A clarity of flavor’ Chefs behind Coco and the Cellar Bar pen first cookbook ‘Curry & Kimchi’

By LUIS FIELDMAN, Staff Writer, The Recorder, November 13, 2019

When it came time to write their first cookbook, Roger Taylor and Unmi Abkin drew from their 17 years of cooking together, both at restaurants and at home for their daughter Coco.

“It’s not hyperbole to say that we had 300 recipes that were talked about in the process of creating the 50 or 60 that are in here,” said Taylor, who co-owns Coco and The Cellar Bar with his wife, Abkin, a four-time semifinalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Northeast.

Many of the elements in the book, “Curry & Kimchi,” published Oct. 15 from Storey Publishing, reflect recipes that have appeared on menus of previous restaurants Abkin has opened as well as the approach Taylor and Abkin take when making family meals.

Some recipes have undergone 25 years of development, Abkin said, dating back to her first Northampton restaurant she opened in 1995, Cha Cha Cha. Other recipes are from her second restaurant, Unmi, and some are ones that Coco wanted to make sure were included — such as the macaroni and cheese. Taylor wrote the recipes in a “casual, fun and educative way,” Abkin said, to “take away the anxiety” that some cookbooks can cause. Abkin said they took a different approach when presenting the cooking directions and ingredients to each recipe.

“Most traditional recipes have ingredients and amounts on the left with directions on the right,” Abkin said. “Some times the directions go on to the back and you have to flip over, and that didn’t make any sense to us.” The recipes in “Curry & Kimchi” are written with a brief description of the dish followed by instructions and ingredient measurements blended together, accompanied by progression shots for each dish. The easy-tofollow directions often call for oils or ingredients prepared a certain way, which can be found at the back of the book. “Writing the book took a lot of time and we wanted to make sure it’s useful,” Abkin said.

Cooking principles

The book is divided into three main sections, and Abkin said the structure of the book mirrors the approach she and Taylor use when preparing dishes at home.

“I recommend making the sauce, putting it in the fridge and prepping ahead,” Abkin said. “Then you make dinner like that,” she said with a snap of her fingers.

Most of the salad dressings call for a seasoned rice wine vinegar to “wake up” dishes with a balance of salt, sweet and acid, and Taylor and Abkin provide a three-step recipe for the vinegar that lasts up to a year in the refrigerator.

A rice cooker is an invaluable appliance worth investing in if it is not already part of your arsenal, they said.

The cooking principles Abkin and Taylor said they apply at Coco and The Cellar Bar are also found in the book – balance, simplicity and, of course, flavor. Abkin said they had accessibility in mind for people when developing the recipes for the book.

Take the Korean Bolognese sauce. Taylor wrote in the sauce’s description that the sweet and spicy sauce is a way to introduce people to common Korean flavors. It is also versatile, as many of the sauces in the book are, and can be used for a Korean Sloppy Joes.

Creating sauces is a strength of Abkin’s cooking, Taylor said, and it is “the backbone of every dish, that is what elevates the dish.”

Famous recipes made for home

Recipes that were originally developed for restaurants had to be scaled back to be practical in a home kitchen for “Curry & Kimchi,” both in terms of prep time and serving amounts, Taylor said.

As a cooking partnership with 40 years of combined experience, the two cooks play to each other’s strengths: Taylor said he is more oriented towards the “nuts and bolts” of the operation while Abkin develops ideas, tastes and flavors.

“Almost all the ideas are from Unmi’s mind and I’ve spent the last 17 years helping find a framework for them to see the light of day,” Taylor said. He also credited Coco cook Miranda Brown for her role in testing recipes for the book.

“Curry & Kimchi” is a culinary exploration of Unmi’s range in cuisines: honey miso noodle salad, ramen, pork carnitas tacos, thai chicken rice bowl, General Tso’s tofu — it’s all there.

Even dishes, such as the Thai chicken rice bowl, that have developed somewhat of a following are now open secrets for the world to enjoy.

Made with Abkin’s Thai peanut sauce, the Thai chicken rice bowl dates back to her days at Cha Cha Cha.

Taylor recalled the time when the couple lived in California in the 2000s, and a woman approached him while he was clipping the hedges in front of their home.

The woman had noticed a sticker on the car in the driveway from a Northampton used car dealership, and she said, “Oh, I used to live there, and I used to love that Thai chicken burrito at a restaurant called Cha Cha Cha.”

People literally across the country ask about the famous Thai chicken burrito, all the time, Taylor said.