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Worcester’s Chef Alina Eisenhauer of Sweet Launches New American Cookbook Project

Alina and her local team with her cookbook project's cover dish.

Worcester’s food scene is booming. High and low, big and small, growers and game raisers, chef-driven and concept-driven, comfort food to refined plates, baked goods to bar stools, fickle customers to foodies, tacos to tasting menus… Worcester has it all with something new seemingly announced every week. It is some kind of wonderful.

Yet there is one thing this Worcester scene does not have: a cookbook author. (Geoffrey Zakarian is from Worcester but he is not of Worcester.)

Until now. Alina Eisenhauer of Sweet Kitchen & Bar plans to publish her first book, Cooking from Memory: A New American Cookbook in 2017. The book is about food as our common ground: recipes and stories from Alina that connect us to ourselves, one another, and a mosaic of flavors that make up American food. But how the book will be created, like Worcester itself, is different from most cookbooks.

Alina’s doing it herself. More correctly, Alina is using a local team, an independent publisher, and most importantly: Kickstarter which is officially live.

Through friends, family, customers, colleagues, social media connections, and a few total strangers willing to buy a book, cupcake, or something more in advance, Alina hopes to fund the book now and deliver it by the end of the year – something no traditional publisher could offer.

Cooking From Memory, Chef Alina Eisenhauer's new book going on Kickstarter.
Cooking From Memory, Chef Alina Eisenhauer’s new book going on Kickstarter.

“I have known what I wanted Cooking from Memory to be for years: A recipe book about the way I and we all connect to food,” Alina says. “What I didn’t know was that I wanted to crowdfund it and create it myself. I thought I wanted to go a more traditional route. But would traditional publishers understand me? Worcester? The connection I wanted to capture through stories and recipes to my family and friends, this city, chef community, staff, and customers? Especially to my mom – this is dedicated to her! Probably not and even if they did I would have to spend months on a proposal just to prove my concept to those publishers and then it would take months to get it printed. I wouldn’t have a book until the end of 2018 earliest!”

And even then, Eisenhauer noticed, she would not only lose some control of how she wanted the book to feel but likely have to commit to buying back a few thousand books to sell at Sweet. A long discussion with her family and friends, local connections, and some quick number crunching and she realized: For the price of a few thousand books she could assemble her own team and execute her own vision for Cooking from Memory.

“No matter what I’d still have to do the same things I would do to create the book for a publishing house,” Alina adds. “I’d have to write the book, create and test the recipes, cook the food for the photos. So why not own it all and do it myself and make it look and feel like I wanted? So I assembled a terrific local team including Scott and Donna at Erb Photography and Sophia at Dolce Vittoria design group. I found a publisher in Story Farm who could help put it together and print it quickly and beautifully. As you can see from the sample pages, we have already given our book a clear direction, amazing design, and fantastic photography and writing to make Cooking from Memory a reality better than I imagined.”

Full disclosure: one of those people is yours truly. I knew Alina from my profile of her for Mass Foodies and of course loved her food. But things got real last August when my first cookbook, Sweet Myrtle & Bitter Honey (2008) with Efisio Farris, was selected by Chowhound as their book to cook from for the month. Alina saw, reached out, and asked me to be her writer. (I like to call myself a “professional with”: YOUR NAME IN LIGHTS with me.) We talked through the fall, generating concepts and recipe lists, ultimately settling on Cooking from Memory. We met with uber agents Lisa and Sally Ekus from Hatfield, who outlined the different directions – possibilities and pitfalls – and ultimately introduced us to Story Farm. We decided to go this route.

I have worked with chefs and cookbooks for more than 20 years now and maybe the single biggest change I have seen is the evolution of what used to be called self-publishing and today is better known as independent publishing. And yes, there is more than a semantic difference. Self-publishing conjures memories of cheap manifestos of poor quality. More importantly, self-publishing used to mean you couldn’t get someone to buy your idea and you HAD to do it yourself. At Kinkos. On copy paper.

No more. One look at our sample pages and there is no doubt this is a beautifully executed book. In the age of the solo-preneur, Alina has been able to assemble a team that rivals that of any traditional publisher. (I know: I worked at and with many.) And like Alina said, she keeps the control of the timing, look, and feel. It is an incredible amount of work to do it right, but ultimately very fulfilling.

If we get it done that is. We have already invested lots of time and a little money to get the Kickstarter launched. Now, it is up to all of Alina’s and the team’s connections. We need our communities to back this play and make this Worcester’s first chef-in-residence cookbook.

A cookbook is an expensive project. The funding goal is the minimum Alina needs, less Kickstarter fees, to lock in the publishing process and start the work to print at least 5,000 copies of a high-quality hardcover full color cookbook this year. The first stretch goal is a little more than $100,000 to cover all printing and design, photography, writing, recipe testing and conversion, copyediting, and proofreading.

“I’ll worry about my time and food costs after the team,” Alina says. “But I promise to make it worth everyone’s while with great stretch rewards if we get there!

And it’s not like backers won’t get something for their support – most will get a cookbook delivered as soon as it is ready. A limited number can get more, including their memories and a recipe based on them captured in the book or a dinner based on the book at Sweet. The book also gives back: for every book sold Alina will give donate at least $1 to her favorite charity: Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.

We’ll be covering the path of this Kickstarter and the cookbook production as it happens on Mass Foodies, but for now let’s make some memories together.

Cooking from Memory: A New American Cookbook
Cooking from Memory: A New American Cookbook