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It’s All About the Food

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clam things at FINO

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

UPDATE, 6/13/2011: The Grange event in Sacramento has completely sold out! I am both excited and sad about this, because I know some people really tried to get a reservation but could not. If you live near Sacramento and can’t get a reservation for Thursday, I’d love to see you either Thursday, June 30 at Farmstead in Napa, or on Saturday, July 16 at Stella in Truckee.

UPDATE, 6/16/2011: Just nailed down my Billings, Montana book dinner! Will be at Bin 119 on Thursday, October 27. Details to come…

UPDATE, 6/23/2011: Just confirmed that I will be doing book dinners in Oklahoma City and Chicago! I will be at Ludivine in Oklahoma City on Sept. 6, and at the Michelin-starred Vie in Chicago on Oct. 20. Very close to confirming dinners in Cleveland and Boulder, too…

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It’s an odd thing, having your recipes served back to you.

As the servers began passing around plates of Clam Things — my mum’s version of clams casino — I couldn’t help but feel nervous. I had faith that the chef, Jason Donoho, would be able to recreate the dish. But would it be good? I know the recipe by heart, and have eaten the dish for close to 40 years. But this was its first public airing.

I took a bite. Buttery, rich with chopped clams and just a little tangy from the Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce, it was everything I remembered. I stole a glance at the room full of diners, all of whom had come to FINO in Austin to eat my food and meet me — the whole concept of people traveling to eat my food and talk to me still seems more than a little surreal. Happily, everyone seemed to enjoy the clams. My shoulders loosened, just a bit. OK, maybe this whole book dinner thing will work out after all…

When I began designing this Culinary Mayhem Book Tour of mine, I decided early on that I was going to do everything I could to avoid That Which is Most Dreaded by any author: A book signing where no one shows up.

Other authors I talked with told me that signings at bookstores can be dicey; unless you get good advance press and have a strong local following in whatever town or city you’re in, things could get lonely. Hunt, Gather, Cook does have a built-in advantage: It is, at least in part, a cookbook. Food is at the core of both the book and this site — a good meal is the end result of all these weird experiments I do, all the hunts and fishing trips and foraging forays. I thought a series of food-oriented events might be a good idea. So I began asking chefs and restaurateurs whether they’d be interested in hosting me for a series of book dinners.

Each dinner, I told them, would focus on whatever was fresh, seasonal, local — and wild – in whatever region I’d be in. It would be a chance to showcase the wild foods of every area I traveled to, to create a menu unrepeatable in any other place, or at any other time. In some cases the dishes would come from my book, in others wild ingredients would serve as inspiration for the chef’s own creations.

I was met with an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response. In short order, nearly two dozen chefs from all over the country had agreed to do dinners for Hunt, Gather, Cook. They range from Michelin-starred, modernist chefs in fancy city restaurants to journeymen chefs in small towns who just happen to have a penchant for wild foods. Each will bring a different take to both the book and the wild ingredients available to their region in the season I will be visiting.

How it would come off, I had no idea. Until last week.

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

We walked into FINO early. Early enough that chefs Donoho and Andrew MacArthur had just put on their whites, and the waitstaff were still filing in. Only then did I get a good look at the menu. I knew there would be squirrel on it, as my friend Jesse Griffiths and some of his compadres had saved some from the season to serve as an amuse bouche. You heard that right: A squirrel rillette amuse bouche. Possibly the first time that phrase has ever been uttered…

The menu was a hit parade of many of my more well-loved dishes: Spring crab salad, Clam Things, a Provencal Fish Bisque with saffron, my herbed wild boar sausage, a version of my Doves a La Mancha done with local quail, and a blueberry sorbet based off my mulberry sorbet.

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fried green tomatoes romesco

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Chef Donoho also included a FINO standard: Fried green tomatoes with a Spanish romesco sauce, a nervy combination of Texas Southern and Spanish comfort food. I was glad to see that he included some of his own dishes in the menu, and this one was a winner.

Nearly 40 people showed up to the event, including a slew of my friends (Ryan, Paul, Georgia, Elise and Dianne, to name a few). This made my book dinner debut a lot more comfortable. I kept asking Jason and Brian, FINO’s general manager, what I ought to be doing — after all, I was not cooking. “Just look purty,” they said. Easier said than done…

What was surprisingly easy was mingling with everyone. Some authors I’ve spoken with say that this in-your-face interaction freaks them out, that they would rather hide than chat up a room. Not me. And I have my dearly departed step-father Frank to thank for this; Frank Kilpatrick could sell ice cubes to Eskimos and could charm a viper with a toothache. He was a helluva man, and this is his lasting gift to me. No matter where I am, I love meeting strangers, swapping stories and sharing laughs.

Hank Shaw signing Hunt, Gather, Cook

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Of course it helped that everyone at the dinner had a love for food and the outdoors. I met so many dove hunters at the dinner I really think I need to drive to Texas for the dove opener this year. Doves are to Texas what pheasants are to South Dakota, ducks are to Arkansas and striped bass are to Massachusetts: A cultural touchstone.

Sadly you can’t serve dove in a restaurant (although you could serve squab, which is pretty close). You can serve quail, and Chef Donoho cooked vast plates of grilled little birds, painted with bacon fat and dusted with smoked paprika. It’s one of my favorite recipes, but I’d never done it with quail before. It was a hit.

grilled quail

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

By the time the blueberry sorbet rolled in, I was on Cloud Nine: I’d signed a bunch of books, met some new friends, chatted with old ones, and the food was outstanding. Everyone seemed happy. If the rest of the book dinners are like this, book tour will seem less like a grueling, cross-country slog and more like a moveable feast among friends. I am crossing my fingers.

I’ve already done my second book dinner, an all-Sonoran Desert dinner in Phoenix at Rancho Pinot. It was another wonderful night, and I managed to bring home lots of desert ingredients to play with — so more on that dinner and desert food later.

Now I turn my eyes to Homecoming: Thursday I return to Sacramento, to Grange, where I’ve done the Duck Duel Dinners. Word is that the dinner service has already sold out up until 8:30 pm — so if you want to come, you will need to make a reservation fast, and eat late that night. (You can make reservations here.) Grange sold out Monday morning!

If you can’t get in, I will be in Napa June 30, Truckee on July 16, and up and down the Pacific Coast all summer. Then I head East again this fall.

These dinners have been so much fun I really hope you can make it when I am close to you. Here is the schedule as I know it now. Events in Seattle, Eugene, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Chicago, Montana and Colorado are still in flux:

  • JUNE 16 – Grange in Sacramento. (Click for reservations) SOLD OUT
  • JUNE 26 – Castagna in Portland. (Click for reservations)
  • JUNE 30 – Farmstead in Napa. (Click for reservations)
  • JULY 16 – Stella at the Cedar House Sport Hotel in Truckee. (Click for reservations)
  • JULY 24 – Forage SF in San Francisco. I will be cooking an all-wild tasting menu with Iso Rabins. (Click for reservations)
  • AUG. 18 – Sea Rocket Bistro in San Diego. This will be an all-sustainable, all-local seafood feast! (Click for reservations)
  • SEPT. 6 – Ludivine in Oklahoma City. (Details on tickets to come)
  • SEPT. 13 – Poole’s Diner in Raleigh. (Details on tickets to come)
  • SEPT. 20 – Bibiana in Washington, DC. (Click for reservations)
  • SEPT. 22 – Public in New York City. (Click for reservations)
  • SEPT. 28 – Craigie on Main in Boston. (Click for reservations)
  • OCT. 2 – Farmstead in Providence. (Click for reservations)
  • OCT. 5 – Eleven in Pittsburgh. (Click for reservations)
  • OCT. 11 – The Corner Table in Minneapolis. (Details on tickets to come)
  • OCT. 17 – The Drake Hotel in Toronto. (Click for reservations)
  • OCT. 20 – Vie in Chicago. (Click for Reservations)
  • OCT. 27 – Bin 119 in Billings, MT. (Call 406 294 9119 for reservations)

22 responses to “It’s All About the Food”

  1. Laura P

    Culinary Mayhem Book Tour T-SHIRT!

  2. Paul C

    Check out the hand model in the clam photo!

    It was indeed a fantastic dinner @ Fino. It was a pleasure and a privilege to attend.

    I’m going to get my hunters license ready for when you come across next.

  3. Trish Short Lewis

    Very cool – I’m so happy for you that you are being received so well. I think people around the country are longing for more authentic food. I have LONG had it, coming from a rural background and a family of self-sufficient people and great cooks, so I was fortunate. No longer do people ask why I go great lengths for great food. People (as in general, I mean) can be a bit slow! LOL

  4. Buzzie

    When you were just a little guy, maybe five or six years old, you’d often disappear when we went to a restaurant and go chat with other patrons fearlessly charming them – things haven’t changed at all!

  5. Holly Heyser

    Paul: After all I went through to get that shot, I sure am glad Hank used it!

    Buzzie: That SO doesn’t surprise me!

  6. Mark Dowling

    Do you ever plan on coming way down south to Florida? We would love to be a part of it. Kinda feel like the bastard step child.

  7. la domestique

    The book dinners are a great idea: engaging people! Can’t wait to see how Colorado works out, I’m in Boulder and would love to meet you in Boulder or Denver.

  8. Karen

    Awesome! I’m sure each dinner will be unique and a grand success!

  9. Ryan

    I think all book signings should be like that man.

    Folks,if you can attend one of these dinners, DO IT. Hank’s a blast to meet, and the food was amazing. I’m wishing I’d have taken that second quail now…

  10. Marshall

    Dude, you are seriously cutting it close with the duck opener :)

  11. Sarah Galvin (All Our Fingers in the Pie)

    Wow, congratulations. What a trip!

  12. Anne

    Signings of books on food should all be like this. Congrats!

  13. Dianne Jacob

    That was an amazing dinner, Hank. I know you were nervous, but now that you’ve got one down, the rest will be so much easier. Just remember that most of the pressure is on the chefs, to produce dazzling dishes. You were also the consummate host, moving from table to table, explaining the food and telling stories. Everyone, at least the people at my table, had a super time and loved every dish.

    Are you driving to Toronto? And did that “mum” mean you’re a fellow Canuck?

    p.s. I will be mentioning your book in a post very soon. XO

  14. Jim

    Congrats Hank! looking forward to the Grange dinner and hearing more of your road tales.

    Marshall – Ontario’s Central District opens geese on September 7 and ducks on the 18th. i’m thinking Hand is making plans for another Northern adventure.

  15. Dave

    Don’t want to wear you out, but here’s a vote for a Memphis stop.

  16. Chris S.

    Hank, while you may not make it to Wisconsin, you made it in today’s Milwaukee newspaper!
    Congrats!

  17. Joe Navari

    Well done sir! We had a great time last night at the Grange. Everything was really great. The rosemary ice cream was da’ bomb!
    Cheers,
    Joe

  18. Yasmin

    Congrats! And, will you be posting an update when tickets are available for Poole’s in Raleigh? I’d love to see you!!

  19. Julie D

    So where is that Seattle date on the list? Hope it didn’t get scratched off.

  20. Julie D

    Absolutely! Just keep me in the loop, I have been following your tweets and such since you left Atlanta, it sounds like it has been an amazing journey thus far.

  21. Phillip

    Practice up on bowhunting, Hank. Might be able to squeeze in a whitetail hunt along with your Raleigh stop.

    Seriously, can’t wait to try to hit one of the local events to me. Menlo Park is looking good right now (and it’s on my birthday!).

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