Even though Frank Lee’s name is on the front cover of "The S.N.O.B. Experience," and his photograph is featured throughout the cookbook’s pages, he didn’t want the iconic restaurant’s first publication to focus exclusively on him. So he asked customers to share their memories of happy meals and beloved dishes, thinking their contributions would shift the spotlight.
Lee’s instincts are highly regarded: He was one of the first chefs in town to promote buying from local farmers. But in this case, his plan backfired.
“When we started focusing on customers, it felt right,” Lee says. “But they kept talking about me. I didn’t want it to be about me.”
Terri Henning, one of the loyal fans pictured in the book, thinks the outcome was inescapable.
“For me, SNOB has always been Frank, with about 40 rubber bands around his wrist and a bright smile and always a kind word,” she says. “One of the reasons he is so loved is he’s just a humble guy who loves cooking good food.”
Now he’s sharing the recipes for his good food, many of them for the first time. "The S.N.O.B. Experience," scheduled to be released on Nov. 23, includes 150 dishes, among them favorites which were long ago struck from the menu because, as Lee explains, “they were so popular, we couldn’t grow beyond them.”
Initially, there was talk of couching recipes for pad Thai and salmon with leek cream within a narrative stressing Lee’s closeness to farmers and fishermen. “But that’s so passe,” says Lee, who’s been contemplating a cookbook for a decade. “Been there, done that.”
Instead, the production team settled on a format that’s meant to conjure the ambiance of the restaurant. “I wanted to follow the rhythm of our specials sheet, and that was one of the hardest things to figure out,” Lee says. But he credits fellow chef Bob Waggoner with taking pictures that capture the spirit of the dining room, and Advantage Media with helping him articulate his philosophies.
Over the course of 15 dictation sessions, Lee talked through what he wanted to say; he then reviewed cleaned-up drafts to make sure they accurately reflected his meaning and tone.
“At first, I thought that was kind of cheating,” he says. “But at the end, I didn’t feel like I had cheated at all. I thought we got my voice in there pretty good.”
Bill Hall of Hall Management Group, whose restaurant portfolio includes SNOB, says, “Frank has really worked hard.” For months, whenever he went looking for Lee between 6:30 a.m. and noon, he’d find him immersed in the cookbook project.
While the cookbook includes plenty of accessible recipes, Lee stresses that it’s not meant to double as a beginner’s tutorial. In his mind, "The S.N.O.B Experience" is so different from a survey such as "Joy of Cooking" that he was surprised to find the book had an index.
In addition to the index and short customer profiles, the book (which wasn’t available to preview at press time) also includes sketches of kitchen alumni and other people central to SNOB’s success, such as founder Dick Elliott and former director of operations David Marconi. Lee also found room for a poem his daughter wrote about the restaurant.
“I was really tickled about that,” Lee says.
According to Henning, that’s perfectly in keeping with the generosity for which Lee is known.
“He always promotes others: Women and everyone in the kitchen,” she says. “It’s very important to him that everyone shares the light, which you don’t see a lot.”
The S.N.O.B. Experience will retail for $39.95; it's currently available for pre-order at amazon.com.