Introduction   

Last week I brought you a book review on “ Food From Northern Laos.”  The book aside, I immediately realized the couple who wrote the book lived a very interesting life and in fact upon publication of their book completed a dream many of us have.  I can’t count how many people have told me they’d like to write a book on some aspect of Thailand, yet very few every get written much less published.  This couple did both and they did a great job.   

Usually my interviews are a verbatim exchange of questions and answers.  Topics I think would be of interest to the readers.  When I invited Kees and Dorothy over for the interview I had every intention of following the same format, but it quickly because clear this format wouldn’t work in their case.   They were excited, enthused, very proactive in telling me about their feelings and experiences.  Minutes into the interview I flipped on my voice recorder resigning myself to the tedious task of transcribing the file.  Two hours later when the interview ended I instinctively knew the interview, as recorded, was way too long for this column and while I personally found it very interesting I didn’t think the piece in its entirety would keep the readers interest.     

In the interest of brevity and readability I’ve chosen to ‘paraphrase’ the most salient points of the interview and put it in a story format, keeping the most important points and providing the most important information.  Kees was generous enough to provide a handful of images I’ll disperse between each exchange which I’m sure you’ll really enjoy.  This interview is about the authors of the book “Food From Northern Laos” and their journey to publication.  Please forgive any small errors or omissions, we covered a great deal of information and I’m sure to have made some errors.  

 

Last week I brought you a book review on “Food From Northern Laos.”   The book aside, I immediately realized the couple who wrote the book lived a very interesting life and in fact upon publication of their book completed a dream many of us have.  I can’t count how many people have told me they’d like to write a book on some aspect of Thailand, yet very few every get written much less published.  This couple did both and they did a great job.

 

Kees Sprengers and Dorothy Culloty hail from New Zealand.  They started work on this book almost seven years ago, and I might add quite by accident.  Kees had a strong background in photography and Dorothy a talent for writing.  A perfect combination to be sure!  I was also curious what would bring a middle-aged couple from New Zealand to rural Laos.  

 

Kees Sprenger and Dorothy Culloty hail from New Zealand.  They started work on this book almost seven years ago, and I might add quite by accident.  Kees had a strong background in photography and Dorothy a talent for writing.  A perfect combination to be sure!  I was also curious what would bring a middle-aged couple from New Zealand to rural Laos

 

When I asked Kees about his photography experience he took me through a very interesting career path.  He started with a temporary position at a museum in New Zealand.  Initially when reading the job description he didn’t feel he was qualified, so to prepare he purchased a few books on the camera systems the museum used and studied before the interview.  During the interview he was asked if he had experience with the systems, and now he could honestly answer yes.  He smiles when saying it was a good thing they didn’t ask how much experience.

 

When I asked Kees about his photography experience he took me through a very interesting career path.  He started with a temporary position at a museum in New Zealand.  Initially when reading the job description he didn’t feel he was qualified, so to prepare he purchased a few books on the camera systems the museum used and studied before the interview.  During the interview he was asked if he had experience with the systems, and now he could honestly answer yes.  He smiles when saying it was a good thing they didn’t ask how much experience.

 

This part time job turned into a 14 year career at the museum during which he gained a vast amount of experience with both photography, and museum affairs.  He learned many different cameras, lenses, and techniques and photographed everything a museum offers.  You’d have to have keen people skills. 

 

This part time job turned into a 20 year career at the museum during which he gained a vast amount of experience with both photography, and museum affairs.  He learned many different cameras, lenses, and techniques and photographed everything a museum offers.  You’d have to have keen people skills.

 

Dorothy and Kees came to South East Asia nearly seven years ago with uncertain plans.  They tell me it was almost by accident that they came across

The Boat Landing and Guest House in the Luang Namtha province.  The boat landing is where the boats must be ‘landed’ because the river shallows out and they can go no further by boat.   It’s from this point that all travel is done by foot. 

 

Dorothy and Kees came to South East Asia nearly seven years ago with uncertain plans.  They tell me it was almost by accident that they came across The Boat Landing and Guest House  in the Luang Namtha province.  The boat landing is where the boats must be ‘landed’ because the river shallows out and they can go no further by boat.   It’s from this point that all travel is done by foot.

 

They describe the Boat Landing having a profound impact on their lives, life changing would be accurate.  It was here they met the family who owns the  boat landing and it’s a large family.  One member was an engineer who helped build local projects, the others ran the boating landing which provided food and lodging for travelers and which eventually became a sort of ecotourist destination.  While there they took a keen interest in the local foods and preparation.

 

 

They describe the Boat Landing having a profound impact on their lives, live changing would be accurate.  It was here they met the family who owns the  boat landing and it’s a large family.  One member was an engineer who helped build local projects, the others ran the boating landing which provided food and lodging for travelers and which eventually became a sort of ecotourist destination.  While there they took a keen interest in the local foods and preparation.

 

Soon they started documenting what they saw and keeping records.  Ingredients, portions, cooking techniques, they were all different and exotic and quickly caught their fascination.  There was much to learn.  Foods were seasonal as were the ingredients.  It wasn’t long before their idea for a cookbook came about and work began in earnest. 

 

Soon they started documenting what they saw and keeping records.  Ingredients, portions, cooking techniques, they were all different and exotic and quickly caught their fascination.  There was much to learn.  Foods were seasonal as were the ingredients.  It wasn’t long before their idea for a cookbook came about and work began in earnest.

 

Many trips back and forth between Laos and their home in Thailand took place over the years and friendships grew.  As we talked about the people of the boat landing you could see and feel genuine affection and even pride for their accomplishments.  Kees and Dorothy both were getting far more involved with the local Laos people than they ever anticipated.

 

Many trips back and forth between Laos and their home in Thailand took place over the years and friendships grew.  As we talked about the people of the boat landing you could see and feel genuine affection and even pride for their accomplishments.  Kees and Dorothy both were getting far more involved with the local Laos people than they ever anticipated.

 

Listing the ingredients was the first major obstacle to overcome, after learning the language of course.  Ingredients are seasonal and Kees and Dorothy described how they ingredients would be found either wild, or grown in gardens which were quite different from the neat labeled rows of a western garden.  Lao gardens appeared to be haphazard and unorganized, but in fact the growers knew where everything was.


Listing the ingredients was the first major obstacle to overcome, after learning the language of course.  Ingredients are seasonal and Kees and Dorothy described how they ingredients would be found either wild, or grown in gardens which were quite different from the neat labeled rows of a western garden.  Lao gardens appeared to be haphazard and unorganized, but in fact the growers knew where everything was.

 

A primary goal of this book was for the reader to be able to duplicate the recipes in a western kitchen.  This means not only must the ingredients be identified, photographed and logged, but that also suitable substitutes needed to be identified as well.  Seasonal ingredients require this.  Much work went into this part, detailed photographs, careful descriptions, and suitable substitutes are all listed.

 

A primary goal of this book was for the reader to be able to duplicate the recipes in a western kitchen.  This means not only must the ingredients be identified, photographed and logged, but that also suitable substitutes needed to be identified as well.  Seasonal ingredients require this.  Much work went into this part, detailed photographs, careful descriptions, and suitable substitutes are all listed.

 

The next challenge as explained to me were portions.  Ever done any Asian cooking with the in-laws?  I have.  There are no measuring cups and teaspoons.  Instead there are pinches and dashes and palm fulls and Dorothy explained to me the issues in making the conversions.  The conversions had to be identified, tested, and then documented.  If substitutes were identified they also had to be tested and documented.

 

The next challenge as explained to me were portions.  Ever done any Asian cooking with the in-laws?  I have.  There are no measuring cups and teaspoons.  Instead there are pinches and dashes and palm fulls and Dorothy explained to me the issues in making the conversions.  The conversions had to be identified, tested, and then documented.  If substitutes were identified they also had to be tested and documented.

 

Then there were the cooking implements.  Different ways to cook rice, roast insects, and different cooking sources like open fires, grills, and pits.  How to transfer the recipes into a modern western kitchen was a major challenge.  A Lao family I know who has lived in the states for over 30 years and who have a wonderfully big western home and kitchen looked over their book and told me it was amazing how accurate the conversions of ingredients, techniques, and implements were done. 

 

Then there were the cooking implements.  Different ways to cook rice, roast insects, and different cooking sources like open fires, grills, and pits.  How to transfer the recipes into a modern western kitchen was a major challenge.  A Lao family I know who has lived in the states for over 30 years and who have a wonderfully big western home and kitchen looked over their book and told me it was amazing how accurate the conversions of ingredients, techniques, and implements were done.

 

After we’d talked about how they came to write the book, what went into the research, it was time to talk about the book itself.  What goes into the writing of a book and the publication?  A few years ago Kees had come to me for help color profiling his monitor, getting the colors right with such a project were essential.  He also asked to be introduced to Lightroom.  At the time it was still version 1.  Much has changed since then.  I can attest to the hard work and dedication an old film guy must go through to learn digital well enough to publish.   It certainly isn’t easy.

 

After we’d talked about how they came to write the book, what went into the research, it was time to talk about the book itself.  What goes into the writing of a book and the publication?  A few years ago Kees had come to me for help color profiling his monitor, getting the colors right with such a project were essential.  He also asked to be introduced to Lightroom.  At the time it was still version 1.  Much has changed since then.  I can attest to the hard work and dedication an old film guy must go through to learn digital well enough to publish.   It certainly isn’t easy.

 

Kees has started with an older Sony P&S nearly 7 years ago, progressed to a crop frame Canon DSLR, and is now finally shooting a Canon 5d Mark II like the rest of us.   He’s also using a fairly recent Imac with a nice Eizo external monitor.  Unfortunately because of these equipment choices only one monitor at a time in his system can be color managed and he tells me he uses the Eizo for all his important work.  I would too!

 

Kees has started with an older Sony P&S nearly 7 years ago, progressed to a crop frame Canon DSLR, and is now finally shooting a Canon 5d Mark II like the rest of us.   He’s also using a fairly recent Imac with a nice Eizo external monitor.  Unfortunately because of these equipment choices only one monitor at a time in his system can be color managed and he tells me he uses the Eizo for all his important work.  I would too!

 

I asked and it was confirmed that using files that spanned 3-4 cameras over a 7 year period, a time of rapid technology advancement, for the same book, was a challenge in itself.  Looking at the book you can tell the best low light pictures were done with the Canon 5d and 5d Mark II, but the others are so well processed it’s not immediately apparent which camera was used.  Well done! 

 

I asked and it was confirmed that using files that spanned 3-4 cameras over a 7 year period, a time of rapid technology advancement, for the same book, was a challenge in itself.  Looking at the book you can tell the best low light pictures were done with the Canon 5d and 5d Mark II, but the others are so well processed it’s not immediately apparent which camera was used.  Well done!

 

Dorothy describes the writing and fact checking as a labor of love.  Frankly I’m impressed with her writing.  It’s enjoyable to read, refined, and shows much skill.  She’s very good at this part. 

 

Dorothy describes the writing and fact checking as a labor of love.  Frankly I’m impressed with her writing.  It’s enjoyable to read, refined, and shows much skill.  She’s very good at this part

 

Yet, there was a collaboration and they described it with smiles and good cheer.  I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t work with my wife for five minutes on a project without pulling my hair out, yet they worked together for years putting this book together.  Let’s hold out hope their next book will be a marriage self-help!

 

Yet, there was a collaboration and they described it with smiles and good cheer.  I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t work with my wife for five minutes on a project without pulling my hair out, yet they worked together for years putting this book together.  Let’s hold out hope their next book will be a marriage self-help!

 

Finally it came down to the daunting task of putting it all together into its current form and then choosing a publisher.  Usually such books are done in PDF format using PSD files or JPEGS for the images, but theirs were done in the more professional and time honored CYMK.  They selected a local publisher and you can now find the book for sale on Amazon.com

  

Finally it came down to the daunting task of putting it all together into its current form and then choosing a publisher.  Usually such books are done in PDF format using PSD files or JPEGS for the images, but theirs were done in the more professional and time honored CYMK.  They selected a local publisher and you can now find the book for sale on Amazon.com

 

I’ll admit to not pressing too far about the cost per unit and other private financial details because frankly that’s their business.  I can tell you from experience this is not an insignificant investment.  You have to respect not only their hard work and dedication to the project, but their entrepreneur spirit as well!

 

I’ll admit to not pressing too far about the cost per unit and other private financial details because frankly that’s their business.  I can tell you from experience this is not an insignificant investment.  You have to respect not only their hard work and dedication to the project, but their entrepreneur spirit as well!

 

This was a long interview.  And again I apologize for not exerting more control during the interview process and making a verbatim question and answer format possible.  In my defense I admit to being both charmed and fascinated at the same time  This is a very interesting couple and the time went by very quickly.  They were eager to tell their story, and I was more than eager to listen.  A superb afternoon! 

 

This was a long interview.  And again I apologize for not exerting more control during the interview process and making a verbatim question and answer format possible.  In my defense I admit to being both charmed and fascinated at the same time  This is a very interesting couple and the time went by very quickly.  They were eager to tell their story, and I was more than eager to listen.  A superb afternoon!

 

If what you’ve got out of this exchange is that this book took a tremendous amount of work, then you would be right.  I’ve lived in Asia 23+ years, yet I’ve had no desire to live in the rural areas they’ve lived or spend so much time on one subject.  But that’s what it takes.  And the results are wonderful.  I encourage you to check out their book at any of the English speaking book stores in Bangkok, on Amazon.com , or on their own website.  

 

Kees and Dorothy, Thank you!