It's tough to be a skeptic, especially when brown sugar bacon is involved.
Searching for a seat with good sight lines amid the three hundred people gathered on September 26 in Danville Congregational Church, a perfect spot presented itself. Fortuitously, but not intentionally, it landed this journalist next to Concord resident Joseph Hackett. Unlike the rest of the suburban, upper-middle class, mostly white American audience — who scrolled smartphone screens while clutching copies of cookbook author and food television celebrity Ayesha Curry's new book, The Seasoned Life — Hackett was engaged with his three-year old son. Even better, he said, "Hello," but with a tone that warned, "I'm polite, but I'm not your trusted seat buddy."
Hackett admitted to being wary by nature. For this writer, it was all the celebrity hype and super-fandom surrounding the cookbook that elicited a certain amount of skepticism.
Yes, the author was that Curry. Wife of NBA Warriors wiz Stephen Curry, mother of camera-loves-them daughters Riley and Ryan, food blogger, believer (in God and brown sugar-laced recipes), dual Canadian-American citizen, entrepreneur (Little Lights of Mine videos and products, meal-kit company GATHER), pop-up restaurateur (International Smoke) and television host of Ayesha's Homemade, a new Food Network cooking show launching October 22.
The gathering found Curry — presented by Danville's Rakestraw Books and interviewed by Margot True, Sunset Magazine food editor — launching an author tour.
The book's subtitle is Food, Family, Faith, and the Joy of Eating Well, foreshadowing that Curry shares more than just one hundred easy-to-make recipes. Beyond Brown Sugar Bacon (we warned you), PB&J Cereal French Toast, Soy-Citrus Salmon, Stephen's Five-Ingredient Pasta, and Mama Alexander's Brown Sugar Chicken, (we really warned you), there are personal "extras." The cookbook includes first-person introductory chapter essays, Curry family Q&As, "insider" suggestions or backstories with each recipe and, most impressively — we feel our skepticism positively withering — striking photos that Curry staged herself with professional photographer Caroline Egan.
Minutes before Curry began wooing the infinitely woo-able crowd, Hackett had already thawed. All it took to unlock his hidden warmth was this writer saying that his son's adorable-ness rivaled Riley's. Hackett, asked why he was attending, said, "I'm here specifically to support my wife and her cooking adventures." He also shared that his wife's blackened prawns with garlic noodles are his favorite dish but that he's the best soul food cook in his home. Then, he went on to talk about his family's Mississippi roots and the difficulties of growing up in Concord as one of the few Black kids at his school.
The conversation between Curry and True hadn't even started and Hackett had already melted into conviviality as sweet as...you guessed it, brown sugar.
Finally, Curry was mic-ed. Her intro was all about love: childhood food fetishes stirred in a Jamaican-Chinese-Polish-African-American heritage and Toronto's multi-ethnic melting pot; at age thirteen, Food Network was the lullaby that rocked her to sleep; becoming a mother, her first daughter was "an itty bitty thing" she wanted to feed well; and how she fell "instantly in love with" book publisher Little, Brown and Company and especially VP/Editor John Parsley because they were passionate about food.
Curry summed up the rapid-fire bio, saying mealtimes were about learning and that food "brought her family together" and was "the language of love." The sweet sentiments proved to be only a "front curtain" as she then cast aside the celebrity veil and demonstrated the same use-the-basics skill in conversation that she does in the kitchen. As it turns out, the main ingredients — in this case, a sense of humor, enthusiasm for subject over self-aggrandizement, and woman-on-the-street perspective — added up to a remarkably fresh, memorable treat.
Much of the talk was about memories. The horrid breakfast that was her husband's first attempt to cook for her (over-salted cream of wheat, burnt bagel, crispy olives, fruit roll up garnish) and his pot-destroying, Burning Man-like initial effort to cook his family-favorite five ingredient pasta. But also, a thirteenth birthday party when she and friends "cooked the day away," and a story that broke the cool demeanor of moderator True. The food editor wasn't the only person in the sanctuary choking back tears as Curry described the trauma to her "super emotional" sixteen-year-old self that was caused by a put-down from a family member — and the healing boost she received from her parents. "I walked into my room and my dad, who's not an artist, he painted me this big canvas that said 'Bravo' on it. It said persistence, patience, love, faith — it had all of these words of encouragement."
From that solid family foundation, Curry found courage. So, even when her eggs had way too much garlic and she mistakenly sprinkled coffee grounds instead of instant coffee crystals onto her tiramisu, the fiascos (which are not in the cookbook) quickly became funny stories.
Rakestraw bookstore owner Michael Barnard said his initial plans were for Curry to make an intimate, in-store appearance. "It got so big, so fast. The first one hundred tickets went in one day. When we changed locations and opened it up, two hundred tickets went in one hour."
Was that when Barnard converted from book purveyor to Curry fan?
"No. It started when I cooked the shrimp and grits," he said. "And then the Brown Sugar Bacon, how could you not fall in love with that?"
Sigh. It's enough to make a barely-there skeptic head home and whip up a batch of Curry's Brown Sugar-Vanilla Body Scrub, hoping to wash off any residual worship.