Tasting the excitement at the Writer’s Fest 

The Urban Peasant joins the instructor’s lineup at the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival

click to enlarge Cooking and Writing Kept Simple James Barber, more famously known as The Urban Peasant, will share his passion for food and writing at the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival on Sunday, Sept. 16 at Black's Pub.
  • Cooking and Writing Kept Simple James Barber, more famously known as The Urban Peasant, will share his passion for food and writing at the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival on Sunday, Sept. 16 at Black's Pub.

What: Food Writing Workshop

When: Sunday, Sept. 16

Where: Black’s Pub

Tickets: $15

Info: theviciouscircle.ca

What’s it like being one of television’s most famous chefs?

James Barber, host of the internationally acclaimed television series The Urban Peasant, corrects me right away.

“I’m a cook,” he says from his Duncan farm on Vancouver Island. “A chef is like a general in charge of troops, the guy who organizes and orchestrates people around him. You and me: we are cooks. We just get on and do it.”

No sous chefs to sauté, pastry chefs to chill or assistants to the assistant’s assistant to the executive chef, Barber’s cooking is simple and straight to the point, much like his writing.

The author and journalist will share his love of food and writing at the How to Write About Food For Fun and Profit workshop on Sunday, Sept. 16 at 9 a.m. at Black’s Pub as part of the sixth annual Whistler Readers and Writers Festival.

“I love to write, to paint, to make things — that is what we are here to do,” he said. “Ninety per cent of food writers don’t know about food. They know how to type. A good food writer has to take pleasure about everything, particularly food…. A guy who writes with blinkers doesn’t work. You want to expose your reader to a wider view of things. Food is a sensual business. You use all your senses: your nose, eyes, ears, your taste — the whole bit.”

It was hard to keep Barber on the topic of writing, his passion for food overrides semi-colon conversations and inverted-pyramid rants.

“You eat to enjoy yourself,” he said. “It’s not like filling up a car with gas. You eat to make your life bigger, better.”

With 14 cook books to his credit, Barber has plenty of recipes to make your life better. His best-selling books include Cooking for Two: The Urban Peasant; One Pot Wonders: James Barber’s Recipes for Land and Sea; Peasant’s Alphabet and Peasant’s Choice. His byline also appears regularly in The Globe and Mail, Western Living, the Georgia Straight, the Vancouver Province and Pacific Yachting.

Barber’s simple approach becomes even more simplified in the galley with One Pot Wonders.

From Don’t ask, Don’t Tell Quick Pasta to My Aunt Sallie’s Cheapo 20-minute Bouillabaisse, each quick-to-prepare meal can be made on one gas burner with only one pot to wash.

“You don’t want to make something that takes five hours to simmer on a boat,” he said. “You don’t want to steam the whole place out…. Sailing on boats is intimacy personified. You shouldn’t be allowed to get married until you’ve been on a boat together or out in a leaky tent in a storm on some mountain.”

Courtship is the theme of his most recent book, Cooking for Two. The 140 recipes, laced with Barber’s humorous anecdotes, fires up relationships as well as tongue-and-cheek titled recipes such as The Quickie Version of Rice Pudding.

“I always say cooking is like making love,” he said. “If you’ve got to keep reading the book all the time, you are not going to have a very great time.”

Philosopher, Dr. Ruth, sensation scribe and chow time cheerleader, everything in Barber’s life goes back to food and his yearning to share that joy with others, whether through the turn of one of his recipe books or a chuckle from one of his newspaper columns.

“You have to believe in what you are writing,” he said. “The more you learn about anything, food, the more you learn about colour, the more you appreciate food and appreciate presentation. You learn dull looking food tastes dull most of the time. You must have something that makes you excited. As a food writer, you look for the excitement.”

Listening to Barber, that excitement is in every turn of phrase and passion-spun yarn he shares. He may have inspired the use of flippers and whisks during more than three decades of books and television shows, but here in Whistler pens will be his tool of choice, while creating more like-minded food troubadours.

The food-writing seminar is one of three writing workshops offered in local watering holes as part of the festival. Other Sunday writing cafes include Acting on Your Writing Dreams with Wendy Morton at Behind the Grind and How to Break into the Market of Writing For Newspapers and Magazines with Leslie Anthony at the Garibaldi Lift Company (GLC).

For more information, visit theviciouscircle.ca.

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