By Joanna Fox
Meredith Erickson had only been to the Alps a couple of times, but there was something about the beauty, the magnitude and the magic of this vast, mountainous and often remote place that drew her in. While she was there, the internationally acclaimed Montreal cookbook writer would search for books to bring home to friends and family that captured her experiences, the places she stayed, the meals she ate, but that kind of souvenir didn’t exist.
“And that’s when I decided that I had to do it myself”, recalls Erickson with a smile.
Alpine Cooking: Recipes and Stories from Europe’s Grand Mountaintops: A Cookbook (Ten Speed Press) is Erickson’s first solo venture, out Oct. 15. It has been her passion project since she sold the idea in 2013 to Aaron Wehner, executive vice-president at Crown Publishing/Random House, who published her Joe Beef cookbooks, The Art of Living According to Joe Beef, and Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse: Another Cookbook of Sorts, which she co-wrote with Dave McMillan and Fred Morin.
“Meredith is so passionate about her craft, food and lifestyle, we defaulted on where those passions led her. We thought the book would be smaller, and then it just sort of grew as she fell more and more for the subject and the people and the places” says Wehner. “This book brings a lot of experience, insight and international perspective — it has the presence of an art book.”
The 354-page book is also a travelogue and guidebook to the Alpine regions of France, Italy, Switzerland and Austria. There’s information about what wines to drink, where to stay, what to eat, and how to get from place to place, complete with stunning photographs by Christina Holmes, captivating recipes, and maps of each region, which you can tear out and take with you.
“I am extremely proud of this project. I don’t think I fully understand what I’ve done” says Erickson. “I saw it very clearly from the beginning. I was very forceful about the vision of the book and my editor, Julie Bennett, and designer, Betsy Stromberg, helped me elevate it.”
Along with the Joe Beef books, Erickson’s other works span almost a decade, with projects often overlapping and without any breaks in between. They include Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird; Olympia Provisions: Cured Meats and Tales from an American Charcuterie; Kristen Kish Cooking; and Claridge’s: The Cookbook. There are two others coming: Frasca: The Food and Wine of Italy’s Friuli Region (out April 2020), and another with the Wolf sisters of Montreal salad spot, Mandy’s (out May 2020).
She hasn’t had the time to stop and appreciate what she’s accomplished.
“When Meredith takes on a project, she pours her heart and creativity into it” says Bennett, VP and editorial director at Ten Speed Press. “After working on four previous books together, and given that Alpine Cooking is Meredith’s first solo book, I knew it would evolve in grand, boundary-pushing ways, but I didn’t know what form that would take. I am incredibly impressed with what she has created, and the amount of research, time, energy and travel that went into it.”
What’s immediately striking about Alpine Cooking is that the book looks and feels nostalgic. From the majestic Matterhorn on the cover, to the collection of classic alpine recipes inside, the outstanding photography and rich, evergreen content, it has a sense of timelessness that you don’t see very often in the cookbook genre.
“I put everything I had into this book. I knew it would be a big scope of work but I didn’t know why something like it wasn’t already out there. I quickly came to understand: Because only a crazy person — a complete obsessive — would be able to do this in a comprehensive way,” she says.
Often alone, or travelling with Holmes to capture the sights and incredible vantage points, Erickson did months on end of legwork, over five years and four countries. Sleeping in huts and in bunker-like rooms, skiing from town to town, braving storms, crossing borders, hiking to remote locations, she sought out the most exciting, traditional, interesting, beautiful, delicious, and striking, then compiled it all into this massive literary and visual overview.
“The idea of this book is that it will give you five or 10 years of travel, and with different styles of trips across the four alpine countries,” she says. “I want this to be a helpful travelogue. And if you’re not interested in cooking, then that’s great, but all the recipes here are really home-cook friendly.”
Working closely with her long-time collaborator, recipe developer Kendra McKnight, Erickson re-created her favourite dishes from each country and adapted them in a comprehensive way, ranking each of the 80 recipes with a difficulty level mirroring the colour-coded system used on European ski trails: Blue for easy, red for medium, and black, the most difficult (don’t worry, there’s lots of blues).
Even if you have no interest in how to make the ultimate schnitzel (Erickson claims her recipe is the best), want to attempt a venison ragout or Piedmontese-style agnolotti from scratch, or are curious as to what a Torinese Bonèt dessert is, this is an essential all-season address book to the alps, and an ode to the power of its epic peaks. It’s important to note that this book isn’t designed to steer the well-heeled traveller to the more glitzy, exclusive, high-altitude resort towns like St. Moritz or Verbier.
“It’s the opposite,” she says. “I mean, yes, there’s aspects of Gstaad that I love, but if you have a car and a sleeping bag, and if you’re in France and you’re picking up cheeses and weird Savoie wines along the way, that trip is going to be just as fun as the five-star route. There’s actually refugios throughout the Alps that are just like shelters, originally to stay in if there was a storm. You can sleep in these — especially in the summer — for nothing. And the spectacular views— that doesn’t cost a thing!”
Since early press and rumblings about Alpine Cooking, Erickson has been approached by people seeking advice on planning trips to this area, or asking her to organize an itinerary for them. Since she now splits her time between Montreal and Milan, Erickson’s found that this kind of personalized curation is something she really likes doing. She’s also collaborating with production companies to go from behind-the-scenes writer to on-screen host in 2020. But first, she’s going to try to take it all in.
“I love this book very deeply. When I received it in the mail, my hands were almost shaking because it was a moment that I thought about for so long. I feel extremely proud of how comprehensive and what a tome this is. This book is my baby.”
Erickson will be hosting a series of ticketed pop-up dinners (rumour is at Vin Mon Lapin here in Montreal) and events beginning mid-October. Other cities on her book tour include Toronto, Portland, Oregon, Denver and Boulder in Colorado, and Burlington, Vt., with some European dates slated for 2020. Details will be posted on her Instagram account ( ericksonmeredith ) in the coming weeks.
“Meredith has great aesthetic, taste and serious writing chops. Once Alpine Cooking comes out, people will want to do books just like it,” Wehner says.
He’s absolutely right. The future for Erickson doesn’t look bright — it’s downright blinding.
Alpine Cooking: Recipes and Stories from Europe’s Grand Mountaintops (Ten Speed Press; $50; on sale: Oct. 15, 2019)
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019