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Teenage tasteland

Britain's culinary whiz kid Sam Stern breaks down cooking, writing, and even Burger King with local teen cookbook author Lanie Bayless.

Photograph: Stephanie Willis
COFFEE TALK Sam Stern and the author, Lanie Bayless, dish on the cookbook biz at F212 coffee shop.
COFFEE TALK Sam Stern and the author, Lanie Bayless, dish on the cookbook biz at F212 coffee shop.

One of the hardest things in the world to find is another teen who is really into cooking. I wrote Rick and Lanie’s Excellent Kitchen Adventures with my dad, Rick Bayless, but it’s not every day that I bump into other teenage cookbook authors. Lucky for me, I found one (and he’s even the same age as me)—a 16-year-old from England named Sam Stern who’s quickly becoming the mini Jamie Oliver in the U.K. His first book, Cooking Up a Storm (Walker Books, $16.99), was such a hit that he’s been asked to write another, Real Food, Real Fast (Walker Books), due out in October. So when Sam made a stop in Chicago on his book tour, we decided to get together for coffee and swap ideas, experiences and even some horror stories.

Lanie Bayless: What advice would you give to younger kids who are just starting to cook?
Sam Stern: It’s actually quite easy, something really fun. Get into it and then you can enjoy it more.

LB: Do you, like, cook at home a lot with your family and friends and stuff?
SS: Yeah, I do. Christmas is the best time, because that’s when everybody is home, which is eventful. When friends come over, I just make them do all the steps, like peeling. They get a free meal and I get to practice on them as well.

LB: Ever have any kitchen disasters?
SS: Actually, when I first started to make pasta, it was pretty bad. A complete disaster.

LB: Once, I tried to make an apple tart and totally screwed up the buttercream so it somehow came out like water. So anyway, when you try out new dishes, how do you go about it?
SS: I really just stuff it in and see how it works. And then I have to write down oven temperatures and things, but I hate writing things down.

LB: What kind of music do you like to listen to when you cook?
SS: Everything, from a dance song to something nice and easy like soul.

LB: Are you writing more books?
SS: The next one has time sections, from 5 to 30 minutes, so there’s never an excuse to eat rubbish food. The plan for the third one is festivals and holidays and stuff like that. And the fourth one is when I’m going to leave home, so it’s like, learn the basics at university.

LB: Do kids treat you differently at school now that you’ve written a cookbook?
SS: Not really. Because I’ve always had, like, really close friends, so they don’t treat me very differently. For the others who come up sometimes, I slightly ignore them.

LB: With your book, did the editors make you change things from what you had in your mind?
SS: We had to cut everything down, take, like, five lines and turn it into two lines, and we had to change it a bit for the U.S., like, they took out Vegemite-and-lettuce sandwiches and changed them for peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.

LB: What about the photo shoots and stuff?
SS: Posing for, like, a half hour with a carrot was funny. You always have to look really happy.

LB: When we go on TV, my dad will always be like, “Smile at your food!” I’m like, “I can’t do that,” I feel really weird.
SS: And then you have to talk randomly, you just really have forced talk when you’re at photo shoots—you have to keep saying the same thing again and again.

LB: Which chefs do you most admire?
SS: Jamie Oliver because he made cooking cool. Rick Stein because he goes anywhere to get fresh ingredients.

LB: Do you go out to fast-food places?
SS: I haven’t been to Burger King in eight years. And when I went, I felt ill.

LB: I did, too!
SS: It’s not good…not good at all.
LB: Agreed.