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How we, science graduates, published an award-winning cookbook!

“You have a science background! What made you write a cookbook? How did you get it published?” These are questions Meghana and I are often asked since we published Roomies/Foodies in Dec 2015. Although part of it is covered in the book, in this piece I revisit all the thoughts, moments and experiences that went behind the pages of Roomies/Foodies.

On a sunny afternoon of late 2009 in Bangalore, the aroma of dishes prepared using coconut oil in our traditional Kerala way, filled our home. Ashwin, my husband, and I were getting ready to welcome our good old friends, Meghana (Meg) and Ashish. Meg was my roommate back during our graduate student days (2001) in Buffalo, USA, and we were meeting nearly four years after Ashwin and I moved out of Buffalo. That meeting brought back nostalgic memories especially of our friends, food, and the all fun we had. We laughed and laughed, and in that light moment, the idea of compiling our culinary adventures as student cooks started taking shape in our minds.

However, the idea remained in our minds for a while as we were busy with our lives- Meg was a working mom, and I was in a challenging life phase, dealing with failed infertility treatments! A few months down the lane, I quit my dream job as a drug discovery researcher. Ashwin and I moved back to my home town in Kerala, to focus on starting a family. Through the loving support of both our families, choice of the right hospital, and efforts combined with patience, I conceived our baby.

The springing of our first child’s life in me brought immense hope and positivity within me. This fuelled my creativity, bringing out a hidden potential as a writer. During this time, I wrote parts of Roomies/Foodies, which I forwarded to Meg. Her reply came almost instantaneously and I quote her words from that email; “Hey Lux! I'm all fired up about the cookbook :) pun intended :) Started to compile 'em……Think of some cool titles, howz this: 1) Cooking for F.R.I.E.N.D.S by Meg and Lux 2) Roomies Foodies 3) The Student's Guide to Eating Well Without Compromising a 4.0 GPA (Something shorter to this effect)….Let's get this rolling!”

Well, that was it!! ROOMIES/FOODIES WAS BORN!

How our scientific training helped in writing a cookbook!

Due to our scientific training, Meg and I were quite adept at creating a strategy and structure for the book before we started writing. Meg also had considerable experience in technical writing by then. This really helped us coordinate our efforts over phone and Skype and write the book without even meeting each other in person. First we defined the following:

1. Target audience & Content- We decided to write a memoir-cookbook with a maximum of 60 recipes, each introduced through a short, witty anecdote behind the creation of the recipe. We defined the target audience as Indian graduate students going abroad or novice cooks! To be precise, (in a funny way) ‘culinarily challenged’ individuals. 2. Uniqueness- We decided that the book will be written as a ‘survival guide’ with not only funny anecdotes from our student life introducing our recipes, but also provide all necessary information such as grocery lists, cooking terms, cooking utensils, what to pack in your suitcase when you travel abroad for the first time as students, how cooking helps to save your bucks, how to eat green and stay healthy, and highlight 'reduce, reuse and recycle' in cooking to prevent food wastage. 3. Documentation- We decided on a naming convention for our documents, including how to name updated versions. We also created the following documents which helped in consistent and coordinated efforts from the beginning: a) record of all changes and updates, b) style guide for fonts and abbreviations, c) props and situation guide for food photography, d) a shared online platform to record and store pictures, e) phone meeting minutes, f) appendix for often repeated cooking procedures and g) glossary of cooking terms and utensils

Science and cooking

I still remember how Meg taught me how to cook white rice in a pot or pressure cooker (Yes, I had no clue how to cook when I reached the US as a student, even to make a cup of tea or coffee!). She never measured the rice or water, instead she would stick a finger in the pot touching the top of the rice and when the water level touches the first furrow of her finger she would stop. And then cook the rice. It always worked. Since I learned to cook mainly from her and our other roommate Geet, I also learned to rely on proportions rather than measures. As we couldn’t afford many ingredients, being students, we also learned to cook with what we had, often leading to new inventions in our ‘kitchen lab’.

Once I picked up the basic steps in cooking, I started loving and enjoying it, especially because I could connect it to science. In cooking you follow a recipe, while in science you follow a protocol, and both allows for innovation!

How we got our book published

With our strategies and a deadline to work towards completing the book, which was my delivery date, Meg and I worked hard to finish up the book writing in a few months. Then we started pitching to various publishers through mail. Very soon, we realized that writing was the easiest part of getting a book out, while the most challenging part was to get it published. Also, our busier lives with kids and multiple relocations made it tough to get the focus on publishing.

However, our excellent teamwork, mutual support, taking responsibilities when the other is pressed for time, really helped us persist towards publishing. In fact we both were fiercely persistent and hardworking! We considered and discussed several options including self-publishing. We kept our eyes and ears open and therefore heard of the new crowd-sourced publishing platform called ‘Bloody Good Book’. As this was the venture of a very noted and best-selling author Rashmi Bansal, we decided to take the plunge and submitted our manuscript. Our book received 99 positive crowd reviews and was selected for publication in the non-fiction category.

Roomies/Foodies journey this far

We had our book launch at the LitVenture event in Mumbai in Dec2015 and in Singapore at the Singapore Community of Indian Ladies (SCIL) event in May 2016. Roomies/Foodies is available as an e-book, print version and an App. The print version is also available in select book stores in Pune (Pagdandi), India, and Singapore (Books Actually, Tiong Bahru). Within few weeks of Roomies/foodies being available on Amazon, the book received #1 Bestseller title in its category. The book also received the 2016 Runner-Up Award at the “Publishing Next Industry Awards” under the category of Best Digital Books. Roomies/Foodies has been featured on several blogs, Mint newspaper and University at Buffalo, Alumni Magazine.

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