I love books. I love cracking open pages that haven’t had eyes laid on them. I love discovering new stories, information and knowledge that are hidden inside. I love the novelty and excitement of not knowing what I’ll find. Cookbooks are no exception and are, in fact, some of the most mesmerizing books I own. Some cookbooks are very practical while others are really more like art books. It is in these latter cookbooks, with amazing photos and tasty recipes, that I feel like I’m diving into another world; one that the chef/author has created for me, a sensory experience of images and words that create textures and tastes in my mouth as I read them. Most of the time, these cookbooks are also punctuated with personality and perspective of who the chef is and what they represent. After looking at these books one should come away with new information, understanding and most importantly inspiration – all of which, are the end result of reading through Eleven Madison Park’s new cookbook.
I had the pleasure of meeting Daniel Humm (Executive Chef) and Will Guidara (General Manager) of Eleven Madison Park at a blogger event as part of their book tour for their new cookbook titled after their restaurant. They gathered with myself and six other San Francisco bloggers for a friendly discussion about their book, restaurant and perspectives. I must admit I was a bit intimidated by the impeccably styled dishes and intricate recipes I found between the book’s covers and didn’t know what to expect from the men who put it together. Daniel and Will; however, were down to earth, easy to talk to and eager to answer our questions. After all was said and done, the biggest thing I came away with was how passionate they are. They love what they do, their restaurant, innovation, excellence and creating the ultimate experience for their guests.
words that inspire
I read Will and Daniel’s narrated pages after the meeting and together with the in-person conversation, I have a deeper understanding of the family they have created at Eleven Madison Park and how they are continually striving to be better than the best they are. It is with this same drive you can tell they approached their cookbook. One of the questions I asked was if they felt they had accurately captured the essence of the restaurant in the book – the immediate answer was yes. And they reason they felt that is because they did everything themselves, in-house. They created the recipes, they had a staff of 15 people (most full time) to test recipes and edit the pages, they used their own photographer, they narrated the pages – they also have shaped their restaurant: redecorated it, revamped the menus, evolved the guest and took it from 2 stars to 4 stars. Of course the book would represent their restaurant because they have been fully invested in both, each step of the way.
The book is stunning – it’s weighty, the pages are crisp and clean, and there is a story behind it all. Most dishes span two pages: one side for the photo, the other for the recipes. Yes, recipes, because each dish is described by its individual components, to accommodated different skill levels of the home chef (It is admitted in the book that if you never cook ‘this is probably a book that should stay on your coffee table’, but it is lovely enough itself to just be looked at) While not everyone will create an entire dish, they give the home cook the ability to make part of it. Categorized by season, there are recipes for proteins, vegetables, desserts, molecular gastronomy, as well as the basics like a slew of oils, gels, sorbets, sauces and more. Each dish is aesthetically a little unexpected and makes you think about classic ingredients in a new way. The photographs are fabulous and bring to life the vision of the recipes and the restaurant itself, they are the words brought to life. We asked for some recommendations about what the real home chef should attempt, the answers? The roast chicken, salt encrusted fish, strawberry gazpacho and the home-made granola. To end the four star fine dining experience on a personal note, each guest is given some granola to take home to continue their experience the next morning – I can’t wait to make it.
So it seems that the experiential atmosphere of the restaurant has made its way into the book. It’s all because of the passion and energy these two friends and partners bring to the table. I feel as though I can sit down at the restaurant the next time I go to New York and know what kind of experience I’m going to get. And until then, I’ll have to suffice with diving into the book and relishing in the experience on the pages and what comes to life in my own kitchen when I take their inspiration and run with it.
ADDED 11/27: What a small world to open up my December bon appetit to Eleven Madison Park being named one of eight ‘stellar cookbooks’ of the year! It’s obvious why, but just so great to see this event tie back to the origins of my blog! In case you didn’t get the impression the first time, this book is one you should definitely pick up, whether it’s on your own Christmas list or someone elses.
Other highlights from the conversation:
- The menu (16 ingredient grid – 4 choices for each course) and customization of preparations to palate preferences, allergies, etc. keeps things exciting and dynamic for everyone creating the experience
- SF vs. NYC? SF wins for produce (long seasons and great product) NYC wins for fish (good produce too, just shorter seasons, blink and you’ll miss it)
- 1/4 of their restaurant is vegetarian. Of 4 options for each course, one option is always veggie
- Vegetables are the future
- One way they wish the customer would ‘change’? Appreciate how much it costs to get goods that are ‘properly’ farmed/raised and be willing to pay more for a meal with those ingredients – great products cost more
Each of the other bloggers who attended has their own perspective on food, cooking and San Francisco – check them out:
- Claudie – Bohemian Kitchen
- Coco – Opera Girl Cooks
- Ben – You Fed A Baby Chili?
- Natasha – Non-Reactive Pan
- Pallavi – The Easy Indian
* All photos are from the book Eleven Madison Park published by Little, Brown and Company