Photo by Andi Roberts.
By Cameron Krahel
It was my pleasure to visit the Dover Public Library recently to see and speak with author and chef Sara Bir.
Sara was the featured speaker during a session of the library's Nights at the Round Table visiting author series. She spoke about her new book “Tasting Ohio: Favorite Recipes from the Buckeye State” that features a recipe I submitted from The Canal Tavern of Zoar.
She gave me the opportunity to speak with her after the event and answered a few questions I had for her, chef to chef.
What was it like to get all the recipes from the chefs?
It was really hard work just because it was so many recipes together - about 100 recipes - and chefs always have something else better to do than to give recipes to some random person.
That was a lot of work but it was also like taking a big road trip because I would do all this research about restaurants in specific areas. I wanted recipes from every region in the state, and I got to learn a lot about Ohio that I didn't know before. I feel like I have a different appreciation of our state now, not just about the places but are here - the people who have always lived here, the ones who left and came back and the ones who came and now call it their home state.
How long did it take to acquire all those recipes?
I extended my deadline or asked to have it extended, and they kindly obliged. It took about a year and a half to do the book start to finish, and to get the recipes, it took over a year.
What made you decide to be an author?
I've always been a writer, so I was a writer before I decided to go to cooking school and be a chef, and I thought, 'Oh, I'll be a food writer,' because I had worked in restaurants but knew that was not what I wanted to do. I just wanted to gain knowledge in the kitchen. I'm not very good at regular classroom school, so that was perfect.
I love cookbooks. I love cooking magazines, and to write one has always been a dream of mine, but you need to have a reason to do it. You can't just make a cookbook, especially when nobody knows who you are.
This opportunity came along [because] I know the woman who did Tasting Kentucky, and she referred me to the publisher, Farcounty Press, for the Ohio book, which, from a publisher standpoint, there are more people in Ohio, so for sales that's better, and if you go anywhere, you meet somebody from Ohio, so there's a lot of expats, too, so there's a whole potential market for them.
I'm glad I got to do it because, once again, it created this whole new interface with where I'm from that was a really great thing at this point in my life.
Are you doing a tour of libraries to promote the book now?
I thought initially I would do a book tour around the state, but I decided to scale it back a little bit because I'm also doing my fruit book. I'm being a bit picky and choosey. The other good thing is the fruit book is more seasonal, whereas the Ohio book, I can kind of tease that out for a while, so I can promote that anytime I'm doing anything in Ohio. I'm going to have that book with me, but if somebody wants me to come and speak at their library or event, I will happily do so. I’ve spoken at some rotary meetings. It's been fun. There have been things in Marietta, but I can only do so many because it’s small and everybody’s going to get sick of me. There have been a couple other things, and I try to tie in some cooking classes, too.
I would love to do events with the contributors, but it's just a little bit more coordination than I have time for, but I think that would actually be the best thing because it's in the spirit of collaboration that the book is about versus just me talking about it.
Did you have the opportunity to eat at any of the restaurants that contributed recipes?
I have. Some of them because they’re more in my region. Since Southeast Ohio is one of the least populated regions, that helped me get a leg up on it because, otherwise, I don’t know who on earth I would’ve approached. Some of them are places I go to somewhat regularly and just have like interface with.
Of all places that didn’t make it into the book, unfortunately, Tom's Ice Cream Bowl in Zanesville serves ice cream. They've been doing it for years, and since they’re an institution, I wanted them in the book just so people can think about what that place is. They contributed a tin roof sundae recipes. They also roast their own nuts. I love their Spanish peanuts, and that's part of the tin roof sundae. I went there and got one the other day, and it was delicious. Always gets the small sundae. They’re huge. You’d be crazy if you got the big one unless you just ran a marathon or something. Of all the places I could go, the one I went to recently is not in the book.
What was your family’s favorite recipe that you cooked in the book?
My daughter keeps asking for the hackbraten torte. When I started this book, she was 6. She's 8 now, so she hasn't had it in a while. That is the thing that she would like again.
There’s a pounded breaded chicken cutlet that’s fried. I never make food like that ever, so my husband’s like, ‘When are you going to make that again?’
Sara Bir is a native of Ohio and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and currently resides in Marietta. She is an author, food stylist, recipe developer, and teacher.
Cameron Krahel is a semi-retired chef. He is a graduate of Culinary Arts and Hotel and Restaurant Management program at Hocking College and previously served as the head chef at Union Country Club, The Inn at Honey Run, The Canal Tavern of Zoar, and Columbia Woodlands.