Around the Studio: Lunch Club

by Emily Twaddell

Thoughts on Lunch at the Shop: The Art and Practice of the Midday Meal by Peter Miller, owner of a design bookshop in Seattle, WA.

“... never a typical job but often a very good lunch”

Bookseller Peter Miller trained as a chef with Maurice Thuillier before launching his shop, Peter Miller Books in Seattle. The shop is well known for its collection of architecture and design books, along with drawing and office supplies and home goods bearing names like Zumthor and Nendo. But we’re not here for the elegant pencils. We’re here about the lunch.

You might be familiar with the Invo kitchen—after all, we do blog, tweet, and Flickr about it pretty often. Cooking and eating together is so important here that new hires, including interns, might find themselves on deck for the next meal before they have even changed into their indoor shoes. Sharing meals at Invo started long before the beautiful kitchen, however. Donna Driscoll, one of the first engineers in the Slicon Valley office, says of then start-up studio, “We did everything ourselves, even making daily lunches for each other. That was a part of the day I loved, sitting down and eating together. I would bring in a lot of veg I was growing in my garden. ... People underestimate how powerful the mere act of sitting down to have a meal together can have on the bonding experience. We felt like family.”


Eric Benoit cooking lunch. His meals are not to be missed!

In a 2103 interview with Bon Appetit Miller is quoted, “There’s a time when you look and you see eight people bent over their little clear-plastic containers. You see lunch isolating everybody. It didn’t matter to me if I made the whole meal and four people ate together or if we all worked on it and we all eat together; I just liked the idea that it was in common.” For Invo'ites, this is the key: the common gathering. It gives everyone permission to take a real break, to relax. It’s inclusive without being forced—many of us are natural introverts and need some quiet to recharge, but we still need to eat!

What is most impressive is that, for some years, Peter Miller managed to achieve the same effect *without* a kitchen. The very first group lunch he made involved washing the lettuce in a huge industrial sink next to the freight elevator and mixing the salad in a battered stainless steel bowl he borrowed from a nearby bar. Since then they have equipped their back-room-lunch area with a small food-prep table that quite literally sets the stage and protects the lunch-making space. A refrigerator and a microwave, cooktop, oven, and sink have followed, so that they can accomodate a broad range of cooking styles, using fresh ingredients. Just like Invo!

Lunch at the Shop is a cookbook wrapped in a treatise about the virtues of shared meals at work. Since most offices do not have the facilities for cooking, none of the recipes require an oven or stove, or the pots and pans they would use. Miller prefaces the recipe with an excellent, descriptive list of recommended supplies and equipment along with some basic cooking tips. And the recipes, well, there are more than 50, so it will take us some time to work our way through that many lunches. We will let you know.

As designers, we love beautiful books and this one is no exception. Blogger Terry Vlassopoulos mirrors my own reaction when she writes, “It reminds me of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. I have the pretty version, the compact red hardcover with thick, glossy pages, perfect typography and brightly colored illustrations by Maira Kalman. Lunch at the Shop shares a similar aesthetic, right down to the red cover, but they have other things in common, too. Where The Elements of Style provides building blocks for good writing, Lunch at the Shop gives a framework for the less daunting subject of lunch.” 

WIth its drafting-styled illustrations and enticing photographs, thoughtful editorializing and clear instructions, this is a cookbook for the artist and the writer. And, of course, for the midday break at your favorite atelier, digital or otherwise. 

lunch-openbook lunch-book-cropped

Topics: culture of learning, studio culture