The Geeky Chef on fictional foods, cookbooks and the Portal cake

Geeky Chef Cookbook - Geeky Chef portrait, by Denis Caron (750x422)Cassandra Reeder is a chef with a very special repertoire. She makes fictional foods real.

From pumpkin pasties and Elven Lembas bread, to hot spiced wine and elixir soup, she has formulated some 80 recipes from beloved books, films, TV shows and video games on her blog, The Geeky Chef. Her home for succulent-sounding delicacies from the likes of Harry Potter, The Legend of Zelda, Game of Thrones, Fallout 3, Portal and more, offers step-by-step instructions, themed photography and brief backgrounders on the origin of these recipes. And it’s become something of a web sensation.

Since starting her blog in 2008, the self-proclaimed Geeky Chef, who lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and pet parrot, has attracted thousands of readers (at the time of writing, her Facebook page likes top 3,700), as well as contributions from fellow foodies. And now she’s made the leap from blog to book, with the first edition of The Geeky Chef Cookbook due out next week.

Eager to learn more about the story behind this phenomenon, I contacted Reeder for an interview. Here, she discusses how she came to start the Geeky Chef, what it took to turn her idea into a fully fledged book and why the Portal cake is no lie.

Geeky Chef Cookbook - Kingdom Hearts Sea Salt Ice Cream, QPG (1920x1080)Recipes based on fantasy delicacies from all forms of geek culture. Just take us back a bit, and briefly describe how you started cooking fictional foods.
Cassandra Reeder: It’s actually something I’ve always done. I mean, obviously not since birth, but as far back as I can remember. When I was a kid, I’d always wanted to eat what the characters in my books, movies or games were eating. One of the first foods I remember recreating were these cookies based on the ‘Tree Star’ in The Land Before Time.

At what point did you say to yourself, ‘I’m going to start a blog about my recipes’? Did it seem obvious to you early on that dozens of people could be interested in such a blog?
In 2008, I was playing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and I really wanted to make the Superb Soup from the Snowpeak Ruins dungeon, which had goat cheese, pumpkin and a fish base. I looked online for a recipe and was surprised to see that there weren’t any at all. I felt like I could not possibly be the first person who thought that soup sounded good and tried to make it, but apparently no one else had shared [their method].

I realised that, though there were fan sites dedicated to Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, which had recipes for their fictional foods, there weren’t any sites that covered a variety of fictional foods from the full spectrum of geekiness – and definitely not the lesser-known foods. So I thought that I would go ahead and be the person to make that site. It definitely wasn’t immediately apparent that it would catch on at all. I hoped that it would help out some other weirdos somewhere out there make their favourite fictional food, and it turns out there are quite a lot more of us than I thought.

Geeky Chef Cookbook - Star Wars Blue Milk, QPG (1920x1080)On a similar point, although there are now other websites posting recipes inspired by movies, books or games (Gourmet Gaming, Fictional Food), many don’t appear to have been around as long as The Geeky Chef. As fair as I can tell, nobody else is dedicated to recreating fictional foods from across books, movies, TV and games apart from you. Why do you think that is?
Well, sometimes trying to cover the full scope of the ever-growing geek realm is difficult, if not impossible, for one person to do. I think those blog runners are probably smart to have more focus. However, anyone who knows me knows that I love almost anything fantasy or science fiction, whether it’s games, books, comics or TV shows, so I think I am in a pretty good position to attempt it.

Moving on, how did you then take your idea from blog to fully fledged book? And what was different about this process?
It actually wasn’t my idea. In November 2013, I was contacted by a very nice lady from Quarto Publishing Group and they invited me to make the book. It was totally unexpected but very exciting, because, as a bookworm, I had always dreamed of having a book published.

Writing the cookbook was more challenging than the blog for a lot of reasons. I had a time limit, for one thing. The standards for cookbooks are also a lot higher than, you know, just posting on your own blog for fun. You have to be very specific and detailed, which I have struggled with. It was a lot of pressure, and it was definitely challenging, but I think I grew a lot from it both as a cook and a writer.

The fear of running out of time [was what kept me motivated through it]. Other than that, it was my family, friends and the desire to live up to my own expectations and create a cookbook that I could really be proud of.

Geeky Chef Cookbook - Narnia Turkish Delights, QPG (1920x1080)Let’s talk about the cookery process itself. Do you have any formal cookery training?
No. I am just a home cook with a lot of experience. I have been addicted to cooking and recipes and trying new things as far back as I can remember. Aside from my own research and experimentation, I learned a lot from my brother, who is very knowledgable about all things culinary, and my grandmother, who was always baking.

How will a recipe idea typically start once you hear about it in a book, film, TV show or game?
It sort of depends on the food. The first step is to figure out how the fictional food should taste, the texture, etc. So then, I decide I want to make, say, a flaky pastry crust with a sweet filling. If that’s something I’ve never made before and I’m maybe not so comfortable with it, I just look up a bunch of different similar recipes to get ideas and understand the basics. Then I do my own thing with a combination of the ideas I liked. If it’s a kind of food I have a lot of experience with, I usually wing it and just come up with something from scratch.

Were there recipes that didn’t make the book’s final cut? If so, why?
Yeah, a few. Some were submitted but cut out for space by the editors. We only had a certain amount of space and the editor chose a few to remove, and I think they were good decisions. There were also some recipes that I had made and chose not to include, either because I thought they needed more work or because I didn’t feel like they fit in with the rest.

Geeky Chef Cookbook - Lord of the Rings Miruvor, QPG (1920x1080)And what were some of the most difficult recipes to perfect?
From the blog, the Portal Cake was easily the most complicated recipe. It took me a very long time to get right. From the book, there’s a drink called Miruvor, from Lord of the Rings, that’s Elven, magical and pretty much impossible to recreate based on Tolkien’s description. I had to consult a friend of mine who has bartending experience.

The Geeky Chef seems to have a fairly active community. How has that community affected what you do on your blog?
It’s awesome to have so many people interested and sharing ideas. A lot of the foods that ended up in the book were drawn from the requests I get the most frequently. And I draw from that pool a lot when I’m not feeling inspired. It’s also so much fun to see people geek out and get excited to make the food they’ve always wanted to try from their favourite show or whatever it is.

Have you ever found yourself having to adjust a recipe after reader feedback?
If it’s something subjective, I usually don’t make any changes unless I really think they would improve the recipe. Sometimes I make a mistake or forget to list an ingredient, and in those cases, yes, I correct it if someone points it out.

Geeky Chef Cookbook - Earthbound Peanut Bars, QPG (1920x1080)

At the time of writing, what are the five most popular recipes on your blog?
1. Sea Salt Ice Cream from Kingdom Hearts
2. Elven Lembas Bread from The Lord of the Rings
3. Butterbeer from Harry Potter
4. The Portal Cake from Portal
5. Turkish Delight from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Do you have a personal favourite of the recipes you’ve created?
From the blog, I still love Yeto’s Soup, partly because it was the catalyst, and partly because I just love the way the soup tastes. In the book, there’s a recipe for the Peanut Cheese Bar from the SNES game, Earthbound, and it’s very, very tasty.

What recent movies, books, TV shows or games have you currently been enjoying?
When I have some time to spare, I’ve been playing Dragon Age: Inquisition and watching Star Trek: Voyager from the beginning for the first time.

And what do your friends and family think about what you do?
My friends and family have been nothing but supportive. Especially those that know me well and know that I am a big geek who loves to cook. It’s kinda like “oh, of course you do that”. Most people think it’s a fun idea when they hear it.

Have you cooked any of your recipes for dinner parties or special occasions? If so, what has the reaction been like? I imagine the Portal Cake must go down a storm at birthday parties and Thanksgiving.
Geeky Chef Cookbook, cover art (530x600)Ha ha. The Portal Cake is such an event to make. I actually only ever did it the one time and I didn’t even want to look at another cake for months. I do always make Pumpkin Pasties (Harry Potter) and Yeto’s Soup (Zelda) during the holidays. They’re very popular with my family, especially my husband. He isn’t even a particularly big fan of Harry Potter, but the Pumpkin Pasties are his favourite and they disappear pretty quickly in his presence.

Finally, what does the future hold for the Geeky Chef?
I have no idea. I kinda make it up as I go along. Right now, I am just really hoping that people love the cookbook as much as I do. If the cookbook is successful, I would love to devote more time to writing and cooking, expand the blog a bit and make more cookbooks.

Thanks to Cassandra Reeder for her time.

The Geeky Chef Cookbook is out May 19, 2015, via Race Point Publishing. Find out more at the Geeky Chef website.

Images: Denis Caron (main); All photography copyrighted to Quarto Publishing Group for The Geeky Chef Cookbook. Used with permission from the publisher