Life’s about taking risks, is it not? While the failure rate of a new restaurant isn’t even close to the 90% an American Express commercial recently claimed, it is higher than many startup businesses because restaurants often rely on customers who can spend on meals out. The risk is high – ingredients, retails space, employees, advertising, the list goes on and on. Despite its unpredictability, chef Aaron Turner captures this competitive foodie landscape in his new book, “Igni, A Restaurant’s First Year.”
The book itself is literally a piece of art. The front and back covers, as well as edges of the text are brushed with a white paint atop a black backdrop, as if it’s a snapshot of a larger painting. I think it’d be fair to say that the color palette for the book is monochromatic, as nearly everything is in shades of black and white.
The first page sums up the 240 pages that follow – “this is an adventure.” The first chapter, “The End” talks about the inspiration behind the book and how this desire to document the opening and first year of a restaurant is based on another restaurant…one without a menu, just a list of ingredients.
Its name was Loam and it was fueled with a list of 50 or so “seasonal fruits, vegetables, plants, fish and meats from small suppliers, gardeners and growers, and what the (chef) could find in the wild.” Turner goes on to talk about how the dining experience was straightforward, guests had to answer three questions:
- Do you have any dietary restrictions?
- Do you want matching wines with your courses?
- How many courses: 4, 7, or 9?
From there, the staff would create a culinary experience based on the produce available that day/night. “Every dish served to our guests was a surprise. For them and for us. It was a conversation, an intimate exchange between strangers. We asked for their trust and in return we would create an experience just for them.”
To me, this aptly sums up the idea behind Igni. While it’s certainly far from a conventional cookbook with recipes anyone could readily make with what they have in their kitchen, it’s a conversation about the connection we have with the food we eat on a daily basis.
Do we know where the produce comes from? Do we know how it was taken care of? (Think pesticides, GMO modifications, soil quality, etc.) Are we eating food that isn’t in season, and therefore modified in some way to make it available for us to eat? (This is a huge problem in the United States, as we’re manipulating fruits and vegetables that typically aren’t seasonal, so they’re chocked full of chemical compounds and no amount rinsing when you get home before you cook it will fix that).
Turner goes on to talk about the physical labor that goes into caring for and harvesting different kinds of produce…something I think many of us take for granted with the ease of the supermarket at our fingertips (both online and in person).
Early on in the book, Turner speaks candidly about why he abruptly closed a restaurant that was becoming an overnight sensation. For the sake of not spoiling an otherwise pivotal moment, I’ll just say it involves a trip to Nashville an an order of fried chicken with blue cheese sauce and fries.
Fast-forward to a diary-like entry describing Turner’s whirlwind of emotions as he preps to open a new restaurant, Igni. The frustration and anxiety is palatable. This was one of my favorite parts of the book – actual insight about the inner-workings of opening a restaurant. I’ve always taken a menu at a restaurant for granted prior to reading this book…but now I wonder how many dishes don’t make the cut to get their names printed on that page or pages of available dishes? How do you know when a dish is done and you don’t need to add any more sauces or ingredients?
There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes it’s overwhelming to someone like myself, who doesn’t have any knowledge about what it takes to run a restaurant, let alone a successful one…I just like to order (and eat) food.
So while there are numerous recipes in this cookbook, my review of Igni is more of a holistic impression (as the recipes I wanted to try I do not have the proper tools for *yet,* like a dehydrator…but I hear Santa might be delivering one this year if, fingers crossed).
The book is organized to reflect the first year of the restaurant, starting with dishes season to January, followed by February, March, and so on until December. Igni is like a live feed of what it looks, sounds, and feels like to open a restaurant from the ground up.
In the last entry, dated January 20, 2017, exactly 365 days after opening day, Turner reflects on the process of writing the book. “The whole idea of opening a restaurant, this homecoming of sorts has been a difficult one, and that’s without mentioning this process of writing it all down.” While his love for cooking is not the same as it was for the first restaurant he opened prior to Igni, this second one seems to have ignited a ‘renewed caution’ that one needs balance between a career and life outside of those passions…”not to let it consume all aspects of my life but at the same time letting it take little parts. Just enough.”
Overall, I think that this is a fantastically well-written book. If you’re curious about the dishes served at Igni, there are 36 fresh, innovative ones included. If you’re looking to learn about what the process of opening a restaurant and keeping it open is like, the details in here are more than descriptive of the joys and frustrations of being a restaurant owner (and chef of said restaurant). I think this would make an excellent last-minute gift for that foodie in your life that doesn’t need another restaurant giftcard. This book is unlike any other cookbook I’ve read, and for good reason, like the Igni restaurant itself, it’s one of a kind and sure to impress anyone that comes across it.
If you’re interested in visiting Igni in person, you’ll have to make a trip to Australia. It’s one hour outside of Melbourne, but from what I hear and have read, it’s well worth the trip. This is the restaurant’s website (that you can even make reservations on!).
I received this book complimentary on behalf of the publisher, but all thoughts and opinions in this post are my own. All photography featured in this post is my own unless noted otherwise; please seek permission before copying or reproducing the images.
Purchase this title — Igni: A Restaurant’s First Year
Score Card: Cover Art 4.5/5 | Content 5/5 | Ease of Read 5/5
Book Stats: Igni, A Restaurant’s First Year by Aaron Turner
Page Count- 239
Binding- Hardcover with black and white/some color photography