Erin Gleeson showed up to meetings with Bay Area food editors, and carrying a portfolio that many would envy -- one filled with her photos of high-profile chefs such as Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park and Top Chef competitors the Voltaggio brothers, cooking at the James Beard House. The editors here were nonplussed.
The photos were too sleek, too backlit. Too New York.
Essentially, what they were telling her was "Less beet foam, more kale chips," as Gleeson writes in the introduction to her new book, The Forest Feast: Simple Vegetarian Recipes from my Cabin in the Woods (Stewart, Tabori & Chang).
Though raised in Sebastopol, Gleeson had spent quite a few years living in Brooklyn and working in Manhattan, until her husband got a job offer on the peninsula he couldn't refuse. Although she liked the idea of being closer to her family, she couldn't help but feel that at 31, the best days of her career were already behind her.
With an MFA in photography and a lifelong love of watercolors, she launched a blog in 2011 as a way to establish a new portfolio with more of a California aesthetic -- or at least, her interpretation of it. Inspired by the natural environment and a Community Supported Agriculture box she got each week, Gleeson sought to capture produce in its organic state. She laid items out on a raw wood backdrop, and then photographed them again as finished products, using them in simple recipes she came up with herself, with minimal ingredients.
Gleeson labeled each recipe with a watercolor headline, and wrote all the instructions herself. Overall, the look is rustic, yet gorgeous. The reader can't help but want to join the parties her photographs depict. As Gleeson didn't go to culinary school, her recipes are vegetarian and straightforward, with an eye toward entertaining. That's just the way she intended it. "My hope is that this book will find a nice balance between your coffee table and your kitchen counter, and that you will be inspired to cook, eat, share, and enjoy colorful, healthy food together," she says.
Erin Gleeson will be appearing at Omnivore Books Saturday, Apr. 26, at 3 p.m., Bookish Bookstore in Berkeley on Sunday, Apr. 27 at 4 p.m., Books Inc., Palo Alto on Thursday, May 1 at 7 p.m., Book Passage in the San Francisco Ferry Building on Saturday, May 3 at 12:30 p.m., and at Rakestraw in Danville on Sunday, May 4 at noon.