This time last year, local chef Jennifer Chandler was finishing up her third cookbook, launching a restaurant and in the midst of a national media tour with French’s for the release of a new Dijon mustard brand.
“All three projects are ones that you would probably do on their own, not all in the same three-month period,” Chandler said. “But what keeps me going is I truly love what I do and my family realizes that.”
That’s why the international finance major turned culinary school grad, magazine columnist and national consultant dedicated the third cookbook in her “Simply” series – “Simply Grilling: 105 Recipes for Quick & Casual Grilling” – to her husband, Paul, and two daughters, “… who make life so delicious!”
“I work every day,” Chandler said. “I often work at night, I work every weekend at least for a little while. That’s the negative side of it, but it gives me so much more flexibility, I think, to be there for my children.”
The release date for “Simply Grilling” is Tuesday, April 17. There are two local signings scheduled: one on April 26 at The Booksellers at Laurelwood at 6 p.m. and the other on May 10 at Babcock Gifts from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The book comes after “Simply Salads” and “Simply Suppers,” both of which are aimed at preparing homemade meals that are easy to execute yet full of flavor. And “Simply Grilling” is no exception.
“A lot of times in Memphis, people think grilling and they think barbecue, long and slow and having to tend to the grill – that’s not what this book is about,” Chandler said. “This book is about easy, flavorful, quick, casual recipes that you can do every day. I want to demystify grilling for those who say they’re intimidated by it. To turn on a gas grill I swear is easier than turning on an oven because when you’re done with dinner, you don’t have to clean any pots and pans.”
The recipes stem from dishes Chandler has tried at a restaurant or while at a friend’s, from her family, her own adaptations of magazine features and even suggestions she’s been offered on social media.
“Anything that sounds good,” Chandler said. “If somebody shares a recipe, I always point out in the header whose kitchen it originated from. Most of the time, the recipe has changed somewhat from the original version because I’m always trying to find ways to make the recipe as simple as possible to follow.”
Writing the book is usually a six- to nine-month process because every recipe involves several stages of testing and revisions.
“I start with the recipe – most of the time, it’s a hand-written recipe and I’ll make it a couple of times in the kitchen and I’ll make notes on it,” Chandler said. “Then I’ll type out the recipe, cook it again, retype it up, make changes in the computer and print it out again. Then I send it out to recipe testers – I have a group around the country that is everything from experienced cooks to kind of novices in the kitchen. A lot of the times, their notes are where my various tips and variations come from is comments that recipe testers have made.
“If you look in my notebooks that I have compiled, you’ll see for each recipe, there’s probably 10 pages stapled together that show how the recipe started all the way to the finished product.”
Chandler not only perfects each recipe, but does all of her own food styling for each cookbook as well. Aiding in that effort are her photographer, Justin Fox Burks, as well as Babcock Gifts, which donated the plates for each dish.
“We shoot about 10 shots a day on average and I cook everything from scratch just like I do at home,” Chandler said. “That’s very important for me because if it’s over-stylized or if it’s not real food, there’s no way that somebody’s going to be able to make it look exactly the same at home and they’ll be frustrated with the recipe.”
Just as Chandler did with her other books, she’s included all of the various tips necessary to see the dish through the finish line, such as icons for recipes that involve marinating and or can be performed on a grill pan.
“The whole goal is to get people back in the kitchen cooking their own food because it tastes better, it’s healthier for you and it’s more economical than eating out,” Chandler said.
Some recipes that are especially close to her heart are her sister and her dad’s fajita recipes, the honey rosemary pork chops (her husband’s favorite), and even a chocolate-hazelnut and banana Panini.
“One of my readers on Facebook challenged me to make something chocolate on the grill,” Chandler said. “I had seen somewhere about a peanut butter and banana Panini and I wondered about using Nutella for my chocolate. It worked out perfectly, it’s really good. That’s one of the things that’s cool is that cookbooks can now become interactive. People actually ask me questions on there and I’m happy to answer them.”
All three “Simply” books are published by Nashville-based Thomas Nelson. “Simply Grilling” will be available at The Booksellers, Babcock Gifts, The Women’s Exchange, on Amazon, and at Barnes and Noble online and in stores.
While the idea of a fourth in the series has been tossed around, nothing has been solidified yet.
“Hopefully, there will be many more to come,” Chandler said. “I have a list of things that I would like to write about and (Simply Sweets) is definitely on there.”