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Q & A: Cookbook authors Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford

September 15, 2008 |  2:13 pm

Naomijeff_2Husband-and-wife cookbook authors Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford (at left, in Thailand) are  more peripatetic than your average food writers: Their six books have covered the cuisines of Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and most recently--with "Beyond the Great Wall"--China.  Recently, I caught up with them by phone at their home in Toronto, where they're planning a seventh book, organizing culinary tours of Thailand (where they have an apartment), and launching a new website

Q: Your new book is about Burma; why Burma?

Naomi: If you see where Burma is, it's the missing piece. It's the bridge between the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.  [It's the] connector between the worlds we've written about.

Q: Your last book had political undertones; will this one too?

Naomi: We're not preachers, but it's a political situation.  Having written a book with a political subtext, maybe it's time to take it another notch.  [Burma] used to be the rice basket of Asia.  I don't know if you've read George Packer's piece in the New Yorker?  People are still living their lives there; they're getting on with it.

Q: Speaking of the New Yorker, what was it like being profiled by that magazine?  (A profile of the couple by writer Jane Kramer is due out next month.)

Naomi: One long conversation, sometimes with both of us, sometimes separately... We made hand-stretched noodles [the recipe is in "Beyond the Great Wall"]. They're way easier than pie, so to speak.  It was completely pleasurable.

Q: And you've just launched a new website, which you built yourself?

Naomi: I don't want to be professionalized out of things. It's our umbrella notion: How many countries can I do?  These days, it's like if it's Tuesday, it's Angkor Wat; we think we can do it all in one place.

Q: The culinary tours you're planning are in Thailand?

Jeffrey: We live right by the market [Gat Luang, in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai].  I've been going to that same market for 30 years.  It's open 24 hours, it changes complexion; you get to lose yourself in that market...  You take out the middle people and have people relate to each other.

Q: And you just finished a novel too.

Jeffrey: It's not food; it's about 1982 in Nepal.  It was really fun because it gave me an opportunity to do things I'd never done in a cookbook. 

Q: Well, all books are narratives of some kind.

Jeffrey: I always thought cookbooks were fascinating narratives.  It's one that you can enter at page 83, if you want.  Of course, we used to think we were writing travel guides to East Asian swimming pools.

Go to www.immersethrough.com for more information on tours and cookbooks, and to see some of the couple's stunning photography.

-- Amy Scattergood

(Photo of Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford from family collection)

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