Melissa Moore of Ten Speed Press is the editor of
The Recipe Club: Tell me a little bit about how this cookbook project came about.
Melissa Moore: Our publisher, Aaron Wehner, spearheaded the acquisition. Ethan and his coauthor, Leslie Miller, had been discussing a cookbook for awhile —of course thinking about which recipes to include, but also contemplating how to make the book as distinctive as Ethan’s food.
One of Ten Speed’s senior staff members has family in Seattle and paid a visit to one of Ethan’s restaurants when we were starting production on the book —I think she raved about the food for a week. Having that perspective was great motivation as we dove into crafting his unique book.
TRC: What were the first conversations you had with Stowell regarding the cookbook? How did you start?
MM: After Aaron handed me the reins, I had a great meeting with [co-author] Leslie Miller in Berkeley. She’s incredibly energetic and talented so we had a productive time bouncing around lots of ideas. Ethan and I connected on the phone soon after; the depth of his knowledge and passion amazed me. He’s also really down-to-earth and incredibly funny, so I knew immediately that we needed his voice to come through in every recipe. Reading through the manuscript initially I was particularly smitten with the chapter titles; I love Beasties of the Land . . . and Sea and Cheese for the Civilized and “Dessert for the Rest of You.
TRC: Did you understand going in the size and scope of the book, both literally, in terms of number of recipes and trim-size and layout of the cookbook, but also in terms of how much of Ethan Stowell’s ouvre and vibe you’d want to try and cover in New Italian Kitchen?
MM: We had the book’s trim size and content pretty firmed up when it was acquired, but the interior design came later. We went through so many rounds of cover concepts! One complication was the square-ish trim size—the images we wanted to use ended up cropped in strange ways if we ran them the full width, chopping off Ethan’s hands or head. The breakthrough came by bringing in the three piece binding; I think the final design tips readers off to the fact that this is no ordinary book.
Although he’s at the top of the game and a very highly regarded chef, Ethan doesn’t take himself overly seriously and loves to joke around, so we had to figure out how to strike just the right balance. The endpapers highlight these different aspects: in front we have a beautiful almost dreamlike image of him working with squid ink pasta—the epitome of a craftsman creating an exquisite product. In back we have his studded “cooks rule” bling—totally playful with a little bit of sass.
TRC: The photography in New Italian Kitchen is absolutely gorgeous. Big, full-bleed photos that make the reader want to reach through the page and stick a fork into the scrumptious-looking food. How did photographer Geoffrey Smith become part of the cookbook?
MM: It was really seamless, actually. Geoffrey and Ethan had worked together quite a bit, since Geoff shot the lovely images on Ethan’s restaurant web site. It also helped that Geoff is a Seattle local, so they were able to be spontaneous and get together to shoot. He was absolutely dedicated to creating the most stunning images for Ethan’s book. And Geoff went so above and beyond the call of duty, heading out to the beach house to shoot and capturing the behind-the-scenes in the restaurants with his amazing process shots. Those are my favorite images in the book!
TRC: How did you and Ethan plan the photo shoot? What kinds of things did you discuss with him and Geoffrey Smith before the shoot? Did the geoduck sit still?
MM: Ethan and I had quite a few planning conversations about the shoot, mostly focused on selecting the recipes that we wanted to feature and talking about styling. He was really clear from the outset that he didn’t want this to feel like a stuffy, precious chef’s cookbook —he wanted it to be real and showcase the ingredients, and most of all feel doable for home cooks. We knew that some of the recipes would push home cooks out of their normal comfort zone, so we wanted the photography to draw readers in and encourage them to give Zatar-Rubbed Leg of Goat a try, for example. When you have recipes like Mob-Hit Squid, where you chop off the squid’s arms and stuff them back in their bodies, it’s important to capture the final, enticing beauty shot, but also some process images so home cooks have a step-by-step guide. We aimed for a balance of practical shots and images so gorgeous you want to stick your fork in and take a bite immediately.
TRC: Tell me about the design and layout process. Who was the designer? How involved was Stowell in the layout?
MM: We had the fantastic luck to work with Ten Speed’s creative director, Nancy Austin, on the design. Ten Speed takes a very collaborative approach on design, so Ethan and Leslie were involved throughout the whole process.
One aspect of the design that we had to workshop was the primers, such as Fun with Geoduck and Polenta Master Recipes. It was a bit challenging to find the right treatment for those sections since they have framing text on the subject, but also recipes. We ultimately went with a tint in the background that bleeds off of the page, so those anchoring lessons and master recipes are easy to find when flipping through the pages.
The funniest moment was when Ethan got an awesome delivery of geoduck and Geoff sent us a photo of them all lined up on the edge of the counter. Ethan was so excited about those clams! We ended up using a slightly less phallic photo of the relaxing process, which I think still bums Ethan out.
TRC: In the introduction to to the cookbook, Stowell writes that, “food shouldn’t be formal or fussy, just focused.” This is obviously an important philosophy for Stowell in his cooking, but did that translate to the approach to his cookbook, and how do you think it’s evident to the reader in the finished product? There’s a humor and warmth to this cookbook, even across recipes that range from simple to “foodie”.
MM: It’s clear that’s Ethan’s approach to life, and I hope it comes through on every page. He’s averse to false pretenses and the holier-than-thou vibe that’s all too common as chefs have become akin to rock stars. Ethan’s food is totally on that level and he’s praised left and right in national media, but he’s more concerned with sourcing the best ingredients to put on his guests’ plate and encouraging them to enjoy the experience of sitting at the table together.
I really appreciate that the more obscure recipes in Ethan’s book aren’t there for shock value; he included them because he discovered how amazing these maligned or overlooked foods taste and wants home cooks—whether they’re in Brooklyn or Topeka—to revel with him. [co-author] Leslie [Miller] and Ethan developed a fantastic friendship, and she was instrumental in capturing and translating his fascination to the page. I know the two of them had extensive conversations about the tone of the book, but my impression is that once they began writing it flowed very naturally.
TRC: Did you eat a lot of braised rabbit paws during the course of editing New Italian Kitchen?
MM: Not quite rabbit paws, but I can’t tell you how many times I had to reach for a snack during the course of editing this book. Especially once we were in pages and I saw the photos all the time. Sheesh.
TRC: What was the most interesting section of the cookbook to work on?
MM: The entire book completely captivated me, from the Sardine Crudo in the Nibbles to Party Meats in Beasties of the Land. But I love the approach to the Something Foraged, Something Green chapter. It’s so much more interesting than the normal treatment for salads and the flavor combinations in those recipes spurred my creativity in the kitchen. The pastas section was also revelatory, introducing me to maloreddus and bigoli.
TRC: What is “Pheromone Salad”?
MM: Aside from having one of the most entertaining recipe names, Pheromone Salad is one of Ethan’s favorite salads. It’s basically a carpaccio of porcini mushrooms that are shaved just prior to serving, so they’re releasing intoxicating aromas on the diner’s plate. Be careful who you serve it to!
TRC: What’s the most difficult recipe in New Italian Kitchen to prepare?
MM: Good question. They’re not particularly complicated recipes; some braises require longer cooking times, but it’s not hands on time. The Braised Rabbit Paws is somewhat more involved than most recipes.
TRC: How’s the cookbook being received so far?
MM: It’s been interesting to see the range of reactions to Ethan’s cookbook so far. It’s received some glowing reviews from media and home cooks, but there have been others who get hung up on the ingredients or the fact that Ethan’s cookbook doesn’t stick to traditional Italian recipes. Others really enjoy the marriage of Pacific Northwest flavors and dishes rooted in Italy’s rich culinary history.
TRC: Before we sign off, tell me about your professional history. How did you become an editor of cookbooks? Are you a cook yourself?
I’ve been an editor with Ten Speed for four years, focusing on cookbooks for much of that time. My career arc is a bit abnormal for an editor—no English degree here—but my work has always involved food in one way or another. Prior to Ten Speed I put my Latin American Studies degree to use as the program coordinator for a nonprofit think tank that worked on hunger, poverty, and trade issues. Former supreme Ten Speed cookbook editor Clancy Drake and I were colleagues there, so when a publisher friend tipped me off to the opening in Ten Speed’s editorial department I didn’t hesitate to apply.
I spent my childhood in a mix of many cultures with food always being a key component, from my grandparents’ southern barbecue ribs and Balkan potica (a honey-walnut bread roll very worth trying!) to Chilean empanadas, LA tacos, and West Coast seafood. Although I don’t have formal training, my appreciation for all types of food has led me to spend many hours in the kitchen as I’ve come to enjoy cooking immensely.
• Download three Recipes from Ethan Stowell’s New Italian Kitchen by Ethan Stowell