Local photographer publishes Spokane Cookbook, featuring local chefs’ recipes and stories


SPOKANE, Wash. – A picture paints a thousand words, but a picture of food can also tantalize a million taste buds.

Ari Nordhagen started as a portrait and wedding photographer. But after moving to Spokane and sampling the city’s cuisine, she would often take pictures of her food. One day, a chef took notice.

“‘Hey, are you a professional photographer?’ Nordhagen recalls the chef asking her. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, what gave it away?’ And they’re like, ‘Well, do you want to take pictures of our menu?’ Well, I said yes, even though I’d never really done food photography before.”

After some YouTube tutorials and creating a now popular Instagram account, Nordhagen’s food photography started to take off.

While bored at home during COVID, she ate up tips food photographer Joanie Simon and asked her about her favorite project.

“(Simon) said no question it was the seven days that I spent photographing chefs in Phoen

ix, Arizona for this cookbook that my friend was putting together,” said Nordhagen.

And that inspired the idea for The Spokane Cookbook.

“The foodie scene in Spokane is growing and it’s this beautiful thing. It’s not Seattle and it’s not Portland, but it has its own character and I feel like there needs to be a cookbook that showcases that.”

At first, Nordhagen figured she’d take the pictures and find someone else to write the chefs’ stories. But after several writers passed, she decided she’d handle all the delicious details herself.

“This was now this romantic idea in my head of like I’m not only going to put together a cookbook, I’m going to photograph it, I’m going to interview all these people and I’m going write all of these things.”

She found dozens of chefs thrilled to share their recipes and talk about their love of food.

“‘Someone’s asking me about why I’m passionate about my work?’ Nordhagen recalled some of the chefs asking her. “And I said, ‘Yeah. I want to know why you’re passionate about your work.’ And some of them cry. Like, some of them cried.”

Celeste Shaw, the owner of Chaps Diner and Bakery, has her beloved blueberry muffin french toast featured in the cookbook. She loves how Nordhagen brought so many chefs together for this project.

“Always community of competition and I think this book really gives us a platform for that,” said Shaw. “And I think people are really going to love it. It’s an honor to be part of it.”

The Spokane Cookbook’s cover art features lilacs for the city’s nickname. And the dish of salmon and morel mushrooms on the cover is a nod to the city’s Native American roots.

On December 16, from 12:00-4:00 p.m., Nordhagen will host a book launch and signing event at the Wonder Building in Spokane. The family of the late chef David Ross, who’s featured in the book, will be in attendance. Ross passed away after Nordhagen interviewed him, but his family is so touched that he’s in the book, they told her they’re flying in from California for the book launch.

“‘We’re flying in from Sacramento to Spokane to see you on the 16th because we want to pick up the books ourselves,'” said

Nordhagen of the Ross family.

Nordhagen says sharing the chef’s stories and recipes has been an honor.

“This is going to go down in history of my photography career as one of the most favorite things I’ve ever done.”

And she can’t wait to share The Spokane Cookbook with all of you.