I’m so excited to chat today with Tanya Guerrero, author of How to Make Friends with the Sea and All You Knead is Love, which is out today!
Let’s dive in!
What role does cooking and baking play in your connection to your family and culture?
Because I grew up in the Philippines, Spain and the US, cooking, and food culture has been ever present in my memories—whether it was fighting for the lone red chili in the can of sardines I’d share with my sister for breakfast, or learning to cook my Lola’s croquetas in her country house kitchen, or eating cinnamon raisin bagels with melted Muenster cheese for lunch every day with my elementary school friends in New York City. I suppose being surrounded by a multicultural family and environment always made me aware of the connection we have to food, and how the process of making it brings us together not only as a culture, as family, as a community, but also brings us together with the land. My Spanish grandparents loved foraging, and some of my most precious childhood moments were spent searching for wild mushrooms, asparagus, strawberries, herbs and even snails, which my Lola Francisca would cook with loads of garlic and parsley.
Tanya with Lolo Ernesto and Lola Francisca
In All You Knead is Love, Alba finds healing from the turmoil in her life through baking. Have you experienced a similar connection in your own baking?
I didn’t do much baking when I was a kid. Rather, I would cook with my grandmother and my mom, oftentimes, three or four course meals, which consisted mostly of Spanish dishes, sometimes Filipino and French dishes as well. The process of foraging and shopping for ingredients, prepping them in the kitchen with my family, and then sitting around the table and eating the dishes that took us hours to prepare, is something I remember fondly, despite any chaos that may have been going on in my life. When my sister and I moved to Barcelona to live with our grandparents while our parents were dealing with their divorce, I found a lot of solace during those years living with my lolo and lola. And that’s something I wanted to give to my main character, Alba. I wanted her to reconnect with her grandmother like I did, I wanted her to reconnect with a culture she barely knew like I did, I wanted her to find love through food like I did. And although, I didn’t learn how to bake sourdough bread until I was in my forties, I also wanted Alba to experience the meditative kind of healing that can come from baking something as basic as bread.
Tanya’s walnut rosemary sourdough loaf and sourdough bagels
What importance does food play in your stories?
I think food will always play an important role in all my stories. Because for me, food was always something that connected me to my culture, the family and friends that I love dearly, and the places I’ve lived and travelled. The Filipino and Spanish people have such a huge food culture and history, and because of that, food is always front and center at all our family gatherings.
Snacking on churros con chocolate with Lola in Barcelona
What is a memorable baking or cooking mishap that you have had? What did you learn from it?
Gosh, I’ve had SO many kitchen mishaps over the years! But, I will admit that when I was first learning how to make sourdough bread, I had so many failures—flat, pancake-ish loaves, dense loaves, burned loaves, undercooked loaves, too-sour loaves. But with lots of perseverance and patience, I was able to get past those failures and now I’m able to make all sorts of loaves, although I do still fail from time to time.
I also have one specific memory that has really stuck in my mind as an epic failure, and the reason I remember it so clearly, is because of the humiliation I felt for myself and for my mom. In the summer after freshman year in college, I went to stay with my mom in Long Island, NY where she lived with her husband and my younger brother. At the time, she was freelancing as a one-woman caterer for some of the wealthy people who summered in the Hamptons. So I spent my break helping her with catering jobs. There was this one particular job, where we were supposed to make a passionfruit tart with mango sorbet for dessert. Well, all the courses turned out perfectly, except for the mango sorbet. For whatever reason, my mom’s ice cream machine wasn’t working properly, so the sorbet wouldn’t solidify. And since we didn’t have time to make any changes to the menu, my mom sent me to the nearest grocery to buy some Haagen Dazs mango sorbet to go with our homemade passionfruit tart. After the luncheon, where all the guests seemingly loved the food, the hostess came into the kitchen as we were packing up, and confronted my mom about the mango sorbet. “I didn’t pay you to serve Haagen Dazs,” she said to us with an accusatory glare. As my mom explained and apologized profusely, I could feel my cheeks getting hotter and hotter, and redder and redder, and it was the first time in my life I experienced something truly belittling.
Tanya’s “failure bread”
If you could travel to any country to learn how to make their cuisine, which country would you choose and why?
Hmmm… This is such a tough question! I am obsessed with Indian, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Cuban and generally any Latin American food, so any of these would be great. But if I really had to choose, I’d probably travel through central and south America and do a gastronomic tour, not only for the food, but also so I can also brush up on my Spanish and visit family and friends along the way. I’ve only ever been to Mexico and a couple of islands in the Caribbean, so I know there is just so much for me to explore and learn from this part of the world!
Thank you, Tayna for your wonderful answers! I think we’re all hungry now!
Get your copy of All You Knead is Love today!
About All You Knead is Love
Twelve-year-old Alba doesn’t want to live with her estranged grandmother in Barcelona.
But her mother needs her to be far, far away from their home in New York City. Because this is the year that her mother is going to leave Alba’s abusive father. Hopefully. If she’s strong enough to finally, finally do it.
Alba is surprised to find that she loves Barcelona, forming a close relationship with her grandmother, meeting a supportive father figure, and making new friends. Most of all, she discovers a passion and talent for bread baking. When her beloved bakery is threatened with closure, Alba is determined to find a way to save it–and at the same time, she may just come up with a plan to make their family whole again.
From the author of How to Make Friends with the Sea comes a heartfelt story of finding one’s chosen family, healing, and baking.