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New Work: ‘The Salt Lick Cookbook’

Few things are as contentious and hotly debated as the art of barbecue in Texas. “When I was the art director of Texas Monthly we came out with a special barbecue issue every year that listed the best barbecue joints in the state,” says Pentagram Austin partner DJ Stout. “The magazine wrote about more important issues of course, including state politics and policy, investigative journalism, and serious profiles, but nothing raised the ire of the readership like the annual barbecue issue.” Now Stout and associate partner Julie Savasky, who was the lead designer on the project, have stoked the fire, or pit, with their design of The Salt Lick Cookbook; A Story of Land, Family, and Love. The new book distributed by the University of Texas Press hits bookstores just in time for the gift-giving season.

The Salt Lick is a legendary barbecue restaurant, a destination really, near the tiny town of Driftwood, a 30-minute drive from Austin through the scenic Hill Country of Central Texas. The restaurant started as a little barbecue stand in 1967 and is now visited by an average of 600,000 customers annually. The Salt Lick Cookbook features recipes from the main menu served daily at the restaurant as well as the down-home fare the restaurant’s proprietor, Scott Roberts, grew up on. The story of the Salt Lick, as told in the book by Roberts and author Jessica Dupuy, is a personal memoir of family, friends, food and the land that has been a major part of the Robert’s family heritage for over 130 years.

Roberts was heavily influenced by his grandmother, Roxie, who practically raised him and taught him how to cook traditional Texas standards, and his mother, Hisako, a Japanese-American woman who Robert’s dad, Thurman, met while he was stationed at a Naval base in Hawaii during World War II. Thurman, a fifth-generation Texan, brought Hisako back to Driftwood—a potentially controversial decision in the 1940s—and she eventually took ownership of the Salt Lick before handing over the reins to her son in 1987. She too influenced the restaurant and Roberts’ culinary tastes; he says that she was probably one of the first fusion-style cooks in Texas, 50 years ahead of her time. Recipes from both women are featured prominently in the cookbook.

The oversized book, which is more than 330 pages long, is chock-full of beautiful color photographs by Austin photographer Kenny Braun. Braun, who worked on the project for over six months, photographed the food, the restaurant, the landscape, the people, and Roxie and Hisako’s former residences in an evocative, unpretentious style that befits this meaty Texas tale.

Project Team: DJ Stout, partner-in-charge and designer; Julie Savasky, associate and lead designer. Photography by Kenny Braun.