When his son died of a drug overdose three years ago, chef Kevin Snook needed to find some way to make sense of the loss, some meaning in the sudden absence of his once-happy, nature-loving boy.
What emerged from his grief was a charity, and to raise money for it, an elegant and touching cookbook about the sea's bounty, since it was upon the sea that Dan Snook died, as surely as if he had drowned.
The book, called A Boy After the Sea: An Untold Story , contains a collection of fish and seafood recipes from star chefs in 14 countries - including Canada's Michael Stadtlander, Britain's Heston Blumenthal and Alice Waters in San Francisco - framed between gentle photographs of the ocean.
"It's a heartfelt book," says Mr. Snook, who divides his time between Vancouver, where he caters, and the village of Brae in England, where he owns a small cottage company. "It's more than just a cookbook. It takes you on a journey."
The journey for Dan Snook began on British Columbia's Saltspring Island, where as a young boy he liked to go out fishing in the bay at dawn. He grew up watching his father cook in the kitchen, picking up tricks along the way.
"Dan loved life. He loved nature," his father recalls. "He was the sort of kid who didn't have a bad bone in his body.
At 16, he got a job as a deckhand on a fishing boat embarking on a two-week tuna expedition to Oregon. "He was so, so excited," Mr. Snook says. "They were 18-hour days. He was fully prepared for it."
When he got home, his parents didn't notice, at first, that anything was wrong. But 10 months later, Dan came to them with a horrible story: On the fishing boat, he had been sexually assaulted and had started heavily using drugs to try to forget. He went to rehab and counselling, and though he never shared the details of what had happened - and refused to press charges - he seemed to get better. Then, when he was 19, his mother went to wake him up one morning and found his still body in bed. An overdose of cocaine had stopped his heart.
From his family's grief, the Dan Snook Trust Foundation emerged, a charity intended to help young people with mental illness after they leave rehab, but before they are strong enough to carry on alone. "I just saw it happen to my son," Mr. Snook says. "I have just seen it happen so often with rehab. It doesn't seem to be enough." He hopes to raise enough money to help a couple young people each year, giving them the long-term financial and emotional support to stay in counselling and go to school.
To raise money, he conceived the idea of a cookbook - a project that "ties both of Dan's loves into one package." He began sending letters to chefs around the world. Some were friends, some he admired by reputation. He quickly collected the 28 recipes that comprise the book. "I was thinking I was going to have to write four or five times more letters than I did," says Mr. Snook, who had written three other cookbooks previously. "It was an amazing response, really."
The book has an overt environmental message - cautionary facts about the state of the world's oceans appear on alternating pages - and all the recipes use fish and seafood found in rivers and oceans local to the respective chefs. There's a gourmet fish and chips with black mayonnaise mousse by Japan's Yoshiaki Takazawa that looks practically gothic, quenelles of pike with crayfish and mushrooms by Britain's Alain Roux and a deceptively simple-looking marinara seafood salad by Italy's Carlo Cracco in which the shrimp and octopus, among others, is puréed and baked into sheets.
The tragic story of Dan Snook is quietly shared in a paragraph in the book's introduction. But, always, between the food and ocean vistas lingers the gentle memory of a young man deeply missed by his family.
"Doing this book has been my therapy," Mr. Snook says. "My whole world has gone into this book for the last year. It's helped me deal with the situation. Because life will never be the same again."
Carlo Cracco's "Marinara" Seafood Salad with Vegetables
• 500g cooked and peeled red shrimp
• 500g cooked scallops
• 500g cooked octopus
• 1kg cooked cuttlefish
• 100g black cuttlefish ink
• 500g scallop roe
• Olive oil
Crystallized sea beans
• 12 sea bean sprigs
• 1 egg white, beaten
• Sugar as needed
• Red algae as needed
To assemble and serve
• 1 small bulb fennel, thinly shaved
• 1 small artichoke, choke removed and thinly shaved
• 1 celery, thinly shaved
• 40g neutral oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 16 taggiasca olives
• 4 confit tomatoes
• 16 glacialis leaves
• 8 clams (cooked)
• 8 mussels (cooked)
• 4 oysters (cooked)
• 4 razor clams (cooked)
• 8 sea urchin roe
For the seafood sheets
Preheat oven to 75°C/167°F. Separately grind shrimp, scallops, and octopus, reserving each ground seafood in a separate bowl, and cleaning grinder between each grinding. Divide cuttlefish in half; grind one half and reserve; grind remaining half with black ink and reserve. Brown roe in olive oil, cooking for 3 minutes. Transfer to a blender and purée until homogeneous, and reserve. Incorporate drops of olive oil into each ground seafood to moisten. With an offset spatula or rolling pin, thinly and evenly spread each mixture between 2 sheets of parchment paper (you will have 6 different seafood sheets in all). Place sheets on sheet trays and bake for about 1 hour, until crispy. Cool sheets in refrigerator.
For the crystallized sea beans
Dip sea beans in egg and drain on a rack. When dried, but still tacky, sprinkle beans with a mixture of salt, sugar, and algae; dry at room temperature for about 1 hour.
To assemble and serve
Dress fennel, artichoke and celery with oil and lemon; toss in olives, tomatoes and glacialis. Cut seafood sheets into various forms (a square, rectangle, diamond, circle, etc.). Remove various bivalves and roe from shells and arrange on plates with shaved vegetables, seafood sheets and crystallized sea beans; sprinkle with salt. Serve immediately.