The Senate Cookbook Behind the Scenes #1: Faith

June 24, 2013

Faith is an invisible contract. A deal we make in our guts – not our heads. Maybe that’s why it’s so compelling. It gets twisted around in our bellies. It becomes impossible to untangle.

In 2007, Dan and Lana Wright risked everything they had to open Senate on the corner of 12th and Vine in Over-the-Rhine. Many of their friends and family members told them not to do it. (The neighborhood had too much crime. The economy was tanking. Restaurants were taking a hit.) But Dan and Lana did it anyway.

To understand why, look no further than Dan’s right forearm where the word “faith” is tattooed in lowercase letters.


Since ‘07, Senate has become one of the hottest restaurants in Cincinnati. So hot that Dan called me up last summer to talk about doing a Senate cookbook.

Having just finished co-writing Todd Kelly’s Orchids at Palm Court, I knew how difficult the project would be. Signing on with Dan would mean at least a year commitment from my team – with no guarantee of earning back our investment.

And yet, there was something about Dan. His brain was wired like a Jack Russell on Red Bull. His dialogue was articulate and unedited. Something told me that his story – above any other – was one I needed to tell.


There was only one problem. I wanted to produce the book under my own company name, which was basically unknown. Dan would have to take another leap of faith … this time on me.

One of the people that went to bat for me early on was Donna Covrett. As the dining editor of Cincinnati Magazine, Donna had a lot of street cred with chefs. Even though we had become friends over the years – and spent a lot of time bumming around together –  I never really expected her to pull Dan aside, unprompted.

“No one will work harder on this cookbook than Courtney,” she said. “No one will be able to pull it together like she can.”


I thought she was right, of course. But I’ll never forget how it felt to have someone believe in me so blindly or risk their reputation so freely. Earning a person’s trust can be difficult but hers came easily, like a gift.

A couple of meetings (and a few bourbons) later, Dan and I agreed to work together on the book. He contracted his buddy, Anthony Tahlier, to take the photos (seen above) and after a few more months, I asked Donna to partner up with me.


I’m grateful she said yes. There’s no other writer or thinker I trust more. Or person I’d rather work with. So here we are: writing, bantering, editing, and eating ourselves silly – all the way up until the book’s release date later this year.

When it’s all said and done, I know most folks will see the Senate cookbook as a collection of recipes for hot dogs, poutine, and mussels charmoula (I don’t blame them). But for me, it will always be about what’s possible when people believe in something unknown. Learn to take risks. And above all, have faith.

7 thoughts on “The Senate Cookbook Behind the Scenes #1: Faith

  1. connie

    My husband and I are longtime fans of Senate and Abigail Street and love introducing friends and family to both restsurants. We were fortunate enough to dine at Senate the second night it was open And we’re eagerly looking forward to purchasing the cookbook. Best wishes for continued success!

  2. admin Post author

    Thanks, Connie. How cool you got to experience Senate on the second night. You were ahead of the curve.

  3. Nathan

    Hi Courtney, I’m Nathan and I’m your most favorite person and you know this.

    Typically I would say that faith is the most overrated of the virtues; you can’t really put trust in a thing, ideology is too manipulative to take seriously. However people are worth the risk. Ultimately our relationships come down to that experience – after relinquishing control of your already mesmerizingly weak life to an unpredictable, unmanageable person, and seeing the same supremely generous gift given back to you from them – a glimpse of yourself in their eyes. Real connections. It’s extremely comforting and very cool. In that regard, I am one of the faithful.

    You’re an excellent writer and you’ll articulate the stories and capture the soul beautifully, in addition to the (guaranteed) handsome fit and finish. So what I’m trying to say is give me this book right now because I can’t handle it and I can’t believe you’re making me wait.

  4. Laura

    Great post! Excited for the cookbook to come out. We’ve missed seeing you out and about, but know that you’ve been hard at work. You’re an inspiration!

  5. Jackie Danicki

    I’ve known Donna only since 2007, and until recently hadn’t seen her since we hung out in NYC on one of her visits there. Right before I moved back to Cincinnati, we got together to catch up.

    Courtney, you may never realize the full extent to which Donna believes in you. She sung your praises in a way that I had never heard her discuss another human being. From what I can see, and from what I hear from others around town, she’s exactly right.

    Wishing you all the best in your City Stories endeavors!

  6. admin Post author

    Jackie, what a nice sentiment.. I feel exactly the same way about her. Thank you for reaching out.


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