Thursday, April 1, 2010

Spring is a Time of Renewal

Spring is a Time of Rebirth

It seems a lifetime ago that I launched the series of chef interviews for my book about master chefs and their gardens.  

So much has changed in the world, in my life, with some of the chefs and their restaurants -- and with the book itself.  Crazy times.

But I remember that beginning like it was yesterday. 
In fact, it’s a sweet anniversary of sorts, as it was just about one year ago that it all began.

Break out the champagne – cheers, darlings!

My first interview was with Chef Michael Anthony at Gramercy Tavern.
Lucky for me too, as he is the consummate professional: punctual, courteous, dedicated and seems for the entire world to possess a gentle spirit. 

Gramercy Tavern restaurant is within walking distance of our Greenwich Village apartment and the morning of the interview, I set off with contained joy; cutting across Union Square, on my way to what I was sure was going to be the start of a great adventure.

Curious by nature, I couldn’t wait to discover the stories that Chef Michael – and the other leading culinary artists  -- would share about their quiet yet powerful revolution to change not only their menus, and by turns their patrons’ eating habits but to also spark a national desire to know where our food comes from. 

Along the way, the chefs ignited a return to flavor along with good health, helped to foment a foodie or locavare tsunami that altered the political agenda and I daresay, the landscape of food’s influence on our lifestyle and culture.

Whew!  But you’re getting the picture about how important these culinary artists are.

By this time last year, I had painstakingly compiled my list of hoped-for chefs to include in the book. The master chefs I sought had to be leaders – those at the forefront of the emerging  -- in some areas -- and in others a full-throttle commitment to the slow food, farm to table movement. 

Remember, I first started the book in early 2002 with a different publisher than I now have.  However, then as now, I wanted to explore how gardens inspire artists – all great artists, in fact – and no surprise -- wanted to start with culinary artists because they utilize the bounty of the garden and farm in their art and craft. 

For my part, I had been designing and planting edible landscapes for garden design clients since I launched my garden design work in 2001. 
I joyfully rediscovered local food —from New Jersey blueberries and tomatoes and corn to melons and of course, herbs. 
I believed potagers are beautiful and practical and too many Americans hadn’t been exposed to an edible garden. I went to school in Switzerland, traveled and saw beauty and practicality of a potager even in small spaces.  I love even the concept of their jardin potager - meaning the “soup garden” because so many of the delicious ingredients for those all-in-one-meals are there in the garden beds; such as parsley, potatoes, tomatoes, and lots of herbs. 

By the time I had my book contract signed in January of 2009 (see early blog post), eating locally grown, sustainable, organic food was the topic de jour. 

Farmers were the new rock starts.

Michael Pollan was anointed a John the Baptist of food’s holy grail. 
Alice Waters revered as the Queen of the land.  Literally.

At the same time, food headlines screamed of what seemed to most Americans as unthinkable. 
We witnessed way too many E coli outbreaks, tomato blight, and milk warnings.
Pretty scary stuff.

Master Chefs Perspective:

My book takes a unique look at this food movement -- as backdrop; insofar as the master chefs I write about recognized the flavor and inherent good taste of fresh organic food early on and advocated for sustainable, local food as the natural alternative. 

Specifically, my book personalizes the foodie revolution because it tells the stories of how and why these or “my” chefs help ignite the desire for real, fresh food. 

Having eaten in some of the best restaurants but with one foot firmly planted in the garden, I wanted to learn why these chefs sought to move away from food as architecture and theater that heretofore, had been considered a professional badge of honor.

I wanted to know what propelled them to seek another way -- to build personal relationships with their farmers, growers, and artisanal food sources…


To learn what sparked their passion for creating recipes that are driven by a respect – no devotion – to fresh food and it’s inherent flavor.
It’s a lot more work. In some ways, cooks might consider all this relationship building and resourcing too much work – out of the realm of their responsibility. 

Not these leading culinary artists.  They forged a new way. 
And I got the distinct impression that while it may have incurred more effort and time – it’s not work as work. 
Rather, they love every minute of it!  The bond with the growers -- being an important link in the food chain and getting inspiration from the artisanal food adds -- an immeasurable joy and pleasure to the chef’s craft.

They embrace the discovery of like-minded food aficionados and craftsmen – from beekeepers to farmers to fisherman to dairyman to vintners.

The book always aimed to pursue an artful approach to the triangulation, if you will, of homegrown food from the garden and farm, the intrinsic, imaginative elements of the garden as artistic inspiration and the garden as art, to fuel the culinary artist’s talent to create ephemeral culinary art. 

I also wanted to reveal their restaurants as part of contemporary culture. 
I wrote in the very first introduction for the book that every night is “Opening Night” at fabulous, successful restaurants!  It’s full-frontal theater: drama, comedy, music, and fashion.   Few things are more intoxicating. 
Recently, NY Times’ Sam Shifton wrote: “Restaurants are culture as sure as music or paintings. They say something about who we are….”  

The content of the book includes a unique portfolio of artistic elements. 
I write a profile about each chef. 

I also render their garden inspiration as a watercolor

and produce a garden design layout/blueprint and include the garden’s plant list. 

There will also be gorgeous, behind-the-scenes color photographs of the chefs in their kitchen preparing one of the four recipes they will provide for the book, as well as intimate shots of them in their garden. 

As the book evolved, the selection of the chef’s garden inspirations emerged as a delightful smorgasbord. 
Conversations with the chefs about the garden that best inspires their culinary art extended from their own personal garden, to a childhood home garden to the restaurant’s garden, a preferred farmer, or a greenmarket. 

The variety of gardens that inspire these singular master chefs has made for a much more intriguing, fascinating and unique garden tour than I ever imagined!

The book is all the better for the garden diversity. 
I know the readers will eagerly explore the intimate look at the chef’s gardens and the behind the scenes peek into their homes and kitchens.

By way of background, for much of ’08, the publisher was determining the location or region from where we’d select the chefs for the book (Regional? National? Bio regional?) 

I pitched the book as a series and so could see doing any and all of these iterations – from San Francisco to Dallas to Miami.
I had in fact, at my editor’s request, researched farm to table chefs in top areas across the country and presented her with a top-20 list.
Ultimately, my editor wrote in October of ’08 that they “finally came to their senses” J and went with the area “you know best.”  New York and parts of the Garden State.  Ahhhh.
Later they asked if I’d add in the Hamptons.  Why not?!

So, after at least a year of research, refinement, discussion, trepidation, angst and triumph, I was sanguine the list included the very best chefs, who practiced a sincere and almost religious reverence for the just-picked food, along with the gardens and farms that inspired that commitment to their art and craft.

Following is the Master Chefs list (alphabetically) I am honored agreed to be included in the book.   Because some chefs have so many restaurants, I won’t list their entire portfolio but indicate with: J 

Following the restaurant name is their garden or farm inspiration.

Chef Michael Anthony- Gramercy Tavern
Chef Dan Barber - Stone Barns – Blue Hill family farm
Chef Mario Batali – Babbo, etc. J   - Las Vegas Farmer’s Market he launched
Chef David Burke – Fromagerie, Townhouse, etc. J  - Sickles Gourmet Greenmarket
Chef Peter Hoffman – Savoy and Forty Acres – Windfall Farms
Chef Patti Jackson – I Trulli – personal & restaurant garden
Chef Anita Lo – Annisa  - Fire Island personal garden
Chef Eberhard Mueller – Satur Farms  - Seriously!
Chef Marc Myers – 100 Acres, Five Points, etc. J
Chef Chris Mumford – Mumford’s Culinary Institute – restaurant’s garden
Chef Michael Psalkis – Anthos, etc. J
Chef Joseph Realmuto – Nick & Toni’s, Town BBQ, etc. J restaurant’s garden
Chef Michael Rozzi – Della Femina – Balsam Farms
Chef David Waltuck – Chanterelle – Bearsville personal garden
Chef Matt Weingarten - Inside Park – restaurant’s garden
Anna Pump – Loaves & Fishes  - restaurant’s garden
The American Hotel – Ted Conklin  - personal garden

I will write some wonderful, charming and inspiring chapters about these amazing chefs.
Soon. I promise…

Meeting Deadlines

By late spring, most of the NYC and Garden State interviews had been completed (all in- person, one-one-one).

Every interview is fascinating and compelling, as you will read in the book.
The chefs offer their personal insight into what built a movement.  How they struggled to source the fresh, local food they wanted. How they had to break out of their kitchens and their whites to build an infrastructure that would provide them with the ingredients they dreamed of.
Along the way, they built the foodie movement.

All the interviews with the chefs were a book unto itself. (If only)

Some highlights are:  Legends Chef David Waltuck and Anita Lo prior to their restaurant’s shuttering for a time of transition.  Change is exciting if unnerving.

Being the first to interview Dan Barber the day his James Beard award as Best Chef in American was announced in the New York Times. 

He kept his appointment with me, if you can believe it!  What integrity.

Go East young gardener...

In June of 2009, I completed the chef interviews in the Hamptons – on a bicycle.
I thought it would be more interesting to see and explore the area on a bike  -- and it was ^:^ but the 40-plus miles I rode did take a bit more time…
I felt right at home staying at the American Hotel in Sag Harbor – perfect place to write too. ( -- the staff and customers were like old friends and my peeps from day one.

I loved making new friends from there, East Hampton, Shelter Island and the North Fork. 

I returned later in late summer with photographer, Jennifer Calais Smith ( and food stylist, Patty White ( to complete the photographs of the chefs and their gardens. (More on that later too.)

Final Chapter...

I was joyfully and somewhat frenetically pushing to complete the book by a November deadline. 
Then I got an email from my editor that we needed to talk about a change. 
Long story short, the CEO came back from the Book Fair in Frankfurt and wanted a second book (yeah!) but that book would need to come out first... 
The premiere book would need to be an expanded one, focused on Long Island chefs.  The books were to part of their line of a developing Homegrown Cookbook series.

It was time to recalibrate.

Ultimately, I researched, read, researched, networked and produced that expanded list of chefs for this book.  I am happy and jazzed by the noteworthy chefs who represent the best of the Island’s pedigree of fresh, local, homegrown food:

  • Chef Starr Boggs - Starr Boggs
  • Chef Matt Conners – The Lake House
  • Chef Bryan Futerman – Foody’s
  • Chef Gerry Hayden – North Fork Table Inn
  • Chef David Intonato – Jamesport Manor Inn
  • Chef Adam Kopel and Elizabeth Ronzetti – 18 Bay
  • Chef Keith Luce -  Jediah Hawkins Inn
  • Chef Meredith Machemer – Grey Horse Tavern
  • Chef Christian Mir – Stone Creek Inn
  • Chef Eberhard Mueller – Satur Farms
  • Chef Bryan Naylor – OSO South Hampton Inn
  • Chef Jonathan Parker / Ted Conklin – The American Hotel
  • Chef Anna Pump – Loaves & Fishes
  • Chef Joseph Realmuto – Nick & Toni’s
  • Chef Michael Rozzi – Della Femina
  • Chef Mitchell Sudok – Bistro M
  • Chef Hank Tomashevski – The Frisky Oyster
  • Chef Jason Weiner – Almond Restaurant

(one or two still pending…)

At this point: Introduction, overview and first chapter featuring Chef Joseph Realmuto, are turned in.  That includes the profile, the artwork, the plant list and photos. 
“Looking good,” said my editor, Kari.

I had a couple of speaking engagements for the book already, and Kari and her team produced this terrific flyer to give to attendees. 
Here it is posted for the first time.

Seeing the flyer was very exciting --  Makes the book seem more "real" and timely.... 

I will share on Facebook, too. 

Now that you know the background and status of the book, I will share excerpts, conversations, photos and videos from the behind the scenes interviews and photo shoots. 

Fabulous and interesting and inspiring!

I am humbled and awed every time I’m with these outstanding culinary artists…

I hope you’ll continue to follow their stories with me.