Living the Dream

mister chef“Please don’t wake me from this dream!” I said out loud to my husband while eating the brilliant meal in front of me, prepared by my live-in chef.  Uh-huh, you heard correctly.  My private chef.

Let me take you back five days.  I received a late-night email.  It was from an old friend, Olivia.  She told me her son was here in Los Angeles from London (where they live) and that the minute he arrived, he had a bust-up with his girlfriend.   She said that he could use a friendly face.  I answered immediately: “Of course, have him call me.”

First call the following day was Oscar, whom I’ve never met.  In fact, I have not seen his mother in thirty years.  Since he was already in Venice, I asked him to meet me at one of my favorite restaurants, Gjelina on Abbot Kinney.  My husband Michael agreed to join us.  Oscar, looking lost and forlorn, told us he had planned to take his now ex-girlfriend to Valentine’s dinner here at this same restaurant the following night.  We offered our home to Oscar for the rest of his vacation.  I didn’t think we would be too intriguing, but later that day he told me that eating lunch with us was the most fun he had had so far in Los Angeles.  And when he told us he was a chef, I nearly screamed.  Actually, I did, but only internally.

You could say I’m in awe of chefs.  You could even call it hero worship.   So, everywhere I went for the next few days, I told my new tale.  Guess what’s going on in my life right now?  I have this unexpected guest and he’s a CHEF!!!!  NO WAY was often the answer.  My eyes would light up with excitement.  Oscar had not yet said that he would cook a meal for us but eventually he did.  I downplayed my elation.  I didn’t want to “indicate” that much.

oscar-me-michael-300x300Then a few nights ago, on the real Valentines Day, I had a quick dinner with my friend Peggy.  (Don’t worry, I will celebrate Valentine’s Day one day very soon with my husband.)  Once again, I revealed recent events.  Guess what’s going on in my life? There’s this guy who came here from London for a vacation but his girlfriend broke up with him the minute he arrived.  Peggy looks at me and says, “Oscar?  The chef?”  What???????  I’m so confused because there is just no way she could know my new houseguest.  But, since this whole experience is very dreamlike, I go with it.  She then tells me she is friends with his ex.  What are the chances?  Winning the lottery is probably more likely.  Not only that, but Peggy had already met Oscar in his first few days here.  I came home and told Oscar, You are not going to believe this but–  He then describes my friend Peggy to me.  Yep, he met her.

By the way, have I mentioned how charming Oscar is?  How clever and fun he is to be around.  I should.  When I was with my friend Wendy earlier in the day (Valentine’s Day again), I told her my exciting story about the chef staying with me.  That’s when I glanced at my phone and saw an email from Oscar which I shared with her.  He wrote a quick note from a restaurant in Hollywood: “Hollywood is exactly as I imagined.  I walked passed a sidewalk star ceremony for the creator of the Simpsons.  I am now drinking margaritas in Cabo Cantina flirting with the hot waitressesIt’s All You Can Eat Taco Tuesday.  Living the dream.”  I wish I never had to wake up from the dream I’m in, but tomorrow Oscar goes home to London, to his job, his life & his mother, my old friend Olivia.  Here is what he made us for dinner last night.  It was the best meal I’ve ever had in my own home — and one of the best of my life.

Here are the recipes of what Oscar made that night.

We had – raw asparagus, halved length ways, with salt, no pepper, top shelf Olive Oil and edible flowers.

The Salad – lambs lettuce (or mache) with blood orange segments (skin on), with roasted almonds and a white balsamic dressing (1/3 balsamic, 2/3 Olive Oil, salt and pepper to taste)

The main – jerusalem artichoke puree, with fried fillet of tallepia and crispy proscuitto and sage crisps.

To make the puree – peel the j.a. and place in a bowl of water with lemon juice, in order to prevent them from discolouring. Cut the larger ones in half so that they cook evenly. Once peeled, place them in a saucepan and cover with full fat milk. Add – salt and pepper, 2 sprigs thyme, 3 bay leaves. Bring to the boil and then simmer. Cook until tender, approx – 25 mins. Once cooked, drain them in a collander, reserving some of the liquid. Place them in a food processor and add 1 knob of butter, pinch salt and pepper and some of the milk. Blitz until you have achieved a creamy consistency. You might have to add some more milk. Next scrape out into a saucepan and stir in a dash of olive oil. This will give it some shine. Place to one side.

Sage Crisps – add a bunch of picked sage to a pan with butter on a high heat, allow the butter to dissolve and start to fry, then turn the heat down and move the pan around, allowing the sage to fry, but watching out for the butter to burn. DO NOT LET IT. Once they have crispened, remove from the heat and drain on some kitchen paper.

Crispy Prosciutto – simply heat a frying pan (the same one as the sage if you like) add some Olive oil and fry it like bacon, so that it gets really crispy and delicious.

The Fish – Place a frying pan on a medium heat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season the fish. Place in the pan skin side down. As the fillet contracts, do not be tempted to hold it down, it will relax on its own accord. You want to cook it 80% skin side 20% flesh. So roughly 4-5 mins skin 1-2 flesh. Basically just watch as the colour creeps up the fish and when it reaches over half way, flip it.

As you are cooking the fish, heat the puree and arrange as so: Puree on the plate first, then fish on top, then scatter the sage crisps and prosciutto over and around the fish. If you have the luxury of micro herbs at you disposal, garnish accordingly.


Fredrica Duke shares how she discovered her love of food while growing up in Los Angeles on her blog Channeling the Food Critic in Me.