Eating Vincent Price is a publishing venture created by Chicago author Christopher “Bull” Garlington in which he performs an exegesis on A Treasury of Great Recipes, by Vincent and Mary Price, circa 1965.
In a way, it is a cook-through blog similar to thousands of others in which the author heaves himself feet first into preparing dishes he doesn’t have the training nor the savvy to bring together even under the best of circumstances. But it’s about more than that. It’s about a relationship with a treasured artifact. It’s about more than the recipes printed on each page. It’s about more than Vincent Price. It’s about the culinary history of America. It’s about our evolving relationship with food. It’s about elegance and luxury and aspirations to those virtues. It is about the brilliant, complex luxury of fine dining as presented in the Treasury and the two books Garlington will one day write based on this massive tome.
It is also an exclusive, private, luxurious dinner developed from the recipes in the Treasury and brought to life through Bull’s partnership with Lauren Parton, Chef Aram Reed, Lorenzo Tassone, and Bull’s beautiful wife and lifelong friend, Colleen, who stands between Bull’s bullshit and the rest of us with her arms crossed and a resolute glower, as she wrestles the business together with unerring talent.
Wait, what the fnord is an exegesis?
I’m so glad you asked. In biblical scholarship, an exegesis is a deep dive into a text, usually a book of the Christian Bible, but just as often a letter or essay from a biblical figure. The exegesis is a critical examination, and very often can bring out information and ideas not explicitly listed in the original text, but which are clearly there.
For the Treasury of Great Recipes, I’m scouring every page, every word, every aspect of the book to extract the greater meaning of this book: that it is a priceless artifact of 20th century Culinary history. I am, in a way, evoking the soul of the book to ask it questions and learn from it where we are and how we got here. Like a necromancer.
I consider every component of this book vital and pregnant with meaning. I examine the introductions by Cleveland and Marjorie Amory and the spot illustrations by Fritz Kredel. Who was Anne Seranne, the recipe tester? What has happened to Hotel Pierre in the 50 years since Price slipped their menu into the ephemera of the Treasury?
Every one of the 456 pages contains unexpected jewels of culinaria. My job here is to reveal them to you.
How this happened
So my wife and I are in a movie theater watching Julia vs Julia, and my wife hits me.
“You should do that.”
“Write a blog about cooking.”
“A very famous blogger did that already. We’re watching her movie right now.”
“Yeah, but you’d be funny.”
I let that simmer for a while; but the truth was, I had just finished a book with my friend Dave and had just scored a column in a magazine and I was thinking maybe I could pull off this writer thing and a second book would be a good start.
My dad had passed not long before that and I’d inherited his copy of the Treasury . I went into my kitchen and pulled the book down from my tiny library and looked through its gilded pages.
And it all came back to me in a flood of memories: I’d grown up with this book. My father bought it when I was only a year old. We lived in the Little Five Points neighborhood in Birmingham, AL. a neighborhood laid right up against the University of Alabama and watched over by the statue of Vulcan day and night. One day my dad was walking past the neighborhood bookstore and saw the Treasury in the window. He picked it up. Vowed to cook every dish in it and promptly forgot to. It sat under our TV throughout the 70s, was in a box for much of the 80s, and then out in his garage until his death in 2003.
A heartwarming tale of a childhood spent reading
I grew up with that book. Every day the afternoon thundershower would send all us kids back into our barely above poverty level homes to watch Uncle Huey on a black and white TV. My parents had a lot of books (by the standards of your average plumber and pipe fitter home libraries) and I would plow through them while the insanity of the Uncle Huey show blared away. I would be sprawled out on the living room floor, usually with a Living Tree encyclopedia, a National Geographic, and a book about Barsoom piled up under my chin. And the Treasury. Always the Treasury.
It may seem odd, but the Treasury was one of the books that made me a writer. Its pages are filled with observations and pictures of luxurious dinners in far off lands. I lived in Ocoee, a rural town in central Florida miles away from even a small city. Hell, I was 13 miles away from Orlando and Orlando was a shithole in the 70s. On payday, my dad would take us to Red Lobster where I would marvel at the aquarium of doomed crustaceans and order the Captain’s platter. Sometimes we’d go to Fat Boy’s. In the summer I had breakfast with my dad in the tiny cafe at Webb’s Pharmacy on the strip near Bogart’s grocery with a rotating cast including Junior, who owned a tire repair shop, RV, who ran a honey wagon, Woody who did whatever he did (it involved racoons), and Larry the Barber who looked like Conway Twitty and sang like Elvis on downers.
A world without waiters
None of these restaurants came even close to the grand luxury displayed in the Treasury. The first restaurant where we had waiters was at the Crystal Palace at Disney. My dad ordered Crab Louie and I had a hot dog because there is no God.
More than the restaurants, I was desperate to understand this invisible world of luxury and white table cloths and French. What were they doing when they weren’t eating lobster? Why was Vincent Price always wearing a suit? Where is this universe and how do I get there?
The Treasury brought me my initial dissatisfaction with my circumstances. Later, I would discover literature and Xerox magazines and the sweaty, hairy, safety pin spangled Punk universe, all of which deepened my dissatisfaction and made me antsy to write my way out of rural Florida into an infinite city of crystal decanters and trout almandine.
A pop-up pops up
And so as I stood there in my kitchen staring through this book, the desire to cook my through it exploded into a plan and somehow the title came to me out of thin air, from nothing.
I reached out to a few chefs I didn’t know and had no business emailing and Efrain Cuevas of Clandestino Supper Club responded with the simple email: I’m in.
Through Clandestino, I met the inimitable Lauren Parton who gleefully and with astonishing precision kicked my fat ass through 13 dinners of 30 to 40 guests, all of whom absolutely loved the idea of EVP. It is also where I met Lorenzo Tassone, one of the nicest, funniest, guys I’ve ever known and one hell of a photographer.
After Chef E was done with the project and moved to L.A., Lauren and Lorenzo and I thought well dang, this was too much fun to give up. She brought in Aram Reed and we all decided it was time for EVP to grow up.
The Treasury is about more than the food. It’s about the experience of dining, of entertaining. It’s about delivering to your family and friends a few hours of luxury. It’s about the tableware, the wine, the table setting, the décor. It’s about ritual and etiquette and order. It’s about creating a moment of brilliance and beauty in our busy lives. It’s about bringing the world to your table.
Instead of family style dinners cooked on camp stoves in an abandoned convent with no hot water or gas, (which was, admittedly, awesome), on Parton’s sage advice we held our dinners in galleries and mansions. Chef Reed dismissed family style service in favor of gorgeously plated dishes. Lorenzo not only took perfect photos but orchestrated servers. Our first dinner was at the Keith House Mansion. Victoria Price introduced her wine label. We had 65 guests. It was amazing.
You’re in a book about a dinner about a book
Eating Vincent Price is a book project. It presents as a blog and as an exclusive luxury dinner but if you are seated at our table, you are not at a dinner. You’re in a book. Soon, when everything gels and the planets align and I feel the unmistakable twitch of the requisite wild hair, I’ll reach out to a publisher and the final product, two gorgeous books about travel and food, will obtain.
Today, Eating Vincent Price looks to Chicago’s great houses, to its unique museums, to its 19th century boutique hotels for remarkable rooms in which to serve incredible meals.
Our dinners are available to a private list of gourmands, chefs, restauranteurs, and members of society in this great culinary city. You may join our list and be part of the birth of this book using the form below.
We’d love to have you for dinner.