If you’re not familiar with the books, Neil Flambé is a 14-year-old chef who not only cooks up fine gourmet cuisines that are to die for, he also solves intricate culinary mysteries.
OWL caught up with the creative and talented Kevin Sylvester to talk more about his book series.
Q: What is the wildest meal both you and Neil Flambé have created?
Kevin: Neil is way more adventurous than me… it’s one of the things I love most about him. For me, probably the chili I made for high school graduation. I basically marinated steak slices in hot pepper sauce, then cooked it and added some tomatoes… and more hot sauce. It burned all of the way through your system, and was one of the best meals I’ve ever made. Hardly anybody else wanted to have any so I even had leftovers!
As for Neil, I don’t want to give too much away, but in Book #3, Neil has to learn to cook with some really “basic” ingredients, things that most chefs would consider garbage. There’s a whole reason for this, including a curse, so Neil has to be very creative.
Q. What kind of advice do you have for budding young chefs who have no kitchen experience but want to try cooking?
Kevin: First off, if you’re going to cook, get an adult to help. Knives are sharp, and pans are hot. Start off with simple meals such as quesadillas (cheese and tortillas), or try making your own salsa. My best advice with food is to be adventurous. Don’t turn up your nose at things that are “weird”. I know parents tell you that all of the time, and I was forced to eat fish every Friday as a kid and hated it. But as I got older, I fell in love with the flavour. If I’d never tried fish as a kid, I never would’ve have tried it as an adult.
On the flip side, don’t be a snob. My favourite meal growing up was french fries dipped in strawberry milkshakes. Sounds both gross and “low cuisine”, but I learned a lot about how sweet and salty mix together. So try mixing stuff together that you wouldn’t expect. And use cookbooks. They break dishes down into all of their components and once you learn how to do things the “right” way, you can start to experiment on your own.
Q. Your characters have fascinating names! How do you think of them?
Kevin: My last name is Sylvester so I know a lot about names that people find funny. Neil is a fiery young man so flambé is a perfect fit. Isabella Tortellini is named after Isabella Rossellini. I like to laugh so I like to hide little jokes in the books (look for the silent Greta Carbo in Book #3, then do some research to get the joke!).
I have another personal connection. My grandmother was from France and her last name was Cognac… yes, like the drink. Many of our foods are named after people. Peach Melba is named for the singer Nellie Melba. Beef Wellington is named after the general who knocked off Napoléon. So I’m just taking that idea and having fun with it.
Q. Where’s your favourite place to write your stories?
Kevin: My attic is my home for almost all of my waking hours. I have a huge iMac that I use to write and draw, and listen to baseball games. The computer sits on top of a 200-year old mahogany table that used to sit in my parents 250-year-old farm house. They moved and I bought it and it reminds me of them and that house every time I sit down. My drafting table is even made from the old Coleman cooler top that we used when we went camping as kids.
Memory and history (personal and otherwise) are clearly important to me and that I feature in my books, so this is both my work station and my refuge. Of course, when the weather gets really nice I’ll often take my sketchbooks out into my back garden, but I find that I need to sit my bum down at my desk to really get to work.
Check out Kevin’s new book, Neil Flambé and the Crusader’s Curse, available now! We’ll be talking about this book on July 11 in the Book Club, so you can let us know your thoughts on Neil Flambé.