Nelson chefs pair recipes and book recommendations in new cookbook

Nelson chef Mike Hesla shares his recipe for banana habernero cheesecake with CBC Radio's North by Northwest

'It was fun to work with the motifs of reading and eating,' says book's editor

Pairings is a stunning 144-page full-colour cookbook that the Nelson Public Library has released to raise money for the library. (Nelson Public Library)

The pleasure of a delicious meal and a good read — that was the idea behind a literary cookbook featuring recipes from some of Nelson's finest chefs, along with their reading recommendations.

Pairings is a stunning 144-page full-colour cookbook published by the Nelson Public Library to raise funds for the library.

It's the second project of this kind for the Nelson Public Library. In 2010, the library partnered with the Kootenay Co-op to provide the cookbook Seasonings, which has since raised $45,000 for the library.

"All the costs of the library keep going up, but our budgets don't necessarily, so it made a huge difference for us," said Anne Degrace of the Nelson Public Library, who edited Pairings.

"When [Seasonings] sold out I wanted to come up with something that was a little bit different. It was fun to work with the motifs of reading and eating."

The chefs featured in the book describe books that mean a lot to them. A Thai chef, for example, listed the first book he read in English: Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck.

Special recipes

The chefs were also asked to provide recipes that came not from their regular menus, but ones that would be offered on special occasions.

"So what you get in the cookbook is not necessarily the standard fare, but the things the chefs themselves love," Degrace said.

One recipe (provided below) is a banana habanero cheesecake from Mike Hesla, a chef at Nelson's Cantina Del Centro, a Mexican restaurant.

"The great part about being in a Mexican restaurant is that you can work with a lot of different tropical fruits," he said, describing his zesty dessert.

He said the habanero chilli pepper is "just enough to make your mouth tickle, and it's in the background so it's not overwhelming."

Hesla's book recommendation is food critic Ruth Reichl's memoir Garlic and Sapphires:The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise.

Banana habanero cheesecake recipe

The gentle heat of steaming makes it almost hard to overcook cheesecake. Thinly sliced berries can dry into textures ranging from jammy to chewy to crisp. The garnishes of cookie and honeycomb candy make every bite different. 
Serves 8

Banana Habanero Cheesecake


  • 500g cream cheese, fully softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 cup overripe banana, microwaved until soft 
  • ½ fresh habanero chili, or less, finely chopped


Find a baking dish that will rest inside a large pot, using a steamer basket if necessary. Bring three inches of water to a simmer. Using a mixer with whisk attachment, whip the cream cheese until smooth. Scrape the bowl and re-whip. Add the sugar, habanero, and vanilla bean and beat for one minute. Scrape down the bowl again. Mash the eggs and banana. Gradually add to the cheese and whip well. Pour into a baking dish and steam until it wiggles like Jell-o and registers 150°F. Let cool, and chill for at least 3 hours.



  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup corn syrup
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 Tbsp baking soda


In a big pot, combine all ingredients for the honeycomb except baking soda. Bring syrup to a 
boil and cook to a golden caramel. For the last minute, ease off the heat, and then turn off just 
before it's ready. Whisk in baking soda until it is incorporated and puffing up. Scrape candy 
onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Let it cool until hard. Smash it. Pack into a dry 
container right away.

Whipped Crème Fraîche


2 cups crème fraîche
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract


Make 1 litre of crème fraîche and skim off the top 2 cups. Whip with the sugar and vanilla and 
chill. Alternately, use whipping cream. 

Dried Strawberries:

  • 1 lb strawberries


Slice the strawberries 1/8" thin. Arrange half of the berries in a single layer on parchment. Keep the other half raw. Bake for 45 minutes at 175'F. Check berries occasionally and remove slices as they dry.

To Finish


  • 1 cup chocolate cookies, crumbled
  • ¼ cup mint, small leaves
  • zest of 1 lime


Scoop a spoonful of cheesecake onto the plate. Follow with a scoop of whipped cream. Arrange 
the fresh and dried strawberries, cookies, honeycomb and mint on the cream. Grate lime zest 
over the top.

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: Nelson Public Library publishes cookbook with special recipes from local chefs


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