From forged steel skewers to a homemade fire pit, creative director Alethea Morrison writes about the joys of making — and living — Cooking with Fire.
Every book I design is my child, and I give it all the love I can before it leaves my desk to make its way in the world. Parents don’t like to admit to having favorites, but I will confess that working on Cooking with Fire was awesome beyond reckoning.
Paula Marcoux is smart, deeply knowledgeable, funny, warm, and hardworking. She is just one of those irresistible people, and impossible not to like.
Every now and then a book comes along that changes the way I live, and this is one of them. The food that Paula cooks is superlative. While she has a lot of excellent and interesting recipes, often I would ask her at the photo shoot how she had prepared a cut of meat and she would say with a wry smile, “With salt and pepper.”
The magic comes from cooking over a fresh coal bed made from a live fire. I don’t really like to cook, but I love to eat good food, well-prepared. I also like fire. I may not want to be cooped up in a kitchen, but sitting outside with a gin and tonic, poking at hot flames is my idea of a good time. The summer I worked on designing this book, my husband and I built a stone-lined fire pit in our yard according to Paula’s directions in the book. At the drop of a hat, we now cook and eat outdoors. After a meal by the fire and hide-and-go-seek in the dark, everything feels right with the world.
The Photo Shoot
Photo shoots are hard work and this was no exception, but Paula, Carleen Madigan (the book’s editor), and Joe Keller (the photographer) were great collaborators at everything from logistics to propping. I brought a carload of surfaces, dishes, linens, and more that I had sourced for the recipes we were going to shoot, but Paula and her husband Pret had a trove of treasures to contribute. Forged steel kebab skewers, Pret’s heirloom cowboy knife photographed with the beef shanks, the clay pot used for the adafina, the charred wood that Pret so skillfully made for me to use as textural backgrounds — all of these personal items had so much soul and meshed perfectly with my vision for the look of the book. The locations that Paula identified were fabulous as well, each with their own horde of gems for me to plunder in service of the shoot.
I am digging through my memory to remember a better day at work than when we had a lobster and clam bake on the beach. That day we also cooked mussels on a rock under a heap of flaming pine needles, and it was a revelation. In three minutes we had the best-tasting shellfish I have ever eaten. Maybe they tasted so good because the process was so much fun. My family and I have built this year’s vacation around re-living the experience. We’re going to camp on Cape Cod and cook on the beach. Of course we will visit Paula and Pret en route.
My home life and work life are integrated in more than one way. My husband Mars also works at Storey, and somehow wherever we go, he ends up taking photos for one our books. Mars didn’t contribute to Cooking with Fire, but our son came with me on the first week of the shoot. The duck on page 39? Xavier will proudly tell you that is his duck. He turned it on the roasting spit every few minutes for three hours. We couldn’t have done it without him!