It’s been one helluva year here in Nashville. First, we welcomed our newest addition, Maggie Jean, in July. And then, this past week, came the arrival of my first cookbook, The New England Kitchen, which I was lucky enough to co-author with my good friend, chef Jeremy Sewall of Lineage, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and Row 34.
So just how did we make it all work? For me, it took plenty of super early mornings, during which I would work on edits for the book. There were also a lot of weekends spent cooking, editing, writing and eating. (Oh yes, there was plenty of eating … especially considering my growing belly.) The book was truly a labor of love but one I would happily do over again. Jeremy’s recipes make me want to get into the kitchen and cook. They make me hungry just reading them. Not every recipe elicits that reaction but for me, his style of cooking just fits. I would love nothing more than to spend a day making pork belly confit and layering it over a sweet potato puree then sprinkling crispy sauteed mushrooms over top. Especially after ogling the photos taken by photographer Michael Harlan Turkell who did remarkable work on this book.
Speaking of Michael, I just have to call out the awesome team of people who made this book real. It starts with Jeremy, of course—his comedic timing alone made me love every minute of this project—and working with him means working with his tireless, level-headed assistant Carol Turner, who, among other things, single handedly wrestled most of the recipes from chef’s head onto the page. Michael was a total joy, and even though I wasn’t there for every shoot, I know that they became progressively more polished, efficient, and most of all, fun. I loved working with our rock star designer Amy Sly who literally has the fastest hand on the west coast. And, of course, our editor Sandy Gilbert who put us through a cookbook bootcamp before fully whipping us and the book into shape by the end. Sure, there may have been moments when a few of us wanted to throw knives but they were fleeting. For the most part, we all kept our heads down, kept it positive, and worked our tails off to make this an exceptional book.
More than anything, I marvel at how long this process took from beginning to end. It all started about 4 years ago when Jeremy and I sat down at the newly opened ICOB to talk about doing a cookbook together. Before we even started the conversation, Jeremy told me he had a confession to make. “Lisa’s pregnant,” he said, grinning about the arrival of his third child. I grinned right back: “I’m pregnant, too.” (Insert Jeremy’s one liner here: “I was only responsible for one of those babies.”) And so, we had our meeting and came up with some great ideas. Later, on the phone with our agent, Danielle Chiotti, we learned that she, too, was pregnant. So… there we were, three pregnant ladies surrounding one very busy chef who, in spite of it all, put his head down and created the proposal that would eventually turn into the foundation for The New England Kitchen.
Fast forward about 18 months. We were on our second version of the proposal, this one more focused than the first and I was down in New York accepting an award from the New England Society for my first book, Shucked. After the ceremony, I was introduced to Sandy Gilbert, an editor with Rizzoli. “Have you ever thought about cookbooks?” she asked politely. I gave her a primer on the proposal we were creating and she said casually, “send it to me. I’d be happy to take a look.” We did and, lo and behold, Rizzoli decided to make an offer. There were others on the table but after a Jeremy had a whirlwind meeting with Sandy in New York, we both agreed that Sandy was our girl.
Now, our babies are marching toward 3 1/2 years old and the book is finally here. This past week, we celebrated with events at Lineage and ICOB and Jeremy got his first taste of the craziness that is a book signing. Through it all, we’ve survived another new baby, another restaurant opening, numerous weddings, and a move across the country. I like to think the universe put all of these opportunities together for a reason. I feel lucky to have been a part of it all—the challenges, the rewards—especially since it’s given me so much appreciation for the process and for what exactly makes a good recipe. How words, measurements, direction, and voice can engage you in the kitchen, without you even knowing it. I hope Jeremy’s recipes resonate with you. Please try a few and let me know what you think.
This week also gave me a chance to catch up with some friends in Boston. (Thank you Josh and Nicole for inviting us to your wedding!!) My mom and Maggie were with me for the week so Maggie made her appearance on the book tour and also made her first trip to the farm. As always, it was good to see my friends at ICO — you guys are growing up in so many cool ways.
Now, about that baby. She is perfect. That is all. Seriously, though, she has added so much joy and chaos to our lives — and I mean that in all the best possible ways. Charlie loves his baby sister to pieces. He is a wild and charming little guy who is as enamored with our new arrival as we are. They aren’t quite at the age where she can reciprocate the love but if her beaming smile is any indication, she is fascinated by him. We are lucky to have these two happy little souls in our house. Of course, Dave and I are short on sleep, patience, and general sanity but we are acutely aware of how amazing this moment is and how much we cherish each other and our good fortune.
Lastly, a note about this blog… it’s been such a wonderful place to share all of my news and certainly the easiest to manage. I want to keep going with it but I’m going to move things in a new direction now. Shucked is still its own living breathing thing (would you believe I’ve sold almost 10,000 copies so far?) but it’s time for me to take all of my pertinent info over to a pretty new home. You can now find me at erinbyersmurray.com where much of this blog also lives and might one day be accompanied by another, down the road.
Hope you have a chance to pick up a copy of the cookbook. If you do, let me know which recipes you like. And I promise I’ll be in touch soon!