Locally focused cookbooks aren't uncommon in Los Angeles. There's the Santa Monica Farmers Market cookbook, The California Heritage Cookbook, Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, and on and on. But you can put money on the fact that Highland Park, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, hasn't ever had one dedicated to its myriad cuisines. Until now.
You can't help a little chuckle when you see the cover of Cooking in Highland Park. It draws you in with truth in advertising: a rough dark blue and white linocut of a midnight sky punctuated with a giant police helicopter bathing the 90042 with nativity-like rays from its spotlight, a nursery rhyme moon behind it. Local neighbors have lost count of how many nights of sleep have been lost thanks to the pounding drumbeat of propellers and their sidekick loudspeakers. So it sometimes goes in the HP.
Cooking in Highland Park is the pet project of Highland Park resident Jenny Sarpolis, who originally hadn't intended to offer the cookbook for sale. “I created it for family and friends,” she said. “We have a large family with lots of nieces and nephews that are curious about cooking. I gave them out as gifts.”
Sarpolis opens the book with a disclaimer, always prudent when cooking for a neighborhood as diverse as los avenues. And though she eschews historical accuracy and authenticity right off the bat, a quick skim of the chapters reveals some pretty classic mid-century Californian adaptations, as well as a smattering of locally-inspired original recipes from her home kitchen, including a classic artichoke dip, chilaquiles, salmon baked in fresh corn husks, a couple of curries, and a kitchy but oddly beautiful Dodger Blue Jell-o pie. “The recipes are a reflection of what I cook at home,” said Sarpolis. “They are influenced by the markets and foods available in [Highland Park] and the surrounding area is a mix of so many cultures. Plus I love old California cuisine. The recipes are all very personal.”
As Highland Park's first cookbook in, well, ever, it's an intriguing mix of nostalgia, whimsy, objet d'art, and good food. The covers are each hand-printed (by Sarpolis' husband) and spiral-bound to an interior of pages typed up in old school Courier font and pocked with little hand sketches and notes. The recipes read well and have been thoroughly tested by Sarpolis and her family members. The only thing it's missing is the all important midnight snack chapter for those cozy nights when helicopter insomnia reminds you what 2AM looks like. But that's what second editions are for. It's very reminiscent of the community club and church fundraiser publications of old.
The cookbook quietly appeared at the only two Highland Park stores that currently have it for sale — Figueroa Produce and Studio Root 66 — back in June, after receiving several requests from non-family members for extra copies. Her next project, already in progress, will be about growing food in Highland Park.