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Signature Tastes of Bellingham cookbook features 86 restaurants

Nov 12th, 2010 | Category: Community

by Brent Cole

There are times when it takes a new perspective to show a town what it really has, as is the case with the new local cookbook, “Signature Tastes of Bellingham.” Compiled by recent transplant and local firefighter Steven Siler, “Signature” offers recipes from 86  Bellingham restaurants, as well as 10 recipes from well-known local figures. The cookbook brings to light not just the great food in the Bellingham community, but also the people who call it home.

Born in Georgia and raised in South Carolina, Siler began working as a young teenager at his uncle’s restaurant, where he prepped barbeque. He continued to work in food service over 25 years – both in restaurants as well as in manufacturing – owning a company that supplied grocery stores, and later restaurants, with items such as sauces, ketchup, mustard and even silverware. While in the manufacturing business (Siler holds two degrees in engineering), he began his foray into publishing by purchasing Edible Atlanta and Edible Low Country Magazine.

Following a price war incident in 2007 with a well-known large ketchup company that let its strength be known, Steven planned to get out of the manufacturing business entirely. At roughly the same time, his mother and uncle, both officers in the company, passed away. He realized it might be time to try something different. With Northwest Washington in his sights (he was dating a woman originally from Orcas Island), he left the business, sold the magazines and moved to Orcas, where he joined the Fire and Rescue.

In late 2009, Siler then moved to Bellingham, though he didn’t plan on staying as he was on his way back to the south. Dr. Michael Sullivan, a friend of his and ER surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital, suggested Siler give the town a try. “He said give it a week. Then that turned into two,” Siler said.

Months later, Steven sent his first inquiry for the Signature Tastes of Bellingham – a cookbook concept that had been on his mind – to Lafeen’s Donuts, where he had become a regular. The owner, Shawn, replied right away and soon sent him the Maple Buttermilk Bars recipe. The cookbook had started.

“I had been wanting to do a cookbook for years,” he said. While new to Bellingham area, he was amazed how friendly the people, and more specifically restaurants, were.

“I’d go into Avelino (Espresso) and they’re always smiling, the owner will come out and give me a hug,” he said. “(You) go into these places and they adopt you as a regular – that’s rare. That doesn’t happen in cities.”

His initial list of local restaurants amounted to 30 – but the list kept growing. In the end, Steven reached out to a total of 100 different people – 90 restaurants and 10 individuals. Only four restaurants declined the invitation to offer a recipe. Of the 10 individuals, the first to step up was Mayor Dan Pike, who contributed a recipe for Halibut with Shallot, Kalamata and Capers Tapenade.

Overall, the process of putting the book together was fairly easy. “I had to chase some of the restaurants down, but overwhelmingly, people would help out,” Siler said. The biggest obstacle was that restaurants did not consider their recipes to be exciting. He had some help as well, primarily from friend Karen New, whom he bounced ideas off of, as well as Jeff Jewell, Archivist/Historian at Whatcom Museum.

For Siler, the cookbook morphed into a book about Bellingham. As an outsider, he was able to capture what people who live here often feel – the sense of love for the community. “It’s not as much as a cookbook, as a celebration of Bellingham,” he said, adding, “I could’ve easily called the book, “My Favorite Places of Bellingham.””

The proceeds of the book will go to several different organizations including the Bellingham Fire Department, Whatcom 8, Whatcom 4 and South Whatcom. “I’m making donations to the Fire Fighters Associations of those departments.”

Donations are also being made to the Northwest Burn Foundation, Whatcom Hospice and the Bellingham Food Bank. The book was funded out of Siler’s pocket and is dedicated to first responders.

As for favorite local meals, Siler said he goes to Bayou on the Bay, where he can get a taste of southern cooking. “(It’s the) Oyster Bar’s oysters Bienville with a garden party martini. Baked oyster platter with a béchamel sauce. When you bite into it, it’s a menagerie with components of the sea. You have luxury, and comfort.”

While Siler has loved putting the cookbook together, his heart (and income) will be with the fire department. “I have the greatest job in the world. I walk in public and people come up to me and say thank you. To be given that kind of a gift is absolutely incredible.”

A launch party will be held Monday, Nov. 15 at the Squalicum Boathouse at 5 p.m. The book will be available at Barnes and Noble, Village Books, WWU bookstore and many of the participating restaurants.

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