Interview with cookbook author Greg Henry +Giveaway

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Today I'm please to have cookbook author Greg Henry answer a few questions about his food blogging life, his cookbooks, and a few things about his personal life.
Greg first published Savory Pies and now his second cookbook Savory Cocktails.
Greg also writes the food blog Sippity Sup--Serious Fun Food.
He's been featured in Food & Wine magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The Today Show online and Saveur's Best of the Web.
As if Greg doesn't keep busy enough he also co-hosts The Table Set podcast for homefries.com.
A show featuring three guys who like to throw parties; a podcast The LA Weekly calls “lighthearted hipster entertainment”.
Greg lives in LA with his partner of twenty years, Ken. His passion is entertaining at home with friends, which is where the creative passion for the book Savory Cocktails came about.

Greg thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions.
Can we start out by telling us a little about the extremely creative book Savory Cocktails came about?

Well, I’d been wanting to write a cocktail book, but the market has been saturated with them since this cocktail renaissance emerged. When I first pitched the idea of a “craft cocktail” book to my publisher I could tell they were not enthusiastic. Their advice to me was to find an angle on cocktails that had not been covered before. It didn’t take long to come up with the idea of Savory Cocktails. I had written a book for the same publisher called Savory Pies. It was easy to suggest Savory Cocktails as a sort of savory sequel.

To me savory cocktails are part of the trend towards more complex cocktails in general. Today’s bartenders are reaching for unexpected ingredients and employing culinary techniques like infusions and purees to expand and sometimes challenge the palate. Herbs and spices are moving from the kitchen to the bar as more and more bartenders develop cocktails with a ‘from scratch’ approach– utilizing innovative ingredients and modern techniques to create a new category of beverages that I chose to call Savory Cocktails. However, I could have easily called the book Culinary Cocktails.

The diversity of Greg’s cocktail creations is very striking, you’ll just have to rely on me to tell you that Greg set out to accomplish meeting and creating cocktails worthy of sour, spicy, herbal, umami, bitter, smoky, rich and strong –and he did just that.  I know it’s an obvious question, but how on earth did you come up with all these creations? And more importantly who were the lucky taste-testers?

Ha! Well I was one of the main taste testers. I can tell you that. Some of the booze I chose to feature in this book is decidedly “top shelf” so I didn’t want to let even a drop of the early renditions go unappreciated. But once I finalized the recipes I did make them for a few of my friends. The guys on The Table Set, Nathan Hazard and Andy Windak, as well as our producer Joy the Baker were some of my best taste testers.

However coming up with ideas for these drinks wasn’t an obvious process. I used well known drinks as inspiration sometimes. Many of the drinks in this book are savory
“riffs” on classics. The hard part for me was defining exactly what a savory cocktail is. I struggled with a definition as I was testing recipes for this book. It’s much more complex than merely the opposite of sweet. Because no matter how savory the cocktail is, most well-made drinks require a sweet element for real balance. The challenge with this book came in presenting complex flavors in a simple format. In the end I decided to use culinary vocabulary because as a food writer I was much more comfortable with that kind of language. That’s how I came to call the book Savory Cocktails: Sour. Spicy. Herbal. Umami. Bitter. Smoky. Rich. Strong.

Were there any cocktails that didn’t make the cut? And why?

There were plenty of cocktails that didn’t make the cut. Partly because a cookbook is like any good book. It has to have a “voice” and a story to tell. Some very delicious drinks just didn’t tell the story in quite the right way in my opinion. Also I have to say, my editor was very strict about page count. The world of publishing has gotten difficult. I’m grateful to my editor Katherine at Ulysses Press for keeping me to a formula (and a price point) that could actually be profitable.
Several of the cocktails that got “cut” are featured on my blog. They may not have made the book, but they were important in helping me market my book. A few examples include: Winter Sour, Bitter Lemon Drop, and Prime Thyme.

Greg’s other cookbook Savory Pies is all about, well, –savory pies.
Smart, very smart to come up with a cookbook just about savory pie creations.
There was a certain niche market for a cookbook about Savory Pies.
Is this how you saw it too?

Absolutely. I never would have gotten a book published without finding a niche that needed to be filled. When I got the Savory Pies deal I had been passing around a book proposal to all kinds of literary agents. It was a much broader book. A big (expensive to produce) book. One after the other agents flat out told me that as good as the proposal was there was just no chance they could sell a book like that to a publisher unless I had a proven track record. Finally one of the agents actually went to my blog and looked around. She came back to me and said that she liked my series on Savory Pies. She said if I turned that series into a book proposal she could probably sell it. I did, and she sold it within four days.

I love to hear about who were the lucky taste-testers for the Savory Pies cookbook?

I used Facebook and some bloggers I know to test Savory Pies for me. It was quite a learning experience because the testers had a whole range of cooking experience. I had to really shuffle through their notes sometimes to separate the valuable information. It was a difficult process, but in the end it helped me write better recipes.

Your favorite Savory Pie recipe?

I’d have to say English Farmhouse Cheddar Onion Pie.  
The British love a savory pie. But of course they say savoury. Some of the most cherished pies in my repertoire find their inspiration in these traditional savouries. Quite a few of them (not surprisingly) get their comfort from potatoes, whether baked inside or mashed and rosti topped. There’s power in those pies. Here is an example of a favorite English countryside pie full of big flavor; starting with the cheese. Cheddar is an English cheese that has been imitated the world over. Great examples can now be found in many different countries. But if you can, I suggest you honor this pie and its roots by choosing an authentic English Cheddar. Many are still made by traditional methods on the farm.
For the recipe, click here

What recipes for Savory Pies didn’t make the cut? And why?

So many recipes didn’t make the cut. I was a first time cookbook author in DESPERATE need of a strong editor. The book was almost twice as long as the publishers wanted. Cutting that book was one of the most difficult processes I have ever been through in my life. But again, thanks to my publisher, the experience made me a better author in the long run.

Butternut Squash & Roast Asparagus Crespelle Torta is an example of a “pie” that got cut. I recently decided to run the recipe and photo on my blog as a Thanksgiving vegetarian main course. It’s turning out to be one of the biggest posts I’ve done all year. So everything worked out just fine in the end. 

Your kitchen, you know I’m a huge fan of your kitchen.
You’ve taken your kitchen and remodeled it just to your own liking.
Tell us your favorite and worst parts about the remodel?

The biggest design challenge was doing a modern kitchen for someone who cooks as much as I do, while still making it look and feel like it belonged in an 83 year old Italian style house in Hollywood. But I didn’t want an “old fashioned” style kitchen either. It needed to walk the line between historically appropriate and thoroughly modern. Plus I needed it to be big and open and easy to clean. I wanted to avoid too much trendy stainless steel, but have enough touches of it to keep the space feeling stylish. I’m sure my architects thought I was a difficult client. Get all the gory details here.
In the end this difficult process also turned out to be my favorite part of the remodel, because I think we accomplished all that and more. The kitchen has been featured in Food & Wine magazine and will also be in an upcoming book called Cool Kitchens by Jane Field-Lewis.

In one of your past lives you were a paparazzi man? Is this true?

Actually no. It’s not true, though I was a Hollywood photographer for almost 20 years. I didn’t plan it and I don’t really like movies. But I have met and photographed a lot (a lot)  of big name Hollywood stars. Big screen. Small Screen. No Screen. Actors, writers, producers and all. But it wasn’t paparazzi. I don’t have the personality to hide in the bushes and then jump out and be all in someone’s face. My photos were planned. We worked in a studio. Producers, publicists and magazines were my clients. Technically, they still are because I own all those photos and continue to sell and re-sell them to magazines around the world.

When did you start the blog Sippity Sup and why?

I started my blog Sippity Sup- Serious Fun Food on a whim. I was looking for a creative challenge. Which may sound odd because I have spent almost 20 years as a photographer. But the thing about being “professionally creative” is sometimes you have to compromise your creativity just to fulfill the assignment. To balance that bit of irony, I started a blog; a blog with certain rules.   Rules designed to balance my time and rules to keep me focused. 
For example: I’m a professionally trained photographer who used a point and shoot camera– held together with duct tape, for the photos on my blog (until I got the cookbook deal). 
For me it worked. I miss those early days of blogging because the simple tools I used left me free to focus on the food. Call me an old curmudgeon but social media is killing blogs.

The Table Set podcast, how did this come about?
Did you gather a group of friends and just decide to start this or was there a future theme to it?

I credit Joy the Baker. She was at my house for a dinner I did with a few other bloggers for one of those 24-24-24 meals that FoodBuzz used to sponsor. See the video here. She was just starting her own podcast and wanted a few other podcasts to join her on the network she created called Homefries. 
Well, she had a good meal and thought the collaboration between Andy, Nathan and myself would make fun podcast. She was right. I can’t say if anyone else enjoys it, but we three have a blast doing it.

Is there a third cookbook in the works?

Maybe a third “Savory” book in the series. Maybe, shhh...

Thank you Greg so much for the interview.

Please visit Greg at SippitySup, follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.

Greg was generous to donate three Savory Cocktail books for the giveaway.
All you have to do is leave ONE comment telling us your favorite savory cocktail you've had or want to try.
We'll do the drawing 12/10/13.
Please make sure you have an email in your signature line; ALL anonymous comments are deleted!
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  1. My kind of cookbooks! Love cocktails and savory pies. YUM. The photos are beautiful! Great interview Dawn.

  2. i've never had a savory cocktail, but i'd love to try!

  3. My favorite savory cocktails are the ones made with gin, cucumber and St. Germain liquor.

  4. Great interview! Thanks for sharing. I'm not sure if this is considered a savory cocktail but I love a Pimm's Cup with cucumber.

  5. This cocktail book sounds great. I love the emphasis on cocktails with fresh, interesting ingredients these days; everything from unusual herbs to smoke and even bacon. I made a great spicy/savory cocktail for Thanksgiving last year using butternut squash puree that I called Hot Butternut Rum.

  6. The green tea gimlet sounds right up my alley!

  7. I love savory cocktails that utilize fresh ingredients like cucumbers!

  8. I loved reading this. I've met Greg before and it was so fun hearing his voice in my head!

  9. This looks awesome!! I've always wanted to try a green tea cocktail. (Okay, not ALWAYS, but you know.)

  10. I have to say that when we went to London it was the savory pies that caught my eye. Each was more gorgeous then the next. since we stayed where there was a kitchen we were able to try a few. As far as a savory cocktail---I once had one with gin and Earl Grey tea. I would drink it again, too. Good interview!

  11. Great interview! I once had a cucumber and mint cocktail that was delicious and so refreshing, I'd love to try something like that again:)

  12. Greg rocks. And that asparagus pie...I cannot believe that got cut but thankfully it's turning into a blog hit! Woot for that! And I have his Savory Pies book. I haven't made any but I read cookbooks like novels, not always to cook but to be entertained and his book is fab!

  13. I remember a cocktail from a speakeasy-type bar in Kansas City... the bar was Manifesto and the cocktail was the Beautiful Red Bell (gin and bell pepper). Yum! Fingers crossed... this would be a perfect gift for my amateur bartender husband. Thank you so much!

  14. mmm, a smoky bacon martini....

  15. i used to work with greg and have always been impressed by him. great interview!

  16. Great interview, and great to hear more about Greg's new book! My favorite savory cocktail has to be a good, garlicy bloody mary.

  17. Ohh I want to try anything smoky.

  18. Terrific interview! Greg does good stuff, and I thoroughly enjoy his blog. And his cocktail book - I have that, and it's excellent. Fun read - thanks.

  19. Both of these cookbooks sound so interesting and unlike any others out there. It's really interesting to read about the process as well.

  20. I had a Smashing Pumpkin last weekend at a holiday bash and it was fantastic. The following are the ingredients:

    1.5 oz Pyrat Rum
    .5 oz Allspice liqueur
    3 oz Lemon-Pumpkin Soda*

    Garnish: Bay leaf

    Glass: Collins

  21. I would love to try out a bourbon Bloody Mary. Sounds delicious!

  22. There is a recipe in his book called Breeder's Cup. I would love to try that.
    Digicats {at} Sbcglobal {dot} Net

  23. Though the recipe was one that ended up not being included in the book, I'd like to try the Winter Sour. I prefer savory to sweet in most instances (don't bother gifting me chocolates) and think I may very well have just fallen in love with a gorgeous book I've yet to see! kateivan (at) aol (dot) com

  24. I'm such a whip when it comes to savory cocktails but my boyfriend is obsessed so I'm always making them for him instead. I'd love this cookbook, it'd give me more new recipes to try out on him… maybe even myself! I've had one savory cocktail that I absolutely loved. It had a green tea base and was AMAZING!
    ckanu9112 (at) gmail (dot) com


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