Scones to sliders, book explores San Diego chefs’ recipes
Author shares recipes reflecting area’s diverse cultures, styles
By Roxana Popescu, U-T San Diego
For people who love San Diego and its restaurants, Maria Desiderata Montana’s new book, “San Diego Chef’s Table,” will be one tasty morsel. With recipes from established restaurants and new names, this uniquely San Diego collection offers highlights from all the region’s culinary offerings. She answered questions about her book, her love of food and her passion for this city.
Q: How did you get the idea for this book?
A: I am very fortunate in that my publisher first discovered me by reading my published food stories in various outlets online and through my blog sandiegofoodfinds.com, which started out as a fun hobby.
I came home from yoga class one morning, and there was an email waiting for me from my publisher at Globe Pequot Press. She (said) that she liked my writing style and asked me if I was interested in writing the “Food Lovers” Guide to San Diego’ (First Edition). After I finished that book, the publisher contacted me to write (this book).
Q: Can you tell me about yourself as an eater, a cook, a writer and a San Diegan?
A: I grew up in a small town in Washington State with parents that emigrated from Italy. My mother taught me how to cook at a very early age. Cooking became a passion, and I am completely at home in the kitchen. I lived in an environment where cooking with local ingredients from my father’s garden was a necessity, and enjoying a meal with family was a celebration of life itself. My mom and I would can tomatoes from my father’s garden so they were handy for the winter months. We cured our own olives, baked homemade bread and made homemade pasta. In my Italian family EVERYTHING revolved around food! Writing is also my passion, so the two subjects were a natural progression for my career. I’ve lived in San Diego for nearly 20 years, and have been a professional food writer for almost 10 years now. After being published in various newspapers and magazines, I figured I like to cook and I like to write, why not start my own blog?
Q: Was getting the recipes hard?
A: The toughest job was revising and scaling down the recipes so they were easy for the home cook to understand. I would not have been able to successfully do this with just my food-writing experience alone. It’s my experience as a home cook and an accomplished writer that afforded me the much-needed credentials to write this book. Chefs are busy people, and believe me, sometimes it took multiple phone calls and nagging emails to get a chef to sit down and write me a recipe. I needed the recipes early, because the book had a fast four-month turnaround and I knew the recipes would need research, revision and home testing. I am very determined and made it happen!
Q: Do you think the book reveals a specifically or uniquely “San Diego cuisine,” and if so, how would you describe it?
A: Yes, perhaps the best description of San Diego cuisine is the fusion of many different cultures and styles. Each chef brings their varied backgrounds and experiences to the plate, which often includes several different flavors and techniques, but melds them into a phenomenal dish you can’t find anywhere else. Certainly, a majority of examples also utilize farm-fresh ingredients, typically sourced from local proprietors.
Q: I liked that you included vignettes, and not just recipes. Why did you decide to do that?
A: I wanted the book to highlight more than just chef recipes. I thought it would be fun to also include an educational offering for the reader, from a history lesson on some of San Diego’s neighborhoods, to food related tidbits.
Q: What frustrates you about San Diego’s culinary landscape?
A: Some restaurants in San Diego claim to use “locally sourced” ingredients in their dishes, but typically only use one or two for the whole dish, and substitute many of the other ingredients from nonlocal proprietors. It’s also frustrating that my human body can only consume so much of a good thing. With so many great choices around the county, it’s a shame I can’t enjoy them all in a lifetime.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: My publisher and I are already working on a few new book ideas, and I’m keeping very busy managing my website. I also have interest in highlighting my own culinary knowledge with my own cooking show on TV, but only if the right opportunity arises. I feel very blessed.
“San Diego Chef’s Table” by Maria Desiderata Montana with photography by John Dole. Lyons Press, $24.95. Available from Amazon.com.
*This story first appeared in the U-T San Diego on August 7th, 2013.