Andrea Nguyen is a food writer and cooking teacher whose work appears in the Los Angeles Times and Saveur, where she is also a contributing editor. She is the author of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2006), Asian Dumplings (Ten Speed Press, 2009), and is currently working on her third cookbook, Asian Tofu (coming soon in Spring 2012 from Ten Speed Press). Andrea also stays busy blogging at VietWorldKitchen.com and AsianDumplingTips.com.
Today, the enhanced ebook edition of Asian Dumplings goes on sale, which is a first for both Ten Speed Press and Andrea Nguyen. The Recipe Club managed to catch up with Andrea to find out more about her latest venture, plus get a behind-the-scenes look at the video shoot.
The Recipe Club: The world of digital publishing is evolving and expanding so quickly these days, sometimes it’s challenging to keep terms straight. Can you clarify what an enhanced ebook entails?
Andrea Nguyen: No one is 100 percent sure about how things are going to play out between digital and print, but it’s clear that ebooks offer readers more options for digesting information. There’s obvious portability in ebooks, but what’s super exciting is the potential for adding digital content, such as audio, video, and slide shows. Those are enhancements that supplement and complement the printed work. Enhanced ebooks can further enliven the text, tickle the senses, and empower the user.
TRC: Why were you compelled to publish Asian Dumplings in this format? How does the content you created for the enhanced ebook compare to what’s available to readers online?
AN: When Asian Dumplings was released in August 2009, I posted homemade YouTube videos to help people with rolling out dumpling skins and making various dumpling shapes – things that people may find to be major hurdles to mastering dumplings. Those videos are useful but not super handy. You have to go online to find them at Asiandumplingtips.com, then wait for the content to load. We live in an increasingly impatient, on-demand world, and enhanced Asian Dumplings fills the need for instant information and inspiration.
The videos in the enhanced e-version of Asian Dumplings are professionally done (that is, I’m not overly goofy) and they’re conveniently linked to all the pertinent recipes. My hands and I are at your disposal wherever you need us–in the kitchen, at a dumpling party, during a competitive smackdown, whenever.
TRC: What was involved in the process of developing the enhanced edition? Whose idea was it and how did you decide on the scope of the bonus content? Did it end up being more or less of a time and energy commitment than you initially expected?
AN: When Ten Speed Publisher Aaron Wehner told me that Asian Dumplings was to be among the initial round of e-releases, I was totally flattered. But in addition to the regular ebook, I suggested releasing an enhanced edition. The reason was this: Whenever I teach a class on Asian dumplings, the part that gets everyone to stop talking and pay attention is when I demonstrate how to roll out wrappers by hand and making the nifty shapes. People want to craft handsome dumplings but they fear messing up. (For newbies, just get the wrapper closed!)
Given those experiences, I knew that instructional videos would unlock the door for more cooks. I submitted a short proposal and got the go-ahead. I was thrilled but had to get working.
Many things in life are easier said than done. Enhanced ebooks are frontier publications at the moment. Budgets are small and footage needs to be short (less than a minute) for efficient download time. To tackle the project, Nancy Austin, creative director at Ten Speed, and I formed a small work group dubbed “Team Dumplings” of designer Katy Brown and editor Melissa Moore, with whom I’m working on my current book. Video director Eric Slatkin came on board to complete our collaboration.
TRC: Which specific features were added and what’s the benefit of digital Dumplings? What would your advice be to your readers who already have the print version of Asian Dumplings–should they embrace eDumplings?
AN: I’d written Asian Dumplings so that cooks would be guided along by a number of master techniques comprised of text and line drawings. When we decided to do an ebook, those illustrations were natural place markers for videos. We shot a dozen videos, a welcome introduction and eleven master techniques.
Many people buy cookbooks and then take a class with the author for a hands-on experience. If you’re one of those kinds of readers and cooks, digital Dumplings offers is like an instant dumpling making class. Of course, we don’t get to chat and sip wine, but you don’t have to go far out of your way to take a cooking class from me. I love to engage with cooks in class, but unfortunately don’t have time to do it often enough.
TRC: The videos have a great vibe and make it so easy to follow the shaping instructions. How did the video director, Eric Slatkin, get involved with the project? What sort of planning did you do prior to the shoot? (And is there a bloopers reel?)
AN: I’d worked with videographer Eric Slatkin on prior projects. He has an artful, thoughtful way of telling stories, and he knows food, culture, and cooking. Eric also writes and gives excellent editorial direction.
As with every video project that I’ve done, I initiate the project with an outline for all the videos, then storyboard and script each one so that we’re all clear as to what needs to happen when. Eric, Melissa, and I refined the content and we did a read through a few days before filming.
For a location, we scouted home kitchens belonging to friends and colleagues and considered them for their natural light and sound quality. Finally, we settled on the Oakland loft kitchen that you see in the videos. I oversaw prepping the ingredients and gathering the props. Knowing my personal limits, I called stylist Fanny Pan to assist me.
Weeks of careful planning culminated in one long day of shooting and audio recording. As with the photographs for print publications, Eric’s edited footage went through several rounds of review and polishing before everything was deemed ready for prime time uploading. What’s left on the digital cutting floor can probably be sliced and spliced into Dumplings Gone Wild.
TRC: What was your favorite moment in the process and what was your overall experience like creating the new material?
AN: Reviewing the edited videos and realizing that I didn’t come off like a goofball was definitely a moment of relief. Actually, the entire process is really fun yet intense. It’s like putting a book together but much shorter and very instant. You’re telling a mini story with each video through motion and dialogue. Because it’s hard for me to pose for a still camera, I’m more comfortable with being in front of a video camera.
TRC: What’s the most complicated shape presented in the enhanced edition? The best for dumpling novices?
AN: The pleated crescent is probably the toughest shape to make but getting things just right for Shanghai spring rolls skins is by far graduate-level work. The easiest one is the half-moon. Just fold the circle in half and seal well.
TRC: An impressive number of digital reading devices are available to home cooks these days and tablets seemed poised to carve out a presence in many kitchens. Turning to practical matters, where is the Asian Dumplings eBook available?
AN: We’re releasing two versions of the ebook. The regular one is the straight-ahead digital version of the print book. It’s available on every e-reading device or e-reader app where people are used to buying ebooks: Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and so on.
The enhanced version of the Asian Dumplings ebook with the video content is supported by Apple’s iBooks and Kindle’s apps for iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches. It seems like other devices will be supporting this kind of enhanced content soon.
TRC: Before we let you get back to developing the recipes for your next cookbook (Asian Tofu, coming Spring 2012 from Ten Speed Press), is there anything else about eDumplings that you’d like to share with The Recipe Club?
AN: Cookbooks can be many things–travelogues or memoirs, for example, but at the end of the day, they are how-to manuals. As much as I wordsmith phrases to offer visual and tactile cues, some folks need to watch a video to understand a technique, especially if it’s culturally or culinarily unfamiliar to them. In my area of focus, Asian foodways, enhanced ebooks allow me to be a better teacher and communicator.
• Read Andrea Nguyen’s post at VietWorldKitchen.com.
• See our entire Flickr photo album from the Asian Dumplings Enhanced eBook Video Shoot