“I’ve always had a great love of food, and I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that embraced that, and where good food was always something that happened,” says Gwendolyn Richards.
Growing up in Vancouver, Richards was greatly influenced by her stepfather, who, as a cab driver, worked nights, and would make curries from scratch and full roast beef dinners midweek. Her grandfather was sixth generation Italian- Canadian and also a very enthusiastic cook; they would make pesto and pasta together from a very young age.
An A/B+ student all through high school, Richards rejected math and calculus for a writing major, and studied at UVic, signing up for co-op and working at a variety of different newspapers. After graduation, she hired herself out as a fill-in editor for small newspapers, parachuting in so they could take vacation or medical leave.
A year teaching English in Japan followed, before a Masters in Journalism at UBC, which provided an opportunity to connect with major dailies. After a contract with the Globe and Mail, Richards applied at the Calgary Herald, and was brought in on a six-month contract with no guarantee of employment. “12 years later and I’m still here,” she laughs. “I was hired as a news reporter, and then transferred to the cop desk.”
With shift work, she had a lot of free time during the day when working nights, and in 2007, decided to start a food blog, ‘Patent and the Pantry’. It occupied her day and also provided a creative outlet, combining her love of food and cooking, and her passion for photography.
“I would make recipes and post them and do little personal essays,” she says, until she wrote up her week with her little sister to find the best burger in the area. The Herald ran the story and actively encouraged her to write more. When their food writer left five years ago, she took over the position.
“And the funny thing is that I hesitated because I was afraid I would miss the news,” she says.
Richards relentlessly pushes herself, and decided to write a cookbook without taking any time off work. She took all the photos herself and tested recipes through the night. Since its release in November last year, ‘Pucker’ has sold more than 4,000 copies.
So what bottle is Richards saving for a special occasion?
In 2012, a friend invited her for Thanksgiving, and knew bourbon was her drink but didn’t know anything about it. The liquor store recommended St. George Breaking & Entering, a blend of bourbons from different distillers.
“At the end of the night, I decided that I should buy a bottle,” says Richards. “I went to Kensington Wine Market and asked for Breaking & Entering, and they had special bottles that they had handselected and had bottled exclusively for them, from one barrel. It was a celebration bottle, so I bought it.”
And when is she planning to open that bottle?
“I thought I’ll open it when I hand in my manuscript for Pucker, and I didn’t,” says Richards. “And then I said ‘I will open this when I hand in the photos’, and I didn’t. I will open this when I do the first edits, and I didn’t. I will open this when I get the book, and I didn’t. It’s still unopened and I’m not sure when I’ll open it because in the interim, Saint George spirits has stopped making it.”
She adds, “If I couldn’t even do it when I handed in my book manuscript, I’m not really sure what’s going to top that. It’s now become a floating target that I just keep pushing back. When it’s gone it’s really gone!”