Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Local chefs gather at St. Armands Daiquiri Deck for book-signing

The recently released cookbook "Cooking with Friends" brings together recipes from standout chefs from the city, region and across the country.

Chef Jeremy Thayer and Chef Steve Phelps
Chef Jeremy Thayer and Chef Steve Phelps
Photo by Sidra Wali
  • Longboat Key
  • Neighbors
  • Share

Ever wanted to recreate one of Indigenous Chef Stephen Phelps’ starters or try your hand at “Top Chef” judge Graham Elliot’s risotto? Now all you need is a copy of “Cooking with Friends: An EHS Culinary Adventure.”

The recently released cookbook published by Sarasota-based EHS Recruiting Co. combines recipes from dozens of locally known and nationally known chefs, and on Sunday at the St. Armands Circle Daiquiri Deck several of the chefs featured in the book were on hand to sign copies.

There was a steady stream of food lovers with books in hand to have their copies signed and mingle with the chefs present, including Jeremy Thayer of Daiquiri Deck, Phelps of Indigenous, Ben Lalande, Jessica LoRusso, Lauren Hodges and Phillip Valdez.

Scott Rosenthal, EHS vice president of operations, said at least 1,000 copies were sold on Amazon ahead of the event, and the books for sale on-site were going fast.

“Cooking with Friends” has a pair of unique hooks, said Malcolm Bell, an EHS recruiter. The book combines recipes from professional chefs with a handful of dishes from “members of the EHS family,” i.e. staff and recruiters, and every dish in the book boasts an accessible wine pairing. Local food and wine consultant Kelly Fried compiled the wine pairings from a selection of wines that can be readily found at prices between $15 and $35.

Chef Kelly Fried paired beverages with recipes in "Cooking with Friends"
Photo by Sidra Wali

The book also has sections on common knife techniques, herb flavors and gluten-free cooking. The level of skill each recipe requires is also noted throughout. 

“We couldn’t find another cookbook with such a variety of chefs,” said Matt Fried. “It’s almost a book of surprises.”

A cookbook with a cause

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises about “Cooking with Friends” is that a recruiting firm is publishing a cookbook at all. 

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, EHS specializes in recruiting for the hospitality and culinary industries, although the firm has branched out into other fields, including health care and construction. But the firm’s recruiters share a lot in common with the hospitality industry workers they serve — long, unpredictable hours, cyclical pay and nonexistent or insufficient health insurance.

Chef Phillip Valdez and Chef Linda Rominski
Photo by Sidra Wali

Many of the firm’s recruiters are independent contractors, which means they don’t have employer-provided health insurance. Employers are not required to provide health insurance for contractors, often referred to as 1099 workers.

“It’s very common for the industry,” said Matt Fried. “Salary is usually minimal. It’s a commission-based business.”

And like restaurant workers, hospitality recruiters faced a significant challenge during the pandemic as restaurants and hotels shuttered, which meant lags in pay for both hospitality workers and the recruiters who place them in positions.

“We created a nonprofit … (to help) anybody in EHS and their families” with unexpected medical expenses or similar challenges, said Bell. “But the idea of the cookbook just comes down to insurance.”

EHS Relief is a registered nonprofit with a board of directors and was established March 1, 2022, to support the firm’s 1099 workers. 

From there, the firm’s recruiters reached out to EHS’ network of chefs for submissions for its cookbook.

Chef Ben LaLande and Chef Bobby Brown
Photo by Sidra Wali

The response was overwhelming, said Bell. EHS received recipes from 51 chefs from across the country.

“Recipes are often tweaked (for cookbooks) for a variety of reasons,” said Bell. “But what (the chefs) submitted, we printed.”

“It means a lot to them. It’s a big deal to be published. There’s a lot of chefs (in the book) who are only known in their area. But a lot of these guys have their own following,” said Matt Fried.

“Cooking with Friends” is not a one-off. Rosenthal said that EHS is already collaborating with mixologists on a sequel, tentatively called “Craft Cocktails with Friends.” Its release is planned for December of this year.

Chef Jessica LoRusso signs a copy of "Cooking With Friends"
Photo by Sidra Wali

An empty seat at the table

There was a poignant absence among the chefs gathered at the Daiquiri Deck on Sunday. The book features a picture of Chef Keith Williamson on the cover and a recipe from him. He was a culinary fixture on Florida’s Gulf Coast, but he lost a battle with cancer during the book’s production. 

“In the hospital he was still talking about the book; he was excited about it,” said Rosenthal, who was a friend of Williamson’s.

In Williamson’s absence, the chef’s mother and sister made the trip to St. Armands. Rosenthal said Williamson’s caponata recipe is one of the book’s highlights.



James Peter

James Peter is the managing editor of the Longboat and Sarasota Observers. He has worked in journalism in a variety of newsroom roles and as a freelance writer for over a decade. Before joining the Observer, he was based in Montana and Colorado.

Latest News