Catching Up with Camilla
Last month, hundreds of chefs converged in Las Vegas for the 3rd annual World Food Championships (WFC). Among the competitors was Camilla V. Saulsbury, recipe developer and author of Power Hungry (Lake Isle Press: 2013). Camilla is no stranger to cooking competitions. She’s entered and won many in the past, including the renowned Build a Better Burger contest. She has also racked up an impressive amount of other achievements: 21 published cookbooks, completing a handful of marathons and other races, and a doctoral degree in sociology. The weekend of the WFC, Camilla also competed in a half-marathon. For someone with such a wide array in her trophy case, Camilla is remarkably humble. In my interview with her she stated, “I love a challenge, especially one where it first seems impossible, but with some work, you can do it.” It is clear that her hard work comes not from a competitive spirit, but from a passion to overcome obstacles.
This is something Camilla has done with grace. Her blog and cookbook titles boast a range of extreme numbers, including 250 Best Meals in a Mug and 500 Quinoa Recipes. At the other end of the spectrum, she writes recipes for 5-minute dinners, and 2-ingredient cookies. Her focus is on minimums and maximums. It’s clear that she’s interested in similar exercise pursuits, from Pilates and yoga, which focus on every small muscle movement, and triathlons and marathons—the extremes. She is the Ironman of the kitchen. When I asked Camilla if the two were related, she laughed. “I don’t know that I’ve ever really thought about that, but yes, I think there are definitely parallels between exercise goals and recipe goals.” Camilla approaches recipe development the way some people approach big races: “I look at something that seems impossible, like dairy-free AND gluten-free AND grain-free, and I see if I can make it work. When I do, its really satisfying.”
While running and cooking are often individual exertions, Camilla doesn’t experience them alone. Camilla is also a teacher, in both exercising and cooking. She teaches a variety of Pilates and yoga classes, and is always sharing her recipes and food with others, in books or on her blog, powerhungry.com. “I love simplifying hard things,” she says, “and making them work for other people. I love to break things down so they’re doable for other people.” In addition to sharing knowledge, Camilla is able to share her excitement for these subjects. “I don’t know how people can make a recipe and not get excited. I get so excited!” It shows, in part because Camilla’s books often explore a subject in great depth. I’m not talking about a baking book, or some broad topic. She has explored, in depth, microwave cooking, coconut-based recipes, and ebelskivers. These seemingly minuscule topics become large in Camilla’s perspective.
So what’s she working on now? Camilla says her focus has been primarily on very specific ingredients. Camilla says she gets in a rut with certain flavor combinations: “There was a time when I was obsessed with cardamom. I think my family got a little sick of it.” She also describes herself as a frugal chef. “If there’s a special ingredient that I’ve invested in, I really want to try it in lots of ways. So if a recipe calls for just a tablespoon of ingredient x that I bought a lot of, I think of ways to use the rest of it.” This often leads to twists on traditional recipes; her recipes might feature chia seeds where poppy seeds are more traditional, or goji berries instead of raisins. “I’m always thinking to myself: Can I make this ingredient work in ways that it usually doesn’t?” The answer is, decidedly, yes.
Right now, the ingredient of choice is chickpea flour. “It’s really exciting and challenging to work with a new product,” she says “but it required going back to the drawing board. I didn’t have any previous reference for chickpea flour until a year and a half ago. It’s really great, though! There’s so much you can do with it. It adds more protein to recipes, and its gluten-free. I found a way to do an aioli with chickpea flour. It’s silky and creamy, but there are no eggs!” We can feel the excitement already. Can’t wait to see what you come up with, Camilla! For all you fans, check out her latest book, Power Hungry, or take a look at her blog, powerhungry.com.