Charlotte Ree, author, Heartbake: A Bittersweet Memoir

I am for the first time in my life doing what I want, when I want, for no other person but me ...

When most of us experience a heart-wrenching break up, eating our feelings tends to be a main coping mechanism. For Charlotte Ree, when her decade-long marriage ended at the start of the pandemic, she also turned to the kitchen. Instead of reaching for the closest tub of ice-cream, Charlotte started pulling out ingredients – finding solace in making meals for others. The following weeks and months saw Charlotte turn cooking into catharsis. Ricotta and pesto ravioli in a brown butter and sage sauce, burnt Basque cheesecake, grilled-cheese sandwiches – each meal made helped Charlotte find her footing. Charlotte’s new book, Heartbake: A Bittersweet Memoir, charts this tumultuous period of her life. Part memoir and part cook book, each documented recipe represents a pivotal moment and mouthful in her journey. Charlotte will be chatting about Heartbake at this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival. We caught up with her before she takes the stage to chat about her writing process, the parallels between life and cooking, and the recipe for happiness.

We’re so excited to catch you at the Brisbane Writers Festival this year, first at the ‘Food for Thought’ panel on Thursday May 11. We love chatting to our pals about restaurants we loved or meals we nailed, but what aspects of food do you find most interesting to discuss?
Food is inexplicably linked to feeling for me. I love discussing memories evoked through food – through taste, and smell. If you read my journals from a young age, everything is centred around food. What I ate, where I was, what I felt at that moment. I think we all have memories just like that.

Your new memoir, Heartbake: A Bittersweet Memoir, has just been released! Can you describe how you’re feeling about the book’s release? Is there any aspect of the work that you hope resonates most with readers?
I am so overwhelmingly excited for Heartbake to be out in the world. It has been a long road to getting to this point and I am so proud of it, and proud of myself. I cannot wait for it to be in the hands of readers. I hope that people realise that at a time when we are so connected by social media and dating apps that ultimately we need more and more interpersonal, face-to-face connection. You need to learn to trust yourself and know that it is okay to continually discover yourself, to learn about yourself, to realise that the relationship you have with yourself is the single most important relationship you will ever have.

Heartbake is an intensely personal work – one that charts a tumultuous part of your life and documents the emotions that come with some huge upheavals. What encouraged you to document this part of your life through a project like this?
My whole life all I have ever wanted is to be seen and understood. I suppose I wrote this book as a platform for me to do just that. Because in writing it, I hoped that someone, somewhere may also see or hear themselves. That someone, somewhere might feel a little less alone. That someone, somewhere might realise that there is so much joy and egg yolk golden goodness to be found on the other side of grief.

As food is a central theme throughout this period of your life, turning Heartbake into part memoir and part cookbook makes complete sense – but did you start the writing process with this format in mind? In what ways did committing to this dual-nature shape how you reflected on all that had transpired?
I actually wrote Heartbake as a cookbook initially, in a similar vein to my first cookbook Just Desserts. But after publishing an essay in Vogue, I knew I needed to take a risk and be vulnerable and share my story – without reservation. I couldn’t have written it without recipes included because for me, food is family. They were intrinsic. It was raw, and I was vulnerable in my writing, but it was healing to be able to cook my way through the heartache and I hope readers might find comfort in doing the same.

Food – more specifically, the act of cooking – seemed crucial in not only helping you get through the dissolution of your relationship, and also helping you find yourself and what you needed most. What aspects of the cooking process do you think are the most nourishing – not just in a hunger-satiating sense, but in regards to filling you up emotionally, creatively and mentally?
Anticipation! It is the anticipatory feeling of what I am thinking and feeling and craving. What can I cook today that will celebrate, nurture and nourish. To fill myself up emotionally, when I am in a really sad space, the craft of cooking, going through the motions of finding a recipe, buying the ingredients and cooking it is incredibly grounding. It is ultimately restorative. It is ritualistic and meditative.

Cooking, while often fuelled by fun, spontaneity and creativity, can also require a lot of planning and forethought – and even the most-planned out recipes can backfire. Life, too, can be the same. Throughout the process of writing this book, have you had any similar revelations or discovered intersections between how we cook and how we live our lives?
Oh gosh, all the goddamn time. Life is messy, it is imperfect. I keep being reminded of that over and over again. The ending of my book was actually a love story, between myself and The Ginger. But three weeks before the book went to the printers, he ended our relationship and my whole world fell apart. Sometimes in life, like when baking a cake, you can have the best ingredients (people), turned into the best batter (so much love for each other) and the best oven (wonderful life together) yet, no matter what you do, the cake still doesn’t rise. It is the highs and lows of life.

On that note, have you come closer to finding a recipe for happiness? If so, what would you say are the key ingredients?
I am on a mission this year to find joy. I now know that I don’t need to be in a relationship to be happy, to be fulfilled. I can do that all on my own, with or without a man. I have taken to swimming these past few months, and finally did my first ocean swim competition. In January, at the ripe old age of 32, I finally got my drivers license. I went swimming with sea lions. I am for the first time in my life doing what I want, when I want, for no other person but me.

You’ve made it quite clear that dining out is one of your greatest passions – is there anywhere in Brisbane you’re excited to visit while you’re here?
LUNE! I have a croissant tattoo behind my left ear. I live and breathe for them, and LUNE is the best croissanterie in the country. I cannot wait for them to open their Sydney outpost.

You can catch Charlotte Ree twice at this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival, first as part of the ‘Food for Thought’ panel on Thursday May 11 and the ‘Fun With Midlife Crises’ panel on Friday May 12. You can see the recipe for Heartbake’s Nanny’s jam drops here


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