Lisa Dahl made a spontaneous two-week trip to the Tuscany region of Italy, writing down her experiences in long-hand along the way, came home and compiled these memories and photographs while stirring up delectable recipes on an unfamiliar small-scale, and turned these elements into an imposing and elegant book - all in the space of one year.
The end result is as a much about life, relationships and passions as it is about food.
Dahl, co-owner and sous-chef for the renowned Dahl & Di Luca and Cucina Rustica restaurants in the Sedona area, published "The Elixir of Life" cookbook this fall. It is both a book of recipes and a coffee table book filled with brilliant photography primarily by Sedona's Janise Witt.
"The spontaneity of how some of the most gorgeous layouts took place is just amazing," Dahl says.
In consequence, many of the food photographs show the very veins and marrow of the ingredients. A reminder, Dahl says, that everything we put in our mouths was alive at one point.
It also makes the shots even more mouth-watering. Readers have told her the book is like "food porn." It lays out the necessities of creating a meal while taking you on a journey.
Motivated by the birthday of her late son Justin, who died in 1994 trying to stop a robbery, Dahl had Witt in tow as she explored the Italian region where she acquires olive oils and wine for the restaurants. They started in Rome and worked their way into Bolgheri with its famous Sassicaia wines. It was a trip of culinary and personal implications.
Dahl, who calls herself a "peasant" chef, rubbed shoulders with other peasant cooks, sharing cooking techniques and picked up new recipes.
"I'm not into long, laborious cooking styles," she says. "I like fewer ingredients and simpler methods."
The biggest difficulty she faced was that as a sous-chef she is accustomed to making much larger amounts of food and had to work hard to create a scaled-back version.
The working combination of Dahl, Witt and publisher Carol Haralson proved to be high-energy, synergistic and electrified, which may be an explanation for the fast pace of the book's production.
Yet, Dahl also gets contemplative. The book offers a tribute to Justin, her inspiration for many things including starting a restaurant, and shares appreciation for her late father, her still-creative mother (age 86), her grandparents and the influence of family. Lisa was not a cook as a youngster, but she was surrounded by family members who were.
"I don't know if you can grow up to be a great chef if you don't have great chefs in your family," she says, pointing out the influence of growing up on food that lots of love went into.
"The Elixir of Life," she says, is Tuscan culinary inspiration in a Sedona reality. The experience has inspired gratitude for finding her calling and the blessings she has received among the people and landscapes of Sedona. It has also furthered the healing process, one of the reasons she came to Sedona in the first place.
At $35, the book includes a DVD of photography set to music by four Arizona musicians. It was created by Scott Yates, with Dahl as director and producer.
Dahl has a busy December ahead, with book signings at Saks Fifth Avenue at the Biltmore, Napa Style in Yountville, Calif., and at Bloomingdale's in Manhattan.
While "The Elixir of Live" is available at both Sedona restaurants and at the Hummingbird House, 100 Brewer Road, it is most convenient to find online at www.livingdahl.com.