Having been described as “Ireland’s top cookbook editor” and worked with Ireland’s best-known chefs and authors, Kristin Jensen took a leap of faith when she set up Blasta Books to highlight new voices in the Irish food scene.
The small hardback books are released quarterly and are beautifully illustrated – they are designed to give people a “fun, accessible and affordable way to eat exciting food”.
For 2022, these include Tacos by Lily Ramirez Foran, Hot Fat by Russell Alford and Patrick Hanlon, The United Nations of Cookies by Jess Murphy and Eoin Cluskey and Wok by Kwanghi Chan.
Originally from the US, Kristin now lives in Co Louth with her husband, two daughters and their two dogs.
What is your earliest food memory?
My dad used to make absolutely massive batches of popcorn for family movie nights and put it into an old steel washtub. We’d all get our own bowl for scooping it out of the tub and shake over loads of dried parmesan.
What brought you from the US to Ireland?
Love! I met my future husband (who is also American) after he’d moved to Ireland, but he was back in the US to attend his brother’s college graduation, who I was housemates with. Long story short, we hit it off and I moved over for what I thought would be an adventure for one year, two max.
That was 1999 and we’re still here, with two kids, two dogs and living in the countryside. Not a week goes by that I don’t think about how lucky I am to have made my home here.
You have been described as “Ireland’s top cookbook editor”, but how did you get involved in the industry?
I had been a freelance editor for a few years, working on general trade books, when the in-house managing editor at Gill Books asked me to work on Rachel Allen’s first cookbook.
I was already interested in cooking and I ran with recipe editing, eventually developing it into my speciality. At this point, I’ve worked on almost 100 cookbooks and have edited and written thousands of recipes.
Why did you decide to set up Blasta Books?
After 20 years of freelancing, I was frustrated that so many voices and parts of our food culture weren’t being represented in mainstream publishing. Oftentimes only the most high-profile people and only the most mainstream topics or trends tend to get published, so I wanted to provide a way to update the story of our modern, diverse and vibrant food scene here.
I also believe that the two things that connect absolutely everyone, everywhere, are food and stories. The success of the series so far shows that I’m not the only one who thinks this – there is a real appetite for more stories and more types of food.
My target audience is people who already love to cook and spend time in the kitchen. I’m working in a niche, but it actually gives me much more freedom in terms of who and what I can publish.
What was the biggest challenge in setting up your own publishing house?
Financing was and still is a challenge, especially in the current climate of steep price hikes on paper, shipping and just about everything else.
I wound up starting a publishing company at the worst possible time, but I’m still optimistic that the cash flow will even out in another year or two, once I have a backlist of books. I’ve also quickly discovered the limits of what I can do as a company of just one person, so I’m currently looking at what I can outsource or scale back on so that I can concentrate on what really matters: producing excellent books with strong voices.
Why did you decide to use Kickstarter (crowd-funding) to launch Blasta Books, what was your fundraising target, and how successful was this model?
Kickstarter was a great way to create buzz for the project and test the market for it rather than just asking the bank for a loan. My goal was €25,000 to fund the first two books, but I wound up raising over €55,000, which meant I was able to launch with all four books in our quarterly series.
I had great success with the crowdfunding model and in fact I hope that it inspires other people or potential authors to use it to finance their own projects.
There are four books planned in the current series, but what is your go-to recipe from each?
The pork pibil tacos from Tacos; the Korean fried chicken from Hot Fat; the Canadian fat archies cookies from The United Nations of Cookies; and the stir-fried chilli beef from Wok.
Apart from the cookbooks you have worked on, what is your favourite cookbook of all time?
How to Eat by Nigella Lawson will always have a special place on my bookshelf because it was the first cookbook I bought after I moved to Ireland.
Growing up in the American midwest, I’d never even heard of things like trifle or Yorkshire puddings. It was also the first cookbook I read that had such an important storytelling element to it rather than being purely instructional.
Living in Co Louth, where would you recommend for a great breakfast/brunch, lunch and dinner?
Five Good Things in Drogheda for breakfast/brunch; fish and chips from The Beach Hut in Clogherhead after a good long walk on the beach; and the Square in Dundalk for dinner.
In 2014, you co-authored Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider – what is your current tipple of choice?
It actually isn’t a beer or cider, but a spirit! The Valentia Island Vermouth is absolutely gorgeous.