Cookbooks just don't do it for multimedia artist and documentary filmmaker Jeff Scott.
"There are so many books with recipes, but they're not talking about chefs as human beings," Scott explains.
So he set out to fill that void by publishing his own books, a slew of beautiful, encyclopedia-like tomes focused on the creative processes and lives of innovative chefs such as Sean Brock and Zakary Pelaccio. Behold the end result: Notes from a Kitchen.
An artist by trade, Scott zeroed in on chefs as his muse simply because he liked eating out and because chefs were nothing like his peers.
"I come from an art background of people who are narcissistic and selfish," he shares. "For me, it was peeling away the layers and seeing at the core these really passionate people who are working super hard to bring you something. That was a really unselfish and beautiful idea."
Scenes from a foraging trip in the book
Starting in 2009, he tapped his chef friends and began tailing them in the kitchen for one to two weeks at a time over the course of two years, following their every step from searching for rosemary flowers in northern Maine to discussing the importance (and controversy) of set menus. It led to a James Beard award for the first volume in 2012 and two more editions of the series.
Now, part of the third volume is on sale (order here). It's brimming with more than 2,000 vivid images of Jordan Kahn collecting nasturtiums and includes a story detailing Vinny Dotolo's success. The issue clocks in at nearly 12 pounds. Unlike the first two volumes, which centered around the private lives of chefs, this one looks at how chefs deal with process and failure.
"It's this constant evolution of ideas that grow and expand and contract," Scott says. "As a creative person myself, it was fascinating to watch other creative people and learn."
Each chapter highlights a different chef, who in turn takes it in his/her own direction. Flip the thick, glossy pages and you'll find Aubergine's Justin Cogley romping through the coastline to find fluorescent sea lettuce and fresh abalone for his next meal. Or read the poems that Dominique Crenn writes for every menu at Atelier Crenn. The chefs are given free reign to do what they want, and it's a fascinating journey in a stream-of-consciousness kind of way.
"I think of these books as a forum for chefs to speak their mind without any kind of filter. The text is just conversation that we're recording, and I'm putting them in the book word for word," Scott assures before summing up his vision for the series.
"My passion is to tell a story—but quietly."