Michael Volpatt’s new cookbook, “Cooking in Place,” offers a sassy subtitle that is self-explanatory: “50 Days, Stories and 70+ Recipes to Keep You Sane in Challenging Times.”
Part chronicle, part cooking lesson and part escape from the coronavirus, the e-book was self-published earlier this month by Volpatt, co-founder of Big Bottom Market in Guerneville, after he created a Facebook Live cooking show for 50 days while sheltering in place. Since his casual cafe and market were closed for most of the stay-at-home order, Volpatt had a lot of time to think about how to help others with their quarantine cooking.
“There’s joy in cooking at home, and people have discovered that joy,” he said. “I think we’re going to see people cooking more.”
He’s also spreading joy in other ways. A percentage of the cookbook’s sales will go to two, local nonprofits: Becoming Independent in Sebastopol and the Food For Thought food bank in Forestville. Volpatt’s goal is to sell 10,000 books in order to raise $5,000 for each organization.
Volpatt’s first cookbook, “The Big Bottom Biscuit” (Running Press, 2019), was a long-held dream that took some time to bring to fruition. The book idea took root after the Big Bottom Market’s biscuit mix and honey was named one of Oprah’s Favorite Things in 2016.
His newest cookbook, however, was more of a spur-of-the-moment project. The self-described extrovert and avid cook launched the project on March 14 when he sought comfort in the kitchen by making his mother’s marinara sauce.
“It’s cozy, and it reminds me of home,” Volpatt said of the recipe, which, like others in the cookbook, is easy and accessible. “Cooking is 100% therapeutic for me, and when you mix my mom into it, it becomes so much more.”
While the sauce slowly simmered, Volpatt started scrolling through the Facebook news feed on his cellphone and noticed the “go live” link. A lightbulb went on, and for the next 50 days, he produced a daily cooking show aimed at helping friends and family nurture themselves and each other.
“I spent the next ?50 days on camera, cooking, writing, scripting, taking pictures,” he said. “This book is unlike any other cookbook I’ve read or worked on.”
Technically, there were a few challenges. A friend helped him flip the lens of his camera so the letters didn’t read backwards during the live shows. After that, it was just a matter of coming up with fresh ideas.
“In the very beginning, I would wake up every morning and ask, ‘What’s my plan?’” he said. “If I was featuring a winery, I had to do research and write the script. So it became a job.”
Volpatt invited a friend to help him with an early episode on cooking with canned foods, and they came up with ingenious recipes like a simple ragu of white beans and tomatoes. But the rest of the time, it was just Volpatt alone in his home kitchen, improvising.
“Within a few days, I made a commitment,” he said. “I looked at the camera and said, ‘I love doing this, and I’m going to do this until the orders are lifted, or lightened.’”
When Big Bottom Market opened for takeout after 51 days, he stopped filming and started assembling his stories and recipes into a cookbook that would also serve as a quarantine diary. (Big Bottom Market is now open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed Tuesday).
One of the most helpful features of the book is the Pantry Preparedness section at the beginning, which gives suggestions on what spices, oils, baking essentials, canned goods, grains, proteins and refrigerator items you should keep stocked.
“The whole idea is to have your pantry ready, no matter what,” he said. “You should always have a really healthy pantry.”
To break up the recipes, which are organized chronologically, Volpatt instituted special days such as “Sunday Bubbly Sunday” featuring sparkling wines; “Microwave Monday” showcasing that handy appliance; “Kids Tuesdays” highlighting fun ideas for young chefs; and “Gluten-Free Fridays,” in honor of a friend who eats a gluten-free diet.
“She was watching my show, and I wanted to challenge myself,” he said. “One of the things I made were these oat cookies. And now we have gluten-free pastries at the market.”
Sometimes Volpatt found inspiration in his own cravings. Such was the case with the pedestrian-sounding recipe for Ketchup Chicken.
“It has an Asian twist because you coat the chicken with flour and fry it and serve it over rice,” he said. “I used Heinz Ketchup, of course. I’m from Pittsburgh!”
When a friend’s son asked him to make something that “sounds gross but is actually delicious,” he came up with Milk and Pepsi, a twist on the old-fashioned soda float.