Monday, February 2, 2015

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Alyssa Gangeri, Chef and Author

Chef Alyssa Gangeri, Author
Chef Alyssa Gangeri took time from running her custom cake company and serving as Executive Chef at Riverwalk Bar and Grill in New York in order to write MIMI’S ADVENTURES IN BAKING CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES—an interactive children’s storybook which she describes as the first of its kind. It is a storybook that also teaches children how to bake with the participation of an adult.

When Chef Alyssa isn’t competing on the Food Network as a pastry chef, baking customized cakes, or cooking at her restaurant, she enjoys walking her Jack Russell Terrier in Central Park. The second Mimi's Adventure is a story about how Mimi prepares a sweet for a friend with an allergy and is due out the end of 2015.

Q: What drove you to write an interactive children’s book, MIMI’S ADVENTURES IN BAKING CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES, that combines learning with a story?

Alyssa Gangeri: I believe baking should be a fun and interactive activity for adults and children. I developed the interactive storybook cookbook because as a child, and as chef I have always been a visual learner. When trying to decide on what type of cookbook to write I quickly realized there were not a lot of children’s cookbooks. In this day and age with the amount of cooking shows, competition shows, and now even adolescent cooking competitions there is a large gap in the children’s cookbook category.

I found that the cookbooks that did exist for children, even though they were filled with bright colors, fun recipes and themes it was still a standard cookbook. Recipe, picture, procedure. I don’t believe we are engaging a child enough with that. Why read a boring cookbook filled with long procedures when you can read an interactive story that teaches you the same thing? It’s a new concept for the cookbook world but at the same time we are teaching children a lot of things through storybooks. Why not baking or cooking?

Q: What makes MIMI’S ADVENTURES IN BAKING so unique?

Alyssa Gangeri: MIMI’S ADVENTURES IN BAKING is the first ever storybook cookbook. No more boring procedures, no more long lists of ingredients. Now a child can follow along and do what Mimi does. This book series incorporates not just learning how to bake but also counting, measuring, and following directions. Baking can be an intimidating craft but with the right instructions it’s fun and easy! With only one recipe per book the focus is no longer on flipping through countless recipes. The focus returns to the actual art of baking and learning. Even for the parent that swears they are a horrible baker, I promise this book can make a baker out of anyone! Plus, it’s a fun interactive activity for an adult and child to enjoy together. Who doesn’t like playing with food?

Q: Is the character, Mimi, based on a real-life person?

Alyssa Gangeri: Mimi is inspired by my childhood growing up learning how to bake in my grandparents’ kitchen. My relationship with all of my grandparents inspired my career as a Pastry Chef so it was only natural for me to gravitate towards bringing Mimi to life in a storybook format. 

Q: How do you engage your readers—both children and adults—into the story and desire to bake cookies? Did you do research or testing to assure that children would be interested?

Alyssa Gangeri: Being a Pastry Chef that has competed on the Food Network I realized how deeply interested people were in my career and cooking in general. Desserts are a celebration and should be enjoyed with others, but many people do not know the basics of baking. The basics allows you to become creative in the kitchen, but without them the world of baking can be rather intimidating. The amount of cooking shows, cooking classes and even children’s cooking classes that have blossomed over the past couple years really inspired me to write this book series.

The desire to learn the craft is there. Children want to do what their parents do. They want to watch the shows their parents watch. It was only a matter of time before children’s cooking competition shows arose. I knew the desire was there, I just had to figure out a way that was like nothing else out there. As a chef you try and relate to your diners, you try and figure out what drives them to eat what they eat, and dine where they dine.

I spent a lot of time working with kids and adults to inspire my publishing path. I believe this type of book has the potential to change the world of children’s cookbooks. You have to relate to a child, you have to get on their level and figure out what drives them to learn. I hope MIMI’S ADVENTURES IN BAKING does just that.

Q: How important are the illustrations? Did you conceive the story first followed by the illustrations?

Alyssa Gangeri: I believe the illustrations to any children’s book is a crucial part. Illustrations are the initial selling point to any child. If they are not drawn to the character or the illustrations you lost them before they even read the book.

 For this type of book I knew the illustrations were going to be difficult because there is so much information being given throughout the book. After writing the book I spent a lot of time with my illustrator to ensure everything was right even down to how the tools looked, or how her hand sweeps across the cup of flour. Illustrating a procedure takes time, and a lot of attention to detail, but in the end I am thrilled with how Chiara brought my words to life. Trusting your illustrator is a major part of this process. They see things differently than writers do, and I was very happy with her vision.

Q: Did you write MIMI’S ADVENTURES IN BAKING to entertain your reader, to educate, to teach them how to make cookies? Or did you want to deliver a message?

Alyssa Gangeri: I wrote MIMI’S ADVENTURES IN BAKING as an alternative learning tool that was fun at the same time. Baking is fun, and I wanted reading and learning how to bake to be just as fun. The goal always was for the child to gain confidence in the kitchen and become the chef, and the adult the assistant. Not only are they learning how to bake but they are also learning self-confidence, measuring, counting, and most importantly how to follow directions. I think that if you can learn without even realizing you’re learning you have accomplished a lot. To me it’s all about having fun while you learn! 

Q: Do you enjoy writing? What else have you written?

Alyssa Gangeri: I genuinely enjoyed writing this book. This is my first book, and first of the series and I could not be happier with it. It was a difficult learning curve for me because I am a chef, and I am always working with my hands creating things. This was a whole different way to work with my hands, but I had a lot of fun doing it. If I can inspire children to bake and enjoy being in the kitchen I’ve done my job.

Q: What do you believe are the most important elements of a children’s story?

Alyssa Gangeri: I think the most important elements of a children’s story is the relatability. Children want to feel comfortable and relate to the characters. I think without that it becomes difficult to keep them engaged.

Q: What’s next? Will Mimi go on other adventures?

Alyssa Gangeri: Mimi has a lot of adventures ahead! The second book in the series is due out in late 2015 where Mimi will make a sweet treat for her allergy ridden friend. I am very excited about this second book because food allergies are so apparent now.  I believe it is very important for kids to not only be aware of them, but to be knowledgeable about these unfortunate allergies that affect so many. Mimi also will be venturing into some savory treats as well! She is a busy little bee!

Q: Tell us about Alyssa Gangeri? What do you like to do when you’re not on an adventure with Mimi?

Alyssa Gangeri: When I am not on adventures with my favorite little girl I am baking specialty birthday cakes, wedding cakes and pasties. I have a boutique cake business in New York City called AllyCakesNYC as well as a restaurant on Roosevelt Island, Riverwalk Bar and Grill. I love cooking because it’s a profession that allows you to be creative every day. Although, when I am not in the kitchen I love to spend my free time in Central Park with my Jack Russell Terrier, Rudy, which you can also find him roaming around Mimi’s Adventures in Baking.

About Alyssa Gangeri

Chef Alyssa has been baking since she was a little girl in her grandmother's kitchen. Since graduating from the Culinary Institute of America she has worked for famous chefs and elite companies such as the Ritz Carlton, Tom Colicchio, Norman Van Aken and Gray Kunz. She currently is the Executive Chef at Riverwalk Bar and Grill on the Historic nook of New York City, Roosevelt Island. She also has a boutique custom cake company called AllyCakesNYC where she creates cakes to appease the imagination. Through her journey of baking she developed Mimi, her very own miniature version of herself.
As a child she loved baking and everything that came with it. As an adult and food lover she realized there was something missing when she frequented bookstores. An interactive children's cookbook. And we are not talking about a boring old cookbook for kids with lots and lots of recipes, and some pictures. Children these days have just as much interest in the kitchen as their parents do, but the ordinary cookbook is just not going to cut it. She created MIMI’S ADVENTURES IN BAKING to give children and adults a way to get into the kitchen and allow the child to become the chef and the adult the assistant. Each book has one recipe and an interactive storyline the child can read, and at the end go into the kitchen and do what Mimi did!  And for the "non-baking" parent, these elite pastry chef recipes are tested and ready for even the most inexperienced baker! Impress other moms with Mimi's creations!
MIMI’S ADVENTURES IN BAKING will also teach children how to measure, mix and bake their way through the kitchen while also giving safety tips along the way. No more boring cookbooks! Now there is a fun, exciting and educational way to learn how to bake!

MIMI’S ADVENTURES IN BAKING is the first storybook cookbook that creates a fun and interactive way of learning how to bake. Follow Mimi as she learns to measure, mix and bake her way to her very first batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Learning how to bake can be easy and fun with Mimi!

Navigating your way through a kitchen full of tools, ingredients and of course safety measures are brought to life in this storybook cookbook. No more flipping through endless recipes and boring procedures. Mimi makes baking fun for the whole family. Let your child take control and become the chef they always wanted to be!

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