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Cookbook Dinner Series at amical

While the busy summer season offers the adrenaline fueled urgency and kitchen frenzy we train for at amical, our favorite time of year tends to be right now.  I believe that is true for many food lovers, cooks and growers. We can all have a moment to catch our breath, take in the beauty and enjoy bounty of our place in the world.  Autumn also means something else to amical: the cookbook dinner season is upon us.

For the past 23 years, the amical kitchen team has put together an entire dinner menu to serve for one week per month from each featured cookbook, beginning November 4th and finishing up in May of 2020.  Dating back to the beginning, we have produced over 150 different menus from each of these cookbooks we have acquired. (See the schedule for this year, here.)

Frequently, we are asked just how we decide on the cookbooks to feature in the series.  The short answer is we use a set of rules and guidelines based on our experiences to determine the final candidates.  But rules are made to be broken. And we seem to break them quite often. 

Produce the cookbook dinner menus in this order:

November- Start with the most difficult (broke this rule by producing a menu from State Bird Provisions last May. Peru: The Cookbook next month begins a new season)
December- French (Whoops!  This year it’s not French, but a fantastic book from the SF restaurant, Rich Table, for December 2019)
January- Asian (Back on track featuring Japanese Soul Cooking this coming January 2020)
February- Italian (Yes again with the Venetian book, Polpo, in February 2020)
March- Feature a risky, obscure or unique cuisine.  Our hardcore clientele will try it!(Taking a break in March this season with the value-oriented TCRW menu being offered for two weeks in a row)
April- Something that hints Spring might be coming  (Not quite.  We are bringing back a Marcus Samuelsson African masterpiece, The Soul of a New Cuisine)
May- Mexican or Spanish (Tu Casa Mi Casa is a cookbook we look forward to)

Amical Cookbook Series Selection Guidelines and Rules:

1.Always feature a French, Italian, Asian and Latin cookbook during each seasonal schedule.  Research the cookbook publishing industry for up and comers.

As we began to hit our stride in the series, Matt Sutherland from Foreword Magazine (and the beloved Traverse Epicurean Classic) was instrumental in keeping us informed about upcoming new cookbooks. We have been mostly consistent with the core cuisine rule until last season.  No Italian book for the first time in over a decade. And now this season we are without a French selection!

2.Choose cookbooks with recipes we can execute based on our equipment, talent and product sourcing.  Most importantly, select books with cuisines and recipes that our guests will enjoy and find interesting.

A consideration is that our kitchen is small and staff is limited during the off season.  It is also unwise to offer a Farm to Table cookbook menu in February! And there is a reason it costs $300+ per person to dine at The French Laundry in Napa or have an experience at Alinea in Chicago.  Leave those books on your coffee table. As for sourcing hard to find products– Amazon changed the game on that time-sucking headache years ago.

3.Stay within our expected menu pricing structure with all the available featured recipes.

See rule #2 

4.Only choose cookbooks that are still in print and available to our local bookstores for procurement.

Twice we have selected cookbooks that were no longer in print or unavailable and then announced the schedule.  Amy Reynolds at Horizon Books let us know to NEVER do that again!  

5.Look for cookbook authors that are somewhat familiar to the public and who may operate successful restaurants or food-related businesses.

This rule is followed on a year-by-year or “as-needed” basis.  There doesn’t seem to be a limit to new and talented cookbook chef/authors.  What gets us into trouble are poorly written/tested recipes that don’t work as we scale them up.  It makes for a stressful start to the week as we alter, repair and tweak the preparation steps. Come in on a Cookbook Monday if you want to see the real show. 

6.Try not to repeat previous cookbooks or authors.

This rule is consistently broken.  Sometimes a book is just too good for just one menu or a week.  It becomes impossible to decide on which recipes and preparations to feature.  And we fall in love with chef/authors all the time. I believe we have featured all the works of Jamie Oliver and Mario Batali.  Yotam Ottolenghi is our latest chef-crush, but we’re giving him a break this season.   

7.Seek out cookbooks that will teach our team improved methods, a new style of cuisine or allow us to work with unfamiliar products.

Our house menu is peppered with items derived from our discoveries within each cookbook.  The Olive Twist appetizer was found in a cookbook from the year 2000 and has been on our menu ever since.  Same is true for methods, tools and equipment in our kitchen. Incorporating the method of roasted garlic confit into our prepared recipes instead of using only fresh chopped garlic has benefitted our taste profiles and consistency.  There is no shortage of unique products but sometimes this might clash with Rule #2. 

If you are keeping score at home, we hit four of the seven scheduling order criteria for the upcoming season.  The books are all available soon at Horizon Books or Brilliant Books. You can visit at least four of the authors in their establishments– if you can get a table. To see the new 2019-2020 amical Cookbook Dinner Series schedule and descriptions, visit our website at

amical, 229 E. Front St., Traverse City, MI 49684

Dave Denison is the Owner of amical.

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