I am very excited to finally be writing about Chef Paul McCullough and Jeremy Stanford’s cookbook Roma-therapy. Last October I took you to the photo shoot for this book and so many of you were wondering when you would actually be able to hold it in your hands. The answer is now! When I received my copy, I was thrilled to read all the pages of fun facts about tomatoes, and see the gorgeous and impeccable photographs by premier food photographer Jon Edwards. Chef Paul was spot on when he told me it was a fun, whimsical take on tomatoes that could be given as a hostess gift, stocking stuffer, or a birthday gift for someone who has everything. This book is slick and definitely a love letter to all things tomato!
Roma-therapy begins with facts and figures, lore and legend, pop culture, tomato quotes, catching up on ketchup, the san marzano and tomatomania. Then there are 25 fabulous recipes: appetizers, mains, salads, sides, condiments and cocktails with a beautiful photo for each recipe. You can check out the Roma-therapy facebook page and order your own copy of the book here.
Since Chef Paul and I have been emailing back and forth over the past year, I am privy to his email address. Ha! He is incredibly busy with this catering business, so I decided to use email mode for the interview questions I wanted to ask him. I politely requested more than one word answers, if possible, and was rewarded with his generous and thoughtful responses. Please give a warm welcome to Chef Paul McCullough…
Lynne: Why Roma-therapy ?
Chef Paul: Some slip on a banana peel. Some exit with a pie in the face. My fall from grace was at the hands of a San Marzano tomato. The origins of this book stem from my stint on Food Network Star and in particular the dreaded ‘Iron Chef’ challenge. The task involved not only cooking with a secret ingredient, but also, and just as importantly I would learn later, to commentate on the culinary competition. While I was commentating, Alton Brown asked me a simple question: “Where does that can of plum tomatoes on the counter come from, Paul?”
“Plummy!” I answered quickly, thinking I had hit a comedic fast ball out of the park. Instead I had sealed my doom and I was eliminated from the show that night. How could I not know that the tomatoes I was describing were the oh-so-famous San Marzanos, or as Alton noted, “a very important destination in the tomato world.” After beating myself up and a lot of soul searching, I decided that instead of investing in a lot of therapy I would invest in an education about ‘all things tomato.’ And so I am excited to share with you the fruits of my tomato labor… Roma-therapy.
Lynne: What was the most difficult thing about writing this cookbook?
Chef Paul: The most difficult thing about writing this book was sticking to a deadline and actually making it happen. There was immense pressure not only to get it done, but do it right, since it is our first time publishing.
Lynne: What was your self-publishing process?
Chef Paul: Main stream cookbook publishing is a very difficult and saturated market. We kept hearing that without a restaurant or TV show, they were not interested. We believed so strongly in Roma-therapy that we decided to charge forward and found that BookBaby had everything we needed for our self-publishing needs.
Lynne: How did you choose the recipes for this book?
Chef Paul: We wanted recipes that were easy to prepare, tasted delicious and looked amazing; also a little unexpected, like the Curried Tomato Jam. We started with about 45 recipes ideas and settled on 30 of our favorites. The book is broken up into appetizers, mains, sides, condiments, and cocktails.
Lynne: What’s coming up next — is there another book in the works?
Chef Paul: We have a couple ideas for other single subject books, though we are taking a little break to enjoy the fruits of our Roma-therapy labor and see how this one goes!
Lynne: Your favorite day off away from the kitchen?
Chef Paul: We just got back from a few days in Malibu with some friends. I really love the beach and people watching. I tell you, I can sit on the beach under an umbrella with my dog Gus for hours. It’s so relaxing.
Lynne: Your favorite breakfast?
Chef Paul: Kate Mantilini Brunch!
Grand Marnier French Toast, Eggs Benedict, Thick cut Peppered Bacon !!
Lynne: Last dish you cooked?
Chef Paul: I just catered a party and prepared Short ribs! Braised them for 6 hours with red wine, balsamic, soy & Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, mire poix, bay leaves, rosemary and thyme. They were amazing!
Lynne: Last ingredient splurge?
Chef Paul: I just bought a bunch of mini Persian cucumber and made about 5 pounds of pickles! OMG super delish! It was a good time to be one of my neighbors!
Lynne: Three favorite restaurants?
Chef Paul: Pace in Laurel Canyon, I love the small plates at AOC on Third Street, and Sunset Thai (a little mom and pop place just down the street from my house; it’s a once a week treat).
Lynne: Your death row meal?
Chef Paul: Flank Steak rare with Roasted Tomatoes , Wild Mushroom Risotto with lots of parmesan
Flourless Chocolate Cake with drunken Kumquats
Bottle of Pinot Noir. Yes, the entire bottle!
Lynne: Three cooking tools you can’t live without?
Chef Paul: Whisk, my super sharp Gunter Wilhelm knife, Microplane
Lynne: Best meal you ever had?
Chef Paul: Time and place have so much to do with what I experience during a meal. On my first trip to Australia, my husband Jeremy and I went to Bondi Beach, and it was a perfect summer day. We stopped by a famous fish and chips place and grabbed our lunch wrapped in brown butcher’s paper. We sat ocean side and dove into one of the most memorable meals of my life. As we unwrapped the paper, which held our quintessential Australian meal, the aroma of the fresh caught barramundi and fries was irresistible. The fish was flakey and sweet with a perfect crust, the fries salty and crisp… and the pineapple fritter was heaven. We washed it all down with a cold beer. It’s one of the meals I will never forget.