Elizabeth Blau’s latest project is a labor of love — an alluring layering of affection for food, family and travel in the publication, Honey Salt: A Culinary Scrapbook.
Blau, CEO and co-founder with her husband, chef Kim Canteenwalla, of the restaurant development firm Blau + Associates, has played a large part in spawning the rise of the burgeoning Las Vegas culinary landscape that has garnered international attention.
Blau and Canteenwalla opened the restaurant Honey Salt, 1031 S. Rampart Blvd. in Las Vegas, in 2012. It was the first time the couple independently began a restaurant and have followed with another Honey Salt location in Vancouver, British Columbia, which opened last fall.
The couple published the book this year and spoke with CLASS about the project at Honey Salt Las Vegas.
CLASS: What prompted you to take on this cookbook project?
Blau: I think every chef and restauranteur dreams of having a cookbook. It something my husband Kim and I have talked about for a long time.
It is our first cookbook and something we have always dreamed of doing. As we started, we decided to self-publish because we really want to tell our story organically. Also important to us was the quality of the actual book. We had it published in Italy, and even the paper we used was recycled bamboo pulp. So it was the platform of sustainability we try to have in our food and our culture.
And you chose an unusual format, that of a scrapbook.
I love scrapbooking. In the old days I used to go to the scrapbook store and buy papers and embellishments and make homemade scrapbooks. Nowadays, it is easy to do it digitally. We have about 50 of them in our house, it really allows us to chronicle our son (Cole) growing up, summer vacations and visits with the grandparents.
When we started talking about the cookbook, it quickly morphed into making a culinary scrapbook. It really tells the story of the making of Honey Salt, but through a scrapbook adventure.
Explain the relevance of a physical cookbook in the digital age when nearly every imaginable recipe and accompanying photo is at one’s fingertips.
Cookbooks are very visceral. I love the texture and feel. And to take stock of them late at night to be inspired for a dinner party or a restaurant that we are opening.
We probably have just about 1,000 cookbooks in our home. I love them all. Some of them, like Joy of Cooking (the 1931 classic by Irma S. Rombauer) is all recipe with no photographs; it is a utilitarian cookbook.
The Honey Salt cookbook tells the story of our lives and the relatives and family members who have inspired the recipes, but really the journeys, trips and travels that have inspired the recipes and what you see on the menus.
What are the fundamental elements that led to Honey Salt, the restaurant?
The idea for the restaurant was simple. It was, ‘how do you like to entertain at home?’. We like to rent homes when we are on vacation and go to markets or fish markets around the world. Try different menu items and play around. That is the inspiration for Honey Salt.
The look is very personal. It has family photographs and my sister’s (Alex Blau) artwork on the walls. It is very much a family affair, a reflection of what our food is and very much like what we did with our book.
And now you have a second location, which opened in Canada in 2017.
Yes, last fall we open a Honey Salt in Vancouver (at Parq Vancouver, 39 Smithe Street) It is a beautiful location designed by Alessandro Munge (of Toronto-based Studio Munge) in the JW Marriott.Duck Confit Poutine.
It is a little more sophisticated, but still has that warm, homestyle feel. I would say 30 percent of the menu classics are on that menu, but it also reflects the farms and local produce and fishermen that Kim and our Chef Jason have access to in Vancouver. If you love Honey Salt Las Vegas, you will definitely feel at home at Honey Salt Vancouver.
Sourcing regional ingredients must be less of a challenge in British Columbia than Nevada?
Farm-to-table is much easier in Vancouver. And I give kudos to our chefs in Las Vegas for sourcing. There are farmers in Pahrump and Sandy Valley, and of course, in California. But it is a treasure chest for Kim in Vancouver because the access to cheese and farmers and fishermen is just incredible. It is a veritable bounty up there.
I think the importance of Honey Salt, in terms of our food mantra, is make sure the (ingredients) are sourced ethically. Whether it is our ranchers, or farmers or even the fish we bring into the restaurant. It is something that is important to us personally and to the team of people that work here.
You have to work a little bit harder, because we are in the middle of the desert. Things have to be trucked or flown in, so the sourcing takes that much extra effort. But our chefs don’t mind that effort because I think that is what differentiates us in both Honey Salt locations from the competition.
Tell us about the name Honey Salt.
We knew what we wanted to do with the food and decor, and we wanted the name to follow suit. We wanted it to be fun and approachable, and I love the idea of having food in the name.
I like to tease, (telling) the new employees that one of us (Blau or Canteenwalla) is the sweet one and one is the salty one, and you get to decide which is which. I figure we both have our honey moments and we both have our salty moments. We like to keep a good balance. Kim would give you a different answer, about the balance of tastes on the palette. A very foodie answer.
Do any of the recipes in the book have particularly special significance?
There is one recipe called Mimi’s Crepes. It is in (my son) Cole’s section. Mimi is my mother, his grandmother. There is a little recipe card. I learned — I believe in the third grade — from my mother how to make the crepes. The recipe card is actually in my third grade handwriting. I think it shows what family and tradition means to us, handing these recipes down generations.
Do I understand there may be a holiday version in the works?
Yes, we seem to have gotten the cookbook bug. It took about three years, a very long and arduous process to do it, and we are thrilled that is here. But when we were doing it, there were a lot of ideas that got parked, we said, ‘this is kind of a holiday idea’. So I always had in my mind that the Honey Salt Holidays would be our next book.
We are a multi-religion family, so we celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. Each of those have unique celebrations. But we love the Fourth of July and Cinco de Mayo . And of course the Holy Grail of holidays for me is Thanksgiving. A whole holiday dedicated to eating, And for Cole and my husband, football. What could be better?
Cuisine, for you, seems to be deeply intertwined with a broader nostalgia.
I grew up in a house of foodies, and I learned to cook at a very young age from my mother and grandmother. Culinary traditions have been important to me through my whole life. I think that is what led me toward a career in the hospitality industry.