Stepping into photographer Deborah Smail’s studio on the edge of downtown Houston, the aroma of roasting pork tenderloin is the only clue that the hodge-podge of flowers, china, antiques and linens is the setting for composing what promises to be one of the most beautiful and most sought-after cookbooks in recent memory.
Make room on your bookshelf for the second Cal-a-Vie Spa cookbook, expected fresh from the printing press this fall.
Houstonians Terri and John Havens, transplants from their native New Orleans, have owned the revered, luxe California spa since 2000, transforming it into an award-winning resort. As he noted in 2015, “Terri’s Southern hospitality and commitment to wellness led us to develop Cal-a-Vie into what it is today. . . an unparalleled luxury wellness experience for our loyal guests.”
The spa’s first cookbook was published a decade ago.
“Even though the old one is still fabulous, it’s just time to update it after 10 years,” Terri Havens says adding that the demand for a cookbook from guests attending chef Curtis Cooke’s classes at the spa has been stunning. “Everybody’s begging for our latest and greatest new recipes.”
Certainly, this scribe was dying to get her hands on the recipe for the 400-calorie bison lasagne that was under the photographer’s lens during this visit. It couldn’t have looked more tempting or more beautiful in the setting that Terri Havens worked on with Limb Design principal Elise DeSilva and award-winning publishing professional Roni Atnipp.
While chef Cooke, who was with Central Market before heading west, works at the stove, the femmes on this project are practically playing (although with an artistic flair) amid the tulips, daffodils and pansies that vie for counter space with colorful plates from Hermès and linens from Kuhl Linscomb and amid tabletops that are crowded with place settings from Plush Home and decorative accessories from the trove of Leontine Linens, founder Jane Scott Hodges of New Orleans is a long-time friend of the Haleness
The photographer’s studio space is chockablock with sterling silver flatware, china, scores of decorative napkin rings and more from the women’s own closets and from that of friends. With 120 different dishes included in the book, the abundant cache of dining accessories and flower containers is a must.
Known for exceptional good taste and creativity, Terri Havens is hands on in the process and personally selected Atnipp to assist in the project.
“Other publishers loved it because we have a built in audience, and they thought it was a great idea. But they wanted to do it really cheaply,” she says. “We wanted luxurious and rich and Roni is the one who does unbelievable, gorgeous books.”
This will be Atnipp’s 10th cookbook, a talent that began with the Junior League of Houston’s Stop and Smell the Rosemary and has continued most recently with national award winning Perfectly Aged: 40 Years of Recipes and Stories from the Taste of Texas and With Gratitude, Johnny Carraba.
In her role as editor, Atnipp is testing the recipes and translating them from professional speak into layman’s terms.
“All the recipes are super accessible,” she says. “There’s nothing in them that should be scary. There are no overly complicated recipes.”
Just as in the original cookbook, recipes include a complete nutritional breakdown including calorie, salt, carbohydrate and fat content. (In fact, not to be outdated, the original has an insert with fresh information on ingredients and techniques.)
Even if you aren’t interested in deliciously healthy and healthily delicious recipes, this effort is bound to be one of the most beautiful cookbooks in recent memory, perfect not only for the kitchen but also perhaps the coffee table.