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A Restaurant Chef On Rethinking Cookbooks As Fast, Simple, Digital Hybrids

Daniele Uditi is chef and pizzaiolo at beloved Los Angeles restaurant Pizzana. Paul Feinstein is a food and travel writer based in LA. They collaborated to produce Ricettario, a multi-volume cookbook released in hybrid digital and physical formats, with a portion of the proceeds going to World Central Kitchen. The first volume, Sourdough, is available now.

PAUL FEINSTEIN: We first met because I was writing articles for La Cucina Italiana and highlighting Pizzana. We became friends because I did a podcast with Phil Rosenthal. We were talking about pizza places we loved, and we both started raving about Pizzana. Phil casually mentioned that the three of us—me, Daniele, and Paul—should all go to lunch together. So we did, and Daniele and I started getting closer, and then we started talking about doing a cookbook.

DANIELE UDITI: I wanted to figure out a way to give back to the restaurant industry, because I don’t personally have a huge bank account yet. I’m planning to have it one day! I always wanted to do a cookbook because I had so many requests on my social media, and even from people on the street—”You should do a cookbook. We want to cook your recipes.”

I’d done a couple of recipes on Instagram and they blew up. People reposted them on YouTube. I said to Paul, “Listen, I have no idea how to make a cookbook. When I talk, I sound like Super Mario. When I write, it’s even worse. I know that you’re a writer. Can you help me out on this book?” And he said, “I would be more than happy to help you out.” I started to send him recipes, and he did magic with translating my hieroglyphic way of explaining things. And here we are. We have a book.

Paul Feinstein and Daniele Uditi. Photo: Ben Hon.

PAUL: We started talking about the cookbook in the beginning of December 2020. You’re not going to get a faster collaboration than what we did. I had been writing about other chefs and their recipes. I also went to cooking school, so I had that in the background as well. It was a little bit of kismet that the two of us came together, because I was really ready to do it. It was actually one of my goals for 2020. When Daniele came to me, I just jumped at it. We work so well together that it happened really naturally.

Our heads were in the same place on what we liked and didn’t like about cookbooks. One of our big pet peeves is that these cookbooks are really beautiful, but half the recipes don’t have a photo of the actual dish. There will be stories about your grandmother in the wheatfields. We didn’t care about any of that stuff. We just wanted to get right into the heart of what we’re doing.

So many people are baking right now during quarantine. This would be a really good opportunity to give people an easy way to do that at home. And taking that an extra step, we wanted to show videos on how to do it, because cookbooks don’t really do that. They give you these explanations that are so hard to follow. We simplified the explanations to make it easy, and we made sure that every single recipe has photos, but we also have videos to go along with them.

Photo: Ben Hon.

DANIELE: We are both hustlers. When we set the date to take all the pictures, follow all the recipes, and do all the changes to the book, Paul said to me, “Maybe we should do this over two or three days.” And I said, “No, no, no, no. We’re going to do it in one time. We’re going to do it from the morning to the evening. We’re going to do it because we can. I know that we can.” I came to this country with $300 in my pocket. Paul, he’s a hustler like me. So we both came together, and we both have very strong heads.

This is the first of seven volumes. The next one is going to be about pasta and sauces and how to preserve them. The series will cover Italian cuisine, but with a little bit of California sensibility. I’m here for 10 years. I love to use local products. It’s cool importing everything, but that means that some of the products are not super fresh.

In California, they have so much produce. You go to the farmer’s market, and you can use those products with the Italian sensibility—the way my mother taught me when I was a kid. Go to the farmer’s market, talk to the farmers, learn as much as you can, try to get discounts with them because you become friends, and then go home and cook.

Photo: Ben Hon.

PAUL: The other thing that we’re trying to dispel is the idea that Daniele is only a pizza chef. Granted, he is the best pizza chef. But Daniele—he may not tell you this himself—he’s a classically trained chef, and his pastas are next level. His meats are next level. He knows how to do 25 other things that you didn’t even realize because we think of Daniele for pizza. But I can’t impress upon you enough how good he is at the other stuff that people have no idea that he can do.

DANIELE: I wasn’t thinking about doing a cookbook now. But I saw all these people raising money for charity and donating—even chef friends of mine, celebrity chefs that had already made their names very strong so they had more possibilities than I had. But that didn’t stop me from saying, “I think I can still do something, because I really want to give something back.”

Los Angeles gave me so much. California gave me so much. A restaurant, a wife, a kid, a job, stability. I felt like it was time for me to give something back. How can I do it? I said, “The only thing I have is knowledge, so I can put my knowledge between papers and try to raise some money.”

PAUL: We are officially starting the next book this week. I’m not sure if we’ve given ourselves a deadline. We’re going to sit down and map the whole next book out. Based on what we map out, we’ll figure out a deadline. But it will be fast again. We want to make cookbooks in a way that no one’s really doing them—something interactive and a lot more visually intensive and helpful. We want them to be beautiful, of course, but we think we can do this differently. We don’t want to be on a production schedule with a big company that takes a year from start to finish. We’re not interested in that. As Daniele said, we’re hustlers. This next book will be out this year, and hopefully it will be one of several out this year.

DANIELE: We also want to create cookbooks that are very easy to follow. A lot of people buy a cookbook and use it a couple of times, and then it’s on the shelf collecting dust. The cookbook series is called Ricettario, which basically means “cookbook.” It’s something your grandma or your mother would write recipes in. You would go to it every day, just reading, “Oh, I remember that my mom used to do this. I want to do this recipe.” It’s a guide on how to cook an everyday meal and sides and bread, something that you will use more than a couple of times.

I met a lot of photographers and food bloggers and people who are active on social media. I became friends with Jesse Hsu, and he makes such beautiful pictures for his social media. He does this for a living. So I asked him, “Listen, Jesse. We’re trying to do this cookbook. I love the way you work. I can pay you in pizza. Do you want to come in and do a couple of pictures just for a start, and then we’ll see how this whole thing goes?” And he said, “Daniele, I’m already there.”

PAUL: Because we’re trying to help World Central Kitchen, people wanted to pitch in. We’re really trying to boost the restaurant industry broadly.

We want to keep pushing the boundaries of what a cookbook can be, both as a digital form and as a print form. In the print copy of the book, we have QR codes next to the recipe so that you can hover your phone over them to watch videos of how things are made. I’m shocked that other cookbooks don’t do this. We’re going to have more interactivity between the digital version and the print version going forward. The next book’s going to have more bells and whistles, and then the one after that will have even more.