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My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur


by Romney Steele

"A very special book about a very special place." --Michael Pollan, author of 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' and 'In Defense of Food'

MY NEPENTHE weaves together stories and tales about the famous California restaurant perched on the majestic cliffs of Big Sur. It celebrates the magic and history of place through food and the Fassett family who started Nepenthe.
   In 2009 Nepenthe commemorates sixty years of bringing writers, artists, dancers, travelers, actors, and cooks together around the table. Today about 250,000 people visit Nepenthe every year.
   A lyrical feast written by the owners' granddaughter, Romney Steele, who grew up at the restaurant, 'My Nepenthe' is as much about a family enterprise as it is about the Fassett family and their legacy. It recounts stories about the family's more than sixty-year history on the coast, the arts and architecture, and the colorful people who were the genesis of this legendary restaurant.
   'My Nepenthe' marks the restaurant's vibrant past as a gathering place and noted bohemian haunt, and its foray into the film industry during the shooting of The Sandpiper, featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It also explores the lively scene that played out into the '70s, and onward through the current decade where it showcases Nepenthe's unique relationship with Pisoni Vineyards, owned by the renowned winemaker family. 'My Nepenthe' includes more than seventy-five special recipes from the Fassetts, the restaurant, and the cafe, along with spectacular photography that completes the tale.
   Ultimately, 'My Nepenthe' is a story about food, family, and the culture of place, and how it all unfolds around the table and why that matters.

~ Nepenthe restaurant is one of the cultural icons of Northern California. Between the gorgeous location, the celebrity clientele, the good food and the history, it holds a special place. If you love the old weird California, and if you were lucky enough to have the money and time required to get there and eat there, you probably love this place.
   So what about the book? It combines history, personal memory, photography, and recipes into an original stew. You're probably not going to make this food unless you have restaurant resources at hand- but you will get a clear picture of what Nepenthe served through its existence. You will come to understand more of the history and personalities behind Nepenthe, and you definitely will see (and probably envy) how beautiful the place was and is.
   This is what a gift book should be - pretty to look at, interesting to read, and probably not something the recipient has already bought for herself.
Jessica Weissman, Silver Spring, MD (

Located on the Big Sur cliffs 808 feet above the Pacific Ocean, Nepenthe Restaurant boasts sweeping views of the rugged Santa Lucia Mountains and the wild south coast of Monterey County. Angular mountains plunge into the crashing surf below, and on a clear day there is no limit to the scenery, unspoiled and immense in nature. Opened in 1949 by the Fassett family, the restaurant is nestled among native oak trees and a historic log cabin (now faced by brick) that was once owned by Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth.

Romney Steele is a writer, cook, and food stylist, and the granddaughter of Bill and Lolly Fassett, creators of Nepenthe Restaurant. Nani, as she is known to family and friends, grew up at the family restaurant and opened Cafe Kevah, an outdoor cafe on the Nepenthe grounds, when she was twenty-six years old. She later served as a pastry chef at Sierra Mar Restaurant at neighboring Post Ranch Inn. Her writing has appeared in various print magazines, including Gourmet, and online at MSNBC. She currently lives in Oakland, California, with her two children.



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