A Celebration of Chefs

nyesha-arringtonLiving in LA is easy. Eating out here is hard. Sure you can wear whatever you want, and reservations for most places aren't necessary, but the high prices for ho-hum food and lackluster service by kids waiting on you while waiting for their big break (this is not a myth) mostly keeps us at home where the food is at least warm, the company enjoyable and (for us) the wine cellar filled with lovely selections. When we want a fix of beautiful, inventive food, we just turn on Top Chef and watch the pans fly. That's where we discovered Nyesha Arrington.

A contestant on the recent season in Texas, we couldn't help but root for her and Chris Crary, another LA chef to win the top prize. They both seemed, not only genuinely talented, but to be decent people as well. Which is not, by the way, a requirement for a chef, though it probably helps in the kitchen and certainly when you're on reality TV. Unless you want to be cast as the villain. They say all publicity is good publicity, but that is surely a double-sword when you're "playing" yourself. Regardless, we would be able to taste their food and, yes, the fact that we saw them on TV did sway us to go to their respective restaurants. Actors are a dime a dozen. Someone who can cook perfect pork belly truly has my attention.

We met Nyesha at LudoBites 8.0 while she was waiting to be seated. We felt a bit silly, nervous and dorky approaching her to chat, but she was incredibly gracious and I think a bit surprised to be recognized. (She was not eating yet. We would never be so rude as to interrupt someone in that manner.) We told her how impressed we were with her kitchen skills, especially during the Last Chance Kitchen segments, and promised to come into Wilshire soon. (She's the executive chef.) We had been there once - before she took over the kitchen - and enjoyed the experience, so now we were doubly excited.

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mollygoldberg.jpg I was recently given a gift of an out of print cookbook called The Molly Goldberg Cookbook.  When I first saw it I was amused and when I opened it up, I immediately saw a cabbage recipe I wanted to make. Score! Here was a cookbook that had that “Through The Looking Glass” aspect to it. These were recipes long forgotten, mysterious in their 1950-ness, soon to be resurrected by me!

I had a faint notion of who Molly Goldberg was; however, despite the constant ‘jokes’ in my house about my age I was actually too young to have seen The Goldbergs on TV. It still amazes me that I saw Amos n’ Andy. The premise of this prototype for all subsequent sit-coms was the lives of Jewish immigrants, usually featuring a solvable family or friend-related problem.  Molly, in her infinite “Jewish Mama” wisdom would involve herself in these neighborhood and family dramas dispensing invaluable advice. 

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bistro-1900-paris france 1 1024x1024I 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.

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ciscokid.jpg Who knew from Mexico whilst being brought up in the Monopoly board burbs of Southern New England in the fifties?  It seemed a very distant land – exotic, fantastic – as foreign and far away as California.  The word Mexico called to mind jumping beans, dancing with sombreros,  "Z's" slashed midair,  Cisco and his humble sidekick Pancho galloping away, Pancho Gonzales slamming a tennis serve, Speedy Gonzalez slamming a cat — a lot of really speedy stuff.  It's no wonder I thought the Mexican peoples only ate fast food.

I was growing up in the miraculous new age of instant gratification grub.  Chinese food, pizza, take out burgers, and foods hunted and gathered from pouches and frozen boxes were America's new staples. New sorts of consumables were purchased by my parents weekly. I recall my first corn products off a cob – daffy yellow corn chips crunched hand over fist in front of the television console, lumped into a large category called  "snacks."  Anything one ate away from the dinner table and consumed mindlessly, endlessly, with no silverware, that soiled your fingers and "ruined your appetite" was a "snack."  So when I visited California in seventy-two and experienced Mexican food at a party for the first time,  corn chips dipped in a tasty chartreuse paste, it continued to seem "snack,"  and not to be taken seriously.


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shallots-2.jpgOh those personal chefs of Palm Beach – those white jacketed, croc-shod, Bluetooth-eared, clubby bunch that troll the aisles of our local supermarket! Is it simple envy that knowing they wield a knife better than I that has made me feel less than human as I wheel my cart past them? Probably. But, today there was victory!  Today, There was Deliverance! Equality – nay – Superiority! (They don’t have to know I usually cut my finger when I cut a bagel – and you don’t have to tell them!)

I am shopping for an intimate Moules Provençale dinner, and I am in a snit trying to find the shallots.  I humbly ask one of “them” if he knew where they stocked the shallots.  After a delicious amount of time wasted as he poked about the onions and garlic, we simultaneously found them among the potatoes.  “Thank you.”

Later he sought me out.  “I noticed you were buying shallots.  You must be a serious cook.”  (Excuse me, that is all it takes for a woman to appear ‘serious’ in Palm Beach!)

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