November 17, 2016

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Earls, The Cookbook

We opened our first Earls Kitchen & Bar in 1982, a humble hamburger and beer joint in Edmonton, Alberta. Thirty four years, and 68 locations later....

Serendipity.  Yes, some things just happen….

We opened our first Earls Kitchen & Bar in 1982, a humble hamburger and beer joint in Edmonton, Alberta. We furnished it inside with patio furniture, as we couldn’t afford both sets of furniture, and our guests, who made regular pilgrimages to Mexico to escape the cold Edmonton winters, brought us back papier mache parrots to match the colourful critters we decorated the restaurant with.

Three decades and 65 restaurants later we were sitting at a dinner table in Vancouver. One of our guests had brought a publisher from Penguin-Random House as her date, and Mo Jessa, our ever charming president, was telling him about the history of the company, he himself having started 30 years previously as a dishwasher at our location in Calgary. The publisher asked if we had ever written about our history and if our guests ever asked us for recipes. He thought it would make a great book! Meanwhile, we thought that was just the wine talking, but the next day we got a call asking if we were interested in doing a cookbook. Interested? We were honoured!

How to create a cookbook

First things first, which recipes did we want to include?  We had over 800 of them but the publisher wanted only 100 to make room for the story behind Earls (and didn’t want the book the size of the New York phone book, for those of who remember what a phone book looks like). The criteria were, which recipes did we get the most requests for, and what were the most popular dishes from each decade, and in each category (starter, soups, salads, etc.). We also thought it would be great to include at least one recipe from all the amazing chefs who either worked for us or contributed recipes as part of our guests chef program over the years.

Well, we couldn’t quite manage to get it down to 100, but we came close with 110 – and even with that we know we are going to miss someone’s favourite!

Recipe Testing and Photography

We know that you don’t have all that fancy equipment we have at the restaurants. And we know some of our ingredients are sometimes hard to find everywhere, so we tested the recipes with that in mind. Fay Duong, who is part of our culinary team at Earls Test Kitchen, was just about to return to work after a maternity leave when we asked her if she would like to take 6 months away from the Test Kitchen and test all the recipes in her home kitchen. She would buy all the ingredients in local grocery stores, suggest substitutions where she thought the ingredients were hard to find, and then prepare them all in her own kitchen, without fancy equipment and interruptions by a toddler included.

Once Fay finished all of that, we gathered once a week, along with Culinary Development Chef Dawn Doucette, who is known for making food both taste and look amazing, and with Vancouver photographer John Sherlock (an award winning food photographer who has shot many of Canada’s best cookbooks — Vij’s, Bishop’s, Araxi, Dirty Apron, Lumiere, to name just a few) and we cooked, plated and photographed every dish. Dawn did a great job sourcing old restaurant china from the ’80s and plating the food just as we'd done it decades earlier. It took about a year to get all the recipes and photographs finished.

Our story

With close to 35 years behind us there were stories to tell. Not all of them made it into the cookbook, truth be told. Things weren’t quite as politically correct back in the ’80s. The researching and writing fell to Jim Sutherland, a Vancouver writer known for writing books, editing newspapers and magazines, and a history of writing about food. It was his task to track down our former chefs and dig out the stories behind a dish. Also, to spend time with the very humble Bus Fuller and try to get him to open up about why the restaurant was still so popular 34 years later, and with Stan Fuller, his son and Earls co-founder, about what the restaurant business was like all those years ago.

Jim, Fay and Dawn wrangled Bus and Stan and all the other Fuller sons and brothers out to Clay’s house, so we could photograph the entire family in one place at one time (easier said than done), cook up all the pasta dishes family style, and get George Piper, our long time wine buyer, to choose some wines to serve. That was a memorable and fun night!  

 The Cookbook. Getting your very own copy

The most important part of the book is getting it into the hands of all our guests who asked for those recipes.  We were responsible for getting the stories written, the photographs taken and the recipes tested. Random House was going to distribute it for us outside of our restaurant, and we were going to have this amazing piece of family history and recipes to sell at our restaurants.

Our publisher set the price for the books. We at Earls did most of the work, and the cost of that was significant, but we did not want to make any profit from the project, so two great charities were chosen.    

When you buy your book at any Earls restaurants, all profits from book sales go to The Alex Community Food Centre, a Calgary based charity that provides access to high-quality food in a dignified setting to those in need and the Edmonton's Food Bank, which also services Ft. McMurray. Alberta, after all, is having a bit of a hard time as we write this, so charities in the province where that first Earls was born seemed the right choice.  

Earls, The Cookbook is available in all our locations for $35, and for a limited time only as a special holiday package, at $75 with a $50 Earls gift card (while supplies last).