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In the Kitchen with Michele Anna Jordan

Sebastopol chef-turned-author tells stories through food

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A MATTER OF TASTE

For Jordan, personal taste compels her writing. She isn't one to follow trends; in fact, being ahead of the curve is par for the course. In 1999, she released Salt & Pepper, a decade before Mark Bitterman's Salted supposedly changed the landscape of American cooking. She also explored everyone's favorite pork product, bacon, back in 2003 with The BLT Cookbook, right around the time folks were discovering the endless enjoyment bacon provides on sweets and savories alike.

"I was 20 years ahead of the curve in thinking that Sonoma County was the bee's knees," she says. Luckily, the county was quick to catch up. "A year after my mustard book came out, they launched the Napa Valley Mustard Festival, and a year after my tomatoes book came out, they started the Kendall-Jackson Tomato Festival," she smiles.

For all her acclaim, including a James Beard Award for journalism, her Good Cook's Books have all gone out of print—and in Jordan's mind, out of date.

"I've changed, and my cooking has changed as well," she says. "I'm much more confident as a cook, and the pantry available to us all is so much better now. I wanted to bring the books up to date, give them a longer life because they deserve a long life. I feel like they warrant time."

Over the past 12 months, Jordan has been furiously revising and updating several titles from the Good Cook's collection. In addition to the books already published, Skyhorse Publishing will rerelease The Good Cook's Book of Salt & Pepper, The Good Cook's Book of Oil & Vinegar and The Good Cook's Book of Days: A Food Lover's Journal this July.

DOGGONE GOOD Outside of the kitchen, longhaired dachsunds Lark and Joey are Jordan's biggest fans. - KATIE STOHLMANN
  • Katie Stohlmann
  • DOGGONE GOOD Outside of the kitchen, longhaired dachsunds Lark and Joey are Jordan's biggest fans.

KEEP IT GREEN

Jordan is still committed to the farm scene today, though watching Sonoma County transform from sleepy pastureland to a coveted agricultural hub has been a sometimes scary prospect.

"There's always the expression 'To kill the goose that lays the golden egg.' A lot depends on what the [Sonoma] County Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission do," she says. "The good side is that we can sell our stuff. Produce from here sells much higher than produce from anywhere else. There is a market for Sonoma County. At the same time, the wrong people have money."

Jordan points to instances like the recent lawsuit filed against the Sonoma Compost Company in Petaluma by several of the business' neighbors in an attempt to shut it down, and proposals for mammoth winery "event centers."

"People move up here because they want what they think is this idealized Sonoma lifestyle and then they get pissed off because it smells like cow shit," Jordan says. "It's like, you bought a house next to a farm—sometimes they smell. There's always been that tension. You want to preserve the best of Sonoma County because it's such an amazing place—the fertility, the versatility, the microclimates," she says.

Jordan is hopeful that preservation efforts will prevail. She cites the recent developments at Middleton Farm in Healdsburg. The farm's matriarch of many years, Nancy Skall, passed way in January, and there was a question of what would happen to the land. Last month, the farm sold to Anne and Monty Woods of San Francisco. So far, they are saying that they want to keep it open and running under the same name.

WHAT'S ON TAP

Looking ahead to the future of food, Jordan sees good things brewing.

"Cider is coming on strong, and sour beer. Sour beer is going to be huge. It's refreshing, its tart, the acidity really connects with food," she says. "And people are going to discover Vinho Verde. It's a Portuguese white wine, very effervescent, and it's inexpensive. I discovered it when I was stranded on the outskirts of Lisbon one day."

Jordan is looking forward to giving her books a new life. After a much needed respite from publishing deadlines, she is already in the planning stages for her next work, a comprehensive and definitive look at Sonoma County told through the eyes of someone who's seen, and tasted, it all.

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