Sunday, July 24, 2016

Epic Feasts: An Interview with Chelsea Monroe-Cassel

If you’re an avid Game of Thrones fan, you may have heard of A Feast of Ice and Fire, the official cookbook for the series. It all began with a fabulous blog, Inn at the Crossroads, which continues to post recipes inspired by the books. The cookbook is a delight not only for George R. R. Martin fans, but also for people who love to explore medieval cooking. As the cookbook’s popularity grew, fans from all over hosted feasts, leading to the publication of the Party Planning Guide. I had the pleasure of interviewing Chelsea Monroe-Cassel about the phenomenon and learning about other literary culinary cultures and what’s next for the Game of Thrones foodie world. And let us know—if you were to travel to the realms of Westeros/Essos, where would you want to eat? 

How has your exploration of food in George R. R. Martin’s world changed after the publication of A Feast of Ice and Fire?
Hugely. I used to be a picky eater before living overseas about 10 years ago, and while I would say that the experience cured me of that, the cookbook and historical recipes have really broadened my knowledge of food, from ingredients to techniques. Four years ago I'd never heard of grains of paradise or blancmange, or gone foraging for wild foods, but now odd ingredients and recipes are a solid part of my life. It's a blast!

You have a wonderfully close connection with fans—how has this shaped content and engagement on the blog and through your social media channels?
I think it's fair to say that this blog would not have been a success, and wouldn't *still* be a growing success, without its fans. There were definitely moments throughout the process, especially while making 6-8 dishes a day for the cookbook deadline, when I thought I just couldn't keep it up. But the enthusiasm from readers has proved to be an amazing motivator, and keeps me flipping through old recipes to find something amazing to share with them. 

You’re in Westeros for a weekend—which region’s cuisine would you like to try? Is there a particular House you’d like to dine with? Chaotic weddings aside, of course! :)
Great question! It would depend on the season; like many fans, I think that attending a feast in Winterfell would be absolutely fantastic. The roaring hearthfires, hounds gnawing bones in the corner, great spits of meat and lots of mead and ale. It's just the thing to ward of winter blues! If it were summer, though, I might have to go with King's Landing. Because they are so centrally located in terms of trade, they get the best of everything Westeros and Essos have to offer. And hey, if the Lannisters are serving up peacock or swan, who am I to turn it down? ;)

Have any other culinary cultures in literature interested you as much as A Song of Ice and Fire?
It's a little funny...ever since starting this project a little over three years ago now, I haven't been able to read a book without looking for food references. Stephen Brust describes amazing food in his Vlad Taltos series, as does Suzanne Collins in the Hunger Games series. A few other authors who really put some love into their food descriptions are Naomi Novik, Saladin Ahmed, and Brian Sanderson. But my big other fictional food favorite has to be Scott Lynch and his Gentlemen Bastards series. That man can describe food!
One thing I have found when it comes to fictional food descriptions is that the author is either trying, or not. This seems to be the case in almost everything I've read. I can't tell you the number of times I've been disappointed to read a great book, only to find that the characters are eating a featureless stew with ale. 

With all the Game of Thrones-themed parties, it was a great to see the party planning guide published. What was your favorite aspect of putting the guide together?
I really liked being able to share cool ideas that my friend group has helped me come up with. My creativity is mostly focused on the food for a party, so it's awesome to have other fans on board for planning games, decoration, etc. I tried to put all of that in the guide so other people have an easier time managing their own parties!

What’s next for you in terms of writing projects, wherever they may bring us?
Well, I'm mostly delving into the realm of ebooks; I'm working on a Dornish cookbook supplement with Random House, and have been working on a Shire cookbook in my own time. Both of those should hopefully be out in not too long! Other than that, I dabble. I have a couple of partial novels that I'd like to wrap up, as well as a few other book projects in the wings. 

Thank you, Chelsea, for stopping by—we look forward to the upcoming works (and future visits to the Inn at the Crossroads!) 

(post originally published June 7, 2014) 

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