I can hardly believe how fast 20 years go by. I was such a tyke in the cooking field. I'd just left Chez Panisse and was excited to write my first book. It was a huge endeavor and in retrospect, I was so naive. I loved small plates and that's mainly what I made when I worked at Chez Panisse. It spurred an idea;- a very ambitious one, but still, an idea for a book.
I decided that I wanted to write a book about small plates from the Mediterranean. I left for Spain and tasted tapas from La Rioja in the north, east to Barcelona and then far south to Cadiz and the Strait of Gibraltar. Then it was on to Morocco for an extended tour from Marrakech through the desert to Fez and beyond. There I sampled flavors like nothing I'd ever had before. Although I'd been to Provence numerous times, still I added Antibes, Nice and Bandol to the itinerary. I don't think I realized how immense Italy is until I traveled (and ate!) from Puglia to Sicily and Sardinia and then all the way north to Cinque Terre, Venice and the Piedmont. I spent Greek Easter on the island of Zakynthos in western Greece eating spit-roasted lamb, tzatziki and the best rolled grape leaves and then traveled from Athens to Thessaloniki to taste every meze I could get my hands on. And finally I traversed Turkey from Istanbul and south to Izmir, Pamukkale and Goreme. I sailed the coast for two weeks from Bodrum to Marmaris tasting every kind of fruit the sea had to offer.
What started out as a simple little idea of small plates eaten along the Mediterranean turned into a trip of a lifetime. The generosity and sharing I experienced and everything I learned along the way made this one of the most rewarding journeys I've ever had. The best part? Learning that tapas, antipasti and meze are so much more than just a few small plates of food. It's a lifestyle. Along the Mediterranean people don't drink without eating something. Civilized, right? But it's also a way to extend the dinner hour and spend time with friends and family talking about politics, the latest gossip and anything in between.
In late March 1994, I opened the door to find a delivery man. He handed me my first book wrapped in brown paper. I remember it like it was a few minutes ago. I tore off the paper and I bet my eyes were almost bugging out of my head. I was holding a hard covered book with the title "From Tapas to Meze" with my name printed boldly on the cover in my hands.
A week later I was celebrating my first born at the Ritz Carlton. Gary Danko, my best chef friend, was the chef there at the time and he hosted a launch party. It was the who's who of the food world. I don't think my smile could have gotten much bigger.
Happy birthday, From Tapas to Meze and thanks to everyone who helped make it happen!
Click here and try one of my favorite recipes from the book and make sure to enjoy it with friends, family and wine, of course!