The women behind the Canal House cookbook series make time for cooking every day and want you to do the same.
As often as their schedule allows, Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton sit down in their kitchen studio, on the banks of a canal in Lambertville, N.J., to enjoy a leisurely lunch. At the end of each work day, they take the time to enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine.
Their culinary ethos – eating seasonally, taking the time to cook even simple meals – is gaining traction. Their latest cookbook, “Canal House Cooks Every Day,” is based on their popular blog posts about what they are cooking for lunch. The book won a James Beard award – the Oscars of the food world – in the general cooking category earlier this spring.
Triangle fans can pay $75 to have lunch with Hirsheimer and Hamilton next Wednesday at The Granary Restaurant in Fearrington Village and receive a copy of their book.
Hirsheimer and Hamilton used to work together at Saveur magazine. Hirsheimer was a founding editor and Hamilton was the food editor. (Hamilton’s sister is chef Gabrielle Hamilton, who owns Prune restaurant in New York City and is the author of the best-selling memoir “Blood Bones & Butter.”) The women opened their studio in 2007 intending to shoot and style photos for other people’s cookbooks. Within two years, they had started to publish their own. They now have eight cookbooks and the second in their Italian trilogy is due out this fall.
In a phone interview last week, the two women talked about what led to their partnership, their kitchen harmony and what they want people to take from their books. (This is an edited transcript of our conversation.)
Q: What prompted this collaboration? Were you both fleeing the rat race as some stories have suggested?
Hirsheimer: Yeah. Both of us have always lived outside of the city in the same area right on the Delaware River. Melissa lives on the New Jersey side of the river. I live 12 miles north on the Pennsylvania side of the river. We’ve known each other and also worked together in New York. It just so happened that both of us came to the end of our steam with the commuting. Then we made this collaboration. We built this studio together.
Q: How do you get along so well in the kitchen?
Hamilton: I remember the first time I met Christopher. She was just starting Saveur. I was getting into food styling. She said, “Oh gosh, why don’t you come on this shoot?” I got there a little early. When Christopher walked in the door, just immediately, I know we’re going to be friends.
Hirsheimer: We are very back and forth when we are in the kitchen. One person is doing something and walks away. The other will pick it up. We totally trust each other. We know the other one can make it better than we can do it. We spend so much time together. Honestly, we love it. We’re here as early as we can. We have to tear ourselves away to go home.
Q: Was the initial idea to produce other people’s cookbooks or your own or both?
Hirsheimer: When we started, we were just doing other people’s cookbooks. We still continue to shoot other people’s cookbooks. We just realized that we probably had quite a bit to offer. There are many chef books out there. We shoot a lot of them. We love them. Home cooking and restaurant cooking are two different things. What we thought could be interesting to other people is we cook seasonally, we cook what we find, we say ‘We’re not the church of anything.’ We just want people to cook. Our recipes are both simple and sophisticated. They are good for the novice cook and for people who know how to cook.
Q: What do you want people to take from your latest cookbook?
Hirsheimer: What we want people to do is to get turned on by food. Go to the market. See what looks good to you. And then bring it home. It could be so simple. It could be a baked potato for dinner with good Irish butter and chives. The act of making that for yourself is so satisfying. This is a gift. It’s not a chore. It’s a way of connecting with who you are and what you want. We sort of owe it to ourselves.
To see a printable version of the recipe, click on the link below:
CHAR the skins of the peppers either on the grill over hot coals, over an open flame on top of the burner plate of a gas stove, or on a sheet pan in a 500-degree oven. Turn them as they blister and blacken all over. When they have blackened, put them into a plastic bag and close it tightly. Set the peppers aside to “steam” for about 15 minutes. Slip off the skins. Pull off the stems; tear the peppers in half, remove the cores and seeds. Don’t wash the peppers; a few flecks of black left on the peppers will add flavor to the soup.
DROP tomatoes in a pot of boiling water over high heat and cook for 1 minute. Drain the tomatoes in a colander. When they are cool enough to handle, slip off the skins.
PUREE tomatoes, peppers and garlic in a food processor or a blender until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl. Add vinegar, pimenton, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve the soup chilled, garnished with eggs, croutons and a drizzle of olive oil.Yield: 4 servings