The Rumpus Book Club chats with Isaac Fitzgerald and Wendy MacNaughton about their new book Knives & Ink, cooking with pigs’ heads, and long distance collaboration.
This is an edited transcript of the book club discussion. Every month The Rumpus Book Club hosts a discussion online with the book club members and the author, and we post an edited version online as an interview. To become a member of the Rumpus Book Club, click here.
This Rumpus Book Club interview was edited by Brian Spears.
Brian S: Quick question for you, Wendy, to start us off—did you design the font the book is set in, and is it available for others to use?
Ann B: Love the font.
Wendy MacNaughton: Brian, good question. That is in fact my handwriting. after hand-lettering the entire first book (Pen & Ink) we decided it would be better to create a font of my handwriting for Knives & Ink.
Isaac Fitzgerald: Hahaahahaahahahah!
Wendy Macnaughton: So yes, it’s my handwriting, but no you cannot have the font SORRY.
Isaac Fitzgerald: Wendy is giving herself too little credit, as usual. She not only hand-lettered all of Pen & Ink, but when we had to make… er… changes. Say, maybe the *ahem* editor missed something that the copyeditor caught. She had to REDRAW all sorts of words, etc. So with Knives & Ink, it was very important, that we could edit without chaining Wendy back to her drawing board.
Brian S: I thought it was modeled on your handwriting from when you did the Meanwhile series for us at The Rumpus many years ago. Seems so odd to say that, by the way—many years ago. But it has been a while.
Ann B: I’m a big fan of the Moosewood Cookbook and this hand-lettering and beautiful illustrations reminds me of those books.
Wendy MacNaughton: Isaac never made ANY mistakes.
Isaac Fitzgerald: YEAH YEAH YEAH that’s write. I didn’t.
Wendy MacNaughton: Ann B. I love that cookbook too—Molly Katzen is the best.
Brian S: Isaac, you talk in the introduction about how much of a cook you aren’t. Have you been tempted to try any of these recipes? And what about you, Wendy? Are you like Isaac when it comes to cooking?
Isaac Fitzgerald: I did the oatmeal! Also I totally have done that salsa before. The one that starts w/ “butcher a whole pig,” I’m gonna have to build up to that.
Also, fun fact, my brother is Joel Harris, the NH burrito chef.
Brian S: I saw that recipe tonight. Might try it as well.
Wendy MacNaughton: I wasn’t much of a cook when we started this project, but by the time we finished, I’d learned to make pretty much everything in the book. Except animal stuff. (veg.)
Ann B: How was the oatmeal with the red miso?
Brian S: Yeah, I’m not a vegetarian, but I’m probably never going to try cooking either of the recipes involving a pig’s head.
Wendy MacNaughton: RIGHT! Horrifying.
Isaac Fitzgerald: You misspelled “delicious” Wendy.
Wendy MacNaughton: potato/potahto
Everyone loves potatoes.
Brian S: It’s like, when I was a kid we raised dairy calves until they were big enough to slaughter, so I’m under no illusion about where meat comes from, but cooking with the head is a bit past where I can go.
Isaac Fitzgerald: So if you didn’t like the pig head recipe, Wendy, what did you like?
Wendy MacNaughton: Like a proper SF old school hippie, i’m more partial to the pumpkin seed hummus—super good (thanks chef Eric Ehler). But it was fun to learn about all the different chefs’ interests and techniques even if it’s something I’m not going to make myself, I like learning about the dish, and often a related story.
Brian S: How did you put this book together? Did you meet all these people in person or did they send you photos of themselves and their tattoos? Tell me about the process, both of gathering and illustrating the stories here.
Wendy MacNaughton: Isaac, you first.
Isaac Fitzgerald: So Pen & Ink, a project born of The Rumpus, really, as Wendy and I met while she was working on her FANTASTIC Meanwhile series, was so much fun, partially because it was such an Internet-community-driven project. We would send out a call for pictures and stories on Tumblr, and immediately people would flood us with submissions. It was great! Knives & Ink was totally different.
Lynda: I love how current and relevant it is—such a clever and original idea—congrats!
Wendy MacNaughton: Thanks, Lynda!
Isaac Fitzgerald: Because chefs don’t live online.
Wendy MacNaughton: We had to go out and meet chefs, via emails, or calls, or whatever—and often through friends in the food business.
Brian S: Did you sketch them on the spot or work from photos of their tattoos?
Wendy MacNaughton: We reached out to everyone we knew in the food business (which turns out to be quite a few people—Isaac worked in the food biz—and I got fired from it once—so we had some contacts).
Lynda: How did you decide who would make the cut? Certainly you had far more submissions than made it into the book?
Wendy MacNaughton: And we took it from there—one person led to the next. But Isaac spent a ton of time chasing people down.
Isaac Fitzgerald: Who would make the ~ cut ~ right?
Am I right?
Get it, the cut?
Ann B: I noticed that there weren’t a lot of repeat tattoo artists. You really got a great cross-representation of tattoo artists. Did you get to meet any of them?
Isaac Fitzgerald: But for real, it’s really hard choosing whose stories to include in the book. So many heartfelt submissions came our way.
Wendy MacNaughton: The tattoo itself mattered as well. There was some repetition of themes—
Lynda: So then it came down to who had the best tattoos.
Wendy MacNaughton: There were a few pigs, a few sharpies, some general themes. But I think we chose a selection that were both great stories and good tattoos and by good tattoos I mean visually interesting, or relevant, or unique, or striking in some way.
Ann B: What about the tattoo artists? Did you get to meet any of them?
Wendy MacNaughton: Brian, you asked how they were drawn. I usually draw from life, but for Knives & Ink (and Pen & Ink, too) I work from photos. The tattoos are super-detailed paintings that can take a few hours to do. I can’t imagine how long they took to do full size with a tattoo gun, and no chef has time to sit that long for me as you can imagine.
Lynda: Were you inspired to get a chef tattoo to commemorate the book?
Wendy MacNaughton: Lynda you should see Isaac’s arm! He already did. He gets a tattoo for every book he does.
Isaac Fitzgerald: (Isaac’s tattoo)
Wendy MacNaughton: We are having an event tomorrow at the JCC in SF and there will be a tattoo artist there and although the dept. of health is saying we can’t get tattoos on site I’m planning to see if I can sneak one in.
Lynda: So bummed—I live in SF and would go to JCC tomorrow but I’m in MN for business. I had no idea—so did you get to meet any of the artists that you drew for the book?
Wendy MacNaughton: Lynda, do you mean tattoo artists or chef artists?
Lynda: Tattoo artists was what I was thinking
Wendy MacNaughton: Not in person but we get some comments from them on Instagram and that was super cool to get their shout out. But Isaac, I think you know a few, huh?
Lynda: Love the knife, Isaac—well done.
Isaac Fitzgerald: Yeah, a few of the tattoo artists and shops repped in the book are friends. It’s really important for both Wendy and I that all the tattoo artists get credit for their awesome work.
Brian S: How long did it take to put this book together?
Lynda: Have you considered doing a series?
Wendy MacNaughton: From beginning to end?
Brian S: Yeah, from conception to publication.
Wendy MacNaughton: About two years. This book was also different to make that Pen & Ink because Isaac is now in NY (RIP) and I am here in SF so we had to work in a different way, via email, phone, text, etc.
Brian S: The early reaction to the book has been really positive from what I can tell. How does that feel?
Isaac Fitzgerald: Amazing! Better than we could have ever hoped for. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s review specifically was such a treasure. That writer really got the book and the spirit behind it.
Brian S: I’m trying to imagine what a reading/book tour for this book would be like, and I have to admit, I’m a little at sea. Are there plans in the works and if so, how is it going to work?
Isaac Fitzgerald: Wendy and I had an event featuring some of our favorite East Coast chefs in the book in NYC. Tomorrow we’re doing the same on the West Coast. After that (this weekend) we go up to Portland to talk about the book and celebrate with some wonderful food people there, including Liz Crain, who helped put us in touch with a few of the chefs featured in the book.
Brian S: So more of a panel than a single author situation. That still has to be a monster to plan.
Wendy MacNaughton: Isaac’s really good at it. He’s always put together these great readings as long as I’ve known him. He’s got a gift for it. In fact, I might have met my partner at a reading Isaac helped organize.
Isaac Fitzgerald: Hahahahahaha! Stop, I’m blushing
Brian S: Were there any of the stories where, the second you heard it/saw the tattoo, you knew immediately it was going to be in the book? And were there any you fought over?
Wendy MacNaughton: Good question. Well, there’s one that is a great tattoo in terms of art, but the subject was pretty tough for me—there’s a pig getting torn apart by zombie hands.
Well, it’s really well-drawn by the artists, but maybe that’s why it was so tough for me to draw. (See earlier: vegetarian) But the story was good. and the tattoo was obviously intense and got the desired reaction, so there you go. We went for it.
Brian S: For the book club folks here tonight, what was your favorite tattoo in the book? I’m kind of partial to the boar fighting the octopus myself.
Isaac Fitzgerald: Well I hate to pick favorites, but I really loved Chef Roze’s and and Timmy Malloy’s is so god damn cool. Chef Roze’s because it’s such a powerful story and strong life message, and Timmy Malloy’s because it’s such a wonderful representation of the life of the chef.
Ann B: The kohlrabi balloon with the cookbook basket and also the Neapolitan moon story tattoo.
Isaac Fitzgerald: YES! Ann B. I loved those too. Really, not to be a cliche, but I love ’em all a bunch.
Brian S: That kohlrabi balloon one is amazing.
Wendy MacNaughton: And I am partial to Sean Thomas. I love the tattoo and the simple story that goes with it.
Brian, totally agree! Such a cool tattoo.
Brian S: Are you planning another collaboration any time soon?
Wendy MacNaughton: This is an endless project, so many different groups of people—veterans, firefighters, athletes, prisoners… who knows. but for right now, I think we’re going to take a little break. Isaac is running the show over in NYC, and I’m working on a couple other things, so….
Brian S: Can you tell us more about what you’re working on, Wendy?
Isaac Fitzgerald: Wendy’s next big project is ALSO food related, though. Coming out in April, Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat with illustrations from our own Wendy Mac is an AMAZING cookbook.
Brian S: What else should we be on the look out for in the next few months?
Wendy MacNaughton: Well I just finished Sally Mann’s memoir and it was amazing, highly recommend, and I am reading Mary Oliver’s new book of essays.
Isaac Fitzgerald: Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell forthcoming from McSweeney’s is so god damn good. Definitely put that on your radar if you don’t have it on there already.
Wendy MacNaughton: Other than that, Salt Fat Acid Heat comes out in April.
Isaac Fitzgerald: Also, I really loved Moonglow by Michael Chabon.
Wendy MacNaughton: Thanks so much Brian and all Rumpusers—this has been so fun!
Brian S: Thanks for joining us tonight. I know y’all are way busy and we appreciate it. Also thanks for the terrific book.