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:: Interview with Leila Lindholm!

As a nice way to finish off the Leila Lindholm week here on the blog, Lorraine from New Holland publishing organised a phone interview with the lady herself! I was very excited on Thursday morning to be able to call the lovely Leila, to have a quick chat about baking, the muffin mafia and of course her next book! Enjoy!

So you grew up in a family with a mix of cultures, tell me a little about the kind of food you had growing up, did you find you learned a lot about Morroccan cooking when you were growing up?
I grew up with my mother and I only met my father when I was 24 so I didn't really grow up in a Morroccan culture at all, but my dad is from Morrocco.

From most of Swedes I talk to, they don't exactly rave about Swedish cuisine, but what you consider the most typical Swedish dish?
It's pretty much like Swedish meatballs and we have a special kind of sausage called Falun sauasage that we eat and I think quite a lot of international food aswell as I remember we went to restauarants at least once a week to have dinner when I grew up.

I read you studied cooking, was that in Sweden?
I studied a restaurant course in Stockholm and I started when I was 16 and finished when I was 19. When you finish the course you work in restaurants straight away.

I was very excited to read in your book about the muffin mafia, a baking group you started with your grandmother when you were younger, can you tell me a little about the members?
It was great, it was actually something me and my grandma's neighbour made up, because I used to run over to her house and she taught me how to bake and we baked like cakes and cupcakes and muffins. Then she decided that we could become pen pals and send recipes to each other and it was me and Aunt Elsa, then her friends up in the north of Sweden, they were a bunch of old ladies in their 60's and we would send recipes to each other. But I was the boss, the mafia boss!

What were some of the first dishes you learned to cook?
I think probably something simple like sausage and macoroni, or actually it was like grilled sandwiches! I used to with my best friend go to her place after to school and make all kinds of grilled sandwhiches with pineapple, really tacky sandwiches, with ketchup and pineapple and stuff on them and a lot of cheese!

You have an extremely successful career in Sweden, what would you consider your big break?
Well actually I had two kind of big breaks, the first when I was 24, I was chosen Female Swedish Chef Of The Year and that was a big break because I started getting into the media and got attention from the media. I started doing interviews in the press and that was back in 1999. Then the second big break came in 2004 when I was chosen TV chef of the year and then also it was a milestone in a sense as it was my big break in the tv business, and I started getting more possibilities with my cooking shows. I started on one of the biggest morning shows here in Sweden and when I won the award I got asked to do my own cooking series and then after this it's been quite a successful story!

Well I can definitely see that! So who do you find you get the biggest reaction from your books, what kind of people?
It's definitely women, but also mothers and kids, they love the baking show. I have heard from so many parents that their kids are watching the baking show on DVD's, they don't want to watch Disney movies, they just want to watch my baking show which is a little funny!

What are some of your favourite dishes to cook apart from baking?
I love to do barbeques, so that's what I am really looking forward to this summer, we have a lot of snow right now, but I can't wait to start doing barbeques, that's what I really love! Doing meat like sirloin steak, lamb legs, whole salmon, I can't wait!

In every picture I have seen of you, you always look incredibly happy, are there any dishes that really frustrate you to make?
I like to cook everything but sometimes there are dishes which are challenging when, of course, even for me, sometimes things don't work or like the Bearnaise sauce doesn't turn out, thats annoying. Also it's quite common, I'm sure you are familiar with this, when you have plan in your mind and it just doesn't work out when you cook it!

From what I have read you have a big interest in styling as well as cooking, how did that get started?
Well I think for me I have always been interested in aesthetic stuff, interior designs, and beautiful things so I collect beautiful things and it came from there. I love to create beautiful things and it's a huge passion I have a craving, I have to do it!

When I was in Sweden I picked up your fantastic magazine Leila's Country Living but I heard it has stopped, will you be working on new issues of it in the future?
Maybe in the future but right now I decided not to because I have just had a baby, and I decided to try two issues first in 2009, to make sure it went well because I have no experience in the magazine world. Then I realised that it is so hard to juggle the tv shows, and the book and the magazine.

I was in a book shop in Dublin yesterday and spotted your book "A Piece of Cake", I didn't realise it had been released here aswell as the UK, are you hoping to come over here and break this market?
That would be fantastic to work more abroad, but this is my first cookbook to be released outside Sweden, it has been released in The Netherlands, USA, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and in Italy so it's quite exciting to see where it's going to take my work. It's been nine months since I had my baby so I am starting to get back into work mode and we are starting to record season 3 of my baking show in about two weeks. I was also asked by the Discovery channel to do a couple of shows but that was when I just had by baby and it was a food travel show and it wasn't possible to travel.

I'm guessing since the success of your books and tv shows in Sweden, and even with a new baby life has become a lot busier, how has your cooking habits changed?
They haven't really, I kind of cook the same stuff I cook in my shows!

Have you had any major on-air or off-air disasters when cooking on tv?
No but sometimes in the studio its very hot so in like the spring time sometimes when you work with cake and chocolate and ice cream they melt, so that can be a bit of a disaster!

I am a huge fan of cookbooks, have you got a big collection of books yourself, is there any you just couldn't live without?
No I'm greedy I have to have them all! I have about over 100 books, but my favourites are from Martha Stewart and of course Jamie Oliver, his books are very fresh and beautiful!

You worked with Jamie's photographer, David Loftus on one of your books, what was he like to work with?
He was fun, he is a fantastic photographer, and it was great, we had done a couple of jobs for Delicious magazine in the UK, and some Swedish magazines also.

Do you have some favourite cookbooks from Swedish food writers?
There is a food writer called Anna Bergenstrom, she makes beautiful food, she is like the Swedish Julia Child, a legend!

What do you think the success of a good cook book relies on?
Good recipes, and recipies that work, and also that they are easy and they work for normal people. Of course the photography and styling is very important but also when you work with the text to make all the corrections in a book is so important so they are well worked through and very exact, so you are guaranteed the recipe is good.

What are your plans for you next book, will you stick with baking or will you concentrate on any other specific aspects of food?
It's actually going to be a follow up to "A Piece of Cake" and I made it with the intention of making two books and I wanted to do one book with sweet stuff and another with more savoury stuff, and it's called "One More Slice" and I bake pizza, pasta, and a lot of sour dough bread recipes, and also there is sweets too. There is a chapter called Cheesecake and another called brownies and blondies, and Ice cream too! So it's all the good stuff that didn't make it in the first book! I had so much material that I wanted to do two books!

After all this unhealthy food, do you ever really feel like a good healthy salad?
Absolutely I have to eat quite healthy to make sure I don't kill myself and keep in shape! But sometimes it's nice, there is always room for birthday cakes, and there is always celebrations where you are supposed to bake, it's just tradition. Also bread is a matter of when you eat it, if you have it at breakfast it is not as dangerous as eating it in the evening time!

What do you think of food blogging, would you ever consider doing it yourself?
Yes, it's most definitely in my future, but in my case I have been so busy with other stuff. I had a blog for 2 years and even though I wasn't active like the way you are, I wrote something at least once a week. But it is quite demanding if you want to write a good blog with a lot of content so it's hard work and for me write now it's difficult to find the time. But the food blogs are great and it's really fun to read them. So for me it's just a matter of time right now!

Ok one last question, and I'm sure you have been asked this question a million times, but what would be your death row meal?
It's a little bit of a depressing question and I would say sweets, but I am very into shellfish and seafood and oysters and a glass Chablis wine!

Leila's book "A Piece Of Cake" is in Irish and UK bookshops now or you can order online here.

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:: Interview with Leila Lindholm! + travel