Los Angeles: Cookbook
Words & Photographs by Jessica Comingore
Marta Teegan and Robert Stelzner are the owners of Cookbook, an artisan market in the heart of Echo Park.
With a background in art history and a passion for food, Marta and Robert open their doors seven days a week to give locals access to a carefully curated selection of produce and responsibly made food. True to their name, they also whip up an assortment of freshly prepared dishes, pulling recipes from a different cookbook each week. I sat down with the two to talk inspiration, location and what it’s like to run a market.
What is the concept behind Cookbook?
A neighborhood green grocer. We live in this community and there are really not many opportunities for fresh, seasonal food. We stock all of your basics: milk, butter, eggs, fresh produce, certainly—but within each of those basic categories we are very select in terms of who we’re willing to work with. We generally only offer one or two vendors in each category by design. We’re very small, we have very limited square footage, and that forces us to do a lot of the weeding out that doesn’t necessarily happen at other grocery stores. In general, the bare minimum requirement is that they produce food responsibly, that there is little to no harm done to the environment or the animals and we’re very interested in supporting people who producing food responsibly so that they are able to make a living doing this. So we definitely pay a premium even on the wholesale end, but that’s important to us that people should be able to afford to produce this food, not in a subsistence agriculture style.
What is your background in regards to food and running a market?
We have zero background in running a market. We’re both trained art historians. Robert worked in publishing prior to this. I’m trained as a master gardener, and had a company for several years before this growing food for private residences but also for a restaurant, overseeing their production garden here in town. I’m technically trained as a chef and have worked in restaurants since I was 16, but never in a full time basis, it was always on a part-time basis while in school doing art history.
How did you formulate the idea for starting the market?
We actually thought we would open a lunch counter. We had looked for a space in Echo Park and Silver Lake for three years, and then we were driving by here and there was a little handwritten sign in the window, “For Lease,” so we pulled over and were in contract with two days. We definitely wanted to work in the community we live in, and the space itself then dictated what we were able to do.
What experience do you want customers to have when they visit the market?
I would say definitely that the store be beautiful and inspiring. You know, we have curated the entire selection of goods on hand and the ingredients to cook with, and we very much want them to feel that they are getting the best in any given category. That we’ve done that work for them. Everybody that works with us at the store has some sort of cooking background. We have people on our staff that are professional cooks, to very skilled home cooks, but nonetheless that is the very bare requirement that they are able to speak at length on food and how to prepare food.
Is the market an extension of the way you live your life?
We live our life at cookbook. We are here 7 days a week, for about 15 hours a day. So yeah, that would definitely be an extension of the way we live our life. This is, in fact, our home.
Was your intent to become a one-stop market for everything, or just the basics?
I don’t know that we could be, given our square footage and I would say in general we are obviously very interested in working with people who are doing food responsibly but to be perfectly honest the inventory is all food that we eat, so it is very specific to our palate, for sure, so in that sense I’m not should it would ever be a “one size fits all” place. If it’s something we know and have cooked with and would be able to speak about intelligently then we would absolutely bring that into the inventory, but if it’s just some random thing that we don’t eat then it is going to be very hard for us to have that to sell.
1549 Echo Park Avenue
Los Angeles, California