Chef Bonnie Morales of Kachka — Portland's nationally acclaimed Russian restaurant — has just landed a cookbook deal with Flatiron Books, Eater can exclusively report. The book is slated for 2017 and Morales says it will be "very closely related to what we do at the restaurant, obviously with the home cook in mind."
Morales opened Kachka in spring 2014 with the help of her husband Israel, who oversees front-of-house operations. They serve foods of the former Soviet Union, stocking their menu with dishes like vareniki dumplings, cheesy khachapuri, caviar and blinis, and an extensive vodka list. Within their first year, the restaurant has been covered by the New York Times, earned a rave from Eater's Bill Addison, and landed on GQ's 25 Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2015 list. Eater PDX credits Kachka with "kick[ing] off a Russian food revolution we never knew we wanted."
While chronicling the sensational first year of her Portland restaurant is certainly a goal, she says the book is also about filling in some serious gaps in the cookbook lexicon. "I get line cooks starting at Kachka and one of the first questions they ask is, 'What's a really good resource to familiarize myself with the cuisine?'" Morales explains. "I have literally nothing to point them to." Creating a working definition of the former Soviet Union's cuisine is another major goal. "It's very rare that someone is going to ask you, 'What is Italian food?'I get asked, "What is Russian food?" incredibly frequently," she says. "Part of it is to just open people's minds to this whole genre... everybody says 'Russian' because it's the easiest thing to say. What does that even really mean?"
Morales also wants to evoke the experience of dining at Kachka. In his October review, Bill Addison described the "familial" atmosphere: "Bonnie's mother helped pick out the brownish diamond-patterned wallpaper to match her childhood home near Minsk. Notice the cuckoo clock, a must-have ornament in mid-century USSR households. Soviet propaganda posters hang in a montage, as do decorative green window shutters meant to evoke a country house." In the book, Morales will include old photos, paraphernalia, and family anecdotes so the reader feels "like you're stepping into your Russian friend's house and have all the culture that comes with it — the ritual and the merriment."
While the book will be a restaurant cookbook, Morales assures that home cooking is front and center. Recipes in the book will be "close to what you see at Kachka," she explains. "The reason that the restaurant actually ties in nicely to our cookbook is because it's largely based on home cooking, and a lot of the kernels start with what my mom makes at home. I think it translates really nicely back to cookbook material."
Morales has her team in place: Local food writer Deena Prichep is on board to help with words and Leela Cyd will be photographing. Morales will be taking a research trip this summer to enrich the book, though she says the recipe list is basically set. But for now, Morales has a lot of work to do. "We are so passionate about this food, and I just want to do my part as much as I can to represent it and get other people excited about it."