If you flipped through the first issue of Jarry, Jonathan Melendez’s “Huevos Rancheros Nachos” probably caught your eye. It’s a glorious pile of fresh-fried tortilla chips, beans, ranchero sauce, cheese, peppers, and fried eggs that’s meant to be whipped up for dinner with care—while you’re a little tipsy. Turns out that while he was making nachos, he was also hard at work writing (and photographing and styling) his new book, The Slider Effect. Just-released last month, The Slider Effect explores the full potential of those two-bite burgers, offering much more than just beef to go between the buns. For our July Jarry Briefs, we talked with Jonathan about his book and how it came to be, what he’s learned from blogging and social media, and what’s in store, food-wise, for his wedding next year.
Tell us about your background and your path to building a career in food.
I began cooking when I was 13 years old—as a way to help my mom around the house but also because I enjoyed it—so I always dreamt of becoming a chef in a restaurant when I grew up. I was involved in a youth culinary arts program in my senior year of high school, worked at a local bakery for 2 years, and catered my way through college. I attended a culinary school very briefly right after high school, and it was there that I realized cooking was my passion, but not in a professional kitchen setting as I had thought. So I returned home and attended a local community college where I started taking my required courses. I took one photography class and fell in love with it. It was during my senior year of college that someone suggested I try photographing food, as I still very much loved to cook. So I did and I never looked back.
Your blog The Candid Appetite has been running now for 5 years. What have you learned from blogging and social media?
Yes! 5 years! I can’t believe it’s been that long already. I’ve learned so much from blogging and social media, I actually don’t know where to begin. There are so many people out there doing what everyone else does, so it’s important to create something you’re really proud of. I think it’s so easy to get bogged down with worrying about what everyone else is creating or what someone else might think of your work, and the key to success, I find, is that you can’t think about any of that. You have to let it go.There’s always going to be someone out there that doesn’t agree with you, or doesn’t like what you create, so you have to above all else, create something that you’re happy with and proud of at the end. I’ve also learned that social media is very finicky, and ever changing. Right when you think you’ve figured out what works, it changes. So you have to be able to change with it.
Where did the idea for The Slider Effect come from?
I love sliders! What’s not to like about mini burgers?! I always say that if you order a burger, you’re stuck with that one burger the entire meal, whereas if you order a sliders, you can try a few different flavor profiles and switch things up a bit. I started making sliders a lot and sharing them on my blog, and they always did really well. My fiancé told me one day that I really should think about making a book on sliders. So I started researching and realized that there wasn’t a cookbook on sliders already out. I mean sure there are burger books with sections or chapters on sliders but not an entire book dedicated to them. So I wanted to fix this. I also wanted to reinvent the way people look and think about sliders. They don’t just have to be basic meat and cheese sliders, but really anything can become a slider. So I created a book that features Meat, Poultry, Seafood, and Vegetarian Sliders. Some of my favorites from the book are Chicken Fried Steak Sliders, Orange Chicken Sliders, Fried Zucchini Sliders and Fish and Chips Sliders. There’s also a chapter on homemade buns and a chapter on homemade sauces.
What was your process writing it—and shooting and styling it? Were there any unexpected challenges? Unexpected rewards?
The entire process was extremely fast for me. I got the book deal in July of last year (2015), and we all felt that The Slider Effect would do really well in the summer so my publisher wanted it to come out in Summer of 2016. If I didn’t get it done in time, we’d have had to wait an entire year to publish it. So I had to create everything right away. I procrastinated a lot, naturally, because as any person in a creative field knows, it isn’t always easy to just create your art with the snap of a finger. I knew that the deadline was approaching for the manuscript, yet I couldn’t write it for some reason. I had doubts that I wouldn’t be able to do this book justice, or worse, that people weren’t going to like what I had to say. I felt vulnerable because a cookbook is final and anything I say or do with it can’t be changed after it’s published (unlike a blog post that I can edit or delete as I see fit). So a lot of time was wasted with me thinking about writing but not actually doing any of it. Eventually when I least expected it, it all sort of came pouring out of me. I think I wrote the first draft of the book in about a week and a half. Suffice it to say, I work really well under pressure.
The styling and shooting of the images was the easy part of the process for me. I do freelance photography work for other people’s cookbooks as well, so because of that and my blog, I was extremely comfortable photographing all of the recipes in the book.
The one unexpected challenge I had was that because I’ve been doing my blog for 5 years now, I have the final and only say on whatever I post or share on my site. So to go from having my own opinion to now taking into account a team of other people's opinions was a bit tricky. Creating the perfect cover image took about fifteen tries to get right, because we all had specific ideas in mind. I’m happy to say we all came together and decided upon the best option for the book!
Do you have any advice for readers who aspire to one day write a cookbook?
Never give up on your dream to write a book! I’m not embarrassed to admit that my agent and I had a very hard time finding a publisher for this cookbook. A lot of people passed on it because they felt the topic was too narrow. I never stopped believing in the book until one day I was faced with the possibility that I might have to. I remember a conversation I had with my agent, when no one was interested, and we were brainstorming other alternatives and ideas. Then one day out of the blue Andrews McMeel (my publisher) made an offer and changed my life completely. So my advice is to believe in yourself, never give up on your dreams and to fight for what you truly believe in. Perseverance is key.
You and your fiancé Julian have a wedding coming up! How will you be handling the food?
We do! We got engaged last October on Halloween! I actually met Julian on Instagram and it’s funny to me to say that because we live in a time where that’s possible. I knew because of my cookbook being released this year and all the promotion and work that goes into the release of a book, that I didn’t want to also focus on planning a wedding as well. That would’ve been really stressful. So we’ve got a tentative date to get married next October 2017. We really like the month, I guess. It’s going to be a small ceremony at a local church, with a reception at our favorite restaurant which happens to be the restaurant we had our first date at, Little Dom’s in Los Feliz. Check it out if you haven’t, the food is great!
These sliders are probably the fanciest slider in the entire book, so put those top hats and tiaras on.
Even though lobster is the main most-important ingredient in this recipe, you don’t have to sell your arm, your leg, or your child in order to make these. This recipe uses lobster tails instead of whole lobsters for a more wallet-friendly dish without skimping out on any of the flavor. They’re also easier to make because you don’t have to worry about cooking and breaking down whole lobsters. That's a fear we can overcome another time and day.
Yield: 12 sliders
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus 3/4 teaspoon, divided
6 (8-ounce) lobster tails (thawed if frozen)
1/2 cup Roasted Garlic Aioli (recipe follows), or 1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 medium lemon, juiced
1/4 cup chopped celery (about 2 celery heart stalks)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
12 Braided Challah Rolls (page 140), or store-bought dinner rolls
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
6 butter lettuce leaves, cut in half
1. Bring 8 cups water to a boil, in a large saucepan. Add 1 tablespoon salt and bring back up to a boil. Add the lobster tails and simmer, uncovered, until the shells turn bright red and the meat is tender, about 8 to 12 minutes. Drain and let cool.
2. Remove the lobster meat from the tails, chopping it into small chunks, and transferring it to a large bowl. Add the roasted garlic aioli, lemon juice, celery, parsley, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, and the black pepper. Stir until evenly combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.
3. To assemble the sliders, split the rolls in half and brush each half with melted butter. Place a scoopful of the lobster mixture on the bottom half of each bun, and top with lettuce and the top half of the buns. Skewer with a long toothpick to hold in place. Serve immediately.
Yield: about 1 cup
3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 large egg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
10 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1. First make the roasted garlic. Preheat oven to 400F
2. Place the 10 garlic cloves on a couple of sheets of aluminum foil. Drizzle with the olive oil, salt, and pepper and toss to evenly combine. Wrap the foil around the garlic into a tight package and roast in the oven until tender and caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
3. Place the three cloves of garlic, lemon juice, and mustard in a blender. Blend until just combined. With the machine running on high, slowly stream in the oil and blend until incorporated and the mixture has thickened. Season with salt and pepper and pulse once more. Add the roasted garlic and pulse once more.
4. Transfer to a bowl or jar and chill, covered tightly, until ready to use. Will keep in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
For more information about The Slider Effect and to order your copy, visit Jonathan’s website The Candid Appetite.
Photos by Jonathan Melendez..