Is it possible to enjoy home-made meals without the hassle of spending hours in the kitchen? According to journalist Tereza Willoughby, who has just published a cookbook called Bistro Doma or Bistro at Home, it is. With her collection of favourite recipes collected mostly from her family and friends she tries to prove to her readers that cooking can be a fun and stress-free activity, which is definitely worth the effort.
“Frankly, it was a coincidence. I always liked to cook with my mother, with my granny and later with my friends. I also cooked for my friends and one of them was a journalist in a women’s magazine.
“She asked me to write a few articles about food and a few recipes and in the end the publishing company asked me to write a cookbook. So this is how it started.
“For me, cooking was always a way to relax after work. My colleagues were always surprised that I would take the trouble to cook after work. But for me it was just natural because I was used to doing it. So I decided that maybe a little help would be useful to other people.”
Your cookbook is a very eclectic mixture of recipes, coming from all corners of the world, including Ireland, the homeland of your husband. Is there something that connects them?
“I think the main thing that connects them is the simplicity and also the fact that you don’t need to buy very expensive things to make them. I don’t like cookbooks that require you to go to a special market or specialised shops and buy expensive food to make the meals.
“I would say it’s a collection of my favourite recipes. I have my old cookbook written by hand which contains all the recipes I like and want to make repeatedly. So I would say it is mainly a collection of my favourite recipes.”
You say in the introduction that the recipes are not your own. Where do they come from and what was the main source of inspiration for you?
“I have a theory that the notebook where you write your recipes is like the story of your life. There are recipes from your grandmother, from your aunties, from your friends, from the mothers of your ex-partners.
“So I took my recipes from all these sources, but of course I tried to make them better, to simplify them in some cases or even change them a bit. So my recipes always have some source but they are changed by me and they have my personal touch.”
And you encourage your readers to do the same...
“Of course. For example I like meat but I understand that someone might be a vegetarian or a vegan, so there is always a possibility to replace meat with tofu.
“I think that when you are using my cookbook and you find your own way to improve my recipe, you can write it down and cook it your way the next time round.”
“I don’t like heavy meals very much, such as meat and dumplings. I enjoy them once in a while, but not very often. So I tried to find more recipes made with vegetables or with lentils, for example.
“I actually think Czech recipes can be healthy and light. So I am trying to find these recipes or I try to use meaty recipes and make them lighter by adding some healthier ingredients, such as quinoa. If you replace rice or potatoes in a recipe by a healthier alternative, you can still use it.”
And would you say Czech cuisine has changed in recent years to adapt to the changing lifestyle?
“Yes, especially in the cities. I think that people in bigger towns try to eat healthier food. I would say they prefer quality over quantity. But I think that the main problem is that for example in Ireland, all the basic ingredients, such as butter, ham, milk or vegetables come in high quality for an affordable price. Here, you have to pay more for better quality.
“I would say that is the main problem of contemporary Czech cuisine and I think it is the heritage of the Communist era, when we got used to lower quality of food. I think this is changing, but very slowly. I can see the changes in bigger towns, but I think it will still take time.”
“Yes. All the ingredients that I use can be bought in an ordinary supermarket. I don’t think that people have time to go to a specialised market, like the Vietnamese Sapa market. So I tried to make sure that you can really get all the ingredients without a big effort.”
Would you agree that it is still a problem, getting all the ingredients here, such as spices or fresh produce, when you compare it with other European countries?
“I think it’s much better than it used to be. For example today, the ‘exotic sections’ in ordinary supermarkets are much better. You can find there many things that you need for exotic cuisine. But it’s true that the assortment is still bigger in Western countries.”
You recipes are divided according to the seasons and months. Would you say it makes sense to cook according to the seasons and the availability of local products?
“Of course. For instance I can’t eat Czech tomatoes in winter, because they have no taste. Or I don’t feel like eating too many salads in winter as I do in the summer.
“In winter I prefer meaty dishes or baked vegetables, while in summer, when it is hot and the vegetables are delicious, I prefer salads. So I think it’s a natural thing and we should listen to what our body wants.”
You already mentioned the pre-Christmas period, Advent, which here in the Czech Republic is associated with baking Christmas cookies. One of the chapters in your cookbooks is called Stress-free Advent. What is your recipe for a stress-free pre-Christmas season?
“My mother and my aunt compete every Advent who will have more types of Christmas cookies. I think it’s ridiculous, because they are stressed, and everybody in my family has his or her favourite kind, so why make twenty of them?
“I think that this is the recipe for not being stressed during Advent. You need to enjoy cooking, you need to enjoy making cookies with the kids, with relatives and friends, and maybe have a glass of wine while you are at it.
“The Christmas dinner can also cause stress in the family, so I think it may be better to make simpler dishes and enjoy cooking them. So that’s my advice.”
And finally, have you exhausted your collection of recipes or do you actually plan to continue publishing them and perhaps write another cookbook in the future?
“I still try to put new recipes on my Instagram account and I also make short videos of how to make easy recipes. So I will continue doing that, of course.
“And whether I will write another cookbook in the future? I don’t know now. I have just published one, so we’ll see if have an offer or the time to write another - or if I feel like it.”