Last year, I had the pleasure to meet Peggy Sweeney-McDonald at Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS. I had won the book from Deep South Magazine in a contest- but since Peggy was so close by, I decided to drive over and meet her. And I’m so glad I did! Peggy is vivacious, entertaining, and just plain fun! Chatting with her about her book was the best way to spend an afternoon.
When I met Peggy, my blog was a year old; but still getting it’s feet on the ground. And I regretted the missed chance at interviewing her (as we just talked and talked that afternoon!) However, Peggy was kind enough to grant me an interview after I contacted her- and now readers of Traveling With T will be able to find why she’s a success- and how dear Café Du Monde is to her heart and soul.
Interview with Peggy Sweeney-McDonald
Peggy, Meanwhile Back at Café Du Monde originally was a show. Now it’s a book. What is next?
It has been an incredible journey from inspiration to idea to shows to book and beyond. I’m now trying to pitch it as a television idea and would love to do a radio show too! I’m being asked to write for food magazines and to present Meanwhile, Back at Café Du at conferences. I’m scheduled to do the show at the Chili Pepper Extravaganza in New Orleans September 27-29th and will have some of the “Pepper Heads” on board to share their food stories.
How did you transition Meanwhile Back at Café Du Monde from show to book? What was the process?
This was a “learn as you go” experience with lots of ups and downs. I had never thought about writing a book before. I had the idea for the coffee table book of the stories from the shows when I was getting ready to go on stage for the first show. I was in the gift shop/kitchen of the Myrtles Plantation and there were coffee table books on a table for sale. I thought to myself, “This would be a great book with the stories, recipes and pictures”, I turned one of the books over and saw Pelican Publishing had published that book. I invited Pelican Publishing to come to a New Orleans show the next month as I knew they would be a good fit. They came to the show, loved it and gave me a book deal. Soon I had a literary agent, entertainment attorney and was learning the ropes of a book contract. At times it has been very overwhelming but thrilling. I’m trying to stay centered, focused, excited and enjoy the ride. The book has received rave reviews from Emeril Lagasse, Chef John Besh, Rex Reed, Pulitzer Prize winning author Jeffrey Marx and more. It has been reviewed in newspapers and magazines including Southern Seasons, Texas Home and Living, Louisiana Cooking, Flavors, Chili Pepper Magazine and more.
Did you have better luck with having Meanwhile Back at Café Du Monde becoming a book because it’s about food and has great pictures?
I think the publisher liked the idea that it wasn’t just a cookbook and it was unique in that the stories originated from a live show and were shared by people from all walks of life not just chefs, restaurant owners and typical foodies. We have the Mayor of Baton Rouge (Kip Holden) to a college student (Hannah Blomquist) and a Broadway theatre actress (Savannah Wise) and more that aren’t typical “foodies”.
Or does a book like this present it’s own unique challenges? I had a 3 month deadline after signing the contract and trying to gather stories, pictures and releases from 67 people over the 2011 Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays was a huge challenge. I know everyone was tired of getting my calls and emails but I wanted the book to come out the Fall of 2012 and so it had to be turned in by January 2012. It was a crazy time and so many days, I didn’t think I could get it accomplished but a day at a time, I did! It was such a great feeling to turn in my “baby” to my publisher. You think you have done the hard work at that point, but it has only just begun with the editing over the next 6 months and then planning the promotion. I feel like I learned so much about publishing, myself, and life! It was a wonderful time in my life.
Is Meanwhile Back At Café Du Monde a “foodie” book? Or is it an “everyone who likes food book”?
It is a book for anyone that loves stories about life, love, family, friends, joy and sorrow and if you are a foodie, you will treasure the book as you will relate to something in every story!
Peggy, are you working on more books? Another show?
I just finished a round of shows in Los Angeles and went back to Baton Rouge for the 3 year anniversary shows. I’m taking a break from the live shows now as I’m concentrating on meetings with production companies to pitch the television idea. I am planning on writing a book about my journey of Meanwhile, Back at Café Du Monde… and the spiritual and life lessons I have learned along the way. When you listen to divine inspiration and start taking the steps toward your dreams despite your fear, life gets bigger and better in so many ways.
What is your absolute favorite food that makes you think of life back home in the South? How is the food different in California than New Orleans?
Of course it would have to be beignets and Café Au Lait from Café Du Monde! The sweetest thing in the world! As I say in my title monologue, “no matter where I live or what is going on in my life, I always end up at Café Du Monde… taking life one beignet at a time!”
We have great food in Los Angeles. You can dine internationally here without ever leaving the city. However, New Orleans food has soul and there is something about the food that once you have tasted it, you just want more. I go back to Baton Rouge to visit my family and once I have the first taste of good Louisiana food, all bets are off and any thought of dieting or eating right is down the drain . It’s off to the races. It’s like the first bite explodes my taste buds and I’m once more I’m awakened to how fabulous Louisiana cooks are! I have to come back to Los Angeles to eat right and exercise so that I can go back to Louisiana a few months later to eat again! It’s a vicious cycle but so worth it!
What is the best “foodie” story that you’ve experienced?
It would have to be my own story as it comes from my heart . My story begins when I left New York to move back to Louisiana with my New York fiancé and all the amazing years we lived in New Orleans eating our way thru the French Quarter and always ending up at Café Du Monde! Everyone has a “Café Du Monde” or Café of the World – a metaphor for your favorite comfort food place. Everyone has a food story…. life spun around a thread of food!
*Special thanks to Peggy Sweeney-McDonald for agreeing to this interview!