Petaluma cook’s ‘Welcome Winter’ is the perfect cookbook for spreading holiday cheer
Those of us who know and love Lance Lew, a local legend and master cook who recently retired from a career in broadcasting, have been requesting for years that he write a cookbook – or for that matter, many cookbooks – and now his first one is out, just in time for the holiday season.
In fact, what Lance has produced is more than a mere cookbook. Just like his parties, “Welcome Winter: Making Friends with Taste and Traditions” is a welcoming three-dimensional experience meant to bring people together and spread good cheer.
If Lance’s name sounds familiar – and yes, as his friend I’ll be calling him by his first name in this piece – it’s because of his successful career in broadcasting, first for KPIX, then at NBC Bay Area as a community marketing director and producer. As mentioned in our article from earlier this year titled “‘We are what we eat’: Celebrating Lunar New Year with Petaluma’s Lew family,” Lance also has strong ties to Petaluma, having grown up, raised his family, and now retired here.
His parents owned and operated the very popular Petaluma Grocery Supermarket, at the corner of Petaluma Boulevard North and Lakeville, from the 1940s through the 1970s, giving Lance his first introduction to food and to how it can bring communities together. Lance developed a strong connection to food, both through family but also when, as a young man, he earned extra spending money by teaching cooking classes and giving cooking demonstrations during college.
Upon retiring, Lance was asked by colleagues what he wanted as a retirement gift. He told them he wanted help with his first retirement project: writing a cookbook.
In a recent interview, he laughed as he told me that part of the inspiration for his first cookbook was not wanting to seem like a slacker as he transitioned into retirement.
“Everyone was asking what my plans for retirement were, so I figured this would be something to fill my time,” he says. And it did, starting with his retirement on Oct. 31 of last year and seeing the first copy finally published exactly one year later, on Oct. 31 of this year. As far as the process, he wrote the book in real time, using last holiday season as a template and then, with the assistance of his designer John Finn, polishing it up over the ensuing months.
We met Lance and his wife Roberta, who is also an expert host in her own right, a couple of years ago through social media while doing research for a Lunar New Year article. I was coming at the topic with nothing more than a passing understanding. He was generous with his time and patient with his explanations, familiarizing me with the cultural significance this event holds for Asian cultures even beyond his own Chinese heritage.
It was a pleasure to share Lance’s insight and enthusiasm with readers, yet never once did he ask to take, or require that he be given, any kind of credit. That is the type of person Lance is. Neither in my own personal interactions with him, nor in his cookbook, is there any hint of ego, even though he clearly has good reason to take pride in his work. He simply enjoys sharing with others, always with openness and positivity and in the hopes of connecting people with each other, their community, and the wonderful food traditions that surround us and play into our everyday lives.
Across cultures, a common love of great food and shared experience with great company certainly helps to make these connections and strengthen communities.
All in the family
Lance and Roberta share smiles as they tell people that part of their marital bliss has come about due to them having two kitchens. Interestingly, there are two bookmarks in “Welcome Winter,” indicating that you and your partner can each have a favorite recipe marked without losing the other’s.
Both Lance and Roberta are accomplished cooks, although Lance is quick to deflect accolades for their talent in the kitchen by pointing out that he has no formal culinary training and so is not technically a “chef.” I respect his deference to classically trained chefs, but have had the honor of the epicurean emersion that is a Lew family dinner and have found it on par with the best restaurants we have dined at, only much more fulfilling.
This is because it ends up being about so much more than just about his and Roberta’s incredible food. A dining experience always means more, and the memories last longer, when we learn why something is served the way it is and are treated like family, even when one is a guest at someone else’s table. At the end of an evening with the Lews, guests have had a once-in-a-lifetime experience.