#59 | The San Luis Obispo Farmers' Market Cookbook
The San Luis Obispo Farmers' Market Cookbook
Simple Seasonal Recipes & Short Stories from the Central Coast of California
By Kendra Aronson
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery By the Book podcast, with me, Suzy Chase.
Kendra Aronson: My name is Kendra Aronson, and my cookbook is called the San Louis Obispo Farmer's Market Cookbook.
Suzy Chase: How did you get the idea for this cookbook?
Kendra Aronson: The San Louis Obispo farmer's market that happens on Thursday evening every week, is really well known nationally and internationally, we draw in crowds of 10-20,000 per week depending on the season, so it's a well known and well beloved market, and I really wanted to create a cookbook that celebrated this community event, and at the time I was living in San Francisco, and I came across the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmer's Market Cookbook, and I really loved the concept and the idea of it.
It was a smaller format book, that was basically geared towards taking it with you to the local farmer's markets, and it was a produce buying guide and it highlighted producers and I just really loved it, and I thought, "Oh, San Louis Obispo could use a book like this."
So I started to research other titles, similar to the San Francisco one, and it turns out that Los Angeles, and Santa Monica, and Seattle, and other towns that had a big farmer's market scene, they all had their own farmer's market cookbook. So San Louis Obispo was just ripe and ready to have its own book.
Suzy Chase: Describe some of the elements that you wanted to include from some of the other farmer's market cookbooks.
Kendra Aronson: I basically cherry-picked a lot of ideas and elements from the other books that I found out there, and then created my own. So, for example, I really love food photography and images, and I like to know what the meal is going to look like, I like very photo-heavy books. And so, not many of them had that element, but I knew that I wanted mine to have that, so there's 60 seasonal recipes, there's a photo for each recipe, so 60 recipe photos.
Another element is I liked the large typeface, it's really easy to read and easy to use. Another element was the profiles of produces, so in the back of my book I have 40 short stories on local farmers, and local chefs, so that was a borrowed idea from one of the books that did little mini paragraph profiles on produces, but they didn't have images associated with them. So I knew that I wanted to add photos and make larger stories.
What else? Oh, I liked that all of these farmer's market cookbooks, they were organized either by ingredient or by season, and so mine I divided it by seasons. Four seasons, within each season there are 15 recipes, and then it's sub-divided into categories of breakfast, light bites, lunch, dinner, and dessert. So I kinda took a bunch of different elements that I liked from the farmer's market cookbooks that were already out there, and then I put it into mine.
Suzy Chase: So you did all the food photography. Was that a huge learning curve?
Kendra Aronson: I've always been drawn to photographing food, and I just love plating it, I love fiddling with it and playing with the props if there are any, so for me it was a very natural extension. I've always been familiar with working a camera, but it wasn't until creating this cookbook that I really dove into reading my camera manual, and learning all the ins and outs of everything.
So the biggest learning curve for me actually, was the design. I had to lay out the book, I had to edit the photos in Photoshop and then do the editorial design, the images with the words together in Adobe InDesign, and that was the largest learning curve, because I had no idea what I was doing, and those programs are really hard to teach yourself. You know, I did take some classes online, but essentially it took me five times longer than what it would take a normal graphic designer to do. Even the simple things like importing photos or changing the size of text, like that, it took me way longer.
Suzy Chase: Wow, you are a force of nature.
Kendra Aronson: Thank you.
Suzy Chase: Tell us about the crowdfunding and the self-publishing aspect.
Kendra Aronson: Yeah, so I always knew that I was going to self-publish, because I wanted to have creative control over everything. I had a very strong vision of what I wanted the book to look like in terms of the cover, and the fonts, and I knew I wanted large photos that bleed and that there is an image per recipe, and all that, so I didn't want to give up that creative control by going through a publishing house. I also knew that this was my first cookbook, I wanted to be very proud to put my name on it, I wanted to be able to teach myself all the skills and do it all myself. So, yeah, for me self-publishing was great. The one big hurdle in self-publishing is you have to self-finance.
That's where the crowdfunding came in. What I did is I ran a Kickstarter pre-order campaign, in July 2015, and those funds from the Kickstarter campaign, all of those pre-orders, that's what allowed me to initially print the first print run, which came out December 2015. That was incredible, it did really well, I got a lot of local press during that time, which really built up the buzz, six months before the book came out. The campaign was successful and I ended up raising nearly 27,000 dollars in pre-order sales.
Yeah, I recommend it for anyone who is thinking about self-publishing, to use specifically Kickstarter of all the crowdfunding platforms. Just a really, really powerful tool to kickstart your project.
Suzy Chase: On December 1st 2015, this is incredible, you had a first run of 2,000 copies of the cookbook sent to your house, and in 20 days that full inventory had been purchased. That's crazy.
Kendra Aronson: I know.
Suzy Chase: Was that when you realized, "Okay, this idea is really gonna work?"
Kendra Aronson: Yes, definitely. When I first decided to get 2,000 copies, I honestly thought that that would last me for five years, I thought that I, had pre-sold about 500 of those copies during the Kickstarter campaign, and then I figured, "Oh, well that was basically the spike in sales, and the buzz, and everything." It peaked, kind of, and then the sales will trickle for a couple of years.
But I should also mention that when I started this project, it was 100% passion project. I did not start out making a business, I did not start out thinking, "Oh, I'm going to do multiple print runs." There was never something I had considered. So then, when it sold out so quickly, I knew that there was a demand, and people wanted to buy it again, and a lot of people were not able to get it before Christmas, because the inventory ran out.
Yeah, that was definitely the kicker of "Oh, I'm on to something. I definitely need to reorder. I need to order way more than 2,000. I need to be smart about how I order." I just crunched a bunch of numbers, and it ended up being that I needed to order 6,000 copies, which I've almost sold out of that, so we're now a year and a half into the book being out. In total, I've sold about 8,000 copies.
Suzy Chase: That's incredible.
Kendra Aronson: Thank you. And I already have another print run of 6,000 in storage ready to go, 'cause I'm probably gonna sell out of the second print run in the next coming weeks. So, yeah, it's crazy.
Suzy Chase: In the back of the cookbook, you have lovely short stories of farmers, food artisans, and chefs. In particular, I was drawn to Javier Magaña, is that his name?
Kendra Aronson: Yes.
Suzy Chase: His story, talk a little bit about him.
Kendra Aronson: Yes, I love Javier. He runs Red Barn Farms, based in Arroyo Grande, and the story that I wrote about there was one of the first times that I met him, and he is Hispanic and I am Mexican, and I remembered going up to his table and he said, "Hi, mija." And just started talking to me, and "mija" in Spanish it's a blend of two words, which is "mi hija", which means "my daughter". In Hispanic culture, basically any elder will say that to a child or someone younger, like even if you're not directly literally related.
So you'd say "mija" or "mijo", and it's just a term of endearment, and it very much felt like, "Oh, him and I, were family." Like, instantly. It's basically something that obviously parent and grandparents, but also aunts and uncles and neighbors and family friends and cousins, they'll all use that term, so it very much feels like, "Oh, everyone's my parent, everyone's looking out for me, everyone is connected somehow."
I just immediately felt like, "Oh, Javier, him and I are gonna be buddies." 'Cause this one little word that he said I already feel like we are in the same tribe, and on the same wavelength. So yeah, he's lovely, he's a great person. He grows everything, and he just has a heart of gold. His wife actually has a juicing business, and so he grows all the ingredients that she then juices, so I love supporting them both, they're just great people. I'm really happy that he's in my life.
Suzy Chase: So at the farmer's market, she has the juice stall, and then he has the produce stall?
Kendra Aronson: Exactly. Yeah, and sometimes they'll just combine forces, for example if she is working at another market, at his table he'll have all the produce and then plus the juices. Basically everything that's on the table, it's been picked that day or less than 24 hours ago, and it's also been juiced within 24 hours, so it's really fresh. You cannot get juice that is fresher than that.
Suzy Chase: Alice Waters wrote a glowing quote on the cover of your cookbook. What's your connection with her?
Kendra Aronson: I actually still have not met her in real life, but I am thrilled about the endorsement. I still can't believe it. I actually went to the café above Chez Panisse about a year ago with my husband. We were in Oakland, going to a friend's wedding. Before the wedding we had lunch at the café, so I brought a copy with me in hopes that she would be there, although nowadays she doesn't spend so much time in the kitchen, because she's promoting her books or her other organization, the Edible Schoolyard project.
Anyways, I brought a book with me, and in the inside of the book I wrote this long letter to her, basically thanking her for all the inspiration over the years, and I just love everything that she stands for and believes in, and the message that she spreads. And so, I brought that copy with me, had a delicious lunch, and then I gave it to the hostess who promised that she would give it to Alice's personal assistant, who would then give it to Alice. Several weeks went by, and I did receive an email from the personal assistant, on behalf of Alice, she was thanking me for the book and she said, "Oh, Alice loves it, and she loves it for these reasons, abc ... "
I wrote back saying, "Hey, would I be able to use that quote? This is like game changing for my career, and I would be so honored if I could use it." She asked Alice, and Alice said yes, so that's how that happened. One day I'll get to meet her, and I'm very excited for that day to come. I'll be a total fan girl.
Suzy Chase: You are the queen of self-promotion, I have to say. You're so good at it.
Kendra Aronson: Oh, thank you. Yeah, I mean I really really love telling my story, and hopefully inspiring others to self-publish their own cookbook, and I'm very open if anyone has any questions whatsoever. It was so exciting doing this cookbook all on my own, and doing the writing, and the photography, and the design, and then running the Kickstarter campaign. I now do all the fulfillment, and I still do marketing and outreach like this, and yeah, it's just fun.
I believe in the book, I believe in the product, I am excited to share the 40 stories that are in here about all the farmers and chefs that I love in the area, so for me it's really easy to talk about, and really easy to promote, and everyone just loves the book so it's very encouraging to keep sharing it.
Suzy Chase: It was so nice to meet you.
Kendra Aronson: You too.
Suzy Chase: The week before last, at Food Book Fair, in New York City. Anyone that follows you on Instagram saw that you had quite a trip. What were some of your highlights?
Kendra Aronson: Oh, and I still have so much more to share on Instagram.
Suzy Chase: Really?
Kendra Aronson: I have a huge backlog, yeah, because oh my gosh, I was everywhere. Before I left I actually planned out every single meal that I was going to eat, because there is so much good food in New York City, and the neighborhoods are kind of all spread out, and so I knew exactly what I was eating for breakfast on Thursday, what I was eating for dinner on Saturday, who I was meeting up with.
So the highlights included, I really loved at the Food Book Fair, there was two breakfastes. One that was a collaboration between Liz Prueitt of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, and April Bloomfield, that was delicious. Then the second breakfast was between Julia Sherman of Salad For President, her cookbook just came out, and the editor of Bon Appétit.
It was just so mind-blowing great, salad for breakfast is my new favorite thing. I also went to Momofuku Noodle Bar, I went to Russ & Daughters, the Jewish delicatessen, gosh just so many delicious things.
Suzy Chase: Everyone needs to look at your Instagram. You definitely made the most of this trip.
Kendra Aronson: Yeah, I would leave my friend's apartment in Brooklyn Heights around seven in the morning, and I wouldn't return until eight, nine, or 10 in the evening, I was just gone all day walking the city, going to shops, meeting with friends, eating, going to the Food Book Fair, all of it.
Suzy Chase: So last week I made the burrata salad with sweet peas, snap peas, and sugar peas on page 129. Usually burrata is so heavy, but in this dish it worked with all of the greens.
Kendra Aronson: Oh good, yeah, I love that salad, it's just a celebration of Spring to me, especially with the lemon vinegarette, it just really brightens everything up, it's so good.
Suzy Chase: This recipe is from Sally Loo's, talk a little bit about that café.
Kendra Aronson: So my friends Brandon and Jen Manuele own that café, they actually opened it a few weeks before I left San Luis Obispo, when I had finished. I went to university here, there's a college in San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly.
I had graduated and then stuck around for a couple weeks before heading home, and they had just opened their café within walking distance of my home, and I was so, so excited about this little neighborhood coffee shop. Initially they stared as just a coffee shop, and then they expanded to little bites and baked goods, to now they have a full-on menu completely farm-to-table. I always see Brandon shopping at the farmer's markets, and they switch it up, they definitely have I'd say about 50% of their menu is staple, it's available year 'round, but then they always have really good seasonal daily specials. This salad is one of them, it comes back on the menu every Spring, and I just adore it.
Like you said, it's very light, it's green, it's refreshing, for me it's just Spring on a plate and I love it. I'm so happy that they gave me the recipe, especially for their lemon vinegarette. They're great, it's like a little mom-and-pop café that supports local farmers, and it's very community-driven. Jen, I like how she describes the café, in that it's a safe third space?
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Kendra Aronson: Third space meaning, you have your first space, which is your home, you may have your second space, which is your-
Suzy Chase: Your office.
Kendra Aronson: -Yeah, your office. Then you have a third space, which is basically like a communal living room. It's somewhere that's public, it's usually like a café, or maybe for some it's a church, or it's a park. So I like that that was her intention, to create a safe third space for the community to hang out, and that's exactly how it feels. You walk into Sally Loo's and it kinda feels like you're home.
Suzy Chase: So what's up next for you?
Kendra Aronson: Yes. Definitely another cookbook. I am now deciding if I want to self-publish again, or if I should go through a traditional publishing house, so I'm kind of exploring those two options and creating a big pros and cons list of what I should be doing. The next cookbook has totally different subject matter than farmer's markets.
I can't tell you the content, because I'm not telling anyone the content quite yet.
Suzy Chase: Shoot.
Kendra Aronson: Yeah, it's still in the works.
Suzy Chase: No sneak peek?
Kendra Aronson: No, no not yet. But for me it is important for me right now at the initial stages to figure out which way I'm gonna go, self-publishing or not, 'cause that's a huge first step. So once I know that for certain, then I'll likely be sharing little teasers or tidbits about what the next idea is.
Suzy Chase: I can't wait.
Kendra Aronson: Thank you.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web?
Kendra Aronson: You can go to my own website, which is kendraaronson.com, that K-E-N-D-R-A-A-R-O-N-S-O-N.com, or you can go the the cookbook's website, which is slo, S-L-O, farmersmarketcookbook.com. I'm on Instagram at kendraaronson, and the hashtag is #slofarmersmarketcookbook.
Suzy Chase: Thank you so much Kendra for coming on Cookery By The Book podcast.
Kendra Aronson: Yeah, thank you. Thank you for having me. It was so fun to meet you at the Food Book Fair.
Suzy Chase: Subscribe in iTunes, and follow me on Instagram @cookerybythebook, on Twitter @iamsuzychase.
Thank you so much for listening to Cookery By The Book podcast.