Native Angeleno Amelia Saltsman lucked into her career in food in the 1980s. The cookbook author, teacher, speaker and farmers' market advocate walked into Faire La Cuisine, an "adorable" culinary shop and cooking school in Malibu and soon after, was offered a job. Saltsman quickly made herself invaluable as she learned food styling, teaching and writing, the same skills she uses today as a cookbook author.
In 2007, after two years of writing and editing collected stories and recipes, The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook was born. The book is a celebration of the marketplace (now 30 years old) and is filled with recipes inspired by farmers' stories and seasonal produce found in the aisles.
But getting there took decades. In the early 1990s, through a casual conversation with her friend and novelist Lisa See, she had an opportunity to work as a food stylist, preparing food and making it attractive for demonstrations, with food luminaries on book tours passing through Los Angeles. Among others, she worked with Marcella Hazan, Rick Bayless and Alice Waters, but it was from food styling for well-known cookbook author and fellow California native Marion Cunningham that Saltsman was inspired to leap into larger projects. The two found common ground in unlikely places; each started their careers in food in their 40s, and each were always passionate about family bonding and parenting content. Saltsman was also writing magazine articles at the time, but "writing a book requires working from a bigger map."
Saltsman spent years writing articles and collecting stories of family farmers and the community created at the farmers markets before starting her book. She tested the durability of her book by not simply collecting recipes found at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, but writing about the universality of the space that is created every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday as the market sets up and shuts down. "It's the village square every week, and we get to experience that." The book is filled with recipes that are adaptable as produce comes in and out of season. "A book needs to live a long time. It is as solid as a piece of furniture."
Now, Saltsman is focused on a series of holiday and entertaining e-cookbooks which will launch in the summer of 2012, and she continues work in food advocacy. Recently, she wrote a piece, The Cost Of A Market Meal, for her website demonstrating that a shopper can spend less money at the farmer's market for fresher produce than at a supermarket for the same amount of ingredients.
To others who want to become cookbook authors, she suggests to write from a framework of wanting to be of service to the reader, keeping in mind the question, "Why would anyone read this?" She recommends volunteering as a recipe tester for an author's new book, on a farm or at the farmers' markets. "In food, the opportunity will come. The stories will come. You just have to be in a place where food is happening."