One way to judge a city’s food scene is from the perspective of the publishing industry and its interest in printing books by local cooks and chefs. By that standard, the District has practically become world class, with recent or forthcoming volumes from Mike Isabella , Barton Seaver , Bryan Voltaggio , Carla Hall , Todd and Ellen Kassoff Gray and Pati Jinich .
Now you can add one more to the list: Enzo Fargione .
The chef and owner of Elisir in downtown Washington just signed a deal with the Arizona-based Keith Publications to publish a hardcover volume titled “Visual Eats: A Behind the Scenes Look at Modern Italian Cooking.” Fargione expects the book, with recipes for nearly 100 dishes, to hit shelves in the first half of next year.
The book, Fargione tells All We Can Eat, is motivated by neither cash nor ego. He says he didn’t even receive an advance. (“Even if I did, I won’t tell you,” he adds.)
“I always wanted to write a book about my personal interpretation of modern Italian cuisine,” says Fargione, 43. “I always wanted to do something like that — trying to send a clear message about what I do.
“Unless you write ‘Kitchen Confidential’ or ‘The Da Vinci Code’ or ‘Harry Potter,’” he adds, “you don’t make much money.”
Though packed with Fargione’s modernist Italian recipes, “Visual Eats” will also focus on the chef’s childhood in Turin, Italy; his relationship with celebrity chefs (inside the kitchen and out); and his take on the food press. (Disclosure: Fargione interviewed me for his book.)
The chapter on Fargione’s travels with chefs such as Mario Batali, Michel Richard and Todd English will no doubt receive a lot of attention. Fargione had teased some of his friends and fans on Facebook with an anecdote that’s bound for the book (the story, alas, has been deleted from his page). It involves chef Roberto Donna, a hot tub and an accidental brush (or slap) with a naked Jamaican man. The R-rated tale will no doubt become an Internet meme once it reaches a wider audience.
“Some of the situations are . . . so funny and so unique and sometimes so spicy, it’s nice to tell [them],” says Fargione, who moved to the United States in 1986 to work briefly in San Diego before taking a job in Donna’s Galileo restaurant. “It’s nice for people to know what happens behind the curtains.”
Fargione will also include a chapter on the realities of running a restaurant, which will talk “about what really goes on in a restaurant . . . all the good and the bad.” He has another section devoted to Italian “urban myths,”such as the common misperception that pepperoni is a genuine Italian ingredient. “We don’t have pepperoni in Italy,” he says. “We don't even know what it is.”
Fargione’s section on the food media will turn the tables on the scribes who have passed judgment on the chef’s food. Consider this brief passage about Phyllis Richman, The Washington Post’s longtime restaurant critic:
Miss Richman was a conservative writer, not very sociable, not very approachable, and at times not very friendly; she always kept a professional safe distance with restaurant owners and chefs and you would rarely see her smile while dining. She was extremely determined, driven and way too direct with those who, like myself, were courageous or pretentious enough to go to the table and inquire how her meal was: She would look at you and ask questions with very inquisitive eyes, waiting for a valid and suitable answer worthy of changing her already-set opinion on things.
“Visual Eats,” of course, will include plenty of recipes. It is divided, Fargione says, into openers, soups, pastas (risottos, stuffed pastas and fresh-cut pastas), fish, meat and desserts.
“Most important to me,” Fargione says, “is the dessert.” He has a philosophy about the final course and how it should generate the same level of excitement as that first bite, when a diner is hungry and full of expectations about a restaurant.
Dave Smitherman is Fargione’s editor on the project, the chef says. The Richmond-based Smitherman, a professional book doctor and ghost writer, is known as a man who can shape an inexperienced author’s copy without crushing the newbie’s voice.