Coyote + Oak → Chef Becky, The Vegetable Butcher

Featured in Coyote + Oak Volume IX
Writing by Kendra Aronson
Photography by Kayla Tierney

 

Ask any Californian what their favorite cuisine is—it’s likely Mexican food. Who doesn’t love hot-off-the-griddle-still-sizzlin’ street tacos garnished with chopped raw onions, punchy cilantro, and a generous spoonful of salsa? Or belly-busting burritos brimming with rice, beans, proteins (or produce)? Mexican food is California comfort food, and California cuisine is innovative—so naturally Vegetable Butcher has been a hit since day one with its sweet spot intersection of vegetable-centric modern Mexican menu offerings like guajillo pork with jalapeño pickled pineapple, red fresno chilies, cilantro, and crispy fried shallots; or little gem salad with radicchio, avocado, red fresno chiles, hibiscus pickled onion, queso fresco, sweet dried corn, bourbon pepitas in a cilantro vinaigrette. I sat down with Chef/Owner Becky Windels to get the inside scoop of how Vegetable Butcher came to be, and what we can look forward to in the upcoming months—warning: it’s going to be extremely delicious. Enjoy!

 Photo credit: Kayla Tierney.

Photo credit: Kayla Tierney.

Tell me about your childhood—what kind of food did you grow up eating?

I was raised real hippie, we made everything from scratch with natural ingredients, I’ve always eaten very pure. Both my mother and father are excellent cooks. My mother would grind her own wheat and make her own bread. The sweetest thing we had in our home was unsweetened peanut butter, raw honey, and carob chips. Back in the day this was not trendy—just weird.

That’s incredible! Clearly, your parents had a big influence on both your own eating habits and current cooking style. Did you go to culinary school?

I am self-taught, I moved to Arizona where I met John [husband, co-owner and GM of Vegetable Butcher]. I started out in the restaurant business working for corporations as a server—admittedly I was a terrible server; I was fired from most of those jobs. I ended up having interest in working back of the house. I connected with a dear friend and we started up a catering company 23 years ago in Arizona. I had no formal culinary training.

 Photo credit: Kayla Tierney.

Photo credit: Kayla Tierney.

Did he have a formal culinary background?

Yes, he was a classically trained French chef, but I kept going in my own creative direction. We started our catering company in 1995, and over 2 decades it evolved into two restaurants of this size [comparable to Vegetable Butcher], and a to-go Food/Cheese Shop Market in Scottsdale. At my 20 year anniversary I sold to my business partner. My husband and I wanted to explore more and relocate.

What brought you to San Luis Obispo specifically?

Our friend and local resident, Rich Hanen, found out that I was selling my business, and he said we had to check out the Central Coast. Over the years—and through the wine industry and all of our mini vacations—we had always ended up in LA, Southern California, San Francisco, or Northern California, so we decided to take Rich up on his recommendation. After I sold [my business], John and I spent about a year traveling with our rottweiler and Airbnb-ing. The Central Coast… you almost want to keep it a secret! We Airbnb’d in this area and it was such a good experience. We met and got know to know locals, visited farmers’ markets, and cooked at wineries. We are very simple people, we aspire to enjoy time with our rottweiler, and live amongst the locals. We love the community—so friendly, kind, passionate and genuine artisans of their trade. And we are blessed.

 Photo credit: Kayla Tierney.

Photo credit: Kayla Tierney.

Agreed, the Central Coast has the best people! That is a genius idea to stay in a city for a few weeks before uprooting your whole life to relocate. What an unique way to get a true flavor of the pace of life, the neighborhoods, and the people. What cities did you Airbnb?

We stayed in Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, Oakland, San Francisco, Durango [Colorado]—but we just kept finding ourselves back on the Central Coast.

So, what drew you to open up a restaurant in downtown SLO versus Morro Bay?

We were Airbnb-ing, and we would ask people—every demographic—what was needed, what was missing, what people wanted. It was exactly what I wanted to do, exactly what I had in mind and my type of cuisine. People would say they wanted Mexican food, and more of San Diego-style tacos, and I wanted to put my clean eating style toward it. Our friend Rich was determined that it would go well here in San Luis Obispo. We studied the demographic with the students, the travel times, the tourists, we just thought it would be a good fit.

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I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to market research—where did you get your facts and figures to make sure Vegetable Butcher would be a viable fit in SLO?

Reports from the Chamber of Commerce—our bank said our business plan was the best business plan they’ve ever seen because we were so thorough! Having owned a business for 20 years, if I’m going to do another one, I know what to do, what not to do, and I wanted to make sure it was the perfect, so we really studied. Rich flew out to Arizona, spent 10 days with us while we were selling our home, and we would put our business plan up on the AppleTV and just knock it out, it was pretty intense.

 Photo credit: Kayla Tierney.

Photo credit: Kayla Tierney.

Clearly having all ducks in a row paid off. At any point were you scared? You sold your business and home, and how you were coming to California! Were you a bundle of nerves or a bundle of excitement?

The bounty of the California culinary scene can be intimidating to any chef on the outside coming in. Of course I was nervous coming to California—I never thought I would be able to be in the same realm as them. Me being so head-down-chop-chop in my own business, I pay attention to what’s going on—but I never thought I was good enough, to be honest. I just have my own little style, I don’t do what everyone else is doing. I have received genuine welcome by local chefs, in that alone I am truly grateful. And we’ve been very well-received from local residents and businesses. People are thanking us for being here, and they are loving it.

 Photo credit: Kayla Tierney.

Photo credit: Kayla Tierney.

Of course people love it! Vegetable Butcher is farm-fresh, ever-evolving, unique and unexpected. I mean, c’mon—sweet potato and corn tacos topped with pomegranates, flower petals, avocado, and cashew crema! Where else can one find a tasty taco like that topped off with Becky’s homemade carrot habanero sauce. She makes a 22-quart batch every 5 days using organic carrots and a variety of chillies: red fresno, habanero, serrano, jalapeño, and red chili. It’s complex, tangy, spicy, and you should definitely buy a bottle for $7.50! Everyone does Taco Tuesday—so Becky put her twist on this weekday special with Tamale Tuesdays featuring her non-GMO organic blue corn tamales. These tamales are only available on Tuesdays starting at 4pm, made in limited batches, and they always sell out—consider yourself warned. In the Spring she plans on rolling out a larger variety of enchiladas, new vegan desserts, and vegetable + beans + grains bowls. With so many healthy, delicious, craveable items on the menu, it’s easy to get decision-making disorder when ordering. But fear not—Chef Becky to the rescue with her genius ordering hack, “A lot of restaurants traditionally have a protein plate option, like a ribeye and mashed potatoes and vegetables, instead of having a set 3-layer combo, we are just going to do a ribeye with red chimichurri, or halibut with a tomato fresca, keep it simple, and then you have the option to order other fun items of your choosing like shishitto fritto, or korean cauliflower.” Yes! Think of it as your own mix-and-match adventure for your curious palette. As for refreshments, try Becky’s fresh squeezed juice  margarita mix she sweetens with palm sugar and Sabé (24% fortified agave wine), and come summertime, wash it down with a refreshing aguas frescas: cucumber + watermelon, pineapple + coconut, strawberry + basil, and cantaloupe… is it just me, or are you getting hungry, too?
 

Visit Vegetable Butcher at 712 Marsh Street in downtown San Luis Obispo. Open Monday–Saturday 11–9:30 with Happy Hour 3–6:30 (featuring mini plates of appetizers and $5 tacos) and Brunch on Sundays 11–3:30. Learn more at vegetablebutcher.com.

 

Edible SLO → Pops of Citrus

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What started out as a retirement property purchase and project for Jim Shanley in 1998, has transformed over the years into a full-fledged, father-daughter operation in the niche speciality fruits market. Tucked off Highway 41, Shanley Farms is perched up in the rolling hillsides with sweeping views of the coastline—including the iconic Morro Rock—surrounded by their 40-acre groves of finger limes, avocados, Goji berries, passion fruit, and coffee.

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“I decided I wanted to plant avocados because in 1996 the fastest growing demographic was Hispanic—their culture and cuisine was being adopted into the greater culture at that point. Avocados can only grow in very specific climate conditions: frost-free, ample water, and open land,” explained Jim, who at the time lived in the Central Valley and vacationed every year in Cayucos. With this in mind, he purchased the dilapidated property (with an ocean view!) in 1998, and planted his first trees in 1999, with the hopes of generating a steady income stream that would allow him to eventually ease into retirement with his wife and their newly constructed dream house.

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A few years later he also acquired 62 acres of ranch land in Visalia that was already producing avocados, oranges, lemons, and kiwis. But this self-proclaimed “spreadsheet guy” ran into a slight problem—a true blessing in disguise that led him to his fascination and cultivation of finger limes. “Remember now, I have a bad problem with doing math. At the ranch I had an orange grove that I was paying to farm—and that doesn’t work well for me. So I tore it out, it was about 5 acres. I can’t compete with the guys that are doing commodity oranges and have thousands of acres, so I needed to find something different and special,” said Jim. While on the hunt for unique varieties of blood oranges, pomelos, or tangerines, he took a fortuitous research trip to UC Riverside’s Citrus Variety Collection. Walking through the rows of exhibits—before calling it a day—he stopped by one last booth. “Literally the last thing I saw was finger limes. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen and I wondered why I had never seen them before.” The professors were unsure if the fruit would be available commercially—but Jim knew he had to have it. After many discussions his perseverance paid off, they released the budwood from the germplasm repository as a offering to citrus nurseries. “I placed the first order, got the first delivery, and was the first person to plant them,” said Jim.

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Finger limes (Citrus australasica) hail from Australia—and despite their common name, they are not genetically related to limes. They grow on extremely thorny, shrub-like trees that bloom and set new crops every 2-3 weeks starting in early spring into late fall. On the outside, the rind is a deep emerald green bordering on jet black; the inside features flesh-like pearls (akin to caviar) that range from a pale green, to a blush-hued pink, to a bold crimson color. Once sliced crosswise, the pearls can be squeezed out easily, yielding a mellow, citrus-driven acidity with a crunchy, juicy, textural experience.

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Meanwhile, his daughter Megan Warren started studying Agribusiness at Cal Poly and ultimately finished her degree in Applied Economics and Management from Cornell University. “I was in college when my Dad started the farm, but we never knew this was going to be a family business, we never talked about it. When the finger limes started producing I was living in Kansas City, working at Driscoll’s [a global berry distributor] for two years. My Dad kept calling me at work asking me what kind of retailers he should reach out to when I got this idea, ‘If you are going to keep calling me at work, then you should hire me!’ Within 2 weeks I had quit my job at Driscoll’s, moved back to California, and hit the ground running,” said Megan, now the Director of Sales and Marketing. For 3 years they frequented the farm-to-fork epicenter for LA chefs: the Santa Monica farmers’ market and it was here that Megan educated the Wolfgang Puck on how to use finger limes (!).

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The father-daughter duo both believe 2017 is going to the be the game-changing year for the finger lime. “Blue Apron [an ingredient-and-recipe subscription mail service] will be featuring our product on their menus for July, August, September, and October this year which is so huge for us because it’s putting us in front of thousands of people’s faces and explaining how to use finger limes. I love talking about how versatile they are—it really changes up the texture of a dish, something that is really rich can be lightened and brightened with the pops of citrus,” said Megan. This very well could be the big break for this bizarre, non-intuitive fruit!

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Make sure to add a basket of finger limes or jar of pearls to your next grocery shopping list! The applications are endless—just check Shanley Farms’ website for recipe inspiration: Coconut Cucumber and Finger Lime Popsicles, Seared Scallops with Tarragon Finger Lime Butter, or simply garnish fish tacos, freshly shucked oysters, or cabbage coleslaw. Or better yet, sit back and enjoy a refreshing cocktail featuring finger limes from Artisan (Paso Robles) or Sidecar (San Luis Obispo). Cheers! Finger limes are available for purchase at Whole Foods SLO, Giovanni’s Fish Market in Morro Bay, or online at shanleyfarms.com.

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NOT-A-COLADA

The flavor of finger limes is very similar to kaffir limes—which are very hard to get on the Central Coast—so this ingredient pairs nicely with the green curry base and creamy coconut in this cocktail. I created a play off of the Piña Colada, the ‘Not-A-Colada’ features a local gin from Krobar Distillery, Peruvian pisco, housemade crème de coconut, traditional lime juice to add acid and make everything pop, plus a bar spoon of the crunchy finger lime pearls which explode in your mouth. I wanted to create something that was summery and fun that would be food-friendly. It pairs beautifully with our fish tacos.

—Michael Hughes, Bartender at Artisan
artisanpasorobles.com
843 12th Street
Paso Robles, CA 93446

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BIXBY, BLOODY BIXBY

I love finger limes because they have a different flavor than your traditional lime—it’s a little bit sweeter, and the acid is a little bit softer. You get to chew on the pearls and they pop with an explosion of flavor. For presentation I’ve exploded a finger lime on top of the blood orange slice because it’s a whole experience to see it as a garnish on the cocktail itself. As you are sipping on your drink, you will get a couple of pearls. Pop! Pop! Pop! It’s an explosive fun new experience that is a total surprise. That’s what’s so cool and special about finger limes: it’s a shock-and-awe factor, which allows us to create a multi-phase, multi-experience cocktail.

—Josh Christensen, Co-Owner of Sidecar Cocktail Co.
sidecarcocktail.company
1127 Broad Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

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BIXBY, BLOODY BIXBY

Recipe provided by
Sidecar SLO


Yields 1 cocktail.

1 finger lime
1 ¾ ounces Bixby Gin
½ ounces Cynar
½ ounces blood orange juice
¼ ounces lemon juice
¼ ounces simple syrup
1 slice blood orange

Cut the finger lime in half crosswise, muddle one half into a lowball glass. Combine all liquid ingredients in a shaker, shake, and strain over ice. Garnish with a slice of blood orange and the remaining finger lime half—make sure you squeeze it so the pearls ooze out over the blood orange slice!

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Bixby Gin is a Big Sur-inspired gin. Some of the botanicals are foraged there and some I grow myself. I wanted to make a gin representative of the Central Coast—if you look closely at the bottle, you can see Bixby Bridge in the artwork. You get a complex palate experience with the terrior of the ocean facing hillsides with savory chaparral and floral notes like what you might experience in the springtime here. I wanted to connect with people by bringing them on a journey here to the Central Coast. I believe our senses can transcend us to somewhere else.

— Trevor Peterson, Owner of Lloyd Distillery

 

Bixby Gin is available at: Sandy’s Liquor (SLO), DePalo & Sons (Shell Beach), and California Fresh Market (SLO & Pismo). Bars using Bixby Gin: Sidecar, Granada, Luna Red, Novo, Thomas Hill Organics, Giuseppe’s, Milestone Tavern, La Cosecha, Villa Creek, The Hatch, Vine.


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Originally published in Edible San Luis Obispo & Wine Country 
Fall 2017
 · Issue 19

Coyote + Oak → Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Words by Kendra Aronson
Photos by Tina Loveridge
Illustration by Raina Toy-Smith
Shoot location: Los Osos Valley Nursery
Styling: Shop Blackwater

 

Nicole Cook of NC Designs is a self-proclaimed late bloomer. But here is the thing with so-called “late bloomers”: in my opinion they have more guts and more ambition than the rest of us. Why? Because there is more to lose. There is no back-up plan. Everything is on the line. Many folks tend to teeter totter on the edge of following their passion once they’ve hit a certain age—but not Nicole. Instead of living a life of should, she chose a path of must by honoring her inner desire of becoming a landscape architect.

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At 23 years-old Nicole found herself working in the real estate market in Los Angeles selling multi-million dollar homes—but despite the financial success, it wasn’t the right fit. “I’ve seen life cut short before people really had a chance to live and I wasn’t going to let that happen to me. If you can dig deep down and find what feeds your soul, do it! Do it on your time off, do it for that paycheck if you can, but just find a way to honor who you are. However long it takes you to figure that out—it will be worth it and it will pay off tenfold for your inner well-being.” Here’s the quick version: she applied to Cal Poly on a whim, got in (!), completed a 5 year program in landscape architecture, moved back to Los Angeles, worked at a firm, and was laid off once the recession hit. With no job prospects and no desire to stay in LA, she and her boyfriend (now husband) moved up to Los Osos to give this entrepreneurial path a go. Over the years she built up NC Designs’ clientele through word-of-mouth referrals and a whole lot of hustlin’ with heart. Today, she can now proudly say that her business sustains her—but the journey doesn’t stop there. It was the birth of her daughter that inspired her interest in, and love of weaving.

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With a newborn baby in tow, Nicole found herself up at odd hours of the evening and in need of a creative outlet. “I found that weaving was a way to really calm myself late at night, and it’s still something I do to calm my mind now. When I’m really stressed and anxious from work, or life in general, I look forward to getting an hour or two in of just weaving. It puts me in a place where I’m not thinking. It’s kind of like when I’m trail running, I’m so focused on my breath that I’m not bombarded with thoughts; weaving really focuses me.” The two artistic endeavors influence and complement one another. Nicole approaches her weavings much like her landscape design, creating a rhythmic pattern of different textures and pops of colors. With this accidental foray into fiber art, she now has a whole new perspective on her plant process. “In both weaving and landscaping, I try to approach it from a perspective that is more minimalist. When you see repetition in the landscape it’s aesthetically pleasing—the landscapes that you tend to be drawn to are usually the ones where you may hardly notice a subtle pattern that leads your eye towards certain colors or plants."

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Tolkein said, “Not All Who Wander Are Lost”.  Sometimes it takes awhile to find your inner groove, and one thing is crystal clear: Nicole was never lost—she was just waiting to bloom.

See Nicole’s landscape work at ncdesigns.co and textiles on Instagram @wanderhome.

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ON HER LANDSCAPE STYLE

“I tend to be more contemporary in style—I love a minimal plant palette. Recently with this water shortage I’ve been focused on using drought-tolerant plants and those naturally accustomed to our environment. I love sweeping ornamental grass landscapes with pops of color and fun, different succulents. I like playing with textures and try to create a type of mosaic pattern with the landscape where everything has a natural place next to the other and it all seems to flow.”

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ON CLIENT RELATIONSHIPS

“I like to know about a client’s lifestyle when we first meet, because I’m eager to give them an environment they’ll actually use and enjoy. I pride myself on designing projects that are dynamic and playful, yet also have pockets of space for reflection, because I think everyone can utilize that. In general aesthetic terms, my style tends to be more modern, but my overall goal is to give people the ability to truly enjoy whatever outdoor area they have available to them. Places that will provide them with happy memories, moments of relaxation and the opportunity to enjoy life with friends and family.”

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ON HER WEAVING AESTHETIC

“I love to use natural fibers like wools and cottons and mixing textures to make tapestries feel a little more dimensional. My weavings sometimes mimic abstract landscapes and I use a lot of neutral colors but bring in pops of color, just like I would in the landscape. The pieces are not incredibly busy, I keep them toned down, I want them to be something that people will want to look at for a long time.”

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Originally published in Coyote + Oak
Summer 2017
 · Volume VI





 

Edible SLO → Clean Water = Great Beer

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Clean Water = Great Beer
 

food writing by Kendra Aronson
food photography by Kendra Aronson

 

What does the Morro Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP) and the Libertine Brewing Co. have in common? Quite a lot, actually. Both are located on the beautiful Embarcadero overlooking the Morro Bay Marina, both heavily rely on science for their day-to-day operations, and both share a deep love for clean water—because, of course, you have to have clean water to make great beer. It was only a matter of time before these two institutions joined forces for a libation creation.  

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“It was exciting to collaborate with a local organization that cares so much about the Bay and is actively working to protect it. All of us who work here at Libertine are surfers, hikers, campers, explorers—so we love to help them out with their mission,” smiles Sean Zurbriggen, General Manager of their flagship Morro Bay pub and of the newly opened brewery and restaurant in downtown San Luis Obispo.

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Every three years, the MBNEP shares their research about the health of the Bay through a public science-based report and a series of events and talks. “The report provides answers to questions like Is Morro Bay safe for swimming? and Is water in the creeks and Bay clean enough for fish and aquatic life? Our State of the Bay event series invites people to experience the answers to these questions in person by participating in walks, hikes, talks, and hands-on science explorations throughout the month of April and into May,” says Lexie Bell, Executive Director at MBNEP. This year they teamed up with the local lads at Libertine Brewing Co. to release a custom estuary-themed beer for the occasion: the Morro Bay Gose.

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Gose, pronounced go-zuh, is a top-fermented sour wheat beer originating from Goslar (Germany) that typically yields a flavor profile of strong saltiness and lemon sourness due to using local water sources (or by adding salt) during the brewing process. Taking a unique twist on the traditional Gose, Libertine Brewing Co. started with their barrel-aged Gose in their blending tanks and incorporated a few locally sourced ingredients to capture the true terroir of this wild ale: saltwater and seaweed from the Bay, citrus zest with oranges from Glass Farm in Morro Bay and lemons from Dos Pasos Ranch in Cambria, and avocado honey from Stepladder Ranch & Creamery in Cambria. “We love the idea of this beer because it celebrates some of the bounty of the watershed and the Central Coast as a whole, while showing that good beer and food require clean water. Libertine is doing all of this out of the goodness of their hearts, and some of the proceeds from the beer will be donated to the MBNEP to help us continue to protect and restore the Bay,” states Rachel Pass, Communications & Outreach Coordinator at MBNEP.

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On Saturday April 1, the Morro Bay Gose was tapped for the first time at the Morro Bay Libertine Pub to kick off the MBNEP’s State of the Bay event series. Participants purchased $10 pints which included one pour of Gose in a souvenir Libertine pint glass and MBNEP bamboo coaster, plus the option to refill their empty glassware with any beer on tap for just $5. While sipping on beers, folks soaked in a presentation by MBNEP Assistant Director Ann Kitajima as she highlighted the results from the Estuary Program’s water quality monitoring and improvement efforts. “Morro Bay is central to all of our lives, providing us with recreational opportunities, fresh local seafood, beautiful views, and local livelihoods. At the heart of all of these benefits is clean water. Protecting our Bay preserves it for future generations to enjoy, and also ensures that the economy that relies on clean water can thrive,” explained Ann.

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A few weeks later, the Morro Bay Gose was tapped by Luis Wine Bar, host of the Science After Dark event held on April 18. The limited 5-barrel run—which equates to about 175 gallons—is now being poured at the Libertine location in downtown San Luis Obispo. “The flavor profile is like a nice refreshing, crisp lemon. Not too sour, not real bitter, with hints of orange, and a little sweetness from the avocado honey,” says Sean. Enjoy this special brew (just one of the 72 drafts on tap!) alongside other locally-inspired menu offerings like Cattaneo Brothers elk sausage marinated with their Wild IPA,  Stepladder Creamery's Rioly Run cheese washed in their Saison, or Gose battered fish and chips.

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Libertine Brewing Co. will donate an additional $1 to the MBNEP for every pint of Morro Bay Gose sold at the Morro Bay location until the barrels run dry. So, let’s raise our glasses of Gose and toast to the Bay—may it continue to produce clean water for wildlife habitats, for sustainable seafood, for safe swimming, and, of course, for great beer. Cheers! To learn more, visit mbnep.org and libertinebrewing.com.

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Originally published in Edible San Luis Obispo & Wine Country 
Summer 2017
 · Issue 18

Edible SLO → Yes Cocktail Co.

Yes Cocktail Co.

food writing by Kendra Aronson
product photography by Yes Cocktail Co.


Yes Cocktail Co.’s line of small-batch, all-natural mixers and syrups—designed for at-home mixology—are inspired by the abundance of local produce and the thriving craft cocktail culture on the Central Coast. Their products pair beautifully with spirits, champagne, and beer to make exceptional libations. Currently in the works: a Central Coast Collaboration Syrup Series featuring a cold brew coffee syrup with Spearhead Coffee, locally-sourced passion fruit syrup and pomegranate grenadine. Bottoms up at yescocktailco.com!


Originally published in Edible San Luis Obispo & Wine Country 
Summer 2017
 · Issue 18

Food52 → Meet the Man Who Can Make or Break a Cookbook

Edward Ash-Milby is an avid home cook and the cookbooks buyer at Barnes & Noble, the largest book retailer in the United States. He’s been at it for nearly twenty years, so you could say he’s been at the forefront of all the major recent shifts in the publishing industry—from the emergence of e-books to online bookselling, the burgeoning blogosphere and the powerful rise of social media, plus the insatiable consumer demand for well-designed books on niche topics (there didn’t always used to be dedicated shelf space for gluten-free baking, molecular gastronomy, and whole animal butchery!).

He also is a supportor of self-published books; I owe a lot of my self-publishing success to Edward—he was the one responsible for placing my cookbook onto the physical (and digital) shelves of Barnes & Noble.

With so many cookbooks coming out, how does Edward choose which to stock on the physical and digital shelves of the largest book retailer in the United States? Read on to find out, along with the books he’s excited to feature in the coming months.

 

 

Tell us Edward, what is a typical day in your life as a Cookbooks Buyer?
 

1. Read up.

I arrive at the office and read up on what is being reported in the culinary/food/restaurant world. My favorite sources for info, trends, and just plain good writing are Food52 (!), Serious Eats, NPR’s The Salt, The New York Times’s Food section, The Los Angeles Times’s Food section, Eater, 101 Cookbooks, Skinnytaste, Smitten Kitchen, and My Name is Yeh. I also really love Bee Wilson’s column in The Telegraph.

 

2. Analyze what's responsible for sales spikes.

Then I analyze sales from a variety of ways to see how titles are doing across the country. I keep a calendar of which authors are doing media for any given day, concentrating on media that could create a sales impact on a national level. When I see sales from the previous day, I need to know what generated the customer demand. I’ll check my calendar to see if it was a morning show appearance that did it or front page editorial in Woman’s World or an author blog post, or some such.

A morning show appearance could generate a very quick hearty response but the demand tends to fade faster; a big mention on an author’s blog page might not generate the same kind of strong demand initially, but the effect on sales could last longer. This intelligence will allow me to make decisions regarding inventory.

 

3. Meet with publishers.

When I’m not actively analyzing data, a fun part of the job is meeting with publisher sales representatives and talking about books that are coming. There are too many books this fall that I’m excited about, but ones that stand out right now are: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Come and Get It!Smitten Kitchen Every DayMunchiesState Bird ProvisionsAutenticoSweetMeehan’s Bartender ManualValerie’s Home Cooking; and last but definitely not least, F*ck, That’s Delicious!

 

 

With new titles being released every day, what considerations do you and your team make when selecting inventory for your physical shelves?
 

When I choose a book, I take a number of factors into consideration: the most important one being the content itself. How is the author presenting his or her ideas? Who is the customer of the book? What are the sales, if any, of previous books by the author? What are sales of similar books on the subject? Then I look at the physical package itself: the jacket, the typography, the interior design. For a cookbook, food styling and photography are very important. How are the recipes written? Is there harmony between the recipes and the photography?

I also consider how and where the book will be marketed to customers. I carefully examine their publicity campaign, which gives me clues about where the greatest interest of the book might be. For example, marketing plans for books on Southern cuisine often include major market areas in the South, or books from an L.A. chef may focus a huge part of the publicity campaign on the West Coast.

 

 

How do you determine if a book is going to be successful on your physical shelves versus your digital shelves?


Sales of books online rise and fall based on what is being talked about in the media at that very moment, so we’re very in tune with consumer demand throughout the day. We can merchandise books online based on what’s happening right now. We do this in our stores, too, but it takes a little bit more coordination. That’s the fun part of bookselling to me: to find out what people are talking about and to give them the books to keep our customers current.

 

 

What trends do you foresee in the cookbook industry?

 

I see the cookbook industry adapting to technology and to social media in inventive ways to market all the talented chefs, cooks, and their books. Chefs and home cooks are more media-savvy than ever. They’re producing excellent content that’s being seen and/or read by millions of people. Bloggers in this space have been recognized by the industry as some of the strongest talent, with books hitting bestseller lists all around the country.

I love what I’m seeing from cookbook publishers that create amazing books with excellent photography, food styling, layout, design, and jacket treatments that stop customers in their tracks. They are works of art and serve authors and customers well.

Also, I think there’ll be no shortage of new voices in the cookbook industry.

Thanks for your insight, Edward!
 

 

Kendra Aronson loves playing with food—styling food, photographing food, devouring food. She is likely planning her next meal. 

Originally published
June 6
, 2017 on Food52

 

Food52 → The Ingredients For a Standout Cookbook, According to Publishers

What are the ingredients necessary for crafting a well-loved cookbook? How much time is needed to produce a book worthy of adding to our personal collection? What do publishers look for when they're acquiring a book? We asked some heavy hitters at some of the top cookbook publishers for their recipes for cookbook success.
 

The Main Ingredients

The most essential ingredient in any successful cookbook—besides the precise food styling and photography, and the clever editorial layout, and the imperative cover image and unique jacket treatments, and the marketing strategy and game-changing press mentions—is of course, the author. Their perspective, their passion, their personality.
 

“I’m drawn to authors who are creative outside of the kitchens—artists and designers, musicians and illustrators, writers and photographers. People with personalities for days. You can turn to the internet if you want a recipe for lemon chicken. You buy a book because you want to be in another world for a while, whether it’s feeling like you’re at a dinner party in the woods with Erin Gleeson, author of Forest Feast Gatherings, or you are traveling the world eating with Action Bronson, whose book, F*ck, That’s Delicious, is the perfect blend of awesome food, hysterical writing, and THC.”
— Holly Dolce, Executive Editor at Abrams Books
“We don’t approach things as to whether the topic is niche or general, but as to whether the chef’s point of view is highly original and specific. We like to say that if someone else could have written a book, it’s not for Artisan. Our interest in Jeni Britton Bauer’s book Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, for example, wasn’t because ice cream has mass appeal, it was because she had developed an entirely new technique for making it.”
— Lia Ronnen, Publisher and Editorial Director at Artisan Books

So if you’re deciding which topic your cookbook should cover, don’t be afraid to get as niche as possible—and think about what you are best at. By bringing your readers into your world by sharing your expertise, your book will stand out on the digital and literal bookstore shelves.
 

Cook Time

This part varies wildly across the publishing industry—just like any recipe would in the kitchen. Take cookies, sometimes they need a cool 72 hours-worth of refrigeration before baking, while other cult classics only require 1 hour—both yield equally delicious results, but the prep time is significantly different. Same goes for cookbooks; they can be churned out in as little as 6 months (Dovetail Press), on average one and a half to two years (Abrams Books, Artisan Books, Chronicle Books, Ten Speed Press), or upwards of several years (Phaidon Books).

Ultimately the length of time depends on the process and scope of the book being produced. For example, Phaidon Books publishes many hundred page books like Tacopedia (318 pages) and Noma (368 pages), whereas Abrams Books hovers 200 to 300 pages with titles like Simple Fare (192 pages), Salad for President (272 pages), and Everything I Want to Eat (280 pages), versus Dovetail, which focuses on smaller, yet sizable titles like ¡Buenos Nachos! (166 pages) or Brew (160 pages).
 

“One of the ways Dovetail might be different than larger traditional publishers is speed. So far our projects have all taken about six months from idea to market—and that includes printing. This sounds insane to most folks in the publishing industry—and this kind of timeline doesn’t work for all book projects, but I grew up working in magazine publishing, so the idea of creating a couple hundred pages of great content in a month or two is business as usual for magazine folks.”
— Nick Fauchald, Publisher at Dovetail Press
“It typically takes a minimum of two years, as it’s common for proposals to be rethought once we’ve begun the process of working with an author on developing her idea. Together, we get to the true heart of the project—the singularities that should be brought out. It’s of course common for authors to want to publish a book faster, but we remind them that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
— Lia Ronnen, Publisher and Editorial Director at Artisan Books
“The timeline really depends on the complexity of the book and can range from a minimum of two years up to several years. First we need to conceive the book in all its parts: content, structure, format, design; then once we have the manuscript, we need to decide how to communicate the content through the design, font, and photography. We always choose designers who we feel can deliver the book’s vision, then we choose the paper (that is a very important element of the book process), design the cover, and then the book is ready for our production.”
— Emilia Terragni, Cookbook Publisher at Phaidon Books

Presentation

Like a dish crafted with thoughtful intention and calculated balance, a cookbook cover must make an immediate and intriguing visual impact. Cookbook covers are paramount for an obvious reason—they will make or break sales.

Sqirl’s Everything I Want to Eat cover took three to four months, multiple conference calls, and hundreds of iterations before landing on the final design; and Food52’s very own single-subject cookbooks, Vegan and Baking, went through multiple directions and cover treatments before landing on the ones that felt right. Covers are the portal for communicating the inner content, you’ve got one shot (no pressure)—so make it count!
 

“At Chronicle, we like texture and tactile details that inspire a feeling of ‘I must touch that.’ Of course, textural details usually can’t be appreciated online, where so many books are sold. A good cover bridges the online and retail worlds, is strong in both forums. It immediately telegraphs the story inside the book, the feeling or tone of what’s inside. It draws the eye and allows the reader to place themselves in the world of the book, makes him/her think ‘I wish this was my life,’ or ‘This book would look great on my table at home.’”
— Sarah Billingsley, Senior Editor at Chronicle Books
“Covers are massively important. Not only do they need to represent the whole vision of the book in just a few elements, but they are also the first reason a lot of people look at and buy a book. The cover of Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine is one of my favorites. With very few elements it gives you the sense of the book, the sense of the restaurant, and the sense of René Redzepi all in one. It is about the color, the texture, and the fact that it is bold and subtle all at the same time. The cover is the door into the book—a must have is to make the reader want to open it.”
— Emilia Terragni, Cookbook Publisher at Phaidon Books

The Eaters' Appetites

To all you fellow cookbook aficionados out there, what are elements that make you pull the trigger in purchasing a cookbook? What criteria is the most important to you—the engaging writing, the tried-and-true recipes, the delectable photography, the eye-catching cover? This recipe is meant to get you to grab the cookbook, and publishers want to know what you’re craving…

 

Kendra Aronson loves playing with food—styling food, photographing food, devouring food. She is likely planning her next meal. 

Originally published
May  12, 2017on Food52