Ethan Stowell was named one of the 2008 Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine magazine
and has been honored with multiple James Beard Award nominations for "Best
Chef Northwest." At 36, he is also a Seattle institution. He opened his first restaurant,
Union, to critical praise in 2003. Since then, he's opened Tavolata, an urban
Italian eatery; How to Cook a Wolf, a smaller Italian-inspired restaurant that
features small plates and house-made pastas; and Anchovies & Olives, another Italian restaurant that is
seafood- and pasta-focused and offers a wine list that is
100% Italian with an emphasis on white varietals. Last month, he opened his
fourth restaurant, Staple
& Fancy Mercantile, where he is back to his first love, the kitchen. He
went out on a limb with another Italian-inspired menu, so it's no wonder that
his first cookbook is called Ethan
Stowell's New Italian Kitchen (Ten Speed, $35, 9781580088183, September 21,
2010). We managed to catch Stowell, with his lovely dog, Cleo, one morning the
first week Staple & Fancy Mercantile opened.
It's obvious why you wrote an
Italian cookbook, but what is so appealing to you about Italian cooking?
approach to the food. The first thing I learned to make was pasta. My cooking
has always leaned in that direction. My background is in high-end restaurants,
but I got kind of bored. The "New American" label isn't fun, it's
more of an ode to the food rather than to the eater. I like being more casual.
No rules. No eight-course meals. I like it to be more relaxed. That seems to be
what Italian food is like--if you are going to cook, do it well, but not fancy.
I saw a real lack in the Seattle market for serious Italian cooking, and this
cookbook is the cumulation.
example, in the recipe for geoduck with scrambled eggs, I have respect for the
geoduck. Don't be afraid of this guy. With scrambled eggs, you get an easy way
to try geoduck and a way to sample the full pleasure of the ingredients. That's
how I see Italian food--nice ingredients, not exceptionally hard to make, value
the food, have a good time eating.
You make suggestions with alternate
choices at the beginning of your recipes, and you say that "food shouldn't
be formal and fussy, just focused." How does one achieve that?
matter of good ingredients, again, and a willingness to experiment. Take parts
of recipes and mix and match. There will be failures, but don't give up on a
recipe after one try. Make it a few times then branch out. Teach yourself to
cook that way. We don't want this cookbook to be intimidating--it's not an ode
to the restaurant. These are recipes people can actually use, a bridge between The Joy of Cooking and The French Laundry Cookbook.
We seem to be afraid of food now
more than ever before. Part of it is reality due to the way food is raised and
processed, but is our fear out of proportion?
so. I mean, I keep eggs on the counter (at home) for a few days. But then, I
get organic eggs--covered in straw and stuff. They are just fine until you wash
the protective covering off. People are terrified of food. I think every kid in
Seattle should know how to shuck an oyster by the time they're six. You'll get
a bad oyster every now and then, but that's life. It's like a culinary fender
How did you write the book, and test
nine months of creating recipes, and it was often on-the-fly cooking with what
was in the refrigerator at the time. We did focus on seafood. We cooked once a
week for four hours to get a perfect recipe, then made the dish one more time
for the photograph.
co-author, Leslie Miller, and I, when we first met to talk about the cookbook,
didn't know how it would go. But we had a great time. We're best friends now.
That connection, on a professional and personal level, I hope, has resulted in
an approachable and enjoyable cookbook.
It was bold of you to use rabbit
paws in a recipe, along with the word "bunny."
to call the cookbook "Rabbit Paws
and Radiatore" and Other Fun Recipes from Ethan Stowell.
You have over 1,000 cookbooks in
your collection. What are you reading now?
Locatelli's Made in Italy, Antonio
Carluccio's books, and the River Café series--we want to do something like
that, have a Northwest person writing more than one book. I wouldn't be opposed
to writing five or six books. I'm also reading Spanish cookbooks for appetizer
and small plate ideas. I tend to read two kinds of cookbooks: history and
traditional foods and cuisines, and books about restaurants.
To wrap up, you have some wonderful
cheese ideas to end a meal, like ginepro (a sheep's milk pecorino) with a
gin-soaked pear. The chapter is called "Cheese for the Civilized and
Desserts for the Rest of You."
really hard to get people to have cheese after dinner--they want chocolate or
ice cream. So I included some treasures in the book (even chocolate ice cream),
simple with pure flavors, like Blueberry-Basil Sorbet or Pie Cookies with
butter and cinnamon. But cheese is still my favorite ending to a meal.--Marilyn