What started off as a straightforward digital cookbook project about three talented chefs took a dramatic turn a little less than a year ago. It was a month before we thought we’d be releasing this book. The manuscript was drafted, the recipes had been tested and we were prepped and ready for our upcoming photo shoot. It was on a Friday morning, just four days before the shoot, that we got the news from our new corporate parent: it was time to pull the plug. Not just on Unconventional, but on Alta Editions, the entire award-winning digital publishing business we’d spent the prior two years building. Let’s just say it was not a great way to start the weekend.
After recovering from the initial shock we decided this was a book and a publishing concept worth fighting for. Over the next three months we purchased the business, declared our independence and started on a path that would lead us to successfully crowdfund the completion of Unconventional on Kickstarter and refocus Alta Editions as a dynamic online cookbook platform.
For this edition, as in our previous two e-books, we chose to explore the food and personal stories of chefs that inspire us. This time, however, we’re shining a light on three chefs whose career paths and cooking have been marked by choices that seemed unusual, but turned out to be rewarding (and delicious!). Choices that were, in a word, unconventional.
Jehangir Mehta is one such chef. He moved to the United States at a young age to become a pastry chef, a choice not expected by his family. His passion and talent quickly become evident and he found success working in some of New York City’s top restaurants. While many people might have been content to follow such a career along its logical path, Jehangir's varied interests and experiences led him to leave pastry behind and open Graffiti, a popular East Village restaurant where he could follow the “artist’s way.” This allowed him the freedom to explore and develop his own ideas and cuisine. As you’ll see from Jehangir’s recipes in this book he often combines ingredients in surprising ways, sometimes with an Indian twist and sometimes not, but always to a delicious result.
At just 31, Jesse Schenker has accomplished what most chefs only dream of. He is the chef-owner of two successful New York City restaurants (The Gander and Recette), a James Beard award nominee, an Iron Chef winner and the author of a newly published memoir. Jesse’s book chronicles his path from drug-addicted line cook to desperate convict to overachieving chef obsessed with learning about his craft. It was his obsession with experimentation that led to "Monday’s with Jesse,” a monthly fine-dining dinner series at Recette. Each dinner features a 10-course menu as thoughtful in its preparation as it is refined in its presentation. It’s out of these dinners, and Jesse’s constant experimentation with new flavors and ingredients, that the ideas for the delicious dishes in this book were born.
Like Jehangir, Francisco Migoya shares a background in pastry, and also an international pedigree. Discouraged from attending art school by his father he went to cooking school instead and began working in restaurant kitchens in his hometown of Mexico City. After landing a job at the famed River Café in New York City, he found his knack for visual presentation was a natural fit for dessert platings. He quickly worked his way up to become top pastry chef and several years later he would go on to become the executive pastry chef at The French Laundry, one of the world's top restaurants. Then, after years of working at the highest levels in American cuisine, he would change direction to focus on teaching and family.
In 2005 Francisco accepted a position as instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and was able to enjoy more time with his wife and daughter. But like any great chef he was driven to experiment and create and in 2013 Francisco, in partnership with his wife Kris, opened Hudson Chocolates to critical acclaim. More than a side business, Hudson Chocolates was an opportunity to push the boundaries of what's possible with chocolate and pastry.
In 2014 Francisco made another major change and put Hudson Chocolates on hiatus after accepting the position of head chef at Modernist Cuisine, a job he described as “the opportunity of a lifetime.” Thankfully we're still able to enjoy the fruits of Francisco's time at Hudson Chocolates through the recipes he shares in this book. Take one bite of his chicharrón enrobed in dark chocolate and you’ll understand why Francisco is considered a master at his craft and why we ultimately had no choice but to publish this cookbook.
Much like the chefs featured here, our path in digital cookbook publishing has not been straightforward or predictable. Yet, just like our chef-authors, we're committed to charting our own course. Our vision is simple: craft beautiful, innovative online cookbooks for curious home cooks. I hope you’ll spend time exploring Unconventional and join us as we continue to experiment and break new ground in cookbook publishing.
Publisher, Alta Editions