Open Book: The Chilean Kitchen
This article was originally published on Cherry Bombe, the brand that supports and celebrates women in all walks of the food industry. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month 2020, we teamed up with them to highlight Hispanic American women around the world who are making a difference in food. We also selected two recent cookbook publications for feature inclusion on their website. First up was Mely Martinez’ The Mexican Home Kitchen: Traditional Home-Style Recipes That Capture the Flavors and Memories of Mexico and now Pilar Hernandez and Eileen Smith’s The Chilean Kitchen: 75 Seasonal Recipes for Stews, Breads, Salads, Cocktails, Desserts, and More. We’re also featuring four of the recipes from the book on our recipe pages, including the Completo (aka a Chilean hot dog!), Ajiaco, Sopaipillas, and Tomaticán.
Pilar Hernandez has been writing about Chilean food since 2008 on her blog Pilar’s Chilean Kitchen & Garden, and Eileen Smith is a notable food writer (she’s written for us!) living in Santiago, Chile, but when the pair set out to write a book on Chilean cuisine, there were a lot of things they still had to teach themselves.
Here, Pilar and Eileen tell us about how they learned to write a book proposal, figured out how to contact agents, and set themselves deadline and goals to make their book a reality. They did all this while living in two different countries—the pair hadn’t even met in person until the manuscript was finished and it was time to shoot the recipes at Pilar’s home in Texas! The hard work paid off, and their book, The Chilean Kitchen: 75 Seasonal Recipes for Stews, Breads, Salads, Cocktails, Desserts, and More, is the result of such hard work. It’s filled with vegetable-forward recipes that intentionally call for ingredients that can be easily found in the U.S., and was written with the goal to help bring Chilean food to the fore. In Eileen’s words, “This book is our love letter to Chile, and I believe it shows.”
WRITING OUR PROPOSAL
We didn’t want to self-publish the book, but we didn’t have an “in,” so we knew we needed to develop our idea, write a well-fleshed out proposal, and make it as polished as possible before sending it to agents. Pilar is based in in Houston, and Eileen in Santiago, so we were also aware that there would be difficulties of living 5,000 miles away from each other. Throughout the process—from concept to delivering the final manuscript—we had weekly calls to decide how to divvy up the work.
Pilar had self-published two books and sold one of them to Random House Chile, and Eileen has a manuscript that she is shopping around, so we had some experience, but the rest we researched. We got some proposal templates and examples from friends and used the book Will Write For Food: The Complete Guide To Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More by Dianne Jacob to set up a template that felt good for our project. Then we got to work.
Our proposal contained our platforms and bios, and we wrote a sample chapter with an introductory essay, and six recipes with headnotes. We tried to keep the proposal well-rounded, with an appetizer, main, dessert, and beverage, and chose recipes that we felt were part of the very essence of Chilean cooking and would give editors a good sense of the whole project.
We also included our photographer, Araceli Paz, in the book proposal and used her photos to help sell it. So we weren’t just selling the cookbook, but the whole team through the proposal. The finished cookbook is very close to our original proposal. It has the same number of recipes, the same structure, and the same voice. The title changed from its original, and our proposed essay length was longer and more memoir-based.
HOW WE GOT OUR BOOK DEAL
We developed a long list of agent contacts gleaned from the web, friends, and Twitter and put them on a spreadsheet. We each sent five pitches a week until we started to get positive responses. Every pitch was personalized and tailored to the agent’s requirements. Following agents’ instructions was very important because we wanted to sell ourselves as well as the book and show that we would be easy to work with. In total, we sent our completed proposal to 40 agents.
After we got our first offer of representation, we followed up and gave agents who had not yet responded one last chance. We were then fortunate enough to have four people interested in the book and did video call interviews with each of them before we decided to go with Ashley Collom, who was at DeFiore and Company at the time. She helped us polish and refine our proposal and it took us about a month to rewrite it. Ashley then started pitching the project to different publishing houses. We got a lot of rejections, but Leah Zarra, an editor from Skyhorse Publishing, saw promise in the book and brought us there.
OUR COOKBOOK TEAM
Leah was our editor at Skyhorse Publishing; Ashley was our agent at DeFiore and Company and then negotiated to take our book with her to Thompson Literary Agency when she moved; and Meg Thompson also at Thompson Literary Agency, took over as our agent when Ashley left the industry. Araceli was our photographer, food stylist, and prop stylist. We wanted to work with a rising talent, and it was particularly important to us that she was Chilean.
SHOOTING THE BOOK
We spent 10 days at Pilar’s home in Houston and cooked all the food, shot all the photos, tasted every dish, and revisited and rewrote every story. We also checked every set of recipe instructions while making the food. Pilar cooked all the recipes, and Eileen assisted Araceli on photography, props, and cooking. It was a real communion of minds around Chilean food, music, culture, and memories, and a very intense period of time. Pilar’s family graciously went to stay with some friends, and we kept a number of families fed by packing out leftovers every night to make more room for the next day’s food.
FOR EILEEN, THIS BOOK WOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED WITHOUT…
Trust, technology, and a bit of validation-seeking. Trust because Pilar and I had never met, though we knew about each other as people who wrote about Chilean food online. I had interviewed her for an article about the marraqueta and we formed an easy alliance, but I really had no idea what was coming when we first spoke. When she told me about her idea for the book and suggested that I could be the writer who helped bring it to the fore, I felt really inspired and I felt a sense of validation.
RECIPES PILAR’S MOST EXCITED ABOUT
Torta Mil Hojas. Many of the recipes on the book are inspired by my grandmother and my family recipes, but also influenced by my years of talking to followers on the blog and different variations they make, but Torta Mil Hojas is still to the letter, the recipe my family passed down for generations.
RECIPES EILEEN’S MOST EXCITED ABOUT
Pebre! It was one of the first foods I ate when I got to Chile, and it’s both universal and unique to every family.
FIRST THING PEOPLE SHOULD MAKE FROM THE CHILEAN KITCHEN ACCORDING TO PILAR
Tomaticán, Tortilla de Zanahorias, or Fritos de Brócoli because they are recipes with ingredients that are commonly used in the USA, but with a Chilean approach to vegetables and preparations that capture the Chilean flavor profile.
FIRST THING PEOPLE SHOULD MAKE FROM THE CHILEAN KITCHEN ACCORDING TO EILEEN
Anything Pilar says! And the salads. In Chile, there are many different kinds of salads and several often appear at the table at a single meal. It’s a totally different way of looking at vegetables.
THE HARDEST PART FOR PILAR
I was afraid no one would buy the book and I was afraid agents would pass on the proposal because I am a woman of color and quite frankly it can be harder to sell titles by BIPOCs than books by white authors. There is also the undeniable perception that writing about Latin American food is less marketable or garners less interest than books about the cuisine from other regions.
THE HARDEST PART FOR EILEEN
Waiting! From waiting for agents to get back to us, to waiting for a bite from a publisher, to waiting for the full contract to be hammered out. It’s hard to work so diligently and seamlessly on something and then just sit on your hands and know that someone else is driving. By the time the book publication date got delayed by five months due to the pandemic I was almost used to waiting. Almost.
CREATING THE COVER
We always knew it should be empanadas. There’s something special about eating with your hands and you want to reach in and grab some for yourself. A bowl of soup doesn’t generate that kind of reaction. In the final days of shooting, we began to hang up prints of all of the final photos along the staircase in Pilar’s house and it was such a feast for the eyes to help us decide. We always gravitated towards the photos of this quintessential Chilean food for the cover.
ON PILAR’S MOOD BOARD
I wanted it clean, simple, and honest and I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to use any traditional Chilean props or a specific china pattern and textiles that are unique to Chile. All the plates and props were bought in the U.S. because it was important to me that people cooking in the U.S. could get the same results and feel as expressed in the book.
PILAR’S KITCHEN ATTIRE
I cook in my everyday clothes, but I do need my Vionic sandals to stand for long baking sessions.
PILAR’S GO-TO INGREDIENTS
Basic flour, yeast, and milk. I’m experimenting with making and aging homemade cheese in my kitchen to try to replicate a specific Chilean cheese called queso chanco. I’m also excited about squash and sweet potato season coming soon with the holidays.
PILAR’S MOST USED KITCHEN TOOL
EILEEN’S MOST USED KITCHEN TOOL
I feel like it was the simple OXO metal box grater that was the hero on the set. That might be because grating vegetables was one of my few contributions to food prep.
COOKBOOK PILAR THINKS EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE
I’m a baker at heart and my favorite baking book is Baking: From my Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.
If you’d like to purchase your own copy of The Chilean Kitchen, click here.