For the Love of Tomatoes

For the Love of Tomatoes

It's a tale common enough in cooking circles: Travels in Italy inspired chef Adam Schell's enduring love affair with tomatoes.

"They're just an incredibly sensual food," says Schell, adding that summer's fresh, ripe tomatoes are "life-affirming."

Schell may be the only chef, however, to pen a fictional romance inspired by the fruit known in Renaissance times as the "love apple." Appropriately set in 16th-century Tuscany when tomatoes were still somewhat novel, Schell's "Tomato Rhapsody" uses culinary imagery to play on the theme of "forbidden fruit."

Devouring the book's 340 pages in a single day, Dawn Smedley eagerly engaged Schell to give a Sunday cooking class at Allyson's Kitchen in Ashland. Participants don't need to read "Tomato Rhapsody," says the store's cooking-school coordinator, to appreciate foods described in Schell's 2009 title and a multicourse meal celebrating tomatoes.

"It's different for us, and it's fun," says Smedley, adding that the afternoon promises a free book-signing and wine reception with Schell, a 40-year-old Bend resident.

Schell says he couldn't be more pleased to bring the fruits of his writing labors to Ashland amid a three-week series of classes at Allyson's Bend store. A farce, "Tomato Rhapsody" flirts with Shakespearean dialogue, he says, explaining that its characters speak in faux iambic pentameter.

So taken with heirloom tomatoes on his first trip to a Sicilian market, Schell waxed poetic, too.

"I was just stupefied by this tomato," says Schell. "I'd never seen anything so ugly and beautiful at the same time."

It would be 12 years before Schell started writing "Tomato Rhapsody" following a 15-year cooking career on both coasts. In Los Angeles, Schell also taught yoga before moving to Bend last year. His cooking demonstrations emphasize foods' healthful properties, as well as the efficiency of one-pan meals, which the stay-at-home dad says he favors.

Usually limited to book-store cafes for his promotional cooking demonstrations, Schell says Allyson's events are his most formal and in-depth. He brings tricks of the trade, such as caramelizing tomato paste for homemade sauce, and serves students a "really good meal" of panzanella salad, tomato-sauced pasta and tomatoey fish — along with the story behind it.

These and other dishes were distilled directly from the book's cooking scenes. Because "Tomato Rhapsody," published by Bantam, does not contain actual written recipes, Schell has posted them, along with bonus chapters to his website,

"Tomato Rhapsody" can be purchased at Allyson's, independent book stores, including Bloomsbury Books, at nationwide chains and online.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487, or e-mail

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