125 Recipes For Your Daily Dose Of Awesome
By Dennis The Prescott
Suzy: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book podcast with me, Suzy Chase.
Dennis Prescott: Hey everybody. I'm Dennis Prescott. My new book Eat Delicious: 125 Recipes for your Daily Dose of Awesome, is in stores now.
Suzy: Six years ago you were a musician who didn't know how to cook. Talk about your food awakening in Nashville.
Dennis Prescott: You know my kind of food awakening started a little bit before Nashville but Nashville was kind of when my eyes were truly kind of opened to cooking. I was a musician for about ten years. I lived in a 15 passenger van and traveled all around Canada and the United States and into Europe. I got to experience all these incredible foods. I very kind of vividly remember having a proper smoked meat sandwich in Montreal or sushi in Vancouver or pizza in New York. It really opened my eyes, but being a musician is really rich in experience and that's about it. I couldn't afford to eat at restaurants. My bed relocated to Nashville and I had access to this incredible comfort food of the gods in southern barbecue, but I couldn't afford it and I was eating pasta with butter on it and eating at the dollar menu and I just felt terrible. I went to the national public library and at a friend's suggestion I took out three cook books because I couldn't afford to buy them. It was three Jimmy Oliver cookbooks and I started working my way through them. I became almost immediately obsessed with wanting to know everything about everything, about food.
I was cooking four or five dishes a day for band mates or for roommates that I was living with at the time. So many that I started to lose track so I started, without any agenda at all I started to take iPhone photos of the dishes so I would remember what I had cooked. Then Instagram happened and somebody said, "Hey, you should start an Instagram account." My first Instagram is actually a selfie. Legit, zero agenda to be able to do this. It was just that I became unbelievably passionate about wanting to know everything about these foods and recreate these incredible dishes that I'd experienced as a musician on the road in my own home.
Suzy: So your Instagram kicked off because you wanted to remember what you had made?
Dennis Prescott: Yeah. I didn't really understand that food and food photography was really a thing. It just had never been a part of my experience. I didn't grow up in a house that ... I have fantastic parents and I was fortunate enough to have three meals a day but food wasn't celebrated. We ate from one thing to the next thing as quickly as possible. It was more sustenance than it was celebrated or delicious. When I started taking these photos, I wasn't a photographer. I had never studied photography or anything like that. It was really just I was documenting my experience. Then of course, after being on Instagram for a while and looking around, I realized, "Hey wait, there's this amazing, huge community of people who are passionately in love with food and food photography." Then I was able to connect with folks that I understood and thought, "Wow, this is cool. I'm not just the only person doing this." I just wasn't really aware that that was kind of this micro-niche of society of people who were just so in love with food and food photography.
Suzy: I'm curious about your maritime background. Talk a little bit about that.
Dennis Prescott: Yeah, I grew up on the east coast of Canada. We live about 20 min from the North Umberland Strait, which is basically, it's an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, and I still live here. I love it. It's a small part of the world. There's about 125,000 people in the city that I live in, which is about the biggest city in the area aside from Halifax. You know, it's a small kind of quiet pace of life in comparison to a lot of cities that I've been fortunate enough to visit. Growing up here, that was just life. I didn't realize that we had the food culture that we do. Now, having left the maritime and come back after living in Nashville, it's just been incredible to reconnect with the food and the culture here.
I very much believe that we have one of the best seafood availabilities in the world. Our local produce is great. There's a vibrant microbrewery scene here. Obviously we have maple syrup and the Sugar Shack thing. It's very cool to reconnect with that as someone who didn't really appreciate that growing up and be able to kind of access these local foods and then put that maritime spin onto dishes that I've eaten globally.
Suzy: Where did you get inspiration for the recipes in this cookbook? It's so diverse. Did it come from your travels or did it come from growing up near the sea?
Dennis Prescott: Both. For sure. I mean, I wanted to really I guess pay homage or be true to my upbringing as a Maritimer and use a lot of maritime ingredients and kind of maritime methods for cooking and Canadian in general. For me, as a Canadian, I feel like I have to put a poutine recipe in this book of course, and that kind of thing. We grew up eating lobster rolls. We grew up on seafood boils and on the beach and that kind of thing. It was just a huge part of maritime life, and it still is. Then traveling and experiencing these different dishes, because those were the dishes that I first connected with food and fell in love with, I wanted to kind of have that as an experience throughout the book, whether it was the first time ... I've never been to Thailand but I've had incredible Pad Thai dishes so I wanted to include one in there.
I'm a big believer that we eat globally when we go to restaurants. We might have a burger one day and noodles the next and sushi the next day and then we might have a curry. I think that people want to cook that way at home and they want to be able to recreate that dining experience and home, but with the added bonus of knowing what's in everything, what the ingredients are that I'm cooking, and it will probably taste just as, if not more delicious than the experience they had out at a restaurant.
Suzy: Another aspect of this cookbook is I feel like it gives people encouragement to go for it. That you don't have to have one passion in life. You can change your own course at any moment.
Dennis Prescott: I think that it's easy to think ... Well, I grew up in the music industry with this mentality of, if I didn't make it, whatever that means, by the time I was 30, then I was kind of done. I didn't have a backup plan. I didn't go and get a bachelors degree in accounting or something along those lines. Still, when I did reach that age it was devastating to a certain degree, because I thought ... And obviously success is a relative term, but I got to that point where I thought, "okay, well what do I do now?" Then, finding a creative passion, I feel really blessed to be able to have found this creative passion and to be able to do it on a full time basis and I think that I wanted to, through that story, which is just my life.
I'm not going to be untrue to my own very kind of vulnerable situation, in creatively kind of failing to a certain degree and then finding a new passion through that, that other folks would realize you don't have to be locked into a job that you don't like. You can follow that creativity, or you can find a creative passion and it doesn't need to be your job. The amazing thing about connecting with the food community has been that all of these folks who are online, especially on Instagram or on blogs, they love food just as much as I do. They're just as passionate about cooking delicious meals for their families but they might be a teacher, or a lawyer, or a driver, or whatever, but they're just as passionate about that. I think that running after passion and running after kind of that creative outlet is super important.
Suzy: Chapter Two is devoted solely to hamburgers and sandwiches. When was the first time you ate a proper burger?
Dennis Prescott: You know, I can't remember the restaurant, and I grew up eating a lot of hamburgers let me say, but none of them changed my life. I remember driving the I-95, sorry. I was saying 65 because I lived in Nashville, the I-95, on my way to Nashville with my dad. Then we stopped at this very kind of nondescript, without any agenda other than getting lunch, and I ordered a burger. It was just cooked to perfection. I had never had that experience before. I'd never had something where the ingredients were treated properly with respect. They were all high quality ingredients. It wasn't anything in particular that was fancy. It wasn't topped with of is gras and there wasn't caramelized maple bacon in it or anything like that. It wasn't stuffed with cheese. It was just a normal kind of flat top hamburger, but it was just cooked so perfectly. I thought, "Wow." Something that I take for granted, something that was so kind of convenient and junk food, I didn't realize it could taste so good when it was treated that way, and it really changed my perspective on those simple comfort foods and how really, really great that they can actually be.
Suzy: You like asking people if they could eat anything in the world, what would it be? Now, I will ask you, if you could eat anything in the world, what would it be.
Dennis Prescott: That changes constantly to be honest with you with me, but I just spent about a week in Rome and I had pasta dishes there that ... This was about two months ago and I'm still thinking and dreaming about these pasta dishes. One in particular that had shaved truffles with spicy sausage, house made sausage, on it. If I could have anything right now, that's what it would be for sure.
Suzy: That sounds such an odd mix, the truffle, and the sausage.
Dennis Prescott: I know, right. That's why I ordered it actually because I thought, "Huh, that's interesting.", but it was absolutely incredible. The actual house made pasta itself was just mind blowing. I was really struck by the fact that it was cooked as al dente as it was. The firmness of the pasta that I experienced in Rome was almost to the point where I think a lot of folks would think it was undercooked here, but it was just really kind of inspiring to eat those dishes and eat them in the place that they were created or within the region it was created. I thought, "Huh, this is actually how it's done." I think it's really neat to experience those kind of dishes regionally. I just got back from Beijing actually, and had a lot of dishes there that I had really taken for granted growing up having a version of that and eating it in China, it's so inspiring. Especially when they're using very, very similar ingredients to what you're used to, but just treating them very differently. '
Suzy: I feel another cookbook coming.
Dennis Prescott: It's interesting to think about that right now, but I'm beyond passionate about wanting to recreate those meals. I travel to eat a lot, and I'm fortunate enough to work with a not for profit that I really am super passionate about and I spent time in Kenya last year, in Somalia. There's so much incredible, inspiring food to eat all over the world. I don't think that's a journey that ever ends. You don't ever get to the end of food, or the end of cooking, or the end of photography, and go, "I've reached the end of the internet. I've figured it all out." That will just never happen. I think there's always room for growth and there's always room for inspiration. I think I would like to write 100 cookbooks if I could. As daunting as a task as that sounds like right now, just because I think there's endless inspiration available.
Suzy: Last weekend I made your recipe for Gochujang Maple Surf and Turf on page 171. You wrote, "This isn't your parents surf and turf." How did you come up with this recipe?
Dennis Prescott: A lot of experimenting and just an absolute mad love for that hot sauce, hot paste. The first time I had anything Gochujang, and I'm sure I'm pronouncing that wrong so I apologize.
Suzy: Me too.
Dennis Prescott: I'm 100% honest in that. I was in Nashville. I had a friend who, Esther, she lived and she taught in South Korea for a while. She said, "Hey, we should go out and try Korean food." I had never had Korean food before. There's a lot of Korean restaurants in my part of the world now, but there wasn't at the time. I was like, "Yeah, sure. I'm up for anything." I very vividly remember having bulkogi and that restaurant, and having a little sauce dish of this Gochujang. I just couldn't get over it. I thought, "This is so sweet and spicy and fragrant and delicious." Then wanting to work with that to create a marinade, I thought, "This is going to be a really cool thing." There's all the natural sugars in that, which was going to caramelize on the outside of the steak itself. It was through experimentation and recipe development, as I guess every recipe is, but that one was particularly fun to play around with, just because it has so much nostalgia attached to it for me.
Suzy: I have to tell you, it was so stressful photographing this dish for my Instagram, because you're so good at capturing every element in such a beautiful manner. I wanted to do your recipe justice. Tell us about your food photography journey, the styling, and how you shot the whole cookbook.
Dennis Prescott: Yeah, my journey started, like I said, I Nashville and it was all on an iPhone, one of the first iPhones. Just really kind of quickly snapping a photo. There was no styling involved in terms of the actual image. There might have been a little styling on the plate itself, but I didn't really understand what food photography was all about. I kind of progressively got a little bit better and a little bit better on my phone. Then Food & Wine reached out to me and said, "Hey would you consider developing ten recipes for this column?" I was like, "Yeah. For sure."
Suzy: That's so cool.
Dennis Prescott: As soon as I got off the phone, which is crazy, I mean Food & Wine literally changed the course of what I'm doing now. I can't stress that enough. I thought, "Okay, this is fantastic. I can't shoot this on a phone." The truth is you can shoot images on a phone, and the front cover of Bon Apetit magazine has been on an iPhone a few times. I know people who photographed entire cookbooks using an iPhone. You can shoot incredible photos, it's just at the time I didn't feel like I could do that. That's when I kind of transitioned into shooting with a DSLR. It wasn't a great one. It wasn't a high end one. I progressively worked up in the gear world, but I'm a big believer in learning light and shadow and composition over gear.
I don't think people should just go out and spend a lot of money, because I think unless you ... I actually wrote in the cookbook, in the start of it, Michael Jordan didn't play like Michael Jordan because he had really great shoes. He practiced every day. I mean, even with this book, I photographed it probably four times. There's about 40,000 raw images that went into the actual photos on this book because I wanted to get it right. I think that it's, as I said, you've never figured it out. There's always room for growth. Even the professional photographers in the world have really bad days and really great days, but you need to take a lot of bad images to get there.
I had a mentor tell me that you need to write 100 songs to write one good song. Not one hit song, but one good song. That's always kind of stuck with me as this kind of mentality of, it's going to take time. It's not going to happen overnight. Nothing happens quickly. That's good. It's forced me to kind of have this unwavering, almost stubborn attitude about wanting to get progressively better at taking photos and really highlighting different parts of the image in a way where it's appealing. There's kind of rules in the photography world that I've figured out for myself in terms of composition and styling and lighting and all that kind of thing, but really all of that's happened because I failed a lot, and then learned from that failure, and looked back at that image and thought, okay well what do I not like about this, and what do I like about this. I need to change the things I don't like, but keep the things I do.
Suzy: I love how this book reflects your personality with the dark woods and antique props.
Dennis Prescott: I'm a big believer in shooting images that reflect your personality as a way to successfully photograph in a way that represents you as a person or as a creative. I'm a pretty happy person, or most of the time anyways. I'm a happy person. I love life. I love talking to people. I love whatever, but I'm not like, jump up on a table, shout and scream kind of guy. I like Radiohead and I like The Gorillas. I like movies that make you think. I like that kind of thing. I've always just been naturally drawn to the darker images, to the more rustic feel. I also feel like it gives it more approachable and attainable real vibe. I know the word rustic is just massively overused, but I do mean rustic in the sense that you're having a peek-a-boo experience in what could be someone actually dining experience. It's not too clean. It's not too pretty. It doesn't feel staged.
I feel like if something is too staged or is too perfect, it's just going to come across that way. Then it seems less attainable. I wanted these recipes to feel like, "Hey, I can make this. I learned from these cookbooks.", and the reason I was attracted to these cookbooks that I learned from initially was because I felt like, "I've never made this before. It's going to take some time, but I feel like I can pull that off." I wanted all these recipes throughout the book to have that same kind of vibe where it was like, I might not have made this dish before, but I think with some practice I could really do this, because of that being my own experience.
Suzy: You also say fill the frame but don't overfill the plate itself. What does that mean?
Dennis Prescott: It's controlled chaos. It's kind of being comfortable in the quiet. I'll reference the same mentor who kind of really effected me in the music world. He said, "It's not your job to play 15 notes really quickly. It's your job to play three and make them really count. Play three notes that someone is going to be humming in the car the next day." I have used that kind of philosophy in food styling in that it doesn't have to be, truthfully and cards on the table, sometimes I will do these images that are collages of a charcuterie board, and it is very, very filled. I think that finding that controlled chaos is difficult, but it's really important. We view a photograph typically from the top left hand corner, to the bottom right hand corner. We don't realize that we're doing this. It's just kind of subconscious thing that we do when we view a photograph or a painting or whatever, so understanding that I've learned a way of styling in that way so that somebody's eyes will be immediately drawn through the entire frame and not just to one part in the frame itself.
Suzy: Where can we find you on the web?
Dennis Prescott: Instagram. Everywhere is DennisPrescott except for Twitter. It's DennisFPrescott on Twitter, but everywhere else it's DennisPrescott, whether it's social media or my website.
Suzy: Food is community, and we all love delicious food. Thank you Dennis for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast.
Dennis Prescott: Thank you so much for having me.