Danielle and Chris Bjorling have a lot of stories to tell, whether it’s the tale of opening their Copper Hen Cakery & Kitchen on Eat Street in Minneapolis 3½ years ago, or being successful contestants on CNBC’s “Restaurant Startup,” or creating an amazing bacon-blueberry cupcake.
The couple have tapped Duluth-area food writer Robert Lillegard to turn their narrative into a cookbook. Simply titled “The Copper Hen Cookbook,” the book shares more than 100 recipes that cover the restaurant’s comforting breakfast-through-dinner fare, along with chapters on cocktails and, of course, cakes. It’s illustrated with photos culled from the restaurant’s highly active social media accounts.
Lillegard, author of “The Duluth Grill Cookbook” and its follow-up, “The Duluth Cookbook II,” is no stranger to the kitchen. He and his brother Michael Lillegard operate the gotta-visit Duluth’s Best Bread.
In a recent phone conversation, Lillegard discussed the book’s genesis, the importance of everyday ingredients and the advantages of self-publishing.
Q: One way that this book sets itself apart from other restaurant cookbooks is that you share stories about Danielle and Chris, their struggles and their triumphs. Why did you decide to approach the project that way?
A: I like the fact that Danielle and Chris can poke fun at themselves. They take food seriously but still laugh at the foibles of their business. They’re visionary, and they do a lot of things right. They have an attitude of improvising, and doing what it takes. Most Americans can identify with that, because who hasn’t fantasized about starting a restaurant?
Q: Why does the book emphasis readily available ingredients?
A: It’s important to cook with items that you can pick up at the grocery store, because cooking is hard enough as it is without having to chase down exotic ingredients. The original promise of home cooking is that it’s simple, and inexpensive.
Danielle describes the Hen as old-style American cooking with a French flourish. The food there evokes the farmhouse, but it’s a little more sophisticated than that. Danielle and Chris, they like butter, and sugar, and flour, and booze, and bacon, all the simple, hearty flavors that everyone likes.
Q: Now that the weather has made its inevitable turn, what will you be cooking from the book?
A: The Farmhouse Salad, because I’m always looking for salads that I can eat as a meal. The Sweet Potato Old Fashioned, because bourbon is such a good sitting-by-the-fireside sipper, if I had a fireside. And the Donut Muffins. I don’t like muffins, or cupcakes, but I love cinnamon, and I love the fact that they evoke a doughnut. That’s a teatime thing that I can really get behind.
Q: How did you get into writing cookbooks?
A: I started writing about restaurants in college, where I was blissfully unaware that food writing is an impossible career. No one told me. Duluth-Superior Magazine hired me on when their food writer quit to open a restaurant, and my editor there encouraged me to also pursue other opportunities in food writing.
In 2012, Tom Hanson of the Duluth Grill called me. He’s very persuasive, and there’s no standing in his way when he has an idea. He asked, “Have you ever thought about writing a cookbook?” And I said, “Um, maybe?” And a year later we had a beautiful book on the shelves. It worked so well that we did a sequel in 2016.
Q: You mentioned that “The Duluth Grill Cookbook” is close to hitting the 10,000 mark in copies sold. That’s a remarkable achievement for a self-published title. What are the advantages of self-publishing?
A: You know that scene in “DuckTales” where Scrooge McDuck bathes in his giant vault of money? That’s when you want to be Scrooge McDuck. In other words, owning and controlling the process makes the most sense.
We know that the primary audience for the book is the people who love the restaurant, and not Steve in Detroit. We’d be happy if Steve in Detroit bought the book, but rather than giving up control to a publisher who might reach Steve in Detroit, we’re very happy to control the process and target the people in Minneapolis who know that the restaurant is awesome.
Q: How can people get their hands on a copy?
A: People can order it online, and of course they can get it at the Hen. But it’s also going to be available at a few local businesses, including Magers & Quinn, Greater Goods, Kitchen Window and the Bibelot.
Q: For Twin Citians headed to Duluth, what’s new at Duluth’s Best Bread?
A: We’re going to make a cocktail-inspired line: an Old Fashioned-inspired croissant, with a whiskey cream in the filling and a candied maraschino cherry. And a Mojito macaron. And a Mai Tai pop tart. We’re having fun.