Agata Antonow is a writer living in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She has a background in educational and marketing writing and currently works for a storytelling company.
When not writing, Agata says she loves cooking and baking, especially homemade pizza and new-to-her dishes.
Tell me a little about your writing background.
I’ve been writing since the early 2000s. I started with marketing and educational writing, and I still do that a little. For the past five years, I've been an executive editor at Round Table Companies, a storytelling company.
Do you have access to a lot of local food in Montreal?
With our city still affected by COVID, I have been a little hesitant to head into the crowds of the local farmer’s market, so imagine my excitement when I discovered a Saturday stall near me. Each week, I buy fresh local vegetables, fruit, and eggs. This being a French area, you can imagine the cheese and the fresh butter. We recently bought a round of chevre cheese that was just a little cloud of flavor on homemade bread. And the fresh local garlic at the summer market was as juicy as an apple when I sliced into it. We roasted it and added it to salads.
Do you believe that being a writer helps you enjoy or appreciate food more?
I am convinced being a writer lets me enjoy food more, and I think it comes down to language. When we use words to communicate with others, we’re also communicating with ourselves. Describe a dish as “nice” and it’s sure to seem blah, no matter how lovely it looks on a plate. But when we use words to describe the curve of the grey plate, the interplay of flavors—we relive the experience in words.
I also think food is a bookish sort of passion. So many cookbooks and memoirs of chefs out there, beautifully written menus, bound books of hand-printed recipes. And many writers were known to be excellent cooks. Emily Brontë was known for her bread-baking skills. Emily Dickinson would lower a basket of cookies and cakes to children playing near her home. Lucy Maud Montgomery was known for her cooking, too.
Do you have any favorite food books/cookbooks you enjoy?
One my favorite cookbooks is The CanLit Cookbook (compiled and illustrated by Margaret Atwood). This is a cookbook meant to be taken with a grain of salt. To give you a taste, one of the recipes, “Greg Gatenby Lo-Cal, High-Risk Breakfast Plan,” lists among the ingredients “1 clock radio, classical music, half a loaf whole wheat bread,” among other items. The book is full of recipes from Canadian writers and Atwood’s family, along with snippets of Canadian prose and poetry.
Another book I thoroughly enjoyed was The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden (by William Alexander). This book details how Alexander decided to grow his own food. The descriptions of dishes are as fun as his encounters with surly contractors, grumpy possums, and determined groundhogs.
Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen and More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen should be required reading for any food writer. Essays and recipes in one, the chapters of these books are hilarious, touching, and helped me grow as a home cook.
Do you have any favorite food writers, chefs, food TV shows, etc.?
I enjoy Laura Vitale’s online channel, Laura in the Kitchen, and I love In Ania’s Kitchen for childhood-familiar Polish recipes. For healthy fare, Sadia Badiei is wonderful, with a focus on whole vegan foods. Madeline Thien writes fiction about food and kitchens as a way of connecting with family and culture.
Where do you turn for great food or food inspiration?
The Internet is perhaps the handiest and fastest way to find inspiration. A simpler way is to start with a good farmer’s market. I show up and see what is delicious and ripe and build a dish or meal around that.
Memories of my late father in the kitchen continues to be an endless source of inspiration. He grew up with four younger sisters on a farm and was the first person who taught me to cook. Polish foods: pierogi, cabbage rolls, beet soup, pickle soup, even homemade mayonnaise were foods he’d make, sometimes with my assistance.
I watched him muddle strawberries with sugar and stir in cream or I’d watch him make green beans with butter and breadcrumbs and even as a child I could sense some artistry in the way simple ingredients combined together to create a special dish.
If my father was my first teacher and source of inspiration, books were second. When I was ten or so, I discovered Lucy Maud Montgomery and her books. Someone always had the kettle on and the kitchen was bustling with food preparation in her stories.
My bookstore had cookbooks based on Anne of Green Gables, and these became the first cookbooks I bought and used. Reading about women’s lives in Edwardian Canada made me want to cook, and even today reading a beautiful passage in a book can send me to the grocery store and the kitchen.
How/What do you eat/snack when on deadline?
I love apples or berries. Any sort of fruit, really. And I love apples smeared with peanut butter. Of course, when the deadline seems to be rushing at me too fast and the words don’t come, I want chocolate. Cake, cookies, bars studded with almonds. The medium matters less than the message of caffeine and cacao.
Anything you’d like to add about being a writer who loves food?
One of the things I crave hearing from writers (and anyone who’s willing to talk about it, really) is how food has shown up in their lives. Food is so linked to our memories, cultures, and pasts.
There are the dishes linked to a place long since left. A few years ago, my husband and I traveled to Poland, where we got to sample pierogi and sausages and vodka in the city where I was born. With a few bites, a line was drawn between us in that moment and the many ancestors who have passed through before us, but who live on every Christmas when I make “our” family’s Christmas barszcz (beet soup) and uszki (mushroom and cabbage pierogi).
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