The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook by Michelle and Philip Wojtowicz and Michael Gilson, with Catherine Price

Book Review 2009

About five years ago, I lived at a hot springs resort tucked deep in the San Lucia Mountains of Central California. During the winter months, it was a full-on Zen practice temple and in the summer months, we'd open the gates and invite guests in to enjoy the hot springs and dine on delicious vegetarian meals prepared fresh from our kitchen. The summers were a lot of work, especially when the temperatures climbed into the high 90's and beyond. My schedule was a rotation of four days on and one day off.

Sometimes, when I could borrow a car and had the energy to take the almost 3 hour journey (one way!), I would use my day off to escape this paradise and head for another: The Big Sur Bakery on Highway 1. There I would sit for as long as I could on their open front porch, drinking a hot coffee and watching the turkey vultures circle overhead. I'd have a pastry or a sandwich and maybe another latte and eventually head back to the monastery renewed and refreshed.

All this is to say that clearly I am predisposed to loving The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook. Which I do. Very much.Title & Publisher: The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook: A Year in the Life of a Restaraunt by Michelle and Philip Wojtowicz and Michael Gilson, with Catherine Price. Photography by Sara Remington. Published by William Morrow Cookbooks. Release Date: June 23, 2009.

First impressions: Hardcover, with slip jacket. 262 pages with many photographs, an index and table of contents.

Number of recipes: 91, organized seasonally by month.

The angle: The Big Sur Bakery offers pastries and breads from their wood-fired oven in the morning and sandwiches for lunch, then morphs into a full-service restaurant in the evening. The recipes in the book reflect this arrangement in variety and complexity and can offer something for every level of cook. I'm really looking forward to trying their Breakfast Pizza with bacon and chives and a few whole eggs cracked over the top.

But this is more than a collection of (wonderful) recipes. This is an intimate portrait of a year in a seasonal restaurant and the people that support it. This book can be read like a novel as we follow the quirky journey of the authors/owners from the razzle-dazzle of LA to the odd and beautiful community of Big Sur. There are ranchers and foragers and butchers and a couple that do 'porch farming.' There is Jack the Bee Guy and someone who fishes using a 'poke pole' and cuts the firewood for the stove.

The other stuff: There's an excellent Basics chapter that includes Equipment and Techniques sections. The forward is by Eric Schlosser, who feels much as I do about The Big Sur Bakery. The book is divided into twelve monthly chapters that each feature an ingredient, supplier or friend/supporter and several recipes. My only criticism is that I would have appreciated a chapter featuring the dishwashers and prep cooks and all the other behind-the scene workers.

Recipes for right now: Blueberry Pie with a butter/lard crust, Strawberry and Rose Geranium Shake, Succotash, Baked Beans, Burgers with House-made Buns, Pickles and Fries.

Recommended? Yes! Even if you don't live in California, this book will inspire you to get to know your watershed and 'eat your view.' And there's much inspiration for Thanksgiving and Christmas here, as well.

More Information:
New York Times review of The Big Sur Bakery
• The Big Sur Bakery website
Catherine Price's personal weblog
• Photographer Sara Remington's beautiful blog, especially the photos from the big fire last year which feature Michael Gilson's house.

Buy the book: The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, $26.40 at Amazon

(Image: HarperCollins)

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Dana Velden is a freelance food writer. She lives, eats, plays, and gets lost in Oakland, California where she is in the throes of raising her first tomato plant.

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