Image: Cheryl Miles

Cheryl Miles may be best known for being a radio DJ—she currently hosts a weekday show on ONE FM 91.3—but she’s also quite the chef. In fact, she’s good enough to have published three cookbooks in a span of two years. Given her plans to help other home cooks publish their own, to say she is eager to share tried-and-tested recipes would be an understatement. The 46-year-old tells us what food means to her, why she decided to set up a company to publish the books and the sacrifices she had to make in the process.

Food as comfort and celebration

The thing Cheryl most associates with food is family, and a well-fed one at that.

“The pantry was always stocked and my mum always cooked up a big feast for everyone. She was very house-proud; I don’t recall her ever catering food for special occasions and everything was always homemade,” she says.

“She taught her children how to cook not with recipes, but with our instincts and senses. She also taught us kitchen discipline, like how to minimise the use of extra bowls and dishes so we don’t end up with a mountain of pots to wash. And with all the house parties we had growing up, she instilled in us the love for feeding others. For us, food is both comfort and celebration.”

Some of the Eurasian dishes she grew up with include shepherd’s pie, chap chye, beef smore and mulligatawny (a curry soup often made with chicken and vegetables), and she has fond memories of her grandparents whipping up sugee cake and pineapple tart. With how much meaning her family found in food, she knew it was important to preserve these generational recipes.

“Being Eurasian, I don’t really have one race to identify with, and so I feel my only connection to my roots is through the handwritten recipes my late maternal grandparents left behind. The community is small and yet so diverse, and food is the one thing that gives us a unified identity,” she muses.

“Cookbooks are like little history books—they tell a story of who you are, your heritage and the journey you’re on. In the case of Smitten in the Kitchen, it’s a journey of love! Recording recipes is a way of keeping family traditions and precious memories alive.”

More creative control, less pressure

Although Cheryl was already conceptualising her first cookbook in 2018 and had carried out the recipe testing in 2019, it wasn’t until the circuit breaker that she managed to put it all together.

“I was juggling a pretty packed schedule with my day job and other activities but the pandemic slowed everything down. I was able to hole myself up at home to focus on developing the recipes and crafting the love lessons gleaned from each recipe, a process that required much research and self-reflection. But it was all worth the effort because at the end of it, I had more than 100 recipes,” she explains.

And she didn’t just author the cookbooks, but also published them herself.

“Starting my own company, Miles Nixon Media, made more sense than going to a publisher for many reasons. With self-publishing, you have complete creative control and less pressure to sell a minimum run of 5,000 copies, which is what most publishers will insist on. And because cookbooks are more expensive to publish than a regular book, the profit margin is much slimmer.”

She adds that she doesn’t have to worry about hitting sales targets to make payroll or satisfying investors who want returns on their investments, and that “a lot of stress is removed when you have only yourself to answer to”.

In photographing all the pictures featured herself, she was able to save on the costs of hiring a professional photographer. But because she set up a company, she had to channel the money saved into operations.

“I had to pay for printing and legal fees and had to rent a warehouse to handle the logistics of storing and delivering my cookbooks. My investment was actually much, much more [than if I had engaged a publisher]”.

Not without sacrifices

Much as Cheryl now has a business in her name, it involved its fair share of sacrifices.

“The biggest challenge I faced was fatigue. I spent all my time, resources and energy on researching and setting up the business that I neglected my health. Beyond the challenges of writing a cookbook, which meant endless hours in the kitchen and stressing over the lack of fridge space, I had to learn about self-publishing, shipping my products and revamping my website and e-shop,” she lets on.

“It was all very time consuming and I stopped going to the gym, so my sciatica returned from spending too much time on the computer and not getting enough sleep. I also felt lousy every time i wasn’t able to meet my personal deadlines or when ingredients I was supposed to cook ended up going bad because of poor planning.”

But now that she has learnt the ropes of putting out industry-standard cookbooks, she intends to help other home cooks do the same. Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs? Just trust the process.

“Don’t feel discouraged just because you aren’t an expert at it yet. Don’t wait until everything is perfect before starting. You will learn as you go and as Warren Buffet says, ‘The more you learn, the more you earn.'”

“Wherever you are on your entrepreneurial journey, start putting aside money for courses and for your future business. The best investment you will ever make is in yourself!”