TORONTO – Aimee Wimbush-Bourque is passionate about inviting people to gather at her table, whether it’s a friend for coffee or 60 guests for a Christmas party.
And she hopes her newly published first cookbook, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars: Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites (Penguin Canada), will be a way for her to extend her love of food and hospitality even further afield.
She’s been doing so virtually with her blog, Simple Bites, “but this cookbook is something people can bring into their kitchens, curl up on the sofa with,” she said during a visit to Toronto.
Along with more than 100 recipes with an emphasis on whole foods tied to the seasons, the book includes anecdotes, essays and practical tips such as how to set up an environmentally friendly kitchen and thrive with kids in the space. Her father created 20 original illustrations.
Her background growing up in Yukon and the B.C. Interior, her professional kitchen experience ranging from chic French bistros to fine dining in Montreal, and her years of cooking day in and out for her family have culminated in her book and a lifestyle she calls “urban homesteading.”
She and husband Danny moved to a quarter-acre in a Montreal suburb, which backs on to some wooded land. There they garden and raise six brown hens, teaching their two boys, aged nine and six, and two-year-old daughter about sustainability and the environment.
“I like the fact the children see the chickens have a great life. They go free-range most of the summer and then that we don’t waste them as parents.”
They eat the eggs, and with her restaurant butchering experience, she’s able to use pretty much the entire animal.
Wimbush-Bourque, 36, has written an essay to help parents talk to kids about meat.
“I think it’s important to start early telling your kids that bacon has a tail, whatever way you want to put it, but that yes, we do eat meat,” she said.
“And then of course teaching them about respecting the animal, teaching them about being aware of where meat comes from, not just consuming without thinking.”
During her culinary training, Wimbush-Bourque was lucky enough to land an apprenticeship and then a job at Toque restaurant in Montreal, under the tutelage of famed chef-owner Normand Laprise. There she was steeped in his emphasis on using local seasonal ingredients.
The whimsical title Brown Eggs and Jam Jars came to her when she started the book. There’s a chapter called “Brown Eggs,” and jam jars play a big role in her kitchen. A tutorial on canning and preserving is bound to inspire readers.
And she’s not opposed to using jam jars to hold wine when there are more guests than glasses.
With food waste a pet peeve, her goal was zero waste during recipe development and photography. She gave food away or froze it for her family.
“I decided that I wasn’t going to waste food just to get that perfect looking thing…. I also didn’t want it to look so styled, over the top, that people were too scared to make it,” she said.
“It comes back to my restaurant training as well. Everything is counted and rotated and freshened. Food waste in restaurants, we really try to keep it down because we’re throwing money away.
“So I think that’s a part of it that’s engrained too. Yes, it’s the money, but I’m very aware of how many people are hungry in the world, children, it just kills me to think about it, so I practise my part.”