For a little over a year The Bindery in LoHi has been serving eclectic seasonal food with nods to cuisine from Italy, Mexico and Colorado. Now owner and chef Linda Hampsten Fox has released a limited number of beautiful cookbooks filled with more than 75 original recipes that showcase just what she does at the popular restaurant. The idea, says Hampsten Fox, centers on cooking with ingredients at their peak in an approachable and interesting way. We chatted with the chef about her tome and what it means to her.
Westword: Why a cookbook?
Linda Hampsten Fox: I love cookbooks, seeing what people are doing, their inspirations and working with other people. In my book, these recipes are simple things that we expanded upon and used in different ways. They are approachable to everyone. This book is for the people, and fun, and also I think a lot of the recipes are easy for entertaining and different occasions.
What inspired you to take on this project?
It was really a heartfelt project for me centered around my mom and my daughter. The roots of most passion tends to stem from your family. My mom was a very good cook and very attentive to details and celebrated life through food. Those moments were varied and vast.
I lost my mom suddenly about eight and a half years ago from ovarian cancer. I knew she wasn't feeling well, and she was on the East Coast with one of my sisters. Within a week she was in the hospital, and within a day it was clear she had advanced ovarian cancer. I left right away, but a blood clot broke free, and she was gone before I could say goodbye.
She had recipes all the time, in a big drawer, and she was my inspiration. Then, seeing my 23-year-old daughter live out similar things that inspired me and her strong passion for food — as I give her advice in life or anything else, these bits of wisdom are kind of like recipes.
What made you decide to break it down into the four seasons?
It's a reflection of what we do at the restaurant. We change the menu seasonally. We all live with the rhythm of seasons, and it felt more relevant that, if you are in the springtime, then you will want to use those ingredients.
Were these all recipes from your collection, or did you create some just for the book?
There were several that were for the book, and some that were from my time working as a private chef. There are also some that were things we were starting to do at the restaurant, the things that I have learned and developed over the years.
How did you select the recipes for the cookbook?
Creating a dish for the menu at that restaurant is like making music. All the parts have to all come together, and it's similar with the cookbook. The components of the recipes left in the cookbook made the music. Some were eliminated even if they were beautiful and made great food because it was an outlier. We also moved things around, and the cookbook became like a symphony.
There are eclectic pieces in it, like things that are related to Mexico, as opposed to Italy, and little things, like I am from New Jersey where we like to eat Philly cheesesteaks, so I made it into a taco. As things moved together, it was clear what pieces didn't work with the other recipes and photos. It took some time to put that into a book; I wanted it to be beautiful and look appealing and make sense together. It's what we do with the menu at the Bindery, too.
How long did all of this take?
We started working on it before we opened the restaurant [in October 2017], so there was a process of what we were planning to do and, as the restaurant opened, actually doing it. When you start a cookbook, there are various ways to approach it, like defining the feeling behind the book, which evolved as it was happening. It took quite a long time, and photography, too, was a part of it. I didn’t understand how much time would be needed for that aspect.
Is there anything in this book you like to cook at home?
Probably most of that. But, honestly, I am barely home. That's why I took so long to do the restaurant; I knew I needed to wait until my daughter was out of the house and in school. I am at the restaurant so much now, and I need a lot of support. My husband has shrunk every piece of clothing I have owned, so it's kind of a funny time. So, do I get to cook at home much? Not too often anymore, but all of these things I would if I had time.
Is there a favorite recipe in the book?
My mom's apple fritters [on page 134]. It's definite — you gotta do that. It's such a deep, emotional memory. I can taste them, I can see them, and I can see her making them. I love that she took so much care and attention to all of that; she was a great lady.
Tell us about the fried sage recipe; what do you do with it?
It's a Tuscan tradition, and in Italy, at the little farm I had, I can remember walking different parts of it and seeing a bay leaf tree three feet high, pine nuts under the pine trees and big bushes of herbs. Sage is one of my favorites, and crisping sage and making sage butter is so delicious. But fried sage is made with a light batter and gets eaten like a potato chip. It's salty and crispy, and it's delicious. It's something here that, as we move into spring, I am going to start doing at The Bindery. I was going to have it put on the table when guests come in; I'm just looking for the right vessel.
Is that why you have sage on the cover?
I didn’t know if I would have a cover photo. The original cover was plain and embossed. It was a month or two before we went to print that I was thinking about the cover and that photo [of the sage] was so perfect.
After time in Mexico and Italy, how has being back in Colorado influenced your cooking?
I am always looking for elements that reflect where I am. My life is in my food. I spent a lot of time in Colorado, originally in Boulder, and that sort of healthy eating was something I grew up with. For years I have frequented farmers markets in Colorado, and anytime you’re anywhere, it's bound to happen that local ingredients enter your repertoire. Yes, we have a sandwich called the 5280 that's egg, peppers and cheese. There's also the corn-on-the-cob soup at the restaurant, which was designed from all the great corn we were getting from Munson Farms. Then there's the corn-off-the-cob shooters and mozzarella s'mores [page 64], which is a whole crostini with Italian flavors done as an American concept. That recipe is a lot of fun. Part of the book I like is its simplicity, but it's also fun and playful.
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The cover reads "Volume 1," does that mean you plan on making more books?
I think definitely there will be more. I learned a lot while doing the book. It was definitely a process, and you learn how to do something better and different. This book, for me, it was a long time coming.
I worked with a photographer, Marianne Martin from Boulder, and there were probably 5,000 photos and lots of recipes that didn’t go into the book. We edited and edited, and that was one of the bigger challenges of this book. Now, it's not that those other recipes are gone — I'm archiving them for the future.
You can pick up Hampsten Fox's book starting Wednesday, March 20 at The Bindery, 817 Central Street, during the launch party from 4 to 6 p.m. Buy a copy and get it signed by the chef then; otherwise, get the book from the restaurant after the party, while supplies last. Call 303-993-2364 for more details.