Interview – Trish Magwood

Trish Magwood lives in Toronto (ON) and is a successful Canadian food entrepreneur, teacher, chef and cookbook author. Over the years she has earned a solid reputation for creating recipes that are simple, reliable, and pretty gosh darn tasty. Preferring to let her food speak for itself, Trish does not feel the need to overcompensate with flamboyant and unnecessary frills. Her first book – Dish Entertains – won a prestigious James Beard Foundation award, and her second cookbook is already creating quite a buzz amongst foodies. Some of you may recognize her from the television series Party Dish, a spin off from her successful catering and cooking school.

While enjoying some downtime at her family’s cottage, Trish talked to me about her new book, how she manages to juggle a young family and a high profile career in the food industry, and the importance of making the time to gather around the table.

Your latest cookbook celebrates family through food, and is a collection of favourite recipes that span three generations of your own family. Can you tell us a little about what your inspiration was behind writing this book at this particular point in your life?
I think that with my first book it was a reflection of my life at work, and at that point work for me consisted of my own television show, running a cooking school and catering business…so food for me was really all about entertaining based cooking. And then all of a sudden I had three kids and my life completely changed! I was spending more time at home, and it was at that point that I realized all of the recipes I grew up with and loved to cook for my family were not included in my first cookbook. So I decided to write In My Mother’s Kitchen. Once I came up with the initial concept everything came together quickly, and at the end of the day I think I ended up with enough recipes for two books!

Your first cookbook came out in 2007 and at that time food trends focused on extravagant entertaining. Obviously the timing of In My Mother’s Kitchen has corresponded with your foray into the world of parenting a young family, but do you think the idea of simple, fresh, family-style cooking is one that we are seeing adopted on a more global scale?
Absolutely! Everyone’s life is so hectic these days that outside of special occasions we don’t really have time to prepare meals that take all day. People rarely use formal dining rooms anymore, preferring the casual social togetherness that gathering around the kitchen table allows.

Many of the recipes included in your new book are childhood favourites that you’ve tweaked and modernized for today’s cook. What were some of your favourite foods growing up?
Christmas dinner continues to be my favourite meal, perhaps because my mom is still the person who cooks it every year! But even as a kid I appreciated this meal because I saw how long it took to prepare, and combined with the nostalgia and memories I have associated with traditional Christmas dinner it has always had a special place in my heart.

I imagine that the amount of recipes your family has collected over the span of three plus generations must be monumental! Can you describe the process that went into the development of this book?
The first thing I did was go through my entire recipe collection, and then I started going through my mom’s recipes before eventually combing through my grandmother’s collection. In no time at all we had piles and piles of recipes! However I quickly realized that for the purposes of this book I wanted to expand the recipes to include ones from friends and various memorable home cooks whose food I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying over the years.

Your first book – Dish Entertains – won a James Beard award. Did you find this added unwanted pressure on you to produce an equally successful follow-up book? Or did it simply provide you with more confidence going into this project?
Winning the award was such a surprise and is an achievement of which I am very proud, but honestly I didn’t feel any pressure to repeat this feat when writing In My Mother’s Kitchen. Both of my books are so different that in my mind I can’t even compare the two. But the response to my second book has also been fantastic, and because of where I am currently at in my life I feel as if I’m better able to appreciate the process. In my mind this almost makes it more of a success. It’s much more personal.

You’re a successful food entrepreneur, teacher, chef, cookbook author, mother…how do you find time to do it all?!
I don’t [laughs]. Often you reach a point where you realize something’s not working and you have to make compromises as a family. I think it’s important to regularly check-in with yourself and to be prepared to make the necessary adjustments. Trying not to sweat the small stuff will definitely make life easier! But at the end of the day I like to work, I like to be busy but I am also not afraid to ask for help. Trust me – I don’t pretend to do it all!

You’re a mother of young children…how did your approach to food and cooking change after you entered the wacky world of parenting?!
First of all I’ve learnt to lower the bar! Nowadays I feel like a meal’s been a success if my son hasn’t cried. Honestly – it’s true! My kids are picky eaters which drives me crazy, but I’m not prepared to sit at the table and have a standoff over a piece of broccoli every night. That being said, I truly believe that the experience of getting your kids closer to their food through farmer markets or roadside stands allows them to better understand what they are eating. Whenever we are up at my parent’s house my kids are much more inclined to try new things if they can pick them straight from the garden.

What are some of the things left on your culinary to-do list?
I really want to do another television show! Party Dish (my first show) ran for two seasons and I absolutely loved the experience.

What was the first cookbook you ever owned?
I definitely remember buying The Joy of Cooking, but I also inherited a lot of cookbooks from my mom’s collection.

What is your favourite meal to make at home?
We love to barbeque 365 days out of the year, and right now we’re obsessed with beef short ribs. Risotto is another favourite dish in our house, and it’s a great way of sneaking vegetables onto the table!

What’s your favourite meal to have someone else make for you?
Anything ethnic…especially Indian and Vietnamese food. I love spice and heat! For me there is nothing better than discovering new flavours that differ from my style of cooking.

If you were stuck on an island with one cookbook, a single kitchen gadget and the opportunity to eat just one meal, what would you choose?
The Old Cottage cookbook (a rare and out of print book I got from my parents), a cast iron pan, and as for the meal it would have to be beets, corn on the cob, a baked potato and steak!

To read more of our interviews with professional and celebrity chefs, please visit the Sound Bites section