The recent opening of Now Serving Cookbook & Culinary Shop brings together the best books by Los Angeles chefs and food writers, as well as a carefully curated selection of cookbooks highlighting food from around the world. Ken Conception and Michelle Mungcal opened their Chinatown store in a complex that’s already popular with food adventurers willing to stand in line at Howling Ray’s for Nashville hot chicken or to tuck into a bowl of Roy Choi’s boldly flavored Chego menu items. Nearby Jack Benchakul’s serves pandan cold brew lattes at his Endorffiene coffee bar. But inside Now Serving, cookbooks line the shelves and sit on the center table alongside chef knives and jackets, hand-forged cookware, and hand-carved cutting boards. Book signings become a gathering place. Recently, Chef Wes Avila of Guerilla Tacos arrived for his Sunday signing event to find the small shop full of family, friends, and fans.
“With LA being touted as one of the best food cities in the country, if not the world, there has been this huge void of not having a place where you can have cookbooks and food magazines and culinary tools in one space,” says Concepcion. “We have not had that since Cooks’ Library closed in 2009. If all of these other great cities like San Francisco and New York have them, we though, why can’t we?” he continues. When asked why he wanted to open a cookbook store Concepcion explains that when he started working as a cook in professional kitchens and had not gone to culinary school. So he decided to start reading cookbooks. He turned to the writings and recipes of chefs he admired and read them cover to cover. What he learned was not only valuable information, skills, and the stories behind creative dishes, but that also this education was invaluable and informative beyond what he may have “missed” in culinary school. Below, we’ve outlined some of Concepcion’s favorite new books on the shelves at Now Serving.
The visually striking Bäco book by Josef Centeno and Betty Hallock features photographs by the husband and wife duo Dylan James Ho and Jeni Afuso. Centeno opened his downtown Los Angeles Bäco Mercat in 2011. The famous Bäco flatbread sandwich is filled with options—from fava bean fritters to pork belly, beef tongue to chicken escabeche, or even oxtail hash or crispy shrimp. The menu also features his Coca flatbreads, creative vegetable preparation and everything form hazelnut dukkah to harissa shoyu. His new BäcoShop distills the menu into a fast-casual version. And in additional to Bäco, Centeno’s restaurant group includes Bar Ama for his take on Tex Mex, Orsa & Winston for his daily grain bowl lunches and tasting menu dinners, and p.y.t. for his vegetable focused creations. If all of this did not keep him busy enough, add the launch of the “Bäco” cookbook this year, where readers can learn how to make many of the menu items, including his Poblano Feta Dip and Creamy Grits with Sunflower-miso Tahini.
Night + Market
Meals at Night + Market in West Hollywood or Night + Market Song Silver Lake are always fun, set in their vibrant dining rooms complete with bead curtains, Cindy Crawford posters, and colorful oil cloth table covers. Once inside, diners discover the intensely-flavored Thai dishes created by chef owner Kris Yenbamroong. For example, khao soi is made with tofu and oyster mushrooms or hanger steak and tendon. He makes four versions of larb as well as Nam Prik Krueang Jim “chili water.” Now the “Night + Market” cookbook written by Yenbamroong with Garrett offers recipes one might find in Thailand along with Yenbamroong’s creations—like Drunken Noodle with pastrami. Plus, he shares his version of Thai boxing chicken, an LA lunch favorite. “We think of NIGHT+MARKET as not only a Thai restaurant, but an LA restaurant,” says Night + Market co-owner Sarah St Lifer. “The goal of the cookbook was to capture what it’s like to grow up in LA to an immigrant family and want to rediscover your roots and make sense of them in a way that’s personal,” adds Yenbamroong. “All the recipes are rooted in tradition, but not bound by any sort of orthodoxy. It’s just about making delicious food.”
When Wes Avila was cooking with Chef Gary Menes at Le Compoir the vegetable focused tasting menu prepared with intense precision, one my not guess that his next endeavor would be a taco cart in front of a coffee bar in an up-and-coming industrial neighborhood. That cart led to a run in with the law and to securing food truck to continue to serve food to his hungry customers. And now that famed food truck, recognized for luscious ingredients handled with the care of a talented chef who treats every tortilla as one might plate a fine dining dish and you have the success of Guerrilla Tacos. Soon Avila will open Guerrilla Tacos the restaurant where he will serve his phenomenal tacos alongside all of the other dishes he can make in a kitchen larger than his truck set up. Now Avila has debuted his cookbook, “Guerrilla Tacos,” written with Richard Park III with photography by Dylan James Ho and Jeni Afuso to give people around the world a window into of his life and best dishes. In the new book he shares the recipe for his wildly popular sweet potato taco with feta and corn nuts, and so many more mouth-watering flavors. When Avila wears his “Make tacos great again” red trucker hat, he means it.
L.A. Mexicano—by Bill Esparza with photos by Staci Valentine—tells the story of the rich and complex Mexican food culture in Los Angeles. LA is a place where you can find dishes that represent every region in Mexico, as well as the influence of California on the people who cook here. Esparza has been chronicling food stories extensively on his blog Street Gourmet L.A. and several other publications, and in doing so has become not only the foremost expert on tacos, but also a well regarded source for his knowledge of Mexican cuisine. “Mexican food is as much a part of the Los Angeles landscape as the downtown skyline, the Dodgers and the Hollywood sign, it’s flavors and ingredients coursing through our veins,” says Esparza. “Since the founding of LA to Olvera Street to the Alta California kitchens of trend-setting pocho chefs, our city has always been the point of convergence for regional Mexican and Mexican-American cuisine.” Esparza has observed that having a ceviche, a taco, or a mole on a menu in Southern California is almost required in order to consummate one’s place as a serious chef. Esparza’s goal with “L.A. Mexicano” is to offer a snapshot of the present state of Mexican cooking in America and shine a spotlight on the city’s Mexican chefs and their restaurant community.
Grand Central Market
Adele Yellin and Kevin West celebrate 100 years in business of the historic food hall in downtown Los Angeles. Visitors can walk through from the Angel’s Flight railway through the market and end up on the Broadway Theatre District across the street from the iconic Bradbury Building where scenes from Blade Runner were filmed. Now Grand Central Market (GCM) has transformed to highlight some of their veteran food stalls and add the world class coffee bar G&B by Charles Babinski and Kyle Glanville, the California farm and butcher shop Belcampo, Valerie Confections coffee shop and bakery, Wexler’s Deli, Eggslut, and Madcapra. The Grand Central Market cookbook shares the history and recipes of the market that has been in business for a century as well as the inspiration of the new chefs who have joined in on the fun. So if you want to learn how to make Sarita’s legendary pupusas or Madcapra’s tomato salad with chile and cardamom or the yeasted waffles from G&B. “The best thing about The GCM Cookbook is that everyone participated. All the vendors contributed at least one recipe,” says West. “In that sense, Market vendors tell their own food stories, which is important because LA food is not so much about ‘authentic’ recipes in the sense that chef exactly reproduces the traditions of his or her background culture as it is about food that is ‘authentic’ to the chef’s own personal experience of living, eating, and cooking in LA.”
On Vegetables: Modern Recipes for the Home Kitchen
Celebrated chef Jeremy Fox’s storied career has taken him from Ubuntu in Napa to Manresa in San Francisco where he gathered up stars and accolades. When he relocated to Los Angeles and became the executive chef Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan’s Rustic Canyon, the positive responses kept coming. Fox is known to be a creative chef and a craftsman of ingredients and flavors. His seasonal and innovative Rustic Canyon menu shows clearly he pays as much attention to the vegetable offerings as to the luxurious fish and meat dishes. When Fox announced that his cookbook would be about vegetables with a focus on home cooking techniques, his fans made it clear they loved the idea. So much so, as soon as the cookbook launched it sold out the first printing. “On Vegetables,” written with Noah Galuten has a forward by David Chang and stunning photos by Rick Poon. In the pages find Fox’s inspired pairings include chilled asparagus with saffron, olives and fennel pollen or beet gazpacho with mustard cherries and almonds. Fox’s shares his recipe for king trumpet mushrooms with a variety of chicory called puntarelle, potato puree, and bordelaise sauce. These dishes take local ingredients (Fox knows which Los Olivos farm grows that puntarelle) and offer preparations with global flavors.
Images by Julie Wolfson