On a Lark

Behind the scenes of a recent book by one of the Pacific Northwest's top culinary talents

When Chef John Sundstrom moved to Seattle in the early '90s, it seemed like a whole other world to him.

Raised in Utah, Sundstrom went to culinary school in Vermont and cooked in California before moving to the Northwest in his mid-twenties. There, he met his wife JM Enos. Along with her and business partner Kelly Ronan, he opened Lark, one of the first restaurants to deal in small plates (way back in 2003).

Along the way, as he received awards — the James Beard Foundation named him Best Chef Northwest in 2007, after being nominated in both 2006 and 2007, among other recognitions — he also fell in love with the unique bounty the Northwest has to offer.

"The menu reflected the seasonal changes, and all the great things that grow here and that we can catch here," says Sundstrom.

Eventually, he decided he wanted to communicate some of his passion for local food in a different medium: a book.

"I wanted to have a focus on the restaurant and what the restaurant is all about," he says. "But I also wanted to tell the story of living in the Northwest and what we can use here to cook with, from my perspective. Not growing up here, it was all very fresh to me."

Five years ago, the book Lark: Cooking Against the Grain came to fruition when Sundstrom and his team self-published it, using Kickstarter. Last year, the regional publisher Sasquatch Books picked it up, giving Sundstrom a chance to add more content and context (and the new paperback version, renamed Lark: Cooking Wild in the Northwest, makes it a bit more affordable).

Sundstrom wanted the book to explore the Northwest through the eyes of an outsider, so that someone from another region would be able to see what our corner of the world has to offer, and so that those from the area might also be able to see it with new eyes.

"I organized the book by three seasons, because to me those are sort of our overarching themes when it comes to what grows when, and certainly within each of those you have lots of variety," says Sundstrom.

His seasons are Evergreen, Bounty and Mist (with lots of micro-seasons thrown in, for ingredients that come and go quickly).

"I wanted to have something a little more poetic, and a little more unique," he says.

While the cookbook is aimed at medium-level home cooks, Sundstrom hopes there's something for everyone.

"The idea is to help people who are probably already pretty decent cooks to become better cooks, and to throw in a few of those professional tips and tricks of the trade that will make your weekend dinner party smoother and more fun by planning ahead," he says.

Besides the careful recipes, the book is filled with beautiful photography and inspiration, making it a worthy addition to your shelf.

Above all, Sundstrom wanted the book to be approachable, a sort of love letter to the Northwest and the style of dining here.

"There are beautiful cookbooks from world-renowned chefs, but even I will pick up a new book from a chef in Europe or South America, and I'm like, 'There's no way I'm ever going to cook anything in this book,' because the techniques or the ingredients are so esoteric," he reflects.

"I wanted to represent real possibilities. If you are someone who loves steak tartare, our recipe will allow you to make a really delicious steak tartare, even if you've never done it. We don't put too many things in there that are super scary or foreign ... really, all of the dishes are very possible."

A flip through this book, or an attempt at a recipe, and you'll likely want to plan a trip to Lark, to see where it all began.♦

Find Lark: Cooking Wild in the Northwest ($29.95) at Auntie's Bookstore, 402 W. Main.

Preserve It! Summer Home Food Preservation Series @ WSU Spokane County Extension

Wed., Sept. 29, 6:30 p.m.
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