Q and A with Jean Pare

by Judy Schultz

Over three decades, the name Jean Pare has become an international symbol for good old-fashioned home cooking. Company’s Coming cookbooks average more than two for every Canadian household. “That’s pretty good for the woman who worked on her first cookbook in a spare bedroom of her rural Alberta home and delivered books from the trunk of her car,” says her son, Grant Lovig. Jean announced February 28 that she would retire from her active roles in Company’s Coming. Here’s one conversation between two food writers following the announcement.

JS: Thirty years, 30 million books, more than 200 titles. That has to be a publishing record. In the beginning, did you have any inkling of what a howling success Jean Pare would eventually become?

JP: We thought success would be selling out that first printing of 15,000 copies of 150 Delicious Squares. Being optimistic, however, we planned to produce a series of 10 cookbooks! The name we chose for our books, and our company, came to me while driving from my home in Vermilion to my son Grant’s home in Saskatoon in the fall of 1980. The trunk of my car was filled with pans of squares, ready for the photographer. As I drove along the Yellowhead I made notes. Tea For Two? Sweet Treats? Nothing seemed right, until I remembered what my mother would say when they had guests coming for a meal, ”Company’s coming.“ When I arrived at Grant’s, I announced, “Company’s coming.” He said, “I know. You’re here.” I said “Yes, but what do you think of that as the name for the book(s)?” He liked it.

JS: I know you like recipes with ingredients “that anybody would have on hand,” but you‘ve seen a lot of changes in what those items might be.

JP: We’ve published more than 17,000 kitchen-tested recipes to date. The availability of ingredients has changed dramatically over the years, as has the number of places to find them. Many of the recipes in our books can still be made using ingredients on hand in most kitchens. We go to great lengths to ensure that all ingredients called for are easy to find.

With ethnic ingredients, I’m careful. My readers don’t want to spend a lot of time or money shopping for some unusual spice when they only need a quarter teaspoon.

JS: Do you ever have to set personal taste aside?

JP: Yes, in order to share certain recipes. For example, I’m not a big fan of cilantro. I find it overpowers the other flavours in a dish. Also, when it comes to certain kinds of seafood, and snails, I gladly leave the taste testing to others. But anything chocolate? Stand aside!

JS: I’ve seen your books in kitchens all over the English-speaking world. Of all the travelling you’ve done, was there one ingredient you especially enjoyed bringing home?

JP: Friends in New Zealand, Australia and England were determined I’d taste every dessert they knew, many of them chocolate. Chocolate is the universal language that binds good cooks together!

JS: In recent years, your books have changed. More art, more sophisticated ingredients. Why?

JP: Travel has certainly influenced me, but the changes you’ve noted are from trying to reach new readers who might be looking for something different, something that better suits their own personal taste. At the core of every book we’ve published, however, are recipes that work and taste great, while being relatively quick to make, easy to follow, using accessible ingredients.

JS: What’s your favourite food destination?

JP: My family table would always be my first pick. In the middle of an Alberta winter, I wish I’d been raised in Hawaii, but wherever you find my family is where I want most to be.

JS: What things are you most looking forward to at this new stage in your life?

JP: Spending more time travelling. Visiting my kids and their families. And of course, I want to be available to the Company’s Coming recipe development team, whenever they need me.

Judy Schultz is a food and travel writer.