Every intimate gathering is a process. For Nathan Williams, it’s a process that he tries to make as stress-free as possible. He, along with his wife, are the individuals behind Kinfolk Magazine, a quarterly publication “that collects ideas from a growing international community of artists, writers, designers, photographers, cooks and others who are interested in creating small gatherings and finding new things to make and do.” Recently they transitioned the collaborative efforts and launched The Kinfolk Table Cookbook, their first cookbook that aims to put the emphasis back into the relationships that surround eating. Here, Williams takes us through his own process, from ingredients to final dish.
Life+Times: Tell me a little bit about The Kinfolk Table. What exactly is it?
Nathan Williams: The cookbook is less about fancy napkins and place settings and more about social relationships—the friends, family and wider circle of people I like to share meals with. We traveled to collect 85 recipes from creative types around the world and collaborated with two great photographers (Parker Fitzgerald and Leo Patrone) to focus on our hometown of Portland, Oregon, as well as Brooklyn, Copenhagen and the English countryside. Many recipes aren’t from trained chefs, but we have tested the recipes and they are delicious.
L+T: The cookbook bridges various worlds and cultures into a cohesive “bible” of all things delicious. What was your goal when putting this together?
NW: We wanted to spend time with folks from the community of people we admire, see the way they live and eat, and bring together a variety of personalities and recipes. It was fun to go and see how many of these individuals live. The Kinfolk community is a circle of friends, family, chefs, bakers, artists, designers, photographers, and other people we admire. We basically asked them for their all-time favorite recipes and went to their homes to photograph and share those recipes.
L+T: The focus of this book centers on “small gatherings.” How come this is something you decided to focus on?
NW: Kinfolk Magazine started as a way to share simple entertaining ideas and encourage people to slow down, relax and spend time with their favorite people. We started it because there was nothing out there that we found relatable or relevant. Small gatherings can be anything: casual get-togethers where you just invite friends over to grill or just making a really nice meal all by yourself. The cookbook was just a way to present a lot of different ways to eat and live, but in general we like how these people are living in a simple, back-to-basics way.
L+T: There were many participants in helping to put this book together. Can you tell me a little bit about this process?
NW: Yes, it was very much a collaborative effort. First we narrowed down our giant list of possibilities and made a list of folks to include. Then we visited and took notes and photos of our featured contributors in Portland, Brooklyn, Copenhagen, and the UK. We also included many people in other places in the book’s “Wandering Table” section, which features everything from tales from Salt Lake City to family secrets from my mom and grandmother back home in Alberta, Canada. Our plan was to include fresh ideas for things to cook, make and do, and take a look inside many people’s homes, kitchens and lives.
L+T: You’re also trying to put the emphasis back into the relationships that surround eating. What was your childhood relationship with both food and the preparation process?
NW: My wife and I started Kinfolk in 2011 with our close friends in college, and it continues to feature some of our real-life friends and colleagues. We’re really interested in the kind of rituals, traditions, and dishes people had growing up. I grew up in Alberta, where it can be pretty cold and windy (even in summer), and I spent a lot of time hanging out with friends and making simple food. There’s nothing wrong with weddings, a big meal out or other major events, but some of the best moments in life happen when you’re just having a spontaneous, low-key, collaborative meal with your best mates.
L+T: Why did you decide to spawn a cookbook from your clever publication?
NW: It seemed like a natural progression, and a way to include more people, recipes, ideas and photographs than we could fit in the magazine. Part of what we’ve done at Kinfolk was to create small gatherings around the world. Our Community Director Julie Pointer sets up Kinfolk dinners each month in 20 to 30 locations around the world; this has opened up our world to many new people and widened our circles, as like-minded people will attend these events, participate in putting them together, and take photographs.
L+T: If you were to have five people over for dinner tonight and you had one hour to prepare, what would you serve? Why?
NW:Well, having people over is all about making time for conversation and relaxing so we would make the meal as stress-free as possible. We might start out with chips and homemade salsa, bread, cheese, fruit and nuts. Then move on to a simple grilled fish and a giant salad, something like the Citrus Lentil Salad from the cookbook. We also love making pizza at home. We’d love to finish it off with Julie Pointer’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. It would be great if we could take it all outside, or at least bring tons of nature indoors. We also often try to give every guest something to do.
“Excerpted from The Kinfolk Table by Nathan Williams (Artisan Books). Copyright (c) 2013. Photographs by Leo Patrone.”