Laura Wright of The First Mess talks creativity, confidence and random inspiration.
If you glance at the recipes here, you’ll quickly see there’s something special about Laura Wright’s simple yet joyful approach to food. Still, we wondered: how did she translate her love of plant-based nourishment into a career? She kindly agreed to lay it all out for us (and inspired us to start a new kind of sketchbook in the process). [Vanessa] You dream up plant-based recipes for a living. Sounds ah-mazing. What’s the best part of your work? [Laura] It really is amazing! I find the research/dreaming phase to be the most fun. Just imagining the possibilities and flavor combinations that I could go with puts me in the best mood. I get all of my favorite food resource books out on the dining table, and I start sketching out what I imagine the end result to be like. Visualizing is very important to me. [Q] What’s a typical day look like for you? We like to imagine lots of pulling fresh carrots out of the soil or cracking the door to an overflowing root cellar … [A] I spend a surprising amount of time shopping for ingredients. In the summer, I get to garden and grow some of our food, but since I live in Canada, that season is short-lived. After I wake up and do all of my morning rituals, I usually head out to shop if I need to. Then, I work on a recipe into the afternoon and photograph it if it’s going on the blog. I sneak in an Instagram post and an email session in there, too. Sometimes I’m working on partnered content and sometimes I’m writing/researching all day. [Q] What did you do before becoming a blogger and recipe developer? [A] I did a bit of everything. At one point, I was interning as a line cook at a restaurant, working as a server at a café, volunteering at a community food center and finishing up my nutritional culinary management degree, all at the same time. A few years ago, I was still working part time as a server at a farm-to-table restaurant while I finished up my cookbook manuscript and photos. [Q] What did those jobs or experiences teach you about reaching people through food? [A] You have to approach it from the experience of so many people. I have a well-equipped kitchen and a lot of time to make nourishing food from scratch. Those are luxuries that a lot of people aren’t working with. I’ve streamlined my pantry ingredient base and the recipes themselves over the years because I try to aim for true accessibility now. [Q] What do you wish someone had told you before you started your blog, The First Mess? [A] I wish someone had told me to take my skill set seriously. I doubted my abilities and potential so much, right up until a couple years ago (when I was still working on my book). Building up a strong sense of self-confidence through good work and fostering an unshakeable belief that it will all work out is key. [Q] What’s the hardest part of the business of blogging? [A] The paperwork is the most annoying part for me. I’m not a very organized bookkeeper and tax time usually has me in a light panic mode. [Q] Why did you decide to publish a cookbook? (Aside from a desire to make everyone at alive very, very happy … ) [A] When the opportunity was presented to me, I immediately loved the idea of a long-term creative project. More than anything else, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. [Q] Why are you drawn to simple, seasonal dishes? [A] When you cook with produce at its peak, it just tastes naturally good with minimal fuss. You don’t have to add a ton of layers to it because the flavor is already there. Once you have a few basic techniques down (a simple soup, a vinaigrette, how to make pesto, etc.), you can build those abilities around seasonal ingredients for endless possibilities. [Q] What’s your most surprising source of inspiration for creating new dishes? [A] Sometimes I’ll watch a movie or see a photograph/piece of art, and a color combination will jump out at me and I’ll think: “What if I could make a hot pink dip with some kind of golden turmeric-y swirl rippling through? That would be fun.” This isn’t to say that I’m always thinking of food, but the inspiration is really random sometimes! [Q] What’s been your biggest culinary failure? Your greatest success? [A] Dessert and I don’t get along. I’ve had a lot of failure cakes, muffins, pies, tarts, etc. I just don’t think I have the temperament for baking. I know that some people find it relaxing, but it’s not for me. Having said that, one of my greatest successes is the brownie recipe in my cookbook. It’s vegan and totally free of grains, oil and cane sugar, and the brownies are still so fudge-y and delicious. [Q] What’s the most common question you get from readers? (And how do you answer it?) [A] “How do I stock my pantry if I’m interested in eating plant based more often?” I go over what you need with quite a bit of detail in the opening section of my cookbook. I know that seems like a shameless plug, but it’s honestly the most concise answer! [Q] What would you tell someone who wants to make their diet more plant based but isn’t sure where to start? [A] Start with really simple recipes and ingredients that you already use and love. If you try a bunch of complex recipes with ingredients that you have to shop all over for/you’ve never heard of, you might feel discouraged before you even begin. [Q] What ingredient are you head-over-heels for right now? [A] Chickpea miso! I dissolve a spoonful of it in all of my soups, stews and curries for that extra savory flavor hit. [Q] How do you stay motivated and productive? The temptation to call it a day after baking one batch of delicious brownies must be strong sometimes … [A] I’m a big list maker and find that it helps propel me forward throughout the day. I don’t force myself to be productive if I’m not getting any meaningful work done though. Creative work is funny and frustrating because you can’t just switch it on and off. I’m very fortunate in that I can make that call if nothing’s working. [Q] Any ideas for how you’ll work smarter in 2018? [A] I’m looking to really max out my meditation practice in 2018, so I’m hoping that the extra dose of intentional calm and quiet will help me focus on my goals with full clarity.