February 23, 2024
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February 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

A Conversation With Elizabeth L. Mandelbaum And Dr. Alyssa D. Berlin, Authors of ‘Plated’

(Courtesy of Artscroll)

Elizabeth, can you tell readers a little about your background and culinary philosophy?

Throughout high school I was very focused on living a clean and healthy lifestyle, emphasizing exercise and healthy food. I found that too many recipes online or in cookbooks consisted of ingredients that were unhealthy, or steps that were time consuming and complicated.

When I got married, I began experimenting in the kitchen with different foods, creating and developing my own recipes to be yummy, flavorful, simple and healthy at the same time. I started a food blog about five years ago just for fun, and to my surprise it took off! I got numerous requests to cook for people. Since my recipes were healthy and allergy friendly, many of them gluten free and vegan friendly, so many people were asking me to cook for them. Although I had never contemplated that idea, I decided to give it a try. I fell in love and became a full-time personal chef and food blogger.

Alyssa, how about you?

I am a psychologist by profession, but my passion for cooking and experimenting with food has led me to become a self-trained chef, foodie and cookbook author. My culinary philosophy revolves around exploring new flavors, textures and fusion cuisine, as well as creating beautiful plating for a memorable dining experience. While in graduate school, the kitchen was my sanctuary, where I bonded with my husband, connected with friends and expanded my culinary skills. We hosted Shabbat dinners for singles and attended various cooking classes together. As a mother, my focus has shifted to finding kitchen shortcuts and hacks to create fast, flavorful and impressive dishes that fit my busy life.

Alyssa, that you’re a psychologist. How did your training and experience affect this book?

As a perinatal psychologist working with growing families, I believe in the importance of creativity and flexibility when adjusting to parenthood. I started recognizing the synergy between my profession and my passion for cooking, which led me to develop the concept of Therapeutic Cooking. This approach aims to reduce stress and improve mental well-being through cooking and baking, either independently or as a complement to traditional therapy. By incorporating Therapeutic Cooking into my practice, I’ve helped clients explore emotions, develop mindfulness and gain control over their eating habits. The book reflects this unique blend of culinary art and psychological insight, with a focus on calm cooking and healthy, flavorful and easy-to-make recipes that also nourish the mind and soul.

Calm cooking? What’s that about?

Calm cooking is our philosophy towards the kitchen. It is a way of approaching cooking that emphasizes mindfulness, simplicity and relaxation. It involves taking a more leisurely approach to the cooking process, allowing yourself to fully engage with the task at hand and savor the experience of preparing food.

One of the things that brought us together was our shared belief in having fun in the kitchen! We both approach cooking as a fun and exciting experiment. It doesn’t have to be so serious or so precise. Don’t like cilantro? Swap it for parsley!

We emphasize the importance of being present in the moment while cooking, paying attention to the smells, sounds and sensations of the cooking process. This can help you to feel more grounded and centered, and enhance the fun factor.

You will feel our calm cooking philosophy throughout “Plated”: we simplify the cooking process by using fewer ingredients and simpler techniques. “Plated” will help reduce your stress and overwhelm in the kitchen, and will make cooking a more enjoyable and relaxing experience.

How did the two of you “find” each other? How did the collaboration work?

Alyssa and I have known each other for a while. We share common cooking strategies and flavors! One of the things that really connected us was our “something for everyone” philosophy! We both never host a meal without thinking about everyone who will be at the table. We are passionate that everyone eating in our homes finds wonderful things to eat regardless of taste or dietary needs or preferences. We made sure we translated this passion into “Plated” by including tips for tweaking recipes to accommodate various dietary needs.
We view our readers as guests. Just like everyone who comes to our table will find something to eat—everyone who picks up our book will have something (many things!) to cook!

What makes “Plated” so different from other cookbooks?

“Plated” is unique because unlike most cookbooks that give you separate sections of proteins, carbs and vegetables, “Plated” gives you a fully composed meal, with all the necessary elements. “Plated” pairs flavors and foods for you, helping to structure your meal. And not only do we compose meals, we plate them as well! With the perfect puree, garnish and sauces, and the simplest plating instructions, “Plated” teaches you how to cook and present the perfect meal.

This unique format is where “calm cooking” shines through—removing the stress from cooking. One of the stressful aspects of cooking for most people is deciding what to make, creating a menu or organizing a meal. We de-stress that for you by composing the meals. For example, a recipe for pecan crusted chicken (yum!) is paired with recipes for a complementary starch, a sweet potato mash; a vegetable, sauteed broccolini and a tangy mustard sauce, all on the same page. This approach simplifies meal planning but also allows for plenty of creativity in the kitchen, as readers can experiment with different combinations of dishes and flavors. Overall, “Plated”’s unique organization of recipes and focus on complete meals and composed plates make it a convenient and stress-free option for those who want to enjoy delicious, “calm cooked” meals at home without the hassle of meal planning and endless grocery shopping.

The food photos are gorgeous. Who designed and photographed them?

Our food photographer, Marina Moward, is an incredible food stylist and photographer. We handed her the food with an idea or concept of how we wanted it served and she created an image that was just so perfect, so magical and brought the photos to life! She understood our mindset and style and did the best job!

Can you tell us a little about the process of recipe development?

Some of the recipes in the book were dishes we’ve been making for our friends and families for years. We knew they would be a hit and perfect for the book because of all the positive feedback those recipes have gotten. Some of the recipes were actually created on the spot! Elizabeth’s focus on simple and accessible recipes emphasizes the practical and functional side of cooking. On the other hand, Alyssa’s focus on uniqueness and presentation represents creativity, aesthetics and experimentation. Together, we balance these two elements to create recipes that are both approachable and visually appealing. By combining our strengths and perspectives, we’ve created a cohesive cookbook that speaks to a wide range of readers who value both simplicity and creativity in their cooking.

Any fun disaster stories?

Not all-out disaster stories, but there was definitely a need to go with the flow on many occasions. When Alyssa is working with new moms, she often tells them that each new baby comes with two new best friends—creativity and flexibility—which is a great reminder and equally applies to the home cook.

Let’s just say there was more than one moment of having to be creative and flexible and think on our feet—but those make for some of the most unexpected and best flavor combos. We will leave it to the reader to guess which recipes were the result of these spontaneous and fun kitchen moments.

Any great serendipity stories?

Our meeting was the most serendipitous, and is a testament to the power of unexpected connections. Years ago, Alyssa was Elizabeth’s teacher, but we lost touch over time. That is, until Alyssa stumbled upon Elizabeth’s Instagram page and was immediately struck by her style and the content she was producing. Alyssa reached out to Elizabeth to see if she was interested in partnering up to write a cookbook together. As we began to work together, we realized that we shared a philosophy, an approach to cooking and flavors that complemented the two of us perfectly.

Tough question: Alyssa and Elizabeth, what are your favorite recipes?

Elizabeth: Definitely a tough question! I love so many different ones but I would have to say—the salads! I love a good salad and we have too many good ones to choose one!

Alyssa: Elizabeth, you and I are once again kindred spirits. It’s salads all the way for me. Even as a young girl, most parents would promise their kids ice cream in exchange for good behavior; for me it was always salad. You wanted me to “behave”—forget ice cream and offer me a salad.

Tell us a little about the recipes with allergy-free ingredients.

This kind of circles back to “something for everyone.” The idea is to give alternative ingredients to make each recipe perfect for each person, so that everyone has something to eat! Elizabeth has always had food sensitivities as well as overall health concerns. Alyssa suffered from different medical issues that medications couldn’t solve, and she went on a wellness journey to heal herself through food, In addition, being married for over 25 years and the mom of 4 kids, Alyssa has had to adapt recipes over the years for different health needs of her husband and kids. Dietary and health needs were never going to compromise flavor. Together, we tweaked recipes in the kitchen until the “alternative” or new recipe was just as good if not better than the original.

What is your “plating” philosophy?

Clean, simple, beautiful! Nothing should be overly complicated. Sometimes less is more!

I admit it: I like great food but don’t have a lot of time to prepare it. What does this cookbook do for me?

We are right there with you. This cookbook gives you a grocery list with all of the ingredients you would need to create the recipes, and a sample menu for you to work off of—again, removing the stress of having to think twice about it. Elizabeth has little kids and Alyssa is a full-time psychologist—we both need fast and simple!

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