Not Just a Novelist: Louise Miller, Pastry Chef
Food and books make a great pairing, and some authors know how to do it right. Louise Miller writes charming fiction filled with community and cooking, starting with her debut, The City Baker's Guide to Country Living. (Another piece of apple pie, please!) My book club read and discussed Louise's first book, and one of our members even baked Louise's delicious cookies. As it turns out Louise Miller is not only an author. She's also a pastry chef. In her latest book,The Late Bloomers' Club, Louise returns to Guthrie, Vermont. And just as a kitchen is often the hub of a household, in Guthrie, a diner serves as the center of the community. Oh, and there's cake. Louise was kind enough to answer some questions about being a pastry chef-slash-author.
Jennifer Klepper: This is a really basic question, but what exactly is a pastry chef?
Louise Miller: I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that before! A pastry chef is a cook whose focus is on making desserts. The staff at the place where I work (a private club in Boston) is so small that my job includes almost everything baked—desserts for the dining room, muffins for breakfast baskets, cornbread or biscuits or choux puffs for the chefs to include in their dishes. Basically if it requires measurement, the job goes to me.
JK: Does being a pastry chef present any particular challenges to being a novelist? How do you handle those?
LM: The only challenge is my schedule. Our busiest season is fall into the holidays. I black-out my book-events calendar for the entire month of December—I can never escape the kitchen during the Christmas season! But luckily the flow of my job is pretty predictable, and our summers are quiet, so I can count on the slow times to write and work on promoting the novels.
JK: Food and cooking have figured prominently in your books. Does writing inspire your baking or vice versa...or both?
LM: I love life In the kitchen, and I was very excited to share that love and experience with readers in my first book, The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living. And my love of diners inspired the setting of The Late Bloomers’ Club. Cooking and eating are such fundamental parts of our lives—I love to write scenes where food is playing a role, either right up front or humming in the background. One of my favorite scenes in The Late Bloomers’ Club is when two characters are baking a cake together while talking about difficulties they are having. What surprised me is how much writing changed my relationship to baking. Writing invites you to pay close attention to the details. As I was writing The City Baker’s Guide, I found myself slowing down at work, and being more mindful of the baking process. Writing about baking made work a pleasure in a way that it hadn’t been in awhile, and it sparked my creativity in the kitchen.
JK: What superpowers as a writer do you have because of your training and experience as a pastry chef?
LM: More than I would have thought! Pastry chefs have to be good at multi-tasking and keeping track of million things at once. At any given moment I will have something in the oven, something simmering on the stove and at the same time I will be scooping out cookie dough or rolling out piecrusts. Writing a novel takes the same kind of attention, and the ability to juggle story lines and characters is just like juggling projects in the kitchen. But probably the most helpful thing I have learned while being a pastry chef is how to work with feedback and to take criticism. When I am developing a recipe, I relay on the chefs to taste what I am working on and to give me suggestions on how to make it better. I really believe that working in a kitchen trained me to work with my agent and editors.
JK: If you could do a Freaky Friday swap with someone for a week to try out a different job, what (or who) would that be?
LM: That is an easy one—I would go work on a flower farm. I have always felt a yearning to grow things and to work outside, and I dream of someday having a little farm where I grow flowers and keep dairy goats and make goat’s milk treats and sell bouquets.
JK: That sounds very Vermont :) Ok, last question! It seems impossible to separate you as an author from the looks, scents, and tastes of delectable food, and the literary possibilities are endless. Is there a cookbook in the works? Any new book-food fusion surprises we can look forward to?
LM: No cookbooks, but I will never say never! But I do think food will wind it’s way into my next novel. How could it not?
You can learn more about Louise and her books here. Sign up for her newsletter and you might just receive some delectable recipes in your inbox.
Louise Miller is a writer and pastry chef living in Boston, MA. Her debut novel, THE CITY BAKER’S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING was selected as an Indie Next pick by the American Booksellers Association, a Library Reads pick by Librarians across the U.S., and was shortlisted by the America Library Association’s Reading List Council for best women’s fiction in 2017. Her 2nd novel, THE LATE BLOOMERS’ CLUB, was published in July 2018. In addition to baking and writing, Louise is an art school dropout, an amateur flower gardener, an old-time banjo player, an obsessive moviegoer, and a champion of old dogs.