I’m thrilled to bring you this Interview today, with one of my dear friends on the other side of the world! Some years ago now, I lived in a small village outside the City of Geneva, Switzerland. The village was precious – filled with perfectly manicured boxes of flowers and the sounds of the church bell tolling on the hour. And in that precious village, an equally precious friendship was formed. I’d already lived in Switzerland a year when my boyfriend (later to be husband) and I decided to move from his hometown of Neuchatel to Geneva for his new job. The internet being one of my best friends while alone in my little apartment that year, I promptly googled the name of the village that we were moving to and lo-and-behold, I discovered that a woman whose blog I read lived in the very village we were moving to! I wrote to her, amused at the small world, and coffee dates were planned. What I didn’t know was that I would make a true friend, and meet a woman who would inspire me for literally years to come. I had dabbled in cooking and baking all my life, and since moving to Switzerland I’d become more skilled and confident under my boyfriend’s (who had been a professional chef) tutelage. Living in a small European village meant that I was also learning about using all sorts of new, fresh ingredients, and preparing meals made from a trip to the local market. I was interested in food, and I thought I was a “passionate” learner but meeting Rosa opened my mind to an entirely different level of cooking, baking and food preparation than I’d ever considered. Even my boyfriend, with so much culinary knowledge under his belt, was blown away, time and time again, by Rosa’s abilities and knowledge. When we were invited to dinner, she and her partner Patrik extended true Swiss hospitality and dinners in their company lasted hours. My boyfriend and I learned to skip lunch on days we knew she’d be cooking for us, and to plan for an extended walk home from her building to ours, as we were usually half-drunk off wine and fully-drunk from delicious food.
Rosa also opened my eyes to something else: what it means to truly be passionate about a subject. I would tell her often, over cafes or on one of our walks through the countryside, that there is nothing in my life that I am equally passionate about. It is truly awe-inspiring to meet one of these people who lives and breathes on a daily basis for their passion. And not surprisingly, her dishes were awe-inspiring as well. Simple or complex, they made lasting impressions. I can tell you with no exaggeration that no hummus will ever be the same as the vat of it I ate in her apartment. Her Walnut Ice Cream? Riiiiiidiculous. And she wowed an entire group of American Expats at our Thanksgiving party with the best Pumpkin Pie any of us had ever tasted. If this were not enough, I want you to know that all of Rosa’s skills are self-learned. She’s never been to culinary school, and she’s self taught in photography as well. She and I were both avid photographers, as well as eaters, and we’ve both improved over the years as we grew our blogs. I want you to know this not just because it’s a testament to how amazing I think she is, but because it proves that it is absolutely true that you can learn and do anything you put your mind to, without formal schooling, without paying for training, by sheer determination. It takes time. That is the truth. But it most certainly can be done. You have everything you need.
Okay, here goes! Given the same instructions, two artists will each put a personal “stamp” on a piece. My hunch is, Rosa, that the same could be true for cooks. If two people are given the same recipe, what is the difference between the two results? What do you put into your cooking that I can taste, that others can taste, that isn’t on the ingredient list? I mean that figuratively, of course, although I know personally that you have some secret ingredients too (like the one you gave me for pasta sauce!).
(Rosa) People are all different and have dissimilar personalities, experiences and talents. No matter if they follow the recipe to the letter, each cook (or baker) will come up with a dish that will bear his/her personal mark. It has to do with the fact that even if we employ the same ingredients and equipment, or put the same amount of love into the task, we all add our own magical touch/stamp to our creations and we all have different tricks, ways of preparing food, and proceeding. I think this applies to artists from all horizons. Personally, I’m quite a rebellious cook/baker and I love to alter or improve recipes, so I always change the formulas in order for them to meet my (high) standards. Just like any other person, I have a few secret ingredients which I use to bring umami into my food (boost its flavor) and give it a unique edge.
How do you keep from being triggered by the massive amounts of other food bloggers, some who’ve gone on to big things from their blogs? How do you react to your inner voice of doubt, or comparison, to keep going?
(Rosa) It is very difficult not to feel discouraged/defeated by the success of certain bloggers and not to get depressed when seeing how talented some of them are in comparison to you. I lack confidence and I am extremely self-critical, so sometimes my inferiority complex tends to overwhelm and paralize me, thus sapping my creative energy. Thankfully, there are also times when I am truly proud of my work and believe in my qualities. Anyway, concurrence forces you to focus on progressing and developping your potential.As a rule, I try to not compare my work with that of others, because it is stupid. None of us is identical, so our creations cannot be paralleled and such negative thoughts can only be harmful. Besides, who wants to be a trendy copycat? Better have flaws and create something original than to imitate the work of somebody else to perfection, but totally lack personality and vision. The bloggers I respect and admire are my source of inspiration and enlightement. They help me along my artistic journey…
Why make food look good? You do it everyday, but from a devil’s advocate stance, why the fuss?
(Rosa) Let’s not forget that we eat with our eyes first and our mouths second, hence a beautifully presented plate of food is more attractive, appetizing and photogenic than a mess tin distastefully filled with dirty old grub or a dog’s dinner. Eating is one of life’s most valuable pleasures, so we should celebrate each meal by bringing some glamor to the table. And as we all know, beauty confers happiness.
What would you feel like, what would your body feel like, what kind of life/mood would you have, if you weren’t able to cook for a year?
(Rosa) Oh, that would be hell! I cannot imagine such a nightmarish scenario. My mood would probably hit rock-bottom and I’d end up losing my marbles. Cooking/baking is very therapeutic. It keeps me sane and acts as an outlet for my emotions. In addition, it gives me the opportunity to have total control over my health, so I’m sure I’d feel unwell physically if I could not eat the food which corresponds to my body’s demands.
Given that you write your posts in two languages (English and French), how long does it take you to publish a post, let’s say from A) choosing the recipe to Z) hitting publish on that recipe’s post?
(Rosa) Generally, the whole process* takes approximately a week. As you can see, it is a real labor of love that requires time, patience, generosity, concentration, and quite a lot of sacrifice, but it’s well worth it at the end. Firstly I choose a seasonal produce that I want to showcase, secondly I think of a direction I want to take (I try to alternate between savory and sweet) and the kind of speciality I want to share with my readers, thirdly I decide which recipe I’ll make (after some intense brainstorming and a little research – online or in my books and magazines), fourthly I execute my dish, fifthly I head straight to my outdoor “studio” (balcony) in order to arrange and prep my food, sixthly I shoot my photos, sventhly I edit my pictures and lastly I write my article (in both French and English), correct it and then I press the “publish” button. All of this takes about a week.
You’ve studied the cuisines of almost every ethnicity. What do you find to be the unifying factor of food, of a meal? Or is it all really different?
(Rosa) In every civilization eating is an important social activity and food is used as a medium for bringing people together (on many levels). It is a universal language that creates bridges between culture. That is one thing we all have in common and which unites us (bonds society tightly). Sadly nowadays, because of our fast-paced lifestyles, hectic schedules and snacking habits the tradition of sharing and enjoying our food with others is disappearing fast and our relationships become looser.
Do you have an all-time favorite food that you love? A comfort food?
(Rosa) I have many. Of course, being half-Swiss, half-English, I particularly enjoy dairy products (butter, yogurts, cream, ricotta, mascarpone, quark, milk, etc..) and especially cheese (both countries are big cheese producers and good at it too). But, I could also never live without pasta, baked treats (bread, cakes and pastries of all kinds), coffee, tea, peanuts, vegetables, berries, plums, chocolate (I’m not addicted to it, though), my Asian sauces, tahini, spices/seasonings, legumes, eggs, etc… (to name a few). My favorite comfort foods (mostly homemade) are: pies, pasta (Italian, Swiss or Asian), (layer) cakes, tarts (savory and sweet), fresh bread, stews, curries, gratins/casseroles (gratin dauphinois, mac & cheese, lasagna, enchiladas, etc…), Tex Mex/Mexican specialities, pizza, hummus, puddings, charcuterie (dry meat, saucisson and sausages), anything potato, burgers, stir-fries, meatballs, pluck (liver, hearts and kidneys), etc… As you can see, my tastes are extremely eclectic and I’m very open to foreign cuisines.
Rosa, thank you so much for all that you’ve shared and taught me, and for your continual support while I made my way in a new country and culture! It was a pleasure to interview you!!
PS: I hope Rosa won’t mind, I just wanted to show you all what Rosa ,what anyone, can achieve without paying for schooling or fancy equipment. I snagged this photo of a Macaroon (woot woot I got to eat a few of those!) taken by Rosa in 2008. I always knew Rosa to be constantly learning online, looking for tips, and then putting them to practice. That’s all she has done, over and over. She’s looked for ways to improve her art, and used what she could get her hands on for free. The second photo is a photo of a Macaroon taken in 2013. All self-taught, with diligence and time. Pretty amazing, huh!