Food Blogger Spotlight: Anita Chu

For our next Food Blogger Spotlight, I’m pleased to bring you Anita Chu, who blogs over at Dessert First. Anita, a professional pastry chef and candy maker, is also a renowned cookbook author. Over the past year she’s released two books that you really must check out: Field Guide to Candy and Field Guide to Cookies. I highly recommend them both.

Besides being an amazing baker and pastry chef, Anita’s got a great eye for photographing her adventures in the kitchen. You’ll see a few of her shots peppered throughout this interview and I highly recommend you check out her site for more delicious images!

So without further ado, here’s Anita to answer our burning interview questions.

We all have staples that we couldn’t live without. What three ingredients do you *always* have in your kitchen and why? I’m not talking snacks like chips and hummus, but rather ingredients you use all the time in your cooking.

I’m going to exclude the obvious essentials for baking like flour, sugar, eggs, etc. Besides those basics, I always have chocolate, nuts, and vanilla bean paste.  Chocolate because chocolate desserts are a necessity for me. I try to keep a variety of different brands and percentages on hand, and maybe a bar or two for snacking. I also try keep a good supply of nuts, because I always find myself using them in recipes. My most often-used nuts are almonds and hazelnuts; when fall comes around, pecans and walnuts enter the mix. Finally, I always have a jar of vanilla bean paste. Oftentimes I use it to augment regular vanilla extract in recipes, or I just substitute it when I want those flecks of vanilla bean in my baked goods and I don’t have a fresh vanilla bean on hand.

Imagine you moved to the smallest apartment possible – a shoebox, really – and you only had room for a single cookbook. Of all your cookbooks, which one would you keep? Why do you love it so?

Interestingly, my last apartment was about the size of a shoebox, which didn’t curtail my cookbook buying – the new books just ended up piled on chairs, under the kitchen table, next to my bed! My favorite can’t-live without cookbook though is The Last Course by Claudia Fleming. It’s one of the first serious pastry books I bought and remains a constant inspiration for the beautiful photography and the creative recipes. I still go through it every once in a while and enjoy how wonderfully it was put together. It’s held up remarkably well compared to all the new cookbooks coming out today, which is probably why it got re-released a year or so ago. Other cookbooks I enjoy (I know this is cheating) are books from Dorie Greenspan, Alice Medrich and Emily Luchetti.

When you’re looking for new recipes (or creating one of your own), what is your number one priority? What makes you pick one recipe over another?

I like to challenge myself with my baking, so I am always looking for recipes that are different and unique in some way. Whether it’s using an ingredient I haven’t heard or a technique I haven’t tried, I’m always eager to learn and test myself. That’s why when I create my own recipes it usually involves some sort of twist on a favorite recipe – I rarely make the same thing twice, as I’m curious to experiment and see how the recipe works with different flavors, different textures, different accompaniments. Since much of dessert’s appeal is also visual, I tend to go for the desserts that are visually attractive, whether it’s multiple layers in a cake or several components combining together into one. If I’m trying to choose between recipes, oftentimes I’ll go for the prettier looking one!

Blogs have the potential to be so many things, from personal journals to outrageous adventure reports. What is the most important thing you put into your blog, and what is the most important thing you get out of it?

My blog was started as a means for me to express myself: through baking, through writing, through photography. In creating my desserts and capturing them in images and words I hope I am also capturing some of my emotions and feelings, hopes, and desires. After all, there are hundreds of thousands of recipes out there. What makes a recipe special to me is when I understand the inspiration that went into it, whether it was a seasonal fruit picked up at the farmers’ market, a beautiful summer day in the fields, or a visit from a long-lost friend. I hope that I am able to capture some of those emotions and experiences on my blog for others to enjoy. My blog serves as both my creative outlet and my diary, so every time I look at it I feel like I’ve accomplished something, committed a little piece of myself to memory to savor on future days. If others find pleasure and joy from what I’ve put out there, it’s even better.

Thanks for the candor, Anita! It’s always a pleasure.

Click here for more Food Bloggers Spotlight interviews.

Here are some favorite posts from Anita’s Blog, Dessert First:

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Comments from other ninjas:

  1. Victorio Bellis says

    I love these photos, but I think I always say that. You get such interesting people for these interviews. Please keep them up.

    I think I am going to order the candy book for my daughter or Christmas.

    • steph says

      I’m still considering a part time pastry program, but I want to take it so that I can learn to bake better gluten free things. I figure if I learn the basics really solidly, it will be easier to convert the recipes. :)

  2. Almost Slowfood says

    Claudia Fleming’s book is one of my all time favorites. I only just recently got my hands on a copy.

    Great interview. Thanks, Stephanie and Anita!
    .-= ———->Almost Slowfood

  3. ReadyMom says

    I love the question about what 3 ingredients she always has on hand. I’ve got Tahitian, Vietnamese, and Mexican vanilla in my cupboard but no vanilla bean paste. I’ll have to look for some.
    .-= ———->ReadyMom

    • steph says

      I have a few different kinds myself – though I’m not nearly as versed on what to do with them. Maybe that’s another interview in the making…. hrmmm!

  4. MarthaAndMe says

    I have Anita’s Field Guide to Cookies and it is an excellent little book (little in size- it’s very cute, but big in content)!

    • steph says

      I agree! I love the format. In fact, I have her candy book on the coffee table and people love to flip through it because it’s so inviting.