Games of Thrones started as an epic fantasy novel, became an award-winning HBO series, and now it’s a cookbook.
As soon as I found Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer’s blog The Inn at the Crossroads (with the awesome logline, “In the game of food, you win, or you wash the dishes…”), and found out they’d authored the official Game of Thrones cookbook, I knew I had to interview them.
A Feast of Ice and Fire contains a forward written by George R. R. Martin along with recipes from King’s Landing, Winterfell, the Wall, the mysterious lands east of Westeros, and other locations we’ve come to love (or hate), and a guide to dining and entertaining in true Seven Kingdoms style. So without further ado…
As a fantasy geek and amateur foodie, I was incredibly excited to find out someone was bringing the richly described meals from George R. R. Martin’s books to life. Where did you come up with the idea to create a cookbook based on the Song of Ice and Fire series?
Well! One day, last March, we were sitting in the kitchen, and had the sudden desire to eat lemon cakes. However, a quick Google search didn’t really lead us anywhere, and didn’t bring up any results for Game of Thrones food blogs, so we began to research and experiment with recipes ourselves. And, since we recognized it for a cool thing, we decided to start a blog to chart our culinary adventures and be able to share them with others.
How did this go from an idea to a book deal?
We emailed GRRM to let him know about the blog, never even expecting him to write us back. Of course, we were thrilled when he did, and mentioned that his publishers had taken notice of the blog as well. From there, we worked directly with Random House to develop the cookbook. It’s been a real labor of love, and they have been very supportive of our vision for the book.
Did you find it intimidating to email George R. R. Martin?
It was a bit intimidating, for sure. We never really expected him to write us back, but he did, and was incredibly kind and appreciative of our efforts.
Where did you learn to cook? And how did you find taste testers for the more exotic dishes?
We are not professional cooks, either of us, but we both grew up in families of cooks and avid eaters. It was tough getting even our friends to try some of the stranger dishes, and there were a few things that only we tried. For the most part, though, we had a queue of eager volunteers! In fact, we had an email list for emergency eaters when we were in the crunch period before our deadlines, since we were making four or five dishes per day.
What’s the process you go through in re-creating each recipe so that it’s both faithful to the book and tastes good?
For most recipes, we have a two-fold approach. We find an historical recipe that most closely matches the description in the books—this can be as old as the ancient Romans, or as relatively new as the 19th century. We make that historical dish as accurately as possible, according to the original recipe, only adding ingredients to match GRRM’s description. It can be very tricky to follow the older recipes, which often don’t even have measurements, cook time, or other crucial details. There is a lot of trial and error involved.
We give ourselves a little more leeway with the modern version of dishes, allowing for more liberal interpretations and lists of ingredients. We usually find a few recipes that we like the look of, and combine them, drawing on our own bookshelves and the internet.
There is often a misconception that medieval food is gross, but we really haven’t found that to be true. The preparation of a lot of dishes has changed over time, such that a modern pork pie will be savory rather than sweet. But that doesn’t mean that the currant-filled pork pie of Henry VIII isn’t also awesome and worth trying. Ultimately, we have very open minds; if we think a dish isn’t good, we don’t publish it, and keep searching and experimenting until we find one that is.
How many tries on average does it take to get a recipe right?
Sometimes, it’s beginners’ luck and we get it on the first try. Sometimes it takes a few attempts, and some we are still working on, even now! For the most part, though, I’d say we make them two or three times, once to try, and another one or two times to perfect. Of course, that’s all before photographing for the blog, and we’ve made some of the cookbook recipes at least ten times by now.
What recipe was the greatest challenge to re-create due to scarcity of ingredients? How did you manage to overcome it?
The full meals are the hardest to recreate, since they are composed of so many different elements. Sometimes it’s tough to get several seasonal ingredients at the same time, or to splurge financially for all the specialty items for a particular dish or meal. We occasionally make a substitution, but since we’re sticklers for authenticity, we mostly just wait until we can make it right.
Are there any recipes you refuse to make?
You know, a lot of folks get caught up on the weird foods, but they make up a very small portion of both blog and cookbook. There are a few dishes we either won’t or can’t make, usually for gross-out factor or illegality. An example of the first is olives stuffed with maggots, and the latter is heron. Basically, if something is legal and affordable, it’s probably on our list of dishes to try. We’re currently looking for camel—GRRM threw down a lot of culinary challenges for us in Dance—but we have tried rattlesnake, eel, crickets.
I know it’s a bit like asking a mother to choose between her children, but which recipe in the book is your favorite, the one you’d recommend people start with?
A really solid starter recipe is the one for Honeyed Chicken. It’s very easy to make, and delicious. As for favorite dishes, Chelsea loved the mead-marinated venison for the Robert Baratheon themed meal, and Sariann loved the Banbury Cakes, the historical half of the Buns on the Wall dish in the cookbook.
You can get a sneak peek at some of the recipes featured in the cookbook at The Inn at the Crossroads. A Feast of Ice & Fire releases May 29th, but you can pre-order your copy from Amazon or Barnes and Noble now.
Have you read any of the books in the Song of Ice and Fire series or are you watching Game of Thrones on HBO? Is there a particular food you’re dying to try (or would refuse to eat)?
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