You know an author is prolific when his book jacket can’t even keep up with his publishing. Though the blurb on Santa Barbara Chef’s Table touts James Fraioli as the “award-winning author of 17 cookbooks,” Fraioli himself explained, “This one makes it number 20.”
Whatever the count, the latest Fraioli book is a handy compendium of the state of area dining, featuring 70 recipes — written so that a home cook has an actual shot of making them (no need to buy a sous vide machine, for instance) — from 40 Santa Barbara County restaurants. In fact, the book works so hard to earn its subtitle, Extraordinary Recipes from the American Riviera, with gushy prose and glossy photos that it might leave locals a bit embarrassed by the immodesty of it all.
But Fraioli, who recently moved back to his native Seattle after six years in Santa Barbara, doesn’t see it that way at all. “The Santa Barbara food scene is extremely local, and everyone’s into the quality of eating and ingredients,” he said, stressing how many of the restaurants serve seafood from the channel and follow the Monterey Bay Aquarium sustainable seafood guidelines. “You’re eating foods that aren’t being imported. You’re getting high-quality food, bar none.”
Fraioli developed his knowledge of the food scene during years of writing for area publications and a stint as an editor at Touring & Tasting. “That’s when I got to know the chefs and restaurants, and that led to cookbooks,” he explained. “My literary agent said, ‘I have a publisher who wants you to do a cookbook,’ and then publishers were always cranking them out. So that led to two to four to eight to today.”
Beyond his own writing, Fraioli also developed Culinary Book Creations. “When the economy turned and publishing went into the tank, lots of companies shut down cookbook production,” he said. “But I found lots of chefs who had financial means to do a cookbook but didn’t know how to. That’s a feather in the cap, a book on their career or restaurant. So I started working with chefs, going the custom route. I don’t have to crank out 150 titles a year, so I can take my time.”
Santa Barbara Chef’s Table had a relatively quick eight-month turnaround. “Typically you have to rework some of the recipes, but for this book, there was no fine-tuning: It was handed to me on a silver platter,” said Fraioli, praising area chefs. “They did it seriously and with due diligence. No one submitted something quickly just because they’re busy.”
Such a conscientious response could be due to Fraioli’s connections to the food industry. “They’re all my friends,” he admitted, “but definitely there are ones I’ve dined with more often than others.” His top four, of course represented in the book, are Trattoria Grappolo, Trattoria Uliveto, Arch Rock Fish, and Kai Sushi.
Dive into local deliciousness by reading Santa Barbara Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from the American Riviera, available at area bookstores and at globepequot.com.