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Pull up your chairs, kiddies, and let me tell you of a time long ago when you could make your name by starting a food blog. Daniel Shumski, who was also for part of this time a digital editor at the Tribune, did that twice—first by starting a thoughtful blog called Fruit Slinger, chronicling his experiences working for a certain farmer/vendor at the Green City Market (let's just say he grew the blog from a seedling), which for a time occupied space here at the Reader. And then he had one called Waffleizer, a much cheekier, sort of David Letterman-humor one about all the things you could waffle in a waffle iron.
It was internet-gimmicky and quirky, but it wasn't stupid, and he took seriously the business of seeing what all you could do in a hot iron that basically made every food into Legos. He also got a fair number of interesting participants on the blog, including pastry chef Gale Gand, Rob and Allie Levitt—then of Mado—and, well, me. He now lives in Montreal, but lest you think waffle science has taken a backseat, he's been hard at work on a book, Will It Waffle?, which comes out today from Workman. I interviewed him about how life has been post-Chicago as a leading waffling author.
Michael Gebert: Tell me what you moved to Montreal to do, and what you've been doing.
Daniel Shumski: I moved because my boyfriend is Canadian, and I am doing a little bit of freelance stuff, but it's funny because I moved in the middle of doing the book, and so for the first year or so of being here, the book pretty much defined what I was doing.
And now you have to find another project.
Yes, although not just yet, because now I have to promote the book, right? But eventually I will have to find something else, yeah.
So for people coming new to this, tell me the whole premise here. You had a blog called Fruit Slinger, back when blogs could lead to fame, and somehow that led to waffles.
Yeah, that's the short version. Fruit Slinger was a very long time ago. I feel like it's a very different environment for blogging right now. The book came from a blog project called Waffleizer, and the concept of Waffleizer was that the waffle iron was so much more than waffles. Waffleizer asked the question, "Will it waffle?" basically.
And what I did was I took 30 stabs at answering that question, using everything but waffle batter. We made things like waffled s'mores, waffled chicken, waffled cookies—it basically offered alternative uses for your waffle iron.
Here's the question I never thought to ask before—what wouldn't waffle?
You have to think, by the time I got around to making the book I had a pretty good idea of what would work in the waffle iron. And the list of things that will not waffle is surprisingly short—like soup and mixed drinks. No. But any kind of dough, so many kinds of batter, any solid protein will work. The list of things that work is long, and the list of things that won't work is short.
So basically, it just has to fry, because in effect it's a frying pan, and it has to be thin enough to cook through.
Well, this is true, I mean, you can't put a Thanksgiving turkey in it. At some point you have to cut it down to size to fit it in there.
And you did stuff with a lot of chefs and the occasional other blogger—
The blog was a lot of fun, that part I liked a lot, doing the collaborations with other people. The thing that was hardest about the blog was maybe the thing that's hardest about all blogs, which is that at the end of the day, it's just you. And you've got to be the one pushing it forward constantly. Fortunately, I told myself at the beginning that there were only going to be 30 recipes on the blog, so there was at least a limit to that.
How much of the blog wound up in the final book?
There are, I would say, half a dozen recipes from the blog that made the cut into the book. But having said that, the book recipes are so much better tested, and so much better explained. But I couldn't leave out S'moreffles, that just wouldn't be right. So they're in the book, the chocolate chip cookies are in the book. I would probably not buy a book that was stuff that had already been published on the internet, so I wouldn't expect others to do that. I would say the book is maybe 80 percent new stuff, maybe more than that.
One thing I noticed looking at the table of contents was that you have some Korean recipes. I thought that was funny, like, where does waffling go from here after you've done 30 recipes—to Asian-fusion food, obviously!
I knew that I didn't want to limit it to one cuisine. There's also a Thai squid salad in there. I knew that the defining feature of the book is the waffle iron, but beyond that I didn't want to limit the scope of the kinds of dishes that were in there.
What was the biggest discovery in the process of writing the book?
I think the real discovery was just learning how long it takes to nail a recipe, not just so you can make it yourself but so that others can replicate it. When I did the blog, I was thinking a little bit about whether other people could do it, but I was mostly worried about whether I could do it. That's not a great way to approach a cookbook. These recipes, between testing them again and again, and other people testing them again and again, and putting them through an editing process— the biggest difference is that these are a lot more . . . battle-tested.
Did you have a recipe expert come in and test this stuff?
I farmed out testing to a small group of people, and I made sure I tested it in as many waffle irons as possible. It's funny because if you write a cookbook for the stove top or the oven, there are different kinds of stoves, but there's at least a temperature standard that they adhere to, right? That's not the case with waffle irons, which come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. I had to take care to make sure that they would work in as many waffle irons as possible.
So you were sitting there with, like, a Mickey Mouse waffle iron and 12 others, pouring okonomiyaki into each one?
You're not far off! I've got a heart-shaped waffle iron, square one, round one, Belgian, non-Belgian—and then, like I said, it's not just what I had but what other people have too. There's a practically unlimited number of waffle irons out there and I have only six. Only six. A mere six. So I wanted to feel good about knowing that they worked in other machines, too.
So what kind of waffle irons do they have in Montreal? Are they mostly Belgian? Is it illegal to have an English waffle iron?
I have seen more Belgian, I think that's fair to say. But I don't know if there's any strict standard. It may just be that I only come across the Belgian ones.
Daniel Shumski will come to Chicago for a signing event at the Chopping Block, 4747 N. Lincoln, from 10 AM to noon on September 13.