JulepRead this article in
Alison Lewis Pens the Definitive Cookbook of Sandwiches
By Betsy Rhame-Minor
Alison Lewis could be your next-door neighbor. She’s got a husband, three kids, a Labradoodle named Latte and an SUV in the carport of her Birmingham home. When her kids are at school, her desk is her kitchen table. This is convenient because even though she has basement office space, the kitchen, with its four-burner gas stove, island and a cabinet with just a few too many pans balanced precariously inside, is where she spends most of her time. Today she’s not yet sure what she’ll be cooking for dinner, but it will probably be something easy like burgers. Since this culinary expert has not tested recipes this morning, there is nothing fixed and waiting to be reheated when it is time for the family to sit down to dinner.
On a day when Lewis has tested a recipe she has developed, taped a cooking segment to be aired later on television or had a food photo shoot, there is food to eat for dinner and one less thing to do for the day. “Sometimes we’ll have five entrees [for dinner],” Lewis says, and her children think families eat like that every night.
Lewis’ kitchen is nothing fancy but it gets the job done. When a film crew comes over to see it before taping, she says they’re usually surprised. “It’s what most people have,” Lewis says. “I think they think I’ll have this elaborate set up. I’m just like everyone else. It’s what makes me authentic.”
Lewis is primarily a recipe developer, but secondary job titles also include blogger, television chef, social media guru, food consultant and stylist, speaker and owner of Ingredients, Inc., and all of these have her on the run.
“My brain is kind of always going,” she explains. “I’m always writing down ideas. I [type] lists on my iPhone in the carpool line.”
As if life is not already busy enough, her latest project, 400 Best Sandwich Recipes: From Classics & Burgers to Wraps & Condiments, has made her even busier.
This cookbook is her first crack at publishing and seems like a natural next step for Lewis after 17 years of working with food. A second cookbook on a to-be-determined topic is also in the works.
Lewis didn’t grow up in the kitchen. Her mom didn’t cook much at home, and Lewis did not have a strong desire to learn culinary skills. That was, until a trip to visit her college roommate’s family and Lewis was awed by the great meals the mom created. Lewis was so inspired that she considered majoring in nutrition, but didn’t want to take all the chemistry classes. So she majored in advertising and marketing, two majors she says have served her well. A couple years after graduating from the University of Alabama, she went back to school and got a nutrition degree after all, first considering a career as a dietitian but changing her mind after a hospital internship. On a whim, she sent her resume to Southern Progress Corporation/Oxmoor House in 1994 and became an assistant editor for light cookbooks. The company sent her to take some culinary classes and she began critiquing recipes. “I really loved that part once I got some culinary experience,” Lewis explained.
Then, in 1995 she got to put together the main dinner menu in Oxmoor House’s annual Christmas cookbook before accepting a job with Southern Living Magazine. There she was a food editor, overseeing photos, writing stories and testing recipes. She also worked for Cooking Light Magazine before starting her own business in 2001 when her nanny quit and she decided to stay home with her small children. She built up her food client business and began developing recipes for magazine advertisements for national food companies. And it grew. Recipe development led to all the things Lewis is currently juggling.
She kept thinking that one day, as a culinary expert, she’d want to publish her own cookbook. When she began brainstorming with her publisher, it was her youngest child who came up with the subject matter from the backseat of the car while Lewis drove her children out of town for spring break. After months of brainstorming ideas with her publisher, the sandwich idea, blurted out by a nine year-old from the backseat, was the winner. “There’s no massive book on sandwiches,” Lewis said.
She and her publisher were off and running. To do it, Lewis needed to develop 400 recipes. First, she turned to her files and food blog to pull some recipes together. When Lewis began to run short on ideas, she posted prompts on Twitter to gather more ideas. Six months later, the cookbook had been tested, edited and published.
In it, there’s something for everyone. Lewis includes chapters on breakfast sandwiches, international and regional sandwiches and those that are lighter and healthier. “My blog is healthy, family friendly [and] lighter so I included a lighter chapter,” Lewis explained.
There’s a chapter called “Lunch Box” that includes recipes for food that easily transportable to school or work. There are even chapters for condiments, burgers, wraps, appetizer sandwiches, the classic sandwiches you’d expect and a chapter dedicated solely to grilled cheese that includes 91 recipes alone. Lewis has developed recipes as varied as Grilled Guacomento (a combination of guacamole and pimento cheese), Almond Butter, Honey and Banana Chips Wrap, Chili Dogs, Cuban-Style Tofu on Italian bread and a Coffee and Hot Fudge Ice Cream Wrap. In the condiments chapter, Lewis instructs on how to make five different aïolis, mango-avocado relish and tomatillo tartar sauce, and other spreads and sauces. Many of the condiments were repurposed from recipes Lewis has developed for clients over the years, so, she says, “That chapter was a breeze. I just thought it would add a good touch to the book.”
Like the rest of us, Lewis leads a busy life and promises her recipes are simple to make.
“Most people are learning to cook and want easy stuff,” she explained.
The cookbook is full of food that can be prepared in an everyday kitchen. A few years ago, as Lewis’ business really began to grow, her husband suggested updating the kitchen to better accommodate her, but Lewis insists that her food can be prepared in any kitchen so a remodel isn’t necessary. So no matter how big and busy she gets, it’s likely her ordinary kitchen in Birmingham will remain the same, and for one simple reason: “I have what’s needed.”
Check out Julep Magazine’s Summer Issue for free recipe downloads from Lewis’ cookbook, 400 Best Sandwich Recipes: From Classics & Burgers to Wraps & Condiments.