Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Englishman wins chili cook off, sells recipe for $$$$"

This is a hot story. Audacious as it may sound David Esslemont, won a chili contest in 2012, scoring 10/10 from all three judges; but the audacity doesn’t stop there – next week he’ll be cooking his chili in California! How come? Read on.

Esslemont makes books, not your ordinary books, but fine, hand-printed hand-bound collectors items, many of them prize winners themselves, that are to be found in public and private collections worldwide. He has a passion not only for books but also for food and cooking, a passion, he finds, he shares with many others.

Now he’s turned the prize-winning recipe into an illustrated book with a 4-figure price tag. The from-scratch recipe (there is no chili powder here) includes for example, instructions for making ancho paste and vegetable stock, and serving it with a topping of sour cream mixed with lime juice, cilantro, Maldon salt, fresh habanero, Fresno and jalapeno chilies sautéed with garlic; and a garnish of vinegar-soaked scallions and a sprinkle of julienned red, orange and green chili peppers. The recipe is presented in a series of thirty-nine multi-color woodcuts. There is no text, apart from the occasional word carved on the wood blocks. The ingredients and directions are presented as pictograms.

The book is available in two bindings: twenty regular copies are stab-sewn in chili-red-cloth-covered boards; ten deluxe copies in an elegant, white alum-tawed pigskin binding, blind-tooled to look like a white linen tablecloth in the middle of which sits a bowl of chili sparking with gold. Find out more about the book on the artist’s website:

Chili: a recipe was published this February at the Codex book fair in Berkeley and Esslemont will back in town next week to present a talk on Tuesday, September 10, titled “Making Books – and Chili” to the Colophon Club (members and guests only), one of the Bay Area’s three book clubs, described by the president, Susan Filter, as "a little more bohemian than the Roxburghe [Club]."

After a flying visit to Los Angeles to show his work to librarians at The Huntington and Clark libraries, Esslemont returns to give a workshop he is calling “Making Books and Chili – The Nitty-gritty of Publishing” ("What are you going to do with the books you make? Are you going to give them away, or perhaps sell them? Whatever you decide to do it’s called publishing, and there’s a whole lot more to publishing than you would think.") on Sunday, September 15, at the San Francisco Center for the Book. This will be followed in the evening by a “chili dinner” for which the artist will cook his legendary chili.

It’s not the first time Esslemont has cooked outside Iowa. In May this year he was invited to cook his chili for a private party in New York City! For a unique opportunity to see the book and taste the chili, come along on Sunday evening, September 15, from 6 to 7.30 pm, to SFCB, 375 Rhode Island Street, San Francisco. Contact: Malgosia Kostecka or Kathleen Burch, telephone (415) 565 0545.

David Esslemont studied fine art at the Central School of Art in London and was Artistic Director of the University of Wales Gregynog Press from 1985 to 1997. He has won several book design awards including the Felice Feliciano International Award for Book Design in 1991. Esslemont has lectured widely in the U.K. and U.S.A., and his work can be found in both private and public collections worldwide. His archive to 2005 is held at the University of Iowa. He now lives with his family on a farm in northeast Iowa and continues his work as an artist, designer, printer, bookbinder, publisher and farmer. ###

Friday, March 15, 2013

Inaugural Trash Book

Last week, after the inaugural lunch of the "yet-to-be-named" dining club with friends Robert Wolf (author of Grand Tally), and artist Jeremy Marlow in a downtown Decorah, Iowa restaurant, I was about to get back in the pickup truck when my eye caught sight of a slush-sodden, folded piece of feint-ruled paper, lying in the gutter – it appeared to be a hand-written shopping list. I was intrigued. Memories were rekindled of the “trash book” I bought several years ago in England at a London Artist’s Book Fair.

Would you believe I once paid £15 ($23) for this “bound” (single-section) book made by Bill Allen from garbage collected in Vondel Park, Amsterdam? Mind you, it’s signed and dated by the artist, and remains one of the most treasured items in my collection of books and prints. [I wonder if it has appreciated in value.] It comprises a cigarette packet, a tram ticket and a hand written note together with other intriguing weathered pieces of foot-trodden, rain-soaked ephemera. The “pages” have a distinct patina and it was remarkably different from the other books being offered at the book fair – perhaps one of the reasons why I bought it. People like to wear gloves when handling this book.

Shortly after acquiring this book I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at Bob Fleck's Oak Knoll Book Fest in New Castle, Delaware. Ink on the Elbow had just been published, I was on a high, and decided to collect some trash for a book that would become the subject of my presentation.

Old colonial New Castle is a pretty, tidy, town and trash is hard to find. However, I was lucky enough to find enough pieces that might make some form of a book. “Trash books” can comprise anything and are composed of many different layers of material and meaning. On this occasion I was particularly excited to have found a hand-written shopping list on pink, ruled paper. Here was poetry. I collected my ephemera in a nondescript brown paper bag.

On the morning of the presentation at Oak Knoll I could not find the collection of trash. Why? – My housemate had thrown it in the garbage can! Naturally. Later, in front of the audience gathered in St Peter’s church hall I held up my brown paper bag and emptied the contents onto the table. “Here is my next book!”, I proclaimed. There followed uproar, a chorus of derision, disbelief and shouts of “I’m cancelling my standing order.”

Found words, especially as hand-written notes, of which shopping lists are common, have always been of interest. There is a strange poetry in the lists of vegetables, groceries, toiletries and mundane, everyday items.  Recently my growing interest in cooking has engendered a particular interest in recipes and their ingredients.

Picking up that slush-sodden piece of paper from the melting snow, and looking more closely, I deciphered the handwriting and read with palpable excitement, “lobster tails, white wine, little-neck clams, clam juice, coconut milk, star anise . . . carrots . . . celery . . . onions, Yukon Gold potatoes . . . leeks”, I thought, “Wow! who in Decorah cooks like this?” Not only had I found an interesting list but also an unusual list of ingredients. I put the saturated trash between some dry papers and forgot about it.

Yesterday, I remembered the intriguing piece of flotsam and jetsam, and found the now dry, folded page, stained pink and blue, in between some other ephemera. Opening it out, I grew increasingly excited – this was indeed a two-sided list of ingredients for a meal! Overleaf from the clam juice the first item was “bison tenderloin” – this was no ordinary meal. I set up the scanner . . . and then it dawned on me . . . 

. . . this was my own shopping list for our dinner recreating President Obama’s inaugural lunch!

Having published his first inaugural address in 2009 as My Fellow Citizens, I followed the 2013 inauguration with considerable interest thinking “sequel”. Perhaps the President's inaugural lunch recipe would make an interesting illustrated book . . . .

You can find the menu, recipes and photographs of the dishes together with lots of interesting commentary in Eddie Gehman Kohan’s post on the Obama Foodorama blog.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chili: a pictoral recipe goes to Delaware

Earlier this month I took a mock-up of Chili: a pictoral recipe to the Oak Knoll Book Fest in New Castle, Delaware. The book was well received and the first pre-publication orders were taken. Full details can be found at solmentes,com. Following this outing a video trailer was posted on Youtube. A link to the video was included in the announcement on ARLIS-L and Book Arts-L of my upcoming Victor & Carolyn Hammer Lecture in Lexington, Kentucky, on Wednesday, 28 November: "Making books – and chili".

After this flurry of marketing activity I must now return to printing the book:

Friday, June 15, 2012

Chili – the cooking begins

While the ground beef is marinading, it's time to chop some smoked bacon:

sauté the bacon with a little olive oil for ten minutes or so until the fat is rendered:

Meanwhile chop some onions:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chili – work in progress

Hereford beef from Rock Cedar Ranch, Decorah – the main ingredient for the chili.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Kings - ancho chiles

Dried ancho chiles are the kings of the chili world: noble, rich and powerful.

Ancho chiles are dried poblano chiles. Their transluscent dried flesh has a cranberry hue and deep fruity aroma. The dark shiny skin reflects and refracts the light.

These woodcuts are from the forthcoming book, Chili: a recipe, to be published by Solmentes Press this Fall.

Roasted with garlic and blended with spices they make an excellent basis for a chili fit for kings.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Disaster – wood-fired oven burns down

Saturday May 12.
The fire-brick hearth was unusually hot and I noticed the 8 x 8 inch oak beam at the mouth of the oven was again smouldering. The pizzas were unremarkable and the base of the crust burnt.

Sunday May 13.
After breakfast Tom ran into the kitchen: "the pizza oven has collapsed, its burning!"

He was right . . . my pride and joy was reduced to a heap of burning oak beams among which lay the hearth of recycled fire bricks, topped by the smashed hard-baked adobe clay dome from which jutted the chimney flanked by the tin roof. Thank goodness we didn't build it near the house.

Sad indeed, but the next oven will be bigger, better and closer to the kitchen and this time I won't build the plinth from wood! (see Recycling the East-side school}.