Alumni, English

Alumna Profile: Kim Mulder, English

July 23, 2014

While working on her Master of Arts in English Literature at SFU three years ago, Kim Mulder had an unexpected response to the academic mantra “publish or perish”: she and her partner Kennedy Telford, a graphic artist, began working on a cookbook. This work continued while Mulder finished both her Master’s degree and a Bachelor's in Education at SFU.

The fruit of their labours is the recently published This East Van Kitchen, a beautiful, colourful and tantalizing cookbook. Mulder and Telford collaboratively produced the cookbook over three years, while living in a 100 year old row house in East Vancouver (Mulder jokes that even though the building is old enough, no one has bothered to seek heritage status for the structure). The book reflects their specific living conditions, and while they are careful about totalizing (it is THIS East Van Kitchen, after all), they hope that they capture something about the area. Mulder describes her kitchen: “it's not very big, there's not a lot of counter space – these are all frustrations that an average East Vancouver house shares.” Designed to address these limitations, and to embrace the wealth of affordable produce available in the region, This East Van Kitchen is deeply rooted in Vancouver, and the Commercial Drive area in particular.

Mulder notes that the project began while observing two novice cooks in her own kitchen: “Kennedy has two younger brothers who are both in university, and they didn't know how to cook at all. But they were curious about it, and they always watched us. And when they helped us, when we cooked together, they would cut everything up so perfectly, like a Campbell's soup with little square carrots. And I was so touched by that – but that's what a lot of rookie cooks do, think everything has to be just so.”

She adds “a cookbook is a manual. And our cookbook specifically is a manual for people who might find being in a kitchen intimidating. It contains information that would show you how to set up your kitchen, from how to hang your pots, how to stock your pantry – to preparing basic recipes in the hopes that you will do something as nice as throwing a dinner party for your friends and sharing that knowledge.” In this grassroots approach to cooking, Mulder sees This East Van Kitchen as an antidote to foodie culture, with its expensive kitchen appliances and ingredients like truffle oil.

This East Van Kitchen tries to reflect the social life in East Vancouver in several ways. For one, the book assumes that vegetarianism is the new normal, while nevertheless suggesting ways one might include meat in the recipes. This choice reflects Mulder and Telford's relationship (Telford is a vegetarian, while Mulder is not), and also the realities of life in East Vancouver: “Around any dinner table in this community, there are going to be gluten-free people, there are going to be vegans, fruitarians, a vegetarian who eats fish – we wanted a cookbook that didn't exclude anyone.”

This sense of localness also serves as the book's political program, which prioritizes eating food products that are produced locally. “The most important food decision that I would make is in not wasting a lot of the Earth's resources in bringing food to me, rather than, say, not eating gluten or animal protein” says Mulder. “A lot of the people who run the stores on Commercial Drive either own farms in the Valley or have relationships with people who do. There is very little fossil fuel used in bringing this stuff here.”

The book, which was self-published, also reflects a commitment to the environment. Rather than giving control of the book to a publishing house, Mulder says that they wanted control in order to make sure it was produced sustainably, and that this was one of the great difficulties of publishing the book: “That was quite a process – finding out how we could do this so it was both affordable and green. Often times those are contradictory. The greenest we could do would make this a 50,000 dollar project, which we couldn't afford.” Ultimately, they decided on Hemlock, a Burnaby printing company that was able to print their book in an ecologically sound way.

The cookbook may have been fated; Vancouver played a role in Mulder's interest in cooking even at an early age. She remembers that while growing up in Edmonton and often staying home from school with nervous stomach-aches, she would watch shows like Wok with Yan, The Frugal Gourmet, and most importantly The Urban Peasant. Mulder cites the latter as a big influence with host James Barber’s relaxed approach to cooking, and the wonderful markets he would film when buying ingredients.

Mulder recounts that it was only later in life that she realized that Barber lived on a boat harboured off of Granville Island, saying “the markets that I saw him nip out to when he ran out of ginger, which looked like Shangri-la to me, were Granville Island Market. You could go somewhere where there's all this fruit laid out – and I thought to myself that wherever I go, I want to live in a place that looks like that. Where there's food on a table in a street. That's what Commercial Drive looks like, and I don't take that for granted.”

Now that the book is on the shelves, Mulder admits that she is proud of it. As she embarks on her new career as a teacher at a private school, she reflects on the need to pursue side projects: “It occurred to me that the people who make art who would be encouraged to do something called a day job would need a bit of energy left at the end of the day that they would use to make their art. Making something extra. I wanted to be a person who never lost that something extra. I never want to lose that little bit of energy that lets me make something else.”