With a career that has spanned twenty years and counting, Saskatoon’s Renee Kohlman has worn many hats in the culinary world over two decades. More recently, the pastry chef has taken a shift from the kitchen to home where we creates interesting recipes for a mix of newspapers, magazines and companies like Canadian Lentils. Her debut cookbook, All the Sweet Things, was published a couple months ago and Kohlman still can’t seem to believe all the success and attention her book continues to receive from the public. Likely because everything inside looks delicious.
Sitting in the elegant and homey Alforno Bakery here in Calgary, eating a plate of fluffy pancakes, the chef and author opes up about her life journey and the experience of writing a book for the first time.
What was your relationship with baking when you were a child? Have you always known you wanted this to be your career?
I was always in the kitchen with my mom baking cookies and brownies. It took me a while to figure out I wanted this career, but the fact is that I was always very creative. I studied at the University of Saskatchewan and eventually realized [I wanted a change]. So, I lived for some time in Montreal, and I noticed how much I loved cooking and hosting dinner parties for my friends. I then moved to Edmonton, enrolled in the Culinary program at NAIT in 1997 and did their two-year program, which gave me the basis for my career.
What was your first job?
I was babysitting when I was 11 or 12 years old. I was also a bus girl, but I wasn’t really good at that job. I was always breaking dishes and spilling coffee. Haha! After that, I was also a receptionist at a hair salon, working mostly on Saturdays during high school.
What were some of the most important lessons or skills you have gained from those first jobs?
The most important skill these jobs taught me was social interaction. Knowing how to interact with other people. I think, that’s one of the basic skills everyone should possess, and it’s important in every employment.
What was the first culinary skill that you mastered?
Baking cookies!…Cookies, cakes and brownies that I would then share with my friends. I also learned early on how to make really good soup.
Sometimes I make chocolate mousse and garnish it with pretty edible flowers. Recipe coming soon! #chocolate #mousse #magic . . . . . . #fbcigers #feedfeed #thebakefeed #thekitchn #tastespotting #dessert #pursuepretty #thehappynow #bakersofinstagram #recipedevelopment #eatingfortheinsta #eatdessertfirst #yum #foodphotography #foodstagram
What has been the biggest challenge in your career thus far?
Once, when I was working as a caterer, I made a turkey Thanksgiving dinner for a thousand people at a mining company! That was crazy, but writing the cookbook was the biggest challenge so far. Touchwood Editions contacted me in February 2015. I remember, I just gave my notice at my old job at that time. It was a huge risk, because I did not have any other job to go to.
Three days later, I got an email from Touchwood Editions. They said, “If you ever think about writing a cookbook, we like your stuff and we should chat.” I get goose bumps talking about this story even today. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was afternoon, I was making tea, the snow was coming down and suddenly I heard a ding on my phone. I had to sit down and read the email several times, because I could not believe my own eyes. I called my mom right away. Everything after that went so fast.
What would be your advice for people that want to write their own cookbooks?
Writing a cookbook is a very expensive project even though it might not seem that way. You have to test all the recipes several times. So you have to make sure you are financially stable before you launch the project. I worked very hard the summer of 2015 to make sure I had enough savings for the time I would take writing. Testing the recipes is a crucial part of publishing a successful cookbook. I had around 25 recipe testers all across Canada. You have to make sure that people in your tester group have a variety of skill levels. I had professional pastry chefs, home cooks, and friends who had never baked much before. Also, I tested each recipe myself at least three times.
How did the name All the Sweet Things come up?
You know, that name came to me almost right away. I have always known I wanted to write a baking book because dessert pictures are very attractive and eye-catching to people. I had some recipes in my mind even before a publisher contacted me. You know, “all the sweet things” that my mom used to make when I was child, and my own recipes as well!
Where do you see yourself in your career 10 years from now?
Working in a kitchen is very physically demanding, everyone knows that. I’ve been cooking for 20 years now, so I’m trying to ease my way out of the kitchen. I want to work on more recipe development and more food writing and maybe I’ll write another book about vegetables. I’m dating a lovely vegetable farmer right now. So, maybe we’ll write a book together – Our Vegetable Love Story. Ha, ha! Also, I want to do more travelling across Canada.