Pat Tanumihardja has written four cookbooks, all focused on pan-Asian cuisine, with a fifth one coming out in the Spring of 2024. Her work as a food writer has appeared everywhere from the Washington Post to Epicurious.com and SeriousEats.com. But she always wanted to pen children’s books—even before achieving success in the culinary world.
“I actually started writing children’s stories before I became a food writer…However, when I still couldn’t get published after several years, I put my dreams of writing a children’s book aside for a while. When I had my son, I started reading a lot of children’s books and realized that’s where my passions lay and decided to try again,” says Pat, who lives in Northern Virginia with her husband Omar Wheatley and her son Isaac (13).
Her first children’s book, Ramen for Everyone, came out in March of this year and featured her son’s love of noodles. For this week’s Meet a Mom interview, Pat shares about her newest book, Jimmy’s Shoes (about iconic fashion designer Jimmy Choo), how being an immigrant inspired her career and how she has encouraged her own son to be enthusiastic about food—and reading.
Your fifth and newest cookbook, a collection of Indonesian recipes featuring your mother’s own dishes, will be released next spring. How did you become a cookbook author?
Over the years, I’ve gradually moved toward creating recipes that more closely represent the food I love (and that I hope others will enjoy as well!). For example, the idea for my vegetable cookbook, Farm to Table Asian Secrets, sprouted because I used to be a farmers’ market manager and I enjoy eating seasonally and locally.
Can you tell us a bit more about your new book?
Jimmy’s Shoes tells the life story of Malaysian-born shoe designer Jimmy Choo who moved to London in search of a better life. He started off as a simple shoe-maker’s son and eventually went on to design shoes for the late Princess Diana and many other celebrities. It’s not just a story about Jimmy’s rise to prominence but also about hard work, perseverance, and family bonds.
I was born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore, so I really wanted to write a biography about someone from my part of the world. I first learned about Jimmy Choo when I watched Sex in the City. I was like, wow he’s from a small island in Malaysia and he’s so famous now! I did some research about his life and really admired his determination to succeed and how he overcame so many obstacles. His success story is an inspiration to immigrants all over the world!
How else has being an immigrant shaped your career?
My mom was an excellent cook and used food—and language—as a way to keep us connected to our culture. So, it’s not surprising that I turned to food and cooking as a way to keep my culture alive which in turn developed into a career in food writing and cookbooks. Right from the beginning, I wanted to share my culture and tried to incorporate my experiences into the projects I did.
However, my work was not always well-received. Fortunately, things have changed in the last few years and publishers are more open to stories from marginalized backgrounds. One reasons why I was determined to write children’s books is because I want my son to be able to see himself in the books he reads. Plus, I want to add to the growing number of AANHPI books on shelves—representation does matter!
Is your son a good eater—and reader? Any tips for both?
I’m thankful that my son is a very good eater. He actually likes vegetables! This might not work for everyone but here’s what I’ve done: I have tried to be a good example when it comes to eating a variety of foods. Even now I still tell my son that he has to try a food at least once before he can say he doesn’t like it. Plus, he’s always eaten what we eat. He didn’t get a different meal even when he was little.
I haven’t been as lucky with reading! My son doesn’t like reading as much as I did as a kid but he has his favorites—graphic novels like Dog Man [read our Meet a Dad with author Dav Pilkey here], and he devoured the Wings of Fireseries. I think you can’t force kids to read. They have to come into it themselves. Encourage them to pick books with topics, themes, and formats they enjoy—yes, graphic novels are books too! Don’t try too hard to direct them.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Other than Ramen for Everyone and Jimmy’s Shoes I have another picture book coming out this September: “The Sugar Plum Bakers.”