
invent good plots in different settings. The first novel is
called "The Shadow of Truth," takes place on campus but also
in the mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania that's called
the Laurel Highlands. The second takes place primarily in
Pittsburgh; the idea for the third takes Sam to New Mexico
for a photo workshop and vacation. Too me, Sam's an ideal
character because she's not strictly an academic and her
photography has taught her another way to think about
puzzles and problems. I think I'm getting close to obtaining
an agent on this, so send good energy.

Would you share your recipe for Chocolate Decadence?

Since it's not mine but a wonderful pastry chef's, I can't.
But I will offer something, not quite from my New Mexico
days, but as a result of them.

One of my favorite things to eat out was enchiladas: blue
corn with verde (green) sauce. There's a debate about red
vs. green sauce, but I think it really boils down to the hot
and sweet qualities of each. In other words, depends what
you like.

It's very difficult to get the ingredients to make blue corn
enchiladas with verde sauce, so I've come up with an
enchilada casserole that allows me to develop the tastes in
a slightly different form.

Since it's impossible to get blue corn tortillas in central
Indiana, I use blue corn chips (several different
manufacturers make them, easy to find on most grocery store
shelves). Blue corn is a bit nuttier tasting, very sweet,
and has a tad bit more body; if you're worried about trying
something new, use regular tortilla chips and if you like
the dish, try the blue corn chips the next time.

I layer the following items in a casserole (any baking dish
that has a lid):
  • blue corn chips
  • diced tomatoes with peppers (Rondal or such)1/2 can
  • red beans 1/2 can
  • Mexican blend cheese (or find the real thing from an Hispanic Mercado)
  • ground beef (lean & sauteed with garlic, onions, and chili powder -- I use Ancho and a smoked Chipotle, but use whatever degree of heat you're comfortable with); you could also used pulled chicken or pork
  • Enchilada sauce -- green or red Old El Paso

At this point, if you like heat, spread a thin layer of
peppers (I use Chipotle in Adobo sauce, but jalapeno would
be fine). Otherwise, do the layers in reverse so that you
end with a layer of chips.

Put in the oven (don't forget the lid) at 350 for half an
hour (remember, you've already cooked the meat). It's a
great meal and if you're counting calories, just watch the
amount of cheese & chips.
Thanks, Suzanne! And thanks for being with us today. Looking forward to reading more of your work!


1 comment:

Dana Fredsti said...

Dang it, I was hoping for that chocolate cake recipe... :-(