When Sahana Vij was in kindergarten, she’d make enchiladas with her mother and serve them at a women’s shelter in downtown Seattle. That’s when she says she learned food should be shared, not hoarded, and that it could be a way to communicate and connect with people.
Now 18, Vij has written “Bake Away,” a book of 20 baking recipes she created and photographed. The book will be released in Seattle on Sept. 11 and nationally on Oct. 26. And she’s donating all of the royalties to No Kid Hungry, a national organization that fights child hunger by funding school meals and food banks and by advocating for policy that provides food for kids. Each recipe is tied to a place and memories Vij has had with her family members, who live all around the U.S. Three of the recipes are inspired by the Seattle area.
Vij has been going to Queen Mary Tea Room in Seattle’s University District to sip chai with her mother since she was a little kid, something Deepa Rajagopal says is a kind of “ritual” for them. The flavor of that chai emerges in the “U District chai-infused cake” recipe. Vij developed the “Redmond pear crème tart,” remembering late-night runs to the Redmond Whole Foods for fruit tarts. And the “Seattle molten chocolate lava cakes” are a reflection on her times ordering the cakes at a number of Seattle restaurants (it was her favorite dessert as a kid).
Vij says she sees the book as a continuation of this philosophy of sharing: She’ll be sharing her recipes with readers and the money from royalties with food-insecure children across the U.S.
Vij has been cooking with her mother since she was about 5 years old after she moved to Redmond as a toddler, mostly making breakfast foods like pancakes and French toast at first. But as she got older, she became enthralled by baking because of the creativity and artistry involved in decorating pastries. Her father, Shawn Vij, says baking was “like painting” for her.
When Vij was 7, her mother’s friend was going through a hard time. Knowing that the friend liked designer fashion, Vij decorated cupcakes with the logos for Gucci, Hermès, Prada and other brands with colored fondant as a present — a testament, Rajagopal says, to Vij’s creativity and desire to help people with food.
As Vij got older, she started experimenting with recipes she’d find online and became interested in crafting delicate flavors and textures in her baked goods as well as decorating with creative designs. From the time she was 9, Vij baked a new recipe every other week.
“I just kept trying harder and harder recipes,” Vij says. “As I got older, I got better at it.”
In middle school, Vij started enjoying writing essays — another task where she could be creative — and when she entered high school, she proposed to her parents the idea of writing a cookbook. They were both supportive, so she got to work developing recipes, writing them, and taking photos of the creations. The process took a year and a half, and after that, she and her father pitched the book to publisher after publisher until they finally landed a deal with Mascot Books. Vij says she chose No Kid Hungry as the recipient of her author royalties because she wants to give to kids who didn’t have the opportunities she did. It doesn’t feel right to profit from desserts, she says, when children are going hungry.
Around two years, and many rounds of edits, later, the book will be published just as Vij prepares to move away from her family and hometown for college at the University of California, Irvine.
But she says “Bake Away” is about the importance of family.
Vij says she hopes to start a bakery one day, but for now, she’s going to college to continue pursuing her interest in writing with a journalism degree. She says not to count out the possibility of another cookbook in the future.