How to cook up a book

Testing time: Dani Valent tries a recipe from her book.
Testing time: Dani Valent tries a recipe from her book. Photo: Lavinia Clarke

Creating my second cookbook was really hard work, especially for my neighbours, who received text messages such as ''Vodka cocktail testing now - help!'' and ''Overrun with dessert, bring containers''.

It was peaks and troughs for my children, who didn't mind how many times I retested butterscotch, but began to ask ''What's for dinner?'' in scared voices in case the answer was ''chicken porridge'' or ''pumpkin curry ice-cream'' again. When it was all over and my answer was ''lasagne'', they did a happy dance and spontaneously tidied their rooms.

A Dani Valent dish is prepared for photographing.
A Dani Valent dish is prepared for photographing. Photo: James Braund

I wanted more exciting recipes, so I approached chefs - through introductions from well-travelled local chefs, by cold calling, by bailing them up at their restaurants and at food festivals - to see whether they'd be willing to share.

Chefs love feeding people, even if it's via recipes, so most generously pledged their creations. Some didn't - they didn't want to, they were too busy or they hardly read their emails and answer them even less.

Even among the keen and the willing, the passion didn't necessarily extend to sitting down at a computer, typing up a recipe and pressing ''Send'' in accordance with a deadline imposed from afar. The delights of chef wrangling - it makes herding cats look simple - were as much a part of the process as testing, tasting and writing.

Google Translate makes a pretty weird dinner. Google told me to ''dive directly into shells with a sailor basket'' concerning straining mussels. It also insisted I ''arrange freaky centre of the plate, spread the ribs and arrange over discharge'', which didn't sound very delicious.

It wasn't necessarily smooth sailing when the recipes arrived, either. Sometimes chefs have interesting ideas about what's achievable in home kitchens. Anyone got neutral nappage (it's a glaze) or cod floating membrane in their pantries? And can you pick me up some liquid nitrogen next time you're down at the shops? Chefs also tend to think about recipes for 30 or 40 portions - rather a lot for most families or dinner parties - and I've learnt the hard way that you can't simply divide quantities by eight to come up with domestic delights.

Darren Purchese is an incredible pastry chef, but he sent me a recipe so scary that I kept opening the document then closing it again, bug-eyed. I could almost cope with a page-long equipment list that included ''cake rings, square'', but the real stumbling block was the spray gun required to finish the cake. I got as far as pricing the gun at Bunnings ($170), before deciding that I had to simplify the recipe for my readers. I pulled Darren's masterpiece back into mortal realms and, luckily, he gave my version his blessing.

Language was another stumbling block. Recipes landed in Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Chinese, French and even English. I'm OK at English and I speak great French menu. For everything else, I tried Google Translate which makes a pretty weird dinner. Google told me to ''dive directly into shells with a sailor basket'' concerning straining mussels. It also insisted I ''arrange freaky centre of the plate, spread the ribs and arrange over discharge'', which didn't sound very delicious. I was told ''emulsion sprockets book single serve fridge until time of service'' and I should subject spinach to an ''ice water scare''. Hebrew was the worst, not because the lamb with pistachio crumb lacked flavour, but because the recipe document tricked my iPad into working from right to left for a week.


You'd expect to do a lot of cooking while writing a cookbook, but preparing 10 dishes each day of the 10-day photo shoot was very challenging, especially as some dishes had six or seven components. This is my second cookbook for Thermomix (a high-powered food processor that also cooks, in fact pretty much does everything, and is as good as your obsessed friends keep saying). But even with its assistance, the work was daunting.

It took me three hours to plan a shopping trip and each shopping list went for three A4 pages. Repacking the fridge was a major project every time. I came to love my complex fridge set-ups with their stacks of labelled containers, but when I posted a proud photo on Twitter, I was told by dessert genius Pierre Roelofs that my masking tape should have been cut at 90-degree angles rather than ripped asunder, and my Sharpie scrawl should have been neat block letters. I'd never cut it as a pastry chef.

My house is always my workplace, but there's a big difference between writing in my trackies and turning my home into a photographic studio. The clash of domestic and work life manifested in unpredictable ways. We couldn't shoot everything on my white plates, so a stylist brought fancy crockery and glassware and stacked it precariously throughout the house. The dog had a knack of meditating exactly where the photographer needed to stand. She also stole oysters, which is why we don't have a dozen in the shot. The cat did almost as much plate rearranging as my stylists.


I engaged in my own transformation at 8.45 each morning when I morphed from school-lunch-maker and show-and-tell coach into a semi-calm cookbook author. In the evening, I changed into another creature, a kind of gourmet zombie who poured wine without noticing, prepared for the next day, went to bed late and dreamt of recipes.

Somehow, it all got done. The upshot is a book, a fridge that's gone back to its normal job of feeding a family, and a dog with a taste for molluscs. The neighbours look at me wistfully as I wander past now, and I've promised them I'd do it all again, if only to keep the street in cocktails.

Contributors include Nicolas Poelaert, Paul Wilson, Darren Purchese, Pierre Roelofs, Raymond Capaldi and Florent Gerardin, all of whom will present dishes at a Good Food Month dinner at Brooks in Melbourne on Tuesday, November 19. Bookings, 9001 8755.

In the Mix 2: More Great Thermomix Recipes by Dani Valent is published by Slattery Media Group.

Available from, Books for Cooks and Essential Ingredient (Melbourne), $60.