Can’t get to Duluth’s New Scenic Cafe? Get a taste of the restaurant through its just-released cookbook.
Scott Graden, chef/owner of the New Scenic Cafe in Duluth, has immersed himself in his first cookbook, a real beauty filled with nearly 130 recipes — including pie, hurrah — that will be familiar to anyone who has made the pilgrimage to his worth-the-journey lakeside restaurant.
In a recent telephone conversation, Graden discussed cookbook inspirations, the merits of lard vs. shortening and his love of pistachios.
Q: Why a cookbook?
A: I’ve always wanted to write one. I think that a cookbook is an overall part of a restaurant’s DNA. Not everyone can get to our front door, and some of the ones who do want some kind of memorabilia. Another motivation was the innumerable requests that I receive for recipes. Instead of chasing e-mails, and tweaking recipes to home size, my status-quo answer became, ‘It’s going to serve everyone better if I put as many of our favorites into a cookbook.’
Q: It’s a substantial, coffee table-esque book, just over 400 pages. Are there any authors who you turned to for inspiration?
A: “The French Laundry Cookbook” — that’s a bible. I’ve always been enamored of Charlie Trotter’s work, that’s a 10- to 15-year-old crush. Magnus Nilsson [of Sweden’s Fäviken], I like his work a lot. And I have to say Alice Waters. We find people to take inspiration from, but it’s also easy to be pulled into the vortex of other people’s work. It can be hard to separate your work with the work you’ve been inspired by.
Q: Your menu, and therefore your book, has many global references. Where does that come from?
A: My stepfather traveled the globe, and when I was a child, he would dabble in the kitchen. My friends would say that we had weird food; it wasn’t lasagna from Stouffer’s. But to me it was normal. I spent time in India and China, and I was bitten by the Oaxacan bug. I really took to Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy. I guess that’s why, when I want to do better, I look globally, and not to my neighbor.
Q: Was it always your plan to shoot the bulk of the book’s images yourself?
A: I’m not a photographer, but a friend of mine encouraged me, with some aggression [laughs]. He said that I would frame my food best, that any picture I would take would resonate with how I saw the dish. He said, “That’s a lot of conversation to have with a food photographer.”
Q: What a relief to find that the book includes recipes for the New Scenic’s extraordinary fruit pies [find a recipe for strawberry-rhubarb pie at Startribune.com/tabletalk]. What are your feelings regarding pie crust?
A: Traditionally, I used lard. That’s what my grandmother used. But then a favorite customer of mine, a vegetarian, came to me and said, “I really want to enjoy your pie. Would you just make the crust out of Crisco?” Crisco? That’s blasphemy [laughs]. But then I thought about it, and this business is never going to be just about me. It turns out that more customers were against lard than against Crisco. I’ve never had anyone say that they were disappointed with Crisco. It’s still wonderful; it still works great.
Q: Can you share something about the glamorous world of restaurant ownership?