In Manhattan, home cooking is as close as the Home Restaurant in Greenwich Village, thanks to a Midwestern couple, one of whom grew up in Toledo.
Fresh from their book tour promoting Recipes from Home (Artisan, $30), Barbara Shinn and her husband, David Page, stopped in Toledo last Tuesday to talk about the cookbook, which is based on recipes from their restaurant.
The restaurant's name was inspired by the dean of American cookery. “James Beard formed the modern thought of cuisine when he said `American food is anything you eat at home,'” said Mr. Page as he and his wife cooked up a celebration dinner at the home of her parents, Cliff and Wilma Shinn, who moved to Holland.
On this short trip home, they managed to visit the Toledo Farmers' Market, stop at The Andersons for additional ingredients, and had a delivery of T-bone steaks from her brother, John Shinn, a meat cutter at Farmer Jack's at Orchard Centre on Airport Highway.
In the family kitchen, it seemed only fitting that they prepare one of the cookbook's recipes, Dad Shinn's Grilled T-bone Steak with Red Onions and Basil. And since it was the chef/proprietors' fifth wedding anniversary, a salad served at their reception seemed appropriate. The rest of the menu was dictated by the bounty of the Toledo Farmers' Market.
In the process, Mr. Page improvised on the Peach Blueberry Crisp recipe, which became Peach Raspberry Crisp. “It's just a recipe,” he said. “Recipes are meant to be read and enjoyed. Cooking is about feeling, having a different way or idea.”
Some of the recipes in the cookbook are recipes from his family in Berlin, Wis., . and his wife's family in Toledo. “Sometimes the memory of a recipe is more precious that the recipes,” he said. “Family recipes are not always verbatim. Everyone should add their own little nuance.”
He acknowledges that he got his “heart and soul of training” from home. “I picked strawberries by hand, made jam, saw my grandfather bringing bushels of cucumbers to the house to make pickles.”
In 1979, his culinary journey took him to San Francisco, where he began working with wood-fired brick ovens, fancy pizzas, mesquite grills, farmers who brought produce to the restaurants, and winemakers from Napa, at restaurants such as Masa's and Postrio.
Ms. Shinn, who graduated from McAuley High School in 1980, learned about cooking by working in restaurants for 10 years. “We met in 1988 when David was a chef in Berkley, Calif.,” said Ms. Shinn. “I was turned into his assistant.”
The 60-seat Home Restaurant in New York City opened in 1992. “We left the Bay area in a our pickup truck and drove across the country,” said Ms. Shinn as she began mixing up the peach raspberry crisp. “We found a location in Greenwich [Village] which was yet to be homesteaded by great restaurants. We found an affordable storefront and opened the business on a shoe string.”
Once Home was established, they drew on their expertise and the desire to create menus in a spontaneous way. “We have a strong relationship with local farmers, butchers, fish mongers, and wine merchants,” said Mr. Page.
At the restaurant, she is in charge of the front of the house and the wine list. Her husband, as chef, oversees three sous chefs. “My brother manages the restaurant now,” he said. “I spend a couple of full days each week with the sous chefs and develop recipes. It's new for me to be in this capacity.”
In between these responsibilities are the book tour and media events. They expect national television coverage to begin in the fall.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served at Home, which is known for its crusty skillet-fried chicken, crisp and tangy cole slaw, and cookies that are said to have acquired a cult following. Writer Calvin Trillin and his wife, Alice, are regulars. “We asked [Trillin] to write a blurb on the back of the book, but he said `I'll write a preface,'” Mr. Page said of their good fortune.
Not only do celebrities dine at Home, “people bring in their mom and dad, they have their first date, they propose to each other,” he said. “Gail Zweigenthal (former editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine) always ordered short ribs of beef and called it `The Bones.'” Even NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw wrote praise on the back cover of Recipes from Home.
In 1996, the couple married in Paumanock Vineyards on Long Island. “We walked down a row of grapes,” said Ms. Shinn about the wedding for 40 guests. “The vines were six to seven feet tall. We walked through a trellis of grapes. Dinner was barbecue. A bluegrass trio played the wedding march. It was David's menu, with his chef friends cooking.”
They served grilled duck breast salad, striped bass grilled with fresh mint, and fresh local oysters on the half-shell. “The wedding cake was a tiered lavender cake,” she said. “There was fresh lavender in the pastry creme between the layers of a light spice cake.”
Today, they have a 22-acre farm, home, and vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island about 90 miles from the restaurant. In May, 2000, they planted their first Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapevines.
“This area is known for quality wine,” said Ms. Shinn, who manages the vineyard during the growing season. “It's a special environment surrounded on three sides by water. In fact, we pick ripe tomatoes in November. It's a maritime environment, the summer lasts that long.”
As for the future, “the restaurant continues [to thrive], and the vineyards to make incredible wine from 600 to 1,500 cases per vintage,” she said. “It will be a high-quality Merlot estate bottled blend, barrel-fermented, and a huge investment.” The label will be Shinn Vineyard.
Home Restaurant, which is open seven days a week, is located at 20 Cornelia St. between Bleecker and West 4th streets. Breakfast is served 9 to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday; lunch is 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday; and dinner is 6 to 11 p.m. daily. Brunch is served 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Information: 212-243-9579.
Recipes from Home has 255 recipes, including family recipes accompanied by family photos. Recipes range from homemade ketchup to mint pesto, from Grandmother Page's Egg Noodles to Clam and Sweet Corn Chowder, from smoked fish to shellfish, and roast turkey to grilled quail. There is even the Canning Shelf chapter. With flavors from the Midwest, California, and New England, this cookbook spans Americana. It is available from area bookstores.