Food and Drink

How This Boutique Cookbook Publisher Is Reimagining the Industry

The publishers started in the pandemic to help their own local restaurants, but are now looking to expand worldwide.

Photo: Somekind Press
Photo: Somekind Press
Photo: Somekind Press

Avid cookbook collectors know the magic of flipping through sleek pages with gorgeous photography, tried-and-true recipes, and insightful stories woven between the covers. Cookbooks serve as a snapshot of a time and place for restaurants and chefs and function as beloved keepsakes for enthusiastic fans.

But cookbook publishing is a challenging-and slow moving-industry to be in. The time and effort it takes to pitch a concept, write and draft and test the recipes, develop the cover, edit the book, and all the other intricacies it takes to finish such a project can span over years. But when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged earlier in 2020, it became obvious that some restaurants wouldn’t have those years-or even months-to hang on due to the economic fallout of the pandemic. This very predicament is what motivated Simon Davis and Vaughan Mossop, the co founders of Somekind Press, to create their own scrappy and quick-paced publishing house that is, in their own words, “hyperlocal.”

Both Mossop and Davis have cut their teeth in cookbook publishing, so although Somekind’s structure and business model is different, building out the content within the pages was familiar to the pair. “[I was] concerned around my friends in the hospitality industry and thought, ‘What could I do to help?’ If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s to create cookbooks,” Mossop said of the lightbulb moment that brought Somekind to life. “I thought I’d make cookbooks for these venues to sell directly to their fanbase or their communities to support them and flip the publishing model on its head a bit to give most of the profit to the venues. When this started, I thought we’d sell maybe a couple hundred and then I’d just dust off my hands and go to the next freelance job or whatever. But it kind of blew up pretty quickly and all of the sudden we were giving a good amount of money to these venues and actually showing real support to them.”Somekind’s cookbooks follow an innovative, dreamt up business model that feels like a foil to traditional publishing. For starters, the majority of the money raised goes directly to venues-the remaining is then split among creative contributors, like designers, photographers, and editors. The cookbooks double as a crowdfunding source and work on a preorder basis; if 100 copies of a cookbook aren’t sold, the title will not go to print and the money that has been raised will be donated to the venue. “A normal, traditional publisher will invest in say, 10,000 copies that get printed in China and then hope to sell all of them and need to push that to make sure that they’re accountable to sell them,” Mossop explained. “Because we crowdfund and preorder all of these, we actually don’t need to keep stock so we only print what we sell so we don’t have any waste.” 
It’s an entirely new method of publishing, which is reflected in the name of their company: it’s not traditional publishing nor is it digital, it’s just some kind of publishing. 

Though both Mossop and Davis are conscientious of the environmental impact that comes with creating physical books, it was important to the pair that the stories they helped restaurants tell came in the form of a tangible book. “We live in a world now that there’s so much content that is out there but still that value on the physical thing is very special,” Davis said. “I think the name Takeaway reflects that; it’s literally something to take away from the venue to keep. To own. It’s important.”

Their Takeaway series, which allows chefs and restaurateurs the freedom and creativity to tell their own stories and share signature recipes, began in Australia-highlighting iconic food spaces that are cherished within their communities. Since the initial launch in March of 2020, Somekind has expanded stateside to Los Angeles. But rather than consulting a “Best LA restaurants list” or reaching out to the most popular venues, Davis and Mossop took a more local approach.

Photo: Somekind Press
Photo: Somekind Press
Photo: Somekind Press

“We’ve got a good handle on Australia as far as the places and we work with commissioning editors to find places that are really plugged into their community. But because this whole series is about community, it didn’t make sense for us to just go online and find the coolest places that have the most accolades in LA. So we approached Now Serving because we just knew that they’re very plugged in… They understood that this was a very community-focused thing; we wanted places that are important to LA.”

As of now, venues include Michelin-starred strip mall joint, Kato, and Downtown LA’s celebrated flour-and-lard-fueled tortilla spot, Sonoratown

But Davis and Mossop don’t want to just stop in Los Angeles. They have their sights set on New York, Tokyo, and beyond-with plans to connect with the locals who know their restaurant scenes best and can develop curated places to pick from. 

And though Somekind started in the pandemic as a way to support struggling restaurants, Mossop and Davis see Somekind existing beyond this challenging period. “It’s definitely shown us that there is a place for a hyperlocal publisher, a community-focused publisher to be able to tell some of these stories in ways that traditional media-whether that’s magazine or online-doesn’t normally afford them this time and space to be able to do,” Davis said. “I think that people are buying into the series not just because they want to support their own locals, but because they want to hear these stories going forward.”Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Kat Thompson is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn

Food and Drink

What We Learned About Fish From Spending An Afternoon With Josh Niland

It’s time to stop putting your fish in water, you’re killing the flavour

fish in coolroom
Photo By Natasha Bazika

“How do you want your fish,” says a fishmonger dressed head to toe in black, to a customer ordering a kilo of Greenback Flounder from Coorong, SA. The customer is unsure of how he wants the fish but asks the fishmonger for advice after telling him what he plans to do with the fish. Immediately the fishmonger knows how to cut the flounder, wraps it in paper, and hands it off to the customer—but not before giving a tip or two on how to cook it. 

“This is how we sell trust and instil confidence,” says Josh Niland who appeared from around the counter, donning his chef whites and a crisp white apron. We’re in Fish Butchery, Niland’s fish shop in Paddington, 20-metres down the road from his two-hatted seafood restaurant, Saint Peter. It’s a humble fish shop that feels luxurious when you walk in. Perhaps, it’s the cased sausages hanging in the front window, or the glass cabinet with one of everything they’re selling that day on display. You won’t find piles of fish or large blue trays of ice with fish lying on top. Everything is in controlled cabinets, including the oysters.

The shop is long and narrow with exposed brick walls, which Niland explains had a previous life as a hair salon. “I never wanted the shop to be uptight, but I did want it to be beautiful, a place you could walk in, order fish and chips, or a piece of fish to cook at home,” says Niland. In the middle of the room, there is a slab of white-marble serving as the backbone. This is where the fish is descaled with what Niland likes to call a ‘beartrap on a stick’. Although some fishmongers wield the beartrap, flinging scales up their arms, others use a knife, slicing the scales in one long strip, resembling snakeskin. 

“The fish here will be used for sushi and sashimi,” Niland explains pointing at the fish being scaled by a knife. “What we’re trying to do here is to get between the scale and the fish, so we can control the texture of the fish and remove moisture from the fish.” 

Removing moisture from the fish is something we don’t see often, but as Niland explains, it is the most important step in preparing the fish. “You know that fishy fish smell you get a waft of walking into a fish market or other fish shop,” Niland asks. I briefly pause to remember smelling nothing when I walked into Fish Butchery, except the faint smell of fries sizzling in the fryer. “Well that’s because moisture gets into the skin, and when that happens water rapidly breaks down into ammonia, resulting in a fishy smell.” It’s another reason Niland often gets lost when a customer asks for a fish that’s not too fishy.

As he explains, fishy fish are only “fishy” because of the way it’s stored and handled. Which explains why the fish scaled with the bear claw are immediately hung, away from moisture. 

descaling fish
Photo By Natasha Bazika

“When the scaler rips up the scale, it leaves an open pocket where the scale used to be. This pocket is quite deep and what usually happens is the fish is washed down then dipped in water. The water sits in that pocket, and after some time creates a fishy smell,” explains Niland. 

This is the core of Niland’s philosophy. Removing moisture from the fish opens up a realm of opportunities that exists beyond the conventional method, according to Niland.

Our next step takes us to the cool room, where rows of gutted fish are hung up on silver hooks as butchers do to meat. They’re not swimming in buckets of ice or water, instead, they are dangling a safe distance from each other, careful not to touch one another. The coolroom is set to an optimal temperature, there is no fan blowing in the room, and only when the fish is ready to be served, then it will be unhooked and dealt with accordingly. 

“Every step from the catching, killing, and preparing is important in achieving flavour,” says Niland who points out a row of garfish in a dry tray. “If you kill a fish properly, there shouldn’t be any lactic acid, which you can tell by the flesh—it looks cooked.” 

So what’s the best way to humanely and effectively kill a fish? According to Niland, brain spike or bleeding the fish keeps the fish from flopping around, building up chemicals that can affect the flavour later on. 

Bringing the attention back to the garfish, Niland explains there are moments when fish tastes better. This tray of Garfish is ready to go, but then Niland points to a hanging coral trout which has until Friday before it’s served on someone’s plate. 

chef showing fish in coolroom
Photo By Natasha Bazika

“This fish arrived today, it’s been scaled and gutted, but it won’t be ready until the end of the week. That’s not the case for all fish though, this tuna I would serve on day 8 or 9,” says Niland. “There’s a point where a fish’s fat is more prominent, which again comes back to removing as much moisture as we can and controlling the handling and environment from day one.”

Niland sources produce from fisherman around Australia and he takes only whatever he can get. 

“I go to the airport to pick up fish once or twice a week from my sources, and I’ll visit the Sydney Fish Market daily to see what they have, but at my shop, I serve whatever I can get my hands on,” explains Niland. “Our customers ask for recommendations so we tell them, King George Whiting is excellent today, and we might offer tips on storing it at home, how to cook it, and if I have a recipe card, I’m more than happy to share.”

As Niland explains it, not everyone knows how to cook a certain fish, and he wants more people to choose an unfamiliar fish, something they haven’t had before or cooked before. The best way to do so is by helping his customers understand the product. “The bottom line is we want people to have a better experience with fish,” says Niland. 

This stays true to his sustainable approach to fishing and his pioneering nose-to-tail eating method for fish. “The global standard is that half goes in the bin, which breaks down to about a 45% fillet yield,” says Niland who remains unaffected after 10-minutes of chatting in the cool room. “For every two fish, we only need one. I use about 95% of the fish.”

We finally leave the coolroom, to approach a small fridge, where fish are being dry-aged, but in a different control to the dry ageing fish in the coolroom. “It’s just another way to experiment with the flavour and natural method of prolonging shelf life,” says Niland. 

“I’m always thinking, how can I articulate the flavour of fish differences between coral trout and snapper.”

cuts of fish
Photo By Natasha Bazika

Niland’s experimentation finds him continually exploring low-temperature storage, probing which fish works best for it, and noting when a fish reaches its sweet spot. More like a mad scientist, Niland is far from a conventional fishmonger, as he dives deep to push boundaries on how seafood is caught, shopped, and cooked whether at home or at Saint Peter. 

One look at his book, The Whole Fish Cookbook, is enough to convince you of his outrageous, funny, and loopy suggestions on what to cook, including coaxing delicious dishes from fish eyeballs. liver and even fish blood. 

If there is anything we can take away from spending an afternoon with Josh Niland, it would be his pioneering penchant for demystifying fish, his care and attention to preparing fish, and his sustainable seafood philosophy, that we hope catches on around the world. 

Niland enjoys the complexity of fish, yet breaks it down for us so that we can enjoy and achieve a perfectly cooked piece of fish at home. His humble approach to seafood is nothing short of inspiring. He wants to change the world, but it’s not going to be easy and you get the sense he knows that, but he continues, one fish at a time, to change how we cook, eat, and look at fish.

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