Here's Behind the Cookbook, a new series on Eater that looks at what goes into making a cookbook. Here now, part three in a five-part series (see parts one and two) on the first cookbook from McSweeney's food imprint, Mission Street Food by Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz (buy at Amazon). Warning: serious cookbook nerdery ahead.[Photos courtesy McSweeney's.]
A lot can go wrong during a cookbook's production. Below, Mission Street Food co-authors Karen Leibowitz and Anthony Myint discuss the cover art, recipes, and art theory philosophy bombs that were not to be.
The signature dishes at Mission Street Food were our flatbread sandwiches, which we served in old-fashioned red-and-white cardboard baskets. Our original cover design idea was to photograph a basket, and set the title inside. But then we visited Anthony's family in Northern Virginia and made our obligatory pilgrimage to The Peking Gourmet Inn in Falls Church, where Anthony snagged a paper place mat featuring the Chinese Zodiac "for inspiration." We had some vague notions of capturing Mission Street Food's hybrid spirit by setting the cardboard basket on the place mat.
Our editor Chris Ying believed that there was an angle from which you could see both the inside and the outside of the basket simultaneously. It turns out there's not.
Eventually we realized that the original place mat from Peking Gourmet Inn was visually captivating enough on its own. We mocked up the cover, finished the book, got distracted by any number of restaurant-related things, and were about to send the whole book to the printer when we thought, hey maybe we need permission to use the cover image. Anthony made multiple calls to Northern Virginia in English and Cantonese, to no avail. At one point, we had McSweeney's designer Walter Green draw up two new sets of zodiac animals as potential last-second replacements.
This didn't work out either. Look at that goat! In the end, Anthony did what any self- respecting restaurateur with his back against the wall would do: he called his mom. Within a couple of days, she secured permission from the restaurant. We decided to keep one of Walter's illustrations—replacing the original whelp with Walter's Mafioso bulldog. His tiger-bear drawing is on the book's spine, because we couldn't stand to let that one go, either.
We spent little to no time documenting Mission Street Food's existence while it was actually open. The few photos we had were taken hastily, in poor lighting, mostly with cellphones, and therefore more or less unusable in the book. It's a shame, because we really wanted to sneak this awesome oxtail terrine in.
We often hosted guest-chefs at MSF, so initially we wanted to include a lot of guest writers in the book. In the end, that structure proved a little unwieldy and incoherent. Sang Pahk's piece on street food in San Francisco and Simon Huynh's footnote about Popeye's are the last remnants of that plan.
Here's a piece we wanted to include, written by our friend Ellyse Mallouk for an art-theory site, drawing on her experience as an artist and her observations of MSF while her boyfriend was the manager. We had to let the concept go, but it was sort of exciting to see MSF mentioned in the same paragraph as Kant and Heidegger...
· Part One: Mission Street Food's Myint and Leibowitz on Credible Recipes [-E-]
· Part Two: A Look at Mission Street Food's Photo and Recipe Design [-E-]
· All Mission Street Food Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Behind the Cookbooks on Eater [-E-]