Food reporting is not Thomas Peele’s usual beat. Peele is an award-winning investigative journalist for the Bay Area News Group and author of Killing the Messenger: A Story of Radical Faith, Racism’s Backlash, and the Assassination of a Journalist,which Publisher’s Weekly calls an “eye-opening narrative about radical religion and its consequences. Peele renders characters and scenes with rich detail and his chronicle of events surrounding Bailey’s death unfolds with the seamlessness of a fictional thriller, would that were the case.” It’s a brilliant, important book and a riveting read. Killing the Messenger grew out of Peele’s work on The Chaunce Bailey Project, a collaboration of journalists, media organizations, and universities formed to investigate the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey and to continue his work.
Which is to say, Peele is more at home–and most frequently found–covering city corruption, development, police accountability, race relations. He’s the hardest working writer I know on one of the toughest beats. His kind of work is indispensable to the free press we need in a democracy.
So what’s he doing in a food book? Well, I asked him to contribute for one thing. And he said yes. It made perfect sense for him profile San Francisco chef/owner Dennis Leary (Canteen, Sentinel, House of Shields). Peele wasn’t afraid to get close to Leary, who can be as tough as Peele, and after some long hours in his kitchens, his reporter’s instincts got to the deeper story. Leary’s food is first-rate, there’s no doubt about that, but there are things that matter to him beyond what he puts on your plate. He calls the restaurant “the final redoubt of Western culture”–a place of safe retreat. We loved this image so much that this essay has the last word in our collection. You can read about how Leary creates his unique spaces and encourages community in the book.
We’ll leave you with the observation that, like Leary, we believe that who we eat with, where we eat, why we eat–these things are as important as what we we eat. This, really, is the entire reason behind Cassoulet. There are lots of books you can read if you need to know what to feed your family. But if you’re looking for the book about how to create a sustainable family food culture, then Cassoulet is the book for you.