Local Chef & Influencer Kat Ashmore Talks Cookbook Debut

above: Kat Ashmore of Kat Can Cook  eating her Even Fudgier Avocado Brownies – Photographs: Christine Han photography

Samantha Yanks: Kat, it’s so much fun to be reunited for our second interview and to discuss your debut book, Big Bites: Wholesome, Comforting Recipes That Are Big on Flavor, Nourishment, and Fun: A Cookbook, (Rodale Books). Congratulations. What is the inspiration behind it?

Kat Ashmore: It’s great to be back together, Samantha. This book is “healthy food” for food lovers, and the word “healthy” is not used in the restrictive sense but in an abundant sense where we return to seasonal simplicity with a modern twist.

I waited years to write a cookbook because I wanted to feel like I was adding to the conversation, and not just writing a book to write a book. It became clear to me that many home cooks want to cook and eat better, not go on a diet, but just know how to whip up creative, reliable recipes that are nutritionally dense. This is a book for all of us who have felt left behind by the restrictive-wellness mindset, for those of us whose diet may not fit under a label, and who want to eat well, feel good, and have fun doing it.

left: Barbecue Ranch Chopped Salad. right: Kat munchin’ on the Tuscan Kale Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing.

SY: You are so open in your journey with food on all of your platforms. With over 2.3M followers, what really went viral are your “Hungry Lady Salads” on TikTok. Tell us how those came about?

KA: I’d love to say that the first Hungry Lady Salad was a carefully executed strategy, but the truth is that I casually called my Tuscan Kale Salad with Lemon Tahini Vinaigrette (one of the fan favorite salads that is also in my cookbook) a Hungry Lady Salad because it is a true meal-in-a-bowl, and will leave you feeling satisfied.

The response to that recipe video was so strong ­— I think it has 12 million views on social media at this point — that I recognized there was a real need for this kind of approach. I threw out my entire content plan for the rest of January 2020 and said “OK, looks like we are making this a series.”

SY: I have had the pleasure of working with Katie Couric several times, and I remember I saw her on Instagram saying she was making one of your Hungry Lady Salads and I sent it to you because it was so much fun to see. Then she ended up writing a blurb for your book. How did that come about?

KA: That was a pretty great day. When I saw she had been following me and shared the recipe I saw an alignment and opportunity, so I reached out to her over DMs. You miss all the shots you don’t take, and when I see a window, I jump. I was thrilled she was open to receiving my book transcript, and she was incredibly kind and gracious to support it with an endorsement. What an honor.

The cover of Big Bites: Wholesome, Comforting Recipes That Are Big on Flavor, Nourishment, and Fun: A Cookbook

SY: Your recipes really appeal to home cooks looking for healthy but comforting and abundant ideas. This first book amasses 110 simple, nourishing, mostly gluten-free recipes that are big on flavor and reimagine the concept of “healthy food.” How did you pick?

KA: That’s exactly it, Samantha! I wanted this book to be a total meal solution for readers … a book they could turn to again and again, whether they needed a quick family dinner on a Tuesday, a reliable gluten-free bread recipe, or a celebration cake for a birthday. I spent time rethinking familiar dishes and flavors in a new way, as I often do, from French Deviled Eggs that are brightened with a lemony yogurt sauce and capers or The Ultimate Meatloaf with Horseradish and Caramelized Onions. I love coming up with creative takes on familiar concepts.

SY: Your goal is to have fun, bring joy to cooking and empower hungry readers with solutions and ideas versus restriction or deprivation. How did that become the Kat Can Cook mission?

KA: I saw a vacancy in the world of “healthy” food. There are plenty of places to go if someone is strictly vegan, keto, paleo and the like, but not many places to go if you don’t fit into a box and simply want to eat well. I also saw us veering further and further away from classic techniques, and wanted to invite a return to them in a joyful, non-intimidating way. Ultimately, I am here to solve the problem of what to make when you’re uninspired, and what to eat when you love food and also want to feel great.

left: Snow Day Beef and Vegtable Stew with Pasta. right: Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Salted Maple Frrosting.

SY: From weeknight meals to Sunday suppers and breakfast ideas to Hungry Lady Salads, what can we expect of the 110 recipes in your first cookbook.

KA: You can expect accessible, streamlined techniques and big, abundant flavors, textures and visuals. Every recipe is full of personality, and will make you feel accomplished and proud to serve it.

SY: You’re a resident of Fairfield County, as I am, and adore our local farmers, growers and producers. How does seasonality and nature weave into your recipes, given the bounty we have here?

KA: It is central to my recipe development and my personal style of eating. I let what is happening outside my kitchen dictate what is happening inside my kitchen. Nothing can inspire me like going to a farmer’s market or a farm and speaking with the growers and purveyors. The story-telling, wisdom, and passion is contagious.

I always tell people, if you want to know about food, don’t ask a chef. Ask a farmer.

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