We can argue about whether The Lark is Santa Barbara’s answer to The French Laundry in Napa — if nothing else, it’s less expensive and easier to get into — but the just-published Around the Table: Recipes & Stories from The Lark in Santa Barbara is certainly as amazing as The French Laundry Cookbook. With more than 160 recipes, gorgeous photos by Macduff Everton, and tales of Santa Barbara past and present, it’s no surprise to learn that this accomplishment was part of Acme Hospitality founder and managing partner Sherry Villanueva’s dream before she even opened The Lark.
“The intensity of building the restaurant was all-encompassing and unlike anything I’d ever done, and I was blown away by the dedication of the cast of characters involved,” explained Villanueva. “I knew there was a story to tell, and I wanted to tell it.” During the development, Villanueva had a very moving conversation with one of the construction workers while Everton took his portrait, one of the many stirring photographs that shape the heart of the book, like a 21st-century answer to Walker Evans’s work in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
“He asked me why we were taking his picture, and I told him we were going to write a book and we wanted him to be in it,” said Villanueva. “He started crying and commented that on other jobs no one had ever even asked him his name, much less taken his picture to be in a book. For me, he represents all the hundreds of stories that are behind The Lark.”
So you’ll get recipes for everything from Southern Pimento Cheese to Sea Urchin on Brioche, from Deviled Eggs to Jalapeño & Foie Gras Cornbread (those are all just snacks!), but you also get profiles of purveyors, a history of The Lark’s building, multiple wine and beer pairings per dish, and a love letter to Santa Barbara. “When I decided to write a cookbook about The Lark,” Villanueva insisted, “there was absolutely no other way to tell our story than to tell the story of Santa Barbara and some extraordinary people who live here.”
Chef Jason Paluska, her coauthor, believes that urchin dish is the utmost example of celebrating place. “Stephanie Mutz [profiled in the book, of course] has bridged the gap between the local sea urchin and Santa Barbara chefs,” he said. “You won’t get anything fresher than the urchin that she happily delivers still alive and covered in seaweed. Having her as part of the community has helped sculpt the idea of Santa Barbara in my mind, and also connect the story of why the Central Coast of California is so important.”
Paluska, with a handy “The Basics” section (think brining, butchering, etc.), also takes us into the kitchen itself, with techniques on cutting chicken, deboning fish, and curing lamb shoulder, among others. “Those steps are meant to teach, inform, or help anybody that wants it,” he explained. “We all start at different places in the kitchen. I can remember my skill level when I picked up The French Laundry Cookbook in 2005. I thought I would never be able to do any of it.”
Anybody picking up Around the Table will be able to do much more — if they can get past the temptation to make reservations at The Lark.
Purchase your copy of Around the Table at thelarksb.com or at Chaucer’s Books, Tecolote Book Shop, The Shopkeepers, and the S.B. Museum of Art Store. There’s a launch party on Thursday, November 30, 5-7 p.m., at the Santa Barbara Wine Collective (131 Anacapa St.). RSVP is required by calling (805) 456-2700. Additional book events are on Thursday, December 7, 7 p.m., at Chaucer’s, and Saturday, December 9, 2 p.m., at the Museum of Art.