Lunch at the Shop: The Art and Practice of the Midday Meal
By Peter Miller
Peter Miller is an institution in Seattle’s design community, having been a purveyor of design books through his store for 35 years and counting. Now, Peter has written something of his own: Lunch at the Shop: The Art and Practice of the Midday Meal. A cookbook of sorts inspired by Peter’s habit of making lunch—and making time for lunch—every day at his store, it is his first book and hopefully not his last. Lunch at the Shop is not just about food—it is a tribute to Peter’s way of life. Both his recipes and practices are worth embracing.
What a dandy book! I was asked to review Lunch at the Shop, and I feel honored to write about it! However, not being much of a writer, I puzzled over how to tackle this assignment. A background sketch seemed appropriate—a look at the fundamental influences in your life that have led to your prominent position in the Northwest design community.
I have been your friend since the mid-’70s, dating back to Miller/Mungo Books in your then-new store in Pioneer Square; you had recently moved from the University District, and architecture and design books had not yet become your specialty. You presented a strong character, a man for all reasons and seasons. You were, and still are, stimulated by intelligence, people, politics, food, merchandising and opinions.
Your journey from Hartford, Connecticut, to Seattle in the early ’70s left behind a successful haberdasher father and two sisters. You had excelled in academics and sports, graduating from Williams (their quarterback) and from Harvard with a master’s in English literature. Then the late ’60s and early ’70s let loose your creativity—your unique “head of steam”—and your very particular magic was born.
But restless you became, and an adventure out West was your ticket out of Hartford. Why did you leave? Being the son of a merchant, from a prominent family with a “blue blood” background and fiercely independent, why not establish yourself away from home base? During your travels, you picked up carpentry as a way to pay the bills and learn a trade. I’ve never been quite certain how or why you got to Seattle from Hartford, but you did in the now famous “Mr. Truck,” which is still operational, even though it’s held together by rust.
In Seattle, your original roots—merchandising, books and people—landed you in the book business. It was a brilliant move to sense the need in the local market for architecture and art books. I’ve always felt one’s destiny was guided by talent, discipline and luck. Our community is honored to have you here. And you can cook, too!
So, what about food? As long as I’ve known you, sharing food, wine and opinions has been your forte.
And what about writing? Writing something special and more intimate was often harder for you to do. When it did come, however, it was always something noteworthy. Whether it was Christmas cans of tomatoes (with oblique messages) or your articles in Crosscut, your strong opinion radiated.
You have been serving lunch in your shop for as long as I can remember. I think it began in the mid-’80s, around the time you acquired a Chilean toad—a gift along with an aquarium. “Jet,” as he was called, lived under the sand in the front window of your bookstore all week, until Fridays when lunch at the shop brought him a perky, small white mouse. Jet arose from under the sand and devoured the mouse in seconds before retreating back under. As the local supply of small white mice withered, you resorted to a larger variety. Jet was no small toad, but this was a contest. They chased each other around the aquarium all weekend, with Jet never getting his Friday lunch. Many notes were posted on your front window, so that version of lunch at the shop ended with Jet going to the zoo.
A midday pause to share food and conversation, a genuine time-out, is not a custom in the American way of life. Too bad. While I haven’t fully adopted the practice, I’m trying to do so at least once a week. In fact, today, while writing this missive, I prepared your #2 recipe for lentils; this is my third batch in as many weeks and they’re great! I call this “learning from Peter.”
Gordon K. Walker
P.S. Colleen’s sketches are a magical interlude in your book and your life. Stay vital.