For more than 2 years I have been following the adventures of Thomas McNaughton and his team while working on their Flour + Water cookbook. They’ve gone hunting, made pasta, traveled to Italy, cooked in some spectacular settings, and made more pasta. The product of their seemingly endless work is now available in hard copy and it’s spectacular.
I ran into Tom at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, at CUESA’s annual Sunday Supper event, just 5 days after the cookbook was released. I told him we had already ordered the book and it would be waiting at home in Oregon when we returned from the trip. Tom told me that doing the cookbook was “almost as intense as opening a restaurant”. I wouldn’t put it past him- he’s done that a few times now and knows what it feels like. He expressed his anxiety about every last detail of the book, right down to the size. But it was wonderful to hear that the book turned out “even better than [he] expected”.
The first thing you notice about the Flour + Water pasta cookbook is how beautiful it is. The photographs by Eric Wolfinger gracefully capture the adventure that went into the project: making pasta with Italian nonnas, skinning a wild boar, cooking dinner overlooking a stunning Sonoma county vineyard and all of the divine-looking pasta dishes for which there are recipes.
But when you start reading is when you really get hooked. Paolo Lucchesi (of the San Francisco Chronicle) co-wrote the book with Tom and did a fantastic job. The first preface by David Steele and David White, Tom’s business partners, tells their background story and how the concept of Flour + Water came to be. The second preface, in Tom’s voice, tells his story, about his culinary travels in Bologna and how he poetically responded to David White’s Craigslist ad: “I’m in Bologna working in a pasta lab. Heard you’re looking for a chef. I’d like to move back to the Bay Area and start a goat farm.” You get to read about how the restaurant progressed from there and eventually opened, complete with the excitement of last minute construction, the chaos of the first few months and how they grew and matured to meet the demand.
“After working as a fine dining soldier for years, I felt myself yearning for a change, for something more soulful, more personal. I found it in the unlikeliest of laboratories, along with a new pasta passion.”
– Chef Thomas McNaughton of Flour + Water
The cookbook is divided into sections. “Part One: The Dough” breaks down how to make different egg dough and semolina pasta dough, how to cook the pasta and then how to use the recipes in the book. The descriptions are comprehensive and emphasizes that a lot “dipende” (depends) on where you are, what’s available and how you want your pasta to be. It’s more about being a guide than a set of rules. There’s even offer to email [email protected] if you need any further guidance.
“Part Two: The Recipes” is split up by seasons. Each recipe has a description of its inspiration and story and how it relates to an experience or available ingredient. The number and variety of different pastas might make you dizzy, but hopefully it will also inspire. It’s nice to see mention of a few of the Bay Area’s favorite farms and farmers that Tom has close relationships with: Devil’s Gulch Ranch for pork, Mariquita Farm for savoy cabbage, Martin Bournhonesque for basil, Cowgirl Creamery for Red Hawk triple cream and Zuckerman Farm for asparagus.
Congratulations Tom on a magnificent cookbook! We’d love to have you come and see us on the farm here in Oregon. I think you’d like our goats.
The Flour + Water Pasta cookbook is available to purchase in your local bookshop and on Amazon.com.