Shelley Boris has always loved cookbooks—they served as her introduction to cooking and opened her mind to the ways of the professional culinary world. And now, she’s written one of her own. Fresh Cooking: A Year of Recipes from the Garrison Institute Kitchen (Monkfish Books, 2014; $29.99 hardcover), set to release in mid-June.
Based on Boris’ experiences as the chef at the Garrison Institute, a retreat center housed in a former Capuchin monastery on the banks of the Hudson River in Garrison, the book contains 36 menus, each with four to six recipes. Organized by month to reflect the seasonal nature of fresh ingredients, the menus are indicative of the flexible, family-style and budget-conscious cooking that Boris does on a daily basis at the Institute, sometimes for as many as 175 people in a group.
“I thought about doing a menu cookbook in the beginning, but I rejected the idea because they can sometimes be frustrating for a beginner cook to approach,” Boris says. “But then I came around—I realized that the way I think about what we serve [at the Institute] on a buffet is
that the whole buffet makes the meal. So the book needed to be done by menu. The book is true to my voice.”
When Boris, the owner of Fresh Company catering service, first arrived at the Garrison Institute, concurrent with its founding in 2003, the veteran of the New York City restaurant scene was seeking a departure from the restaurant business and the flexibility to raise her family. “Here, I found this opportunity to do a lot of spontaneous, fun, home-style cooking during the daytime, without the chaos of a bar scene or the restaurant world. It’s the best of both worlds.”
The book’s recipes aren’t restrictive—many are vegetarian dishes with suggestions on how to include meat if one so chooses. According to Boris, the idea was to “allow other cooks to be somewhat spontaneous in the details.”
People who can’t afford to buy organic ingredients “can still make delicious food—you can have fun cooking. It will taste good and people will enjoy it. I try to be aware of budgetary constraints and create recipes that can be made in an affordable way,” she says.
Supporting local producers is important to Boris. “I’m all about local—believe me—but I’m a pragmatist,” Boris says. “It’s not fair to make people feel guilty.” But she says it is sustainability that matters to her ultimately. “I hope that we can sustain a food supply that has some ‘local, delicious, organic.’ It’s all about balance and moderation.”
The final chapter includes shopping suggestions—which brands to buy at the supermarket, which products to source locally, even which ingredients to grow in your own garden. Some very practical advice: “Make sure that you like the ingredients on your shelf and in your refrigerator—it’s very difficult to cook for others food that you yourself don’t like.”