A Celebration of Chefs
My friend Bobby is a really good cook. OK I know, we all have friends who are really good cooks but my friend is also really, really, REALLY brave. He doesn’t just cook for family and friends the way a lot of good cooks are happy to do, just leaving it at that. No Bobby cooks for famous food critics. Who does that? That’s like inviting Joan Didion or Richard Price to come read my stories. I’d be physically ill.
But Bobby invites Merrill Shindler, editor of the Zagat Los Angeles Survey, host of KABC’s radio show, Feed Your Face, author of several cookbooks including “American Dishes” and thousands upon thousands of restaurant reviews, and his wife over with a few other couples quite regularly. They are neighbors and as friendly neighbors they are prone to eating together. Yikes!!
Bob and his brother Peter Kaminsky, the noted food writer, are east coast guys who grew up loving to eat. Their grandparents owned and lived above a candy store in New Jersey. Bobby remembers his grandmother cooking brisket on the stove upstairs and running up and down to and from the store to brown it, with the candy store smelling like roasting meat and onions! After Peter graduated from Princeton, he used his degree to get a cabbie’s license so the brothers could drive all over Brooklyn searching for ethnic dives to eat in.
When Bobby graduated college he moved to Boston and worked at Joe’s Blues Bar as a bartender / bouncer / fill in guitar player. He’d often invite some of the out of town bands back to his place for home cooked meals. Calling food a “social lubricant” he’d get to hone his guitar skills with some of the best blues guys around while feeding them pasta with home cooked red sauce or his grandma’s brisket.
Working for a food magazine, your life pretty much revolves around eating and drinking. Not as much as people might think, but more than the average person in America. I am more of an oenophile than a foodie, but I know great food when I taste it. It’s food that lingers in your imagination for days after the experience and that you just can’t seem to stop telling other people about. Flavors that come right back to you, when you think about THAT bite and how surprisingly delicious it was. It doesn’t have to be fancy to be memorable, but true culinary genius is, like most talents, not a common thing - the theme of this sweet and sumptuous little film.
Sure it has big backers behind the scenes - anyone heard of Oprah and Spielberg? - but the story of a young Indian chef on his path of culinary self-discovery is simple, funny and heartfelt and will leave you hungry for more. Forced by tragedy to leave India, Hassan Kadam and his family find themselves in the small village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the south of France. The locals don’t know what to make of the family and they certainly are not necessarily lining up to enjoy their Indian cuisine, but the family refuses to give up and slowly begins to make headway in the village.
Though he has no formal training Hassan, who learned everything he knows about taste and spices from his mother, is made the chef of the family restaurant, Maison Mumbai. The family’s loud and ethnic presence makes their direct neighbor Madame Mallory, the chef/owner of a Michelin-starred restaurant Le Saule Pleureur, very, very unhappy. What ensues for the first half of the film is a comic War of the Roses with both sides trying to make the others’ lives miserable, while gaining business for themselves.
...It wasn’t the hot time in Paris that caused the shift, though. It was Michael, my friend Michael Roberts, who I loved so much and miss so dearly. There are times, even though I detest making phone calls, when I just want to call him up and hear his voice. He had a lilt to his tone, happy, like a young boy, and genuine. Surprised and happy you were calling him and ready to have a laugh with you. He was my first chef. He was the man who set me straight as best as any man can. He was my first chef, the first I’d really ever met, actually, so let’s hear it for starting at the top.
My friend, Michael Roberts was “The Chef”, a pioneer on many levels and a dear and wonderful man. It’s only fitting that I begin my series on chefs and what motivates, inspires, nourishes and continues to ignite their fires, with my dearly departed pal Mikie, as some people could call him, but not too often! It’s with love, humility and gratitude I share my friendship with Michael Roberts, partner and chef of the Los Angeles Restaurant, Trumps, the place to see and be seen, at lunch, dinner and high tea from 1980 until 1992...
While the name of this cake is 18-Carrot Cake, there are not eighteen carrots in here, nor does it refer to gold in any way, Alton Brown just liked the name.
I make carrot cake every year for my husband's birthday, it's his favorite. And every year, I make a different recipe for no other reason than to just try another variation. Why not? This one was quite excellent with a very refined texture. I love Alton Brown and the science background he puts behind every recipe. His cookbook goes into deep explanations as to how and why we mix, stir, beat etc. If you are interested, it's worth the read and gives you reason for doing the things we do in the kitchen. I like that.
I have always believed many baking failures occur because of mis-measurement of ingredients and over-mixing errors. I love that Alton's cookbooks give a weight and volume measurement for every ingredient. I decided to even weigh my spices this time around and it was eye-opening to see how "off" measuring spoons can be in reference to what a certain ingredient should weigh.
This year, in our house, we're cooking our version of Suzanne Goin's succotash. Of course, Suzanne Goin doesn't call it succotash; in her book Sunday Suppers at Luques, she calls it sweet corn, green cabbage and bacon. We call it succotash because we throw in some lima beans and way more butter:
Cut 6 thick slices of bacon into small pieces and cook in a casserole until crispy. Remove and drain. Melt 1 stick of butter in the remaining bacon grease and add 1 sliced onion and some salt and pepper. Saute for a few minutes, then add half a small green cabbage, sliced, and cook until wilted. Add 2 packages of cooked frozen lima beans and 2 packages of frozen corn. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring, till the corn is done. You can do this in advance. Reheat gently and add the bacon bits. (Of course you might be able to get fresh corn, in which case feel free to overreach.)
- Recipe courtesy of Nora Ephron
I once had a large collection of cookbooks. This was back in the days before every recipe by every chef in every language was available at the flick of a mouse. In those days we had books. When I’d buy a new cookbook I would read it cover to cover, like a novel.
From page one I was hooked into the intriguing cast of characters; then I’d fret over them as they were crushed, peeled, pounded and quartered and then unceremoniously plunged into hot oil or boiling water. Imagine my delight when they emerged, reborn, reshaped by their trial by fire, to make the world a richer, tastier place to live. We had books in those days.
Now I keep just a few relics that reside on two small shelves in my kitchen. I have only the beauties, the books that hold more than recipes, the ones that document — stain-by-stain — my development as a cook and a human. I kept Julia, of course — although I rarely open it; Feasts For All Seasons, by Andries De Groot, which was my first cookbook and still a source of inspiration; and then there is Marcella, whose books are as vital today as when I first discovered them.
I bought Classic Italian Cooking in 1976 — the first Knopf edition. No, I take it back — I didn’t buy it; someone gave it to me and I can’t remember who it was. Anyway, thanks, you changed my life.
I set my tool bag down, tip my granny cart back to its resting position, brush the city off my face, and ring the bell. It is two hours before the guests arrive. My client opens the door, clearly grateful that I do exist - that I did show up - and studies me for a second. I always wonder what image they had of me after only chatting with me on the phone or email. I bet it’s very different than my grinning, artistic, fake-redheaded appearance. Were they thinking gorgeous Giada would arrive? Or, god forbid, some female version of Chef Curtis Stone?
I bet the granny cart throws them for a sec - because it seems like there should be a higher form of transportation for a professional chef and caterer. I’d like to be effortlessly wheeling a stainless steel fridge into their apartment, but New York elevators being what they are… my granny cart is the only way to go. They show me into the kitchen and I survey the immaculate area. Oh, this poor little room doesn’t even know what’s about to hit it. I thank my client, pull a few bags from my cart, and crank the oven on full blast. It’s go time.
The menu for this cocktail party is a progressive pass, which means that, while all the apps are easily eaten while standing, they will become more and more filling as the evening progresses. We’ll start the pass with something light, like a bruschetta with drunken fig paste, fresh ricotta, and red pepper flakes; or nori handrolls filled with an edamame, spring pea puree and topped with avocado mousse and pickled ginger.
There are many reasons great barbecue tastes so mouthwateringly amazing, but the main ones are experience, time and passion. Adam Perry Lang is bringing his extensive knowledge, years at the pit and love of all things smoked and grilled to Hollywood for a 6 week pop-up to showcase what authentic barbecue is all about. Not your usual temporary restaurant, Lang is lodging behind the El Capitan Theater in an open air parking lot thanks to his good friend and fellow food-lover Jimmy Kimmel.
As the author of "Serious Barbecue" which he's currently re-releasing himself, Lang is sharing his time-tested techniques with the people of LA and any lucky tourist who happens to be drawn in by the smell. His expertise with meat has been sought out by many other top chefs like Mario Batali and Jamie Oliver, but he's recently moved to Los Angeles with the hope of settling in for the long haul. The Backlot BBQ is a way for him to get in touch with the local community and learn the ins and outs of this sprawling city without having to commit, quite yet, to a more permanent location.
Real barbecue takes special equipment and a lot of time, so taking over an existing space was not an option. Here, just south of Hollywood Blvd. off an alley on Orange Street, Lang has created his own little sanctuary of smoky goodness with an Airstream to catch a few winks in the wee hours, along with his 2-ton, custom-built pit smoker and a Texas burn pit to make their own charcoal from cords of split pecan wood imported from the Longhorn State as well. Sleeping in a parking lot? Talk about devotion.
I always measure bliss in minutes. Our 220 minutes ticked away at the restaurant on Rue de Bac in Paris. We were meeting our friend, Nicolas outside of the closed restaurant on a Saturday afternoon where he worked. He was the ‘Chef of the moment’ in a city where that accolade can be very fleeting. We had made plans to have dim sum and afternoon tea with dessert at one of his favorite secret places. We would spend the afternoon walking and talking about food, like we often did.
When Nicholas met us he flung open the door of the closed restaurant. He was panicked. Perspiration dripped off his forehead, his scent equaled his stressed appearance. “Come in, I have a big problem” in an unusually loud voice. My sister and I immediately asked what was the problem and how could we help.
Being the chef of the moment, he had caught the attention of a wealthy Japanese investor who planned on opening a 3 star restaurant in Paris. The investor’s secretary called Nicolas and announced that he was to create a lunch for Mr. X and 5 other guests in two hours. This was his interview, death by fire or not. What can we do? “I need someone to serve and help me cook.” He was beginning to yell.
I’m not really a baker. I make perfect oatmeal cookies (once every three years), perfect chocolate chip cookies (if really bored – Laraine Newman thinks the Joy of cooking recipe is the best, I just use the one on the back of the Nestle’s chocolate bits bag) The secret to chocolate chip cookies is fresh nuts, if you ask me, the quality of the pecans or the walnuts, changes the equation. Sometimes, if I’m feeling really wild, I’ll make butterscotch chip cookies, same recipe, but butterscotch bits instead of chocolate and totally delicious.
I went through a phase where I made bread (when I was at boarding school in Vermont and there was a Country Store down the road that sold 100 varieties of flour from the grist mill down the road) so it was sort of hard to resist. And we didn’t have a television, but we had a kitchen in our dorm with a sweet old Wedgwood stove and somehow, the smell of bread, and an occasional roast chicken, made it feel somewhat more like home. But I can’t really find good flour any more and fresh baguettes abound.