Virginia Willis Blog

Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: Behind the Scenes & Free Recipe Sampler!

Basic to Brilliant, Y’all is now on sale! 

We sealed the deal on Christmas Eve of 2009.

Can you believe it? Writing a cookbook is a long process. Most folks aren’t aware of just how long it takes. Yes, some books are pushed quickly through the system and some books, frankly aren’t always carefully produced. My experience with both of my books has been one of slow, careful growth. I like it. I love it. I feel that something worth having is something worth the wait.

First, there’s the tiny little wisp of a thought that might, just might be something. That little thought needs nurturing, so I roll it around my brain and marinate on it until it’s bona fide, the real deal. Then, I write my proposal. This is the piece for the publishing company to be able to understand the idea, see if they are game, see if they think it’s bona fide, too. (My words, not theirs; they are from Northern California, I am from the South.) My proposals have a full recipe list, sample chapter, a selection of recipes, as well as a summary of each intended chapter. It’s basically the skeleton, or the outline, of the book. Once the proposal has been accepted, in both instances, I’ve had one year to complete the manuscript.

Completing the manuscript means writing, testing, and developing all the recipes. For this process, in my experience, it means that I have one year to complete the task. It also means some of the recipes listed in the proposal may fall to the wayside and replaced with better ideas – but just a smattering. I build my proposals with real intent.  I also learned recipe testing from Nathalie Dupree and Anne Willan. It’s a meticulous process.

First, I write a rough recipe before I even walk into the kitchen. I may have been cooking supper or eaten something somewhere that sparked my interest. It’s not always from absolute zero that an idea becomes a recipe. But, then, I test and test again. And, it needs to get an A or a B. If it gets a B, we retest it. Often, if it gets a C, I’ll walk away from the concept. I’ll test a recipe 3 or 4 times. If it can’t achieve an A – I feel like it’s not just meant to be.

For Basic to Brilliant this meant 150 Basic recipes — and 150 ways to make them Brilliant. There’s a lot of information packed in that book!

Once the year has passed and I turn in all my recipes with my manuscript, it starts the editorial process. From the time it’s turned in until it’s printed, it’s an additional year. For Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, I worked with an editor, a series of proofreaders and copy editors, and a designer for 6 months. It takes the proverbial village. Only after all that work is it sent off to the printer to be printed, and that takes another 6 months!

Food Photographer Helene Dujardin

As I was working on my manuscript, I started looking for a potential partner for photography. I wanted a partner, not someone to just take pretty pictures and move on to their next project. For Basic to Brilliant, Y’all I started looking around online, on blogs, on websites. One super special magical day I came across a really wonderful blog called Tartelette by Helene Dujardin. I subscribed, I watched, I read, I looked and each week I was absolutely overwhelmed by the beauty of her images.

Long story short? I sent Ten Speed her link and we all talked. We agreed it was worth a shot. I sent her a tweet and our conversation started.

I had already asked Angie Mosier and Gena Berry to collaborate with me again. They had both worked with me on my first book.

We packed up our cars and headed down to Charleston. We had a team of 6 interns and culinary students helping cook the food. We were shooting 6 photographs a day; it’s quite the production. And, it’s a lot of groceries! Gena would send the food out of the kitchen to the studio and Angie, Helene, and I would set the scene. Each surface had to blend with the next, have the same feel, but not be repetitive. Betsy, the designer taped each shot to the wall and mapped out the entire book. It was such satisfaction to look at the new images from the day before at the beginning of a day. We were watching it grow.

Technically, Angie is listed as the prop stylist, Gena is the food stylist, and Helene the photographer, but we all worked together. No one person has one job. At the end of the day, it’s my name on the cover of the book, and I had to approve, but I love to work with talented people and let them do what they do.

Me and the beautiful and talented Angie Mosier

That’s the way I like to work. Collaboration. It’s the Pork Chop Theory. The Pork Chop Theory is based on the premise that if you put one pork chop in the pan and turn the heat on high, the pork chop will burn. If you put two pork chops in the pan, however, and turn the heat on high they will feed off the fat of one another. It’s the ultimate in giving, sharing, and developing mutually beneficial partnerships and relationships. It’s not about competition; it’s about sharing the fat, sharing the love.

It’s about everyone getting what they need to be satisfied and happy.

And, you know what? The older I get, the more I know that’s what life is all about.

Following your heart and being happy. This book, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, makes me happy. It’s the collaboration of many folks sharing their love and talents.


Lordy Mercy, I’m on Oprah. Here’s a little bit on about my Beurre Monte in a piece about How Chefs Make Food Look Good — (but, Oprah I only want to add, “Taste Good,” too!)

Wendell Brock wrote a lovely piece on Basic to Brilliant, Y’all in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. And, check out these amazing photos by Renee Brock.

I’ve got a Virtual Potluck going on! A special group of folks are posting the recipes on their blog. If you read one of the blogs and buy a book, I’ll send you a bookplate! I’ll let you know as they post.

The first one to give it a go was the lovely Amy Sherman of Cooking with Amy. She loved my Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes. I loved her kind words! Thanks Cousin!

If you want to take part, cook from the book and send a photo to And, fill out this form, and I’ll send you a signed bookplate if you buy a book in the next two weeks!

Please make sure if you cook from my book to send me a photo or a link!

I hope you enjoy my recipes and stories. Thanks so much to everyone for your support.

Bon Appetit, Y’all!


Click on the link below to download the FREE recipe sampler! 

Basic to Brilliant Sampler

Helen Dujardin’s photo by Taylor Mathis.
Cover photo by Helen Dujardin.
Angie and me by Jenni Ridall.

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22 Responses to “Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: Behind the Scenes & Free Recipe Sampler!”

  1. Great weblog right here! Also your site rather a lot up fast!

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  2. Thank you for sharing your whole process. I could feel the love that you put forth pour through with each description. What a great team you had working with you as well, I just adore Helene. I am so excited for your next book, it looks fabulous! Xoxo

  3. I love your pork chop theory Virginia. I find so much competition in this food blogging business that too often people forget how important synergy is and are missing out on so much by not working together. Actually loved this whole post; thanks for sharing some of the ‘inside’ of your professional experience.

    • The response to behind the scenes has been really strong! I feel like I could even do another post about the nitty gritty.
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Glad you liked it! Best VA

    • I LOVE the Pork Chop Theory. It’s the way to be — and the best part is that it just keep giving. Isn’t it more fun to be nice than mean? Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. I think I’ve been potlucking your last book for awhile now but you know how much I love to “share the fat, share the love” (Official Virginia Willis T-shirt). Just got the book in my hot little hands and it’s gorgeous. Gotta bow down to Helen’s photography and everyone else’s behind the scenes input. And yes, I’m like a sponge on all the behind the scenes revelations. What goes without saying is that the recipes will be amazing. How do I know this? Because I’ve been pounding my way through Virginia’s last amazing cookbook and have yet to come across a recipe that I don’t want to make again and again. I cannot say that about other cookbooks where I pick something out, make it and feel let down that either I screwed up or it just wasn’t a good recipe. Virginia’s offerings are clear, concise and just make you want to get in that kitchen and cook.

    Of course now I’m going to have to wait until the next soft shell crab season to make that amazing recipe. Damn you.

  5. I’d be honored to join the potluck. And I have a gift card so I think I’ll run out tomorrow and grab the new cookbook. I already have the first one! This was so interesting…I knew that it takes a while to get a book through the process, but wouldn’t have thought 2.5 years. Now I really can’t wait to get my hands on it. Thanks for sharing this process and all your wonderful recipes.

  6. Your book looks lovely Virginia. I’ll look forward to reading it and trying your recipes. Helene is wonderful! I’ve been following her blog for a couple of years and I’m not only amazed by her photos but her recipes as well.

    Sounds like you’ve got some great people that helped to make your book a reality. I’m certain it will be a huge hit. Best wishes!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing the cookbook process and congrats on its release 🙂 My copy of Basic to Brilliant Y’all was a pleasant surprise at work today and can’t wait to try the recipes. The Virtual Potluck sounds like a great idea – I’ll definitely toss my “stiletto” in the ring!

    • Be careful where you aim that thing! 😉 Glad to have you! Can’t wait to see what you cook. Shoot me the link and I’ll post and share. Thanks so much for commenting. Best VA

  8. You know, Virginia. I like your pork chop theory! Having some pork chops tonight, as a matter of fact! I cannot wait to see your cookbook. I have seen Helene’s extraordinary photos on her blog, and I enjoyed reading about the timeline of bringing an idea for a cookbook to fruition. I’m from South Carolina, and I have a small blog. Where can I order your book? I would love to cook a recipe from your book and post about it. I would also be happy to do a giveaway of your cookbook on my blog. Here is the link to my latest post.

    • Thanks Jane! My book is available nationwide — and yes, I love both Pork Chops and The Pork Chop Theory. It would be an honor and pleasure for you to participate in my Virtual Potluck, thank you!
      Thank you for sharing your blog with me. Best VA

  9. Congrats Virginia! And thanks for sharing the ‘mysterious’ process of what it takes to get a good idea for a cookbook published – just plain, hard, work by a lot of very talented people over a very long period of time.

  10. Very, very enlightening story on what it takes to actually bring a cookbook from concept to the book store shelves. My goodness – what a process! So looking forward to getting my copy of your latest work in my hands!

  11. My copy is on the UPS truck out for delivery. I can’t wait to check it out. I’m also going to try and come to your class at Charleston Cooks but have folks coming in from out of town that day so I may not be able to make it :(. Hopefully you’ve already sealed the deal on the next one. Best of luck to you!

    • Thanks so much, Zack. I am in Chas for several days, so there may be another event. Check out my website for details. It would be a pleasure to meet you. Thanks so much for commenting. Best VA


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