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Inside ‘Sea and Smoke,’ an Unconventional Chronicle of the Pacific Northwest

Chef Blaine Wetzel of the Willows Inn on Lummi Island unleashes his debut cookbook.

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Courtesy of Running Press
Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

"I won't say the timing of the release is necessarily an important point for me, but the scope of the project was," says acclaimed chef Blaine Wetzel when asked why now is the time to drop a cookbook. "I think we really started this cookbook, believe it or not, in 2012." Sea and Smoke: Flavors from the Untamed Pacific Northwest, he explains, doesn't just catalogue recipes from his acclaimed restaurant, Willows Inn on Lummi Island. Instead, it chronicles the life cycle of his restaurant over the course of an entire year. Co-author Joe Ray spent some 12 months with Wetzel on the remote island in the Puget Sound, cooking in the kitchen, working the farm, and writing in the restaurant's office whenever inspiration struck.

Ray and Wetzel expressed this year through a unique structure: The book opens with nine chapters, featuring essays dedicated to topics like how the kitchen operates, trips to the sea and to farms, and chef-packed foraging expeditions. In fact, recipes don't even make an appearance in the book until page 98, and only then after a short instructional titled "How to Use This Book."

"From the beginning, even before we even signed on to do a cookbook, there was pressure to do a more traditional or conventional cookbook," Wetzel recalls. "We opted to try and be a little bit more ambitious, even though at the end of the day we are still making a cookbook."

Part of why Wetzel chose to work with publisher Running Press is that they were on-board with his plan to have Ray spend the year with him, to give the co-author "a genuine experience here and also the freedom, creatively, to write about it how he chose," Wetzel says. In context with the book's structure and Ray's experiences, the recipes — with names like "bundles of romano beans roasted over oregano sprigs" are "more to explain and allude to our practices, processes, and philosophies," Wetzel says. With photography by Charity Burggraaf, the book captures the stunning setting of Lummi Island and the unique approach Wetzel and his team bring to their restaurant.

Sea and Smoke hits shelves October 27. Pre-order on Amazon and take a look inside:

The Willows Inn

2579 West Shore Drive, Lummi Island,, WA 98262 (360) 758-2620