eat in my kitchen

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Meet In Your Kitchen | Roll your own Sushi at Kyoto’s Awomb

Awomb

Kyoto shares a kind of peace with its visitors that immediately takes control over body and mind. It answers all your questions and makes you speechless.

The city has two faces, the busy modern one of concrete, glass, metal, and noise, and then there’s the quiet side, when Japan’s old capital unfolds its true beauty. It’s not superficial, this beauty touched me deeply. You can see it, smell it, and taste it. Natural materials and clear lines create a compelling minimalist aesthetic dominated by dark wood and coal colored roofs shimmering silvery in the misty light. Silent stone gardens, temples, and shrines erase the noise in your head and fill it with serenity.

If this feeling could manifest itself in a restaurant, this would be the wonderful Awomb. The restaurant is in an elegant traditional house, hard to find in a narrow side alley in old Kyoto. You sit on the floor, on Tatami mats made of rice straw, in front of a low wooden table. The room is filled with natural light, golden warm as honey. The subtle sound of the floors creaking and birds hiding in the tall pine tree in front of the window break the gentle melodies of the traditional Koto music playing in the background. It sounds a bit like a harp, melodic yet hard, pure as single water drops.

The food created here is quite a new concept. Owner Ujita Hiroshi brings hand-rolled sushi, which is usually served at home, to the restaurant table to share with friends. A bowl of white rice, a teapot filled with steaming dashi broth, and a black lacquered tray full of little plates filled with stunning delicacies are the center piece of this culinary experience: you come to Awomb to roll your own sushi in one of the prettiest rooms that I’ve seen on my trip. The food itself, each little plate, looks like a piece of art. Seafood and vegetables can be mixed and combined according to your mood and refined with various seasonings, like fresh wasabi, grated ginger, plum sauce, salted vegetables, dried shrimp with mayonnaise, or tasty soy sauce jelly cubes. You can either add the ingredients to the rice bowl and eat it with chopsticks, or you can go for sushi in seaweed – rolled in your hands.

There’s no chance that I’ll ever have such a vast variety of ingredients to choose from in my own kitchen, but it’s so inspiring, I tried totally new combinations. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t be shy, just try not to use more than 4 to 5 main flavors and you’ll be rewarded with astonishing results. I got a bit excited and went overboard – the German girl came through – but my first “sushi in a bowl” made with pink grapefruit, salmon, fried sweet potato, square bean, gari (pickled ginger), and finely cut green matcha crepes tasted fantastic. Then I combined purple potato mash, octopus, and Ikura (salmon roe) and rolled it in seaweed, which turned into such a delicious beauty that I have to share this recipe with you.

The quality of each ingredient used at Awomb is outstanding, which isn’t a surprise, Ujita Hiroshi comes from a family that has been in the sushi business for decades. However, the young man didn’t want to follow his parents’ footsteps, he decided to start his own food adventure. His vision, to make hand-rolled sushi a delicious and fun experience for friends outside their homes, is a huge success. Long lines and waiting lists call for a well-planed reservation.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Awomb

 

Awomb

Build Your Own Sushi:

Hand-rolled Sushi and Sushi in a Bowl inspired by Awomb

Serves 2

For the mashed purple potatoes

100g / 3.5 ounces boiled and peeled purple potato, cooled
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon butter
Fine sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

For the hand rolled sushi

Dried seaweed, cut into squares
Sushi rice (recipe below)
Octopus, boiled and cut into bite-sized slices
Ikura (salmon roe)

For the sushi in a bowl

Sushi rice (recipe below)
Pink grapefruit, peeled and cut into segments
Raw salmon, sushi grade, cut into bite size slices
Fried sweet potato
Boiled Edamame beans
Gari (pickled ginger)
Matcha crepe, very finely chopped
(if you make your own crêpes, mix 1 tablespoon of cooking grade matcha powder with 90g / 2/3 cup of plain flour)

Seasonings (optional)

Freshly grated wasabi
Freshly grated ginger
Plum sauce
Soy sauce

For the mashed purple potatoes, purée the potato, heavy cream, and butter in a blender or food processor until smooth and season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

For the hand rolled sushi, place 1 tablespoon of sushi rice in the middle of a sheet of dried seaweed. Add 1 teaspoon of the mashed purple potatoes, a slice of octopus, and half a teaspoon of salmon roe. Roll like a cigar, add seasonings to taste, and enjoy.

For the sushi in a bowl, add about 2 tablespoons of sushi rice to a small bowl and stir in seasonings to taste (add just a little bit). Add 1 grapefruit segment, 2 slices of salmon, 1 crumbled slice of fried sweet potato, 2 Edamame beans, and a little pickled ginger. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the chopped matcha crêpe and enjoy!

For the sushi rice

2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin (rice wine similar to sake)
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
180g / 1 cup short-grain sushi rice
240ml / 1 cup cold water

In a small bowl, heat the vinegar, mirin, sugar, and salt, over low heat, stirring until sugar and salt dissolve; let it cool.

Rinse the rice 4-5 times with cold water, then drain in a colander for 15 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, bring the rice and water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer the rice for 15 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and let it rest for 15 minutes, don’t lift the lid. Transfer the rice to a large glass bowl.

Sprinkle the warm rice with the cold vinegar mixture and stir gently, you can fan the rice while mixing, that will help it to dry if it’s too sticky. Cover with a damp kitchen towel while you prepare the sushi. Sushi rice is best served at body temperature.

Awomb

 

Awomb

What inspired you to open a sushi restaurant? 

My parents ran a sushi restaurant that was very traditional but I wanted to do something different, something unique to me. I decided to focus on the idea of customers making their own sushi in an enjoyable way, and I started my own place.

Is that popular in Japan?

Hand rolled sushi (temakizushi) is popular now but it’s basically something that’s not eaten out. Everyone eats it with their families at home or at house parties. I thought that people would probably enjoy it if they could do something different and eat it at restaurants.

Which ingredients do you serve for the sushi creations?

Please let me tell you about aezushi, it’s sushi that you mix and prepare yourself. Firstly, we have vegetables and fish, we have sashimi – grilled conger eel – and turnip. There are vegetables from Kyoto that we often use, and this is yuba – a delicacy made from soybean milk. Further we have mackerel, which is served pickled in vinegar and Japanese scallop. Then we have shirae, a salad with white sesame, tofu, and white miso. We have aemono, which is vegetable, fish or shellfish dressed with miso, vinegar or sesame. Here is squid and fish roe. When you’re preparing the dish, you mix the seasoning with the other things and then eat it. We have lightly grilled skipjack tuna with deep fried tofu. Pickled ginger. Broccoli. There’s also octopus. Conger eel. Salmon. Pumpkin. Pak Choi and Kyoto taro root.

And we also have the soup. I’ll light the flame, once smoke starts to come out, it’s done. Then you mix it with small boletus mushrooms and eat it.

Thank you, Ujita Hiroshi!

Awomb

 

Awomb

 

Awomb

 

Awomb

 

Awomb

 

Awomb

Meet In Your Kitchen | Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market & the Secret of Sushi Dai

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

Traveling is bliss. To leave the known behind and discover new tastes and smells, cities and landscapes is food for our minds, it lets us grow, change, and evolve.

Flying into Tokyo and seeing its cityscape spread out peacefully in front of me in misty pastel colors felt unbearably exciting. It’s a place where I had never been before, a place that everybody told me would change me, and my culinary perspectives. Food plays a central role in Japan’s complex culture, food of high quality is not a random choice, it’s a philosophy, they are tied together, inseparable. I was curious and impatient to put the first bites of the country’s celebrated cuisine into my mouth, but also to wander around and fully experience the next stop of my culinary trip around the world together with Zwilling.

Japan is a world of contrasts, connecting the past and the future, silence and noise, gardens and buildings, minimalism and colorful kitsch, it all exists right next to each other, framed by a fascinating culture of multiple layers, it’s not easy to grasp. Its depth is captivating and disorienting, it’s mysterious, and sometimes hard to understand for someone who comes from the outside. I usually visit countries for my Meet in Your Kitchen features that I’m personally connected with, either through former trips or through my own culinary upbringing. So I usually take a lot of experience, information, and understanding for a culture with me, but when you enter a world that you’ve never seen before, you can’t just look at its kitchens. It’s not enough to visit the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo or talk to the cities’ celebrated chefs and enjoy unknown culinary pleasures at their excellent restaurants.

I wanted to see more, I wanted to listen to the stories – or at least some of them – that make this culture so rich and colorful, in and outside the kitchen. I joined a tea ceremony at 6 in the morning when the sun and the birds just woke up. I visited the famous temples in Kyoto, we stayed at one of them (Jorengein) overnight, and I interviewed a temple gardener to gain a better understanding of the gardens and their centuries-old architecture. I got swept away by this overwhelming peace that takes over your mind like a wave, when you sit on the wooden steps in front of the meditative gardens of the Ryoanji or Kenninji Temple. Time seems to stop as you enter the stone gardens, there seems to be an invisible curtain between the world outside and the world inside the temples’ walls.

I felt a bit worried, how would it feel to be in a country where you can’t read any signs, where you can’t really communicate, or even order a taxi or book a table at a restaurant? Would I get lost in translation and miss out on the “real” Japan? I believe the best way to discover a new city is on foot, to walk and keep your eyes open, and not to be shy. Just smile, the easiest form of human communication. That’s what we did on our first evening in Tokyo and within seconds we found one culinary gem after the other.

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

The Tsukiji fish market has its own pace, it’s fast, busy, and loud, it’s a universe with its own rules. The craziness starts late at night, at 2am. When Tokyo is still asleep and covered in quiet darkness, fishermen, chefs, and fishmongers stream into the legendary halls to buy and sell, to bid on tuna at the famous auction and ship the daily catch out into the world.

The floor under the filigree metal construction built in 1935 is grey and wet from the ice, daylight cutting sharply through the skylights falls onto men in rubber boots carrying bags and boxes, running diligently, or driving little electronic carts so fast that you have to jump quickly to save your life. It’s a man’s world, running like clockwork. The world’s biggest market for fish and seafood is the heart of the fishing industry. It’s the place where the sea’s treasures are rated and traded, where the best fish in the world is taken straight into the kitchens of the sushi restaurants that set up their businesses in the low buildings around the market. Yet it’s also the place where you can listen to the stories of the people who’ve been working with the sea and its gifts for generations, these people are concerned about the state of this sensitive ecosystem. The number of fish decreased dramatically and shoals that used to pass the coasts seasonally are missing. Due to global warming, summer fish fills the fishing grounds during winter and the fish that used to flourish in the cold season is nowhere to be found. There is such a beautiful and rich variety out in the seas, which we’ve always used in our kitchens, but we have to keep the balance. The fishmongers and chefs that I met all said the same. “Fish and seafood used to be a delicacy, a special treat, if we degrade it to fast food, we’re going to lose this treasure!” says Mr. Yokoyama, the owner of EIKO Suisan Fisherman fish store at Tsukiji.

At Tsukiji, you can admire the whole abundance that nature gives us, hundreds of different kinds of fish and seafood, in all colors and sizes, mussels, crustaceans, octopus, and sazae (turban sea snail). It’s almost mesmerizing to wander through the corridors between the stalls, which makes it hard to pull yourself away from it. Going straight to one of the most celebrated restaurants in the area definitely helps. Sushi Dai is just outside the market, you can easily spot it, as it has the longest waiting list and queue lined up outside the curtains swinging at its door.

Chef and owner, Urushibara Satoshi, has two outstanding qualities. There’s no doubt that he makes some of the best sushi creations in town, he learned from his father, but this man also has highly entertaining qualities. He’s like a conductor and Sushi Dai is his stage. Behind his narrow restaurant’s counter, he attentively cuts the fish and shapes the rice, you can see that he was trained for more than 20 years to become the master that he is today. The movement of his hand and arm looks like a smooth dance, so concentrated yet intuitive. And this man is funny! As he placed one gorgeous creation after the other in front of us, he told us stories with the dramatic voice of an actor, you can see and taste that he truly enjoys what he does.

Every morning at around 3am, he goes to the Tsukiji market to pick the fish for the menu. The relationship between him and his suppliers is close. He knows that a pure minimal treat like sushi depends on the quality of its ingredients. Sushi is what it’s made of, a handful of ingredients. So trust the masterly hands of Urushibara Satoshi and his team of chefs and go for the Omakase menu. Depending on the daily catch and find at the fish market, you can indulge in the freshest tuna, flounder, and horse mackerel, or Ikura (salmon roe) rolled in seaweed. Scallops and clams, prawns and sea urchin, every piece looks like a piece of art, every bite is like tasting the sea.

Thank you Mr. Yokoyama for showing us around at Tsukiji, Urushibara Satoshi for your fantastic sushi and humor, and Makiko for guiding us through your city!

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

How to make sushi

I’ll share a recipe for sushi rice with you, but when it comes to the most important ingredient, the fish, I can only recommend to go to your trusted fish monger and ask him which fish he can offer, fish of the best sushi quality. After I ate sushi in Japan, prepared by outstanding sushi masters, I don’t even bother eating it anywhere else anymore. No matter if you go for fatty tuna belly, halibut or fish roe, it has to be of the best quality. Then you just cut it into slices, eat it pure, or lay it on a bite of rice. Heaven.

For the sushi rice

2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin (rice wine similar to sake)
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
180g / 1 cup short-grain sushi rice
240ml / 1 cup cold water

In a small bowl, mix the vinegar, mirin, sugar, and salt, stirring until sugar and salt are dissolved; let it cool.

Rinse the rice 4-5 times with cold water, then drain in a colander for 15 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, bring the rice and water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer the rice for 15 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and let the rice rest for 15 minutes, don’t lift the lid. Transfer the rice to a large glass bowl.

Sprinkle the warm rice with the cold vinegar mixture and stir gently, you can fan the rice while mixing, that will help it to dry, if it’s too sticky. Cover with a damp kitchen towel while preparing the sushi. Sushi rice is best at body temperature.

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

Interview with Urushibara Satoshi, Sushi Dai restaurant, Tokyo

Can you tell us about your work?

I come to work in the morning, go to buy fish, and then I spend the rest of the day serving customers. At 3am I go to buy the fish, and then start making sushi at 4:30 am.

 

How old were you when you started learning to make sushi?

I was 18. So, that’s 27 years ago. I came to the restaurant 25 years ago. I started off making kaiseki ryori in Kyoto. For two years. Then I came back to Tokyo and became a sushi master.

What made you become a sushi master?

As I said, I started off in kaiseki ryori. This is a world where you can’t directly serve a customer until you’ve been doing it for 20 or 30 years, and then it’s just serving sashimi or something. I wanted to be talking to the customers. And within the world of Japanese cuisine, it was only as a sushi master that I could serve customers face to face. So, it wasn’t that I became a sushi master because I wanted to, I just had to become a sushi master. And I also just enjoyed it too. That was the first time I really enjoyed my work. I mean, with kaiseki ryori you don’t really get to meet the customers. You’re working behind the scenes, and it’s usually the women who serve the food. The chef has to stay hidden in the shadows. But I didn’t want this. I wanted to chat with the customers while I was serving them.

What is your most cherished childhood memory connected to the kitchen?

In the kitchen? I just used to get scolded (laughs). But ever since I was a child, I really loved cooking. I don’t know if I was any good, but I would imitate and pretend I was chopping things with a knife, for example. When I was in second or third grade, you know how everyone used to try and peel an apple in one long piece? Well, I was always top of the class in that! Also, if you’re going to be a chef, you need more than to be good at cooking. It’s most suited to someone who loves eating. More than being good at the actual cooking, feeling a real passion, and a hunger for food and eating is more important. If you don’t have any interest at all in eating, then there’s no way you’ll improve. No way.

What are the essential features of a good knife for you? What makes a good knife?

First of all there’s the length of the one I use. There are lots of different types of lengths. And it comes down to the weight, the thickness of the steel. At first, this knife used to be this long. But you sharpen it. So, it gradually becomes shorter and shorter. So the length and things like that are not features that last. Because the knife just gets gradually shorter. So, what else? The most important thing is that it can be controlled most effectively. I mean that it cuts exactly as you want it to. After that, the weight… Well, there are different types of people. People who like lightweight knives tend to use the strength of their arm to cut. I like heavier knives, and I use the weight of the knife to cut the fish. So, for me, I prefer a long, heavy knife. But it depends what kind of person you are. Everyone’s different so I can’t give a definitive answer. But that’s what I like.

How old is your knife?

I’m about 3 to 4 years into this one. On average, I would replace it after around 6 years.

How do environmental changes affect the fish that you buy for your restaurant?

Yes, it has had a huge impact. But, I don’t know if it’s the climate, or the flow of the ocean. This year, there’s the kuroshio Japan current, and the fish follow the flow of rivers where there are a lot of plankton. So, they come closer, don’t they. Then, when this Japan current approaches, that’s when we fish. But, this year it’s more erratic, so there are lots of types of fish that don’t come close to Japan as a result. So, I don’t know if it’s the temperature, or related to the flow of rivers. But there are fish we can’t catch. Each year it’s something different: one year might be good for yellowtail and the next year might be bad; or one year is good for saury and the next is bad; or another year might be terrible for sardines. It’s like this every year. For example, I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and each year has been different. No two years are the same. At the moment, for example, there is a lack of urchins. This year, the fishermen can’t catch any salmon, and the saury is not so good. There are so many different situations. That’s why you have to adapt each year. You just simply can’t keep making the same sushi for 25 years. The fat distribution is also completely different. I mean, completely. This is what a battle with nature looks like. So, I keep an eye on the weather forecast. And depending on the weather, you have to change the fish you stock. It’s not like we’re working in a factory doing the same thing day in day out. You also have to check whether the fishermen were able to take their boats out. So, yes, of course. I go to the market, and, of course, I buy the fish that is there. But, how can I say? There are some fish that you don’t want to run out of. So, with these, if there’s a typhoon on the way, we can stock up on them before it comes and store them while they’re at their best. There are lots of different approaches.

Do you think we should change the way we consume fish? Like eating less fish?

Yeah, statistically… there are graphs, according to these, there’s been a dramatic decrease in the amount of fish people eat. But, compared with when I was young, ‘conveyor belt’ sushi restaurants are really popular. So I think sushi has become something really familiar for young people. This also has made it feel like something cheap. When we were young, if you didn’t have wads of cash, you couldn’t eat sushi – that’s the image I had. So, it has definitely become something more familiar for the younger generation. So, even in and around my restaurant, we get a lot of university students coming in, even in the morning. That’s something you never would have seen in the past.

How we can deal with the situation?

This is something that we battle year in year out, day in day out. All you can do is do as much as you can. That means keeping going until you get to a stage where you don’t want to make sushi with the fish that is available. I don’t know if this situation will ever come. I don’t know if this day will ever come. But I just want to keep going until it does. But if it does get to a point where I don’t want to work with the fish that is available, then I will quit.

Thank you, Urushibara Satoshi!

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

Meet In Your Kitchen | Urban Farming and a Garden Salad at LA’s Farm Lot 59

Farm Lot 59

A 1-hour drive, leaving the skyline and the buzz of Downtown LA behind, and you’re in Long Beach, still LA county, yet a totally different scene. As we left California Avenue in the south and drove our bulky van down a dusty road for a new Meet In Your Kitchen feature together with Zwilling, the inspiring urban farmer Sasha Kanno welcomed us with a big smile in front of the gate of her green oasis, Farm Lot 59 .

Sasha is a woman with a strong vision and principles, she believes in honest food, available not only for herself, but also for the community that she lives in. She took over the land surrounded by urban industrial buildings in 2010 and turned it into a non-profit organic farm, practicing biodynamics and following the Waldorf School philosophy. The farmer who’s fascinated by rare and heirloom varieties and who gets many of her seeds from a 100-year old seed company in Honolulu, is famous and loved by locals and chefs for her outstanding lettuce and herb mixtures. All year round, she puts an exciting seasonal bouquet together, of arugula, lemony blood sorrel, giant red-leaf mustard lettuce, basil (with a rough surface), huacatay (black mint), cilantro, fennel, tarragon, thyme, chocolate mint, and many more. Her edible flowers, such as pensi, dahlia, dianthus, calendula, lavender chamomile flowers, are a feast for the eye and an explosion of flavors for the palate.

However, as much as she loves to share the produce from her garden with other passionate lovers of natural, healthy fruits and vegetables, Sasha felt that there was more for her to do. She started an educational program of cooking and gardening classes, she wanted to bring the basics back to the table of our children: her tomatoes, beans, eggplants, pumpkins, squash (I learnt that you can even eat its leaves cooked like a vegetable), peppers, snake melon, and artichokes. She wanted them to smell again and listen to the sounds of the woods and fields, and taste pure unprocessed food. She saw city kids who were totally overwhelmed by this experience, being confronted by nature, even stressed some of them. Some of the most common fruits and vegetables had never been in the hands of these children before. It’s an essential experience, if not a right to have access to food in its original form. Sasha takes responsibility to teach them about our fragile ecosystem, so that future generations adjust the way that we deal with ourselves, our food, and our environment.

The doors of Farm Lot 59 are open almost every day and it’s worth visiting this green paradise framed by apple, stone fruit, and guava trees. You can buy the handpicked produce and humanely sourced meats, dairy products, and eggs from friends and other farmers at the farm’s market stand at the street, the Farmstand 59. And then you go home and prepare the beautiful salad that Sasha made for us in her outdoor farm kitchen: a colorful tomato salad with the farmer’s delicious basil vinaigrette featuring the pure taste and beauty of this sweet fruit and fragrant herb!

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

Sasha Kanno’s Tomato Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Serves 4

For the dressing

1 cup (240ml) olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 red onion, roughly chopped
2 cups fresh Tuscan basil
1 clove garlic
½ teaspoon haberno salt (haberno peppers mixed with sea salt)

For the salad

8-12 green, red and yellow ripe tomatoes (of various sizes), sliced
2 large handfuls mixed young lettuce greens
1 small handful edible flower petals

For the dressing, purée the ingredients in a blender until smooth and season to taste with salt. Add more oil if the dressing is too thick.

Spread the lettuce greens and tomatoes in a large bowl, sprinkle with the dressing and flower petals and serve immediately.

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

 

Watch my interview with Alana in LA in September 2017:

 

 

Thank you, Sasha!

 

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

 

FarmLot5913

 

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

 

Farm Lot 59

Meet In Your Kitchen | Heather and Emily celebrate LA’s vegetables at Botanica

Botanica

One of the kitchens that I visited on my trip to LA – the first stop of my new adventure together with Zwilling – was at Botanica, a stunningly beautiful restaurant founded by the wonderful Heather Sperling and Emily Fiffer. Both women had been working in the food industry as editors on the East coast for more than a decade, but they were hungry for more. They chose LA to bring a project to life, giving it all their love, passion, and honest determination. An old run-down liquor store in Silverlake looked less than promising when they first saw it, but Heather and Emily knew from the start that this would be the right place to give their vision a home. They gutted it and after a year of sweat and work you can’t even imagine how this gorgeous bright and airy space looked before the renovations. A tall wall touched up in a soft Tuscan pink holds the old wooden beams above the restaurant’s rustic wooden tables and the little market where you can buy the products and produce used in Botanica‘s kitchen.

The two ladies also started an online magazine, a collection of the recipes used at their restaurant to complete their customers hungry needs: you can eat a dish at Botanica, fall in love with it so much that you want to cook it at home, buy the ingredients right away, grab the recipe from the magazine, and go straight to your own kitchen and cook it again.

Sitting at this restaurant feels a bit like being in Heather and Emily’s home and this was an important aspect for them when they first started thinking about their restaurant baby. The design, the menu they put together, the way they work together with their employees, this all shows a philosophy of working and living together in a community. They have strong connections with the other restaurants in their neighborhood, many of which are also run by women, and together they put the spotlight back onto LA’s culinary scene (like “Kismet” that I wrote about last week and Jessica Koslow’s “Sqirl”, which will be featured here on the blog in 2 weeks). They not only share the same work ethics, but also their farmers and suppliers.

And they all have one more thing in common, all these restaurants celebrate vegetables. Heather and Emily manage to turn a potato, cauliflower, squash, or carrot into a vibrant feast. They shift the traditional focus from meat and seafood centric dishes to roots, cabbages, and legumes. Botanica is not a vegetarian restaurant, but ribs, steaks, or fillets aren’t the star of the meal anymore, they can be a part of a greater composition, add flavor, be a luxurious treat of outstanding quality, but they aren’t essential anymore. And the two women’s recipes are so fantastic that you won’t even miss it, you just indulge in a dish like their seared vegetables with romesco (recipe below), which is so rich, balanced, and exciting that you don’t ever think of anything but tasty vegetables. And apart from this more than satisfying pleasure for the taste buds, you can be sure that you just enjoyed food that is good for your body, locally sourced in a strong community that works with and not against nature and our environment.

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Botanica

 

Botanica

Heather Sperling and Emily Fiffer’s Seared Vegetables with Romesco

Serves 4

For the romesco

4 red bell peppers
1 jalapeño, seeds removed
2 medium cloves garlic
¼ cup (60ml) olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 small lemon, zest and juice
2 teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika
1 cup (140g) toasted almonds
1 large handful fresh cilantro leaves (about ¼ cup chopped)
Sea salt

For the vegetables

20 tiny potatoes (preferably purple), boiled in salted water until just tender, drained and cooled
Olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
Spanish smoked paprika
Broccolini, summer squash, romanesco, Brussels sprouts or cauliflower (or a mix)
3 leeks, white and light green part only, cut in half lengthwise

For the topping

About ½ lemon, zest and juice
1 small handful fresh cilantro flowers (or cilantro leaves)

Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).

To make the romesco: Roast the bell peppers until blistered and fully soft. Transfer to a large bowl and let them cool for a few minutes. Remove and discard the seeds and stems, collect the thick juices that run off the peppers. Peel the skin and set aside.

In a food processor, combine the roasted peppers and their skin, the jalapeño, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, lemon zest and juice, smoked paprika, almonds, cilantro, and a splash of the liquid from the peppers. Blend until fully incorporated, but not fully uniform; some texture is ideal here. Add more sherry vinegar, salt, olive oil, and cilantro to taste.

For the vegetables: Lightly crush each potato with the side of a knife. Heat a splash of olive oil in a pan over medium heat and sauté the potatoes on one side until just starting to crisp, then flip and crisp up the other side. Remove from oil and season well with salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.

While the potatoes are crisping, prepare the remaining vegetables: Cut the vegetables into bite size pieces (except the leeks) and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, then grill or sear until al dente, with nice char in spots. In a large pan, cook the leeks, cut-side down, until they get a touch of caramelized char, then flip and cook for a few minutes on the other side, until soft through. Cut in two-inch lengths, season, and set aside.

Mound the romesco in the center of a large plate and arrange the potatoes, leeks and vegetables in a ring around the purée. Garnish with a good drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, lemon zest, a sprinkle of salt, and the cilantro flowers and serve immediately.

Botanica

 

Botanica

 

Watch my interview with Heather and Emily in LA in September 2017:

“I think that for many women in the industry they are very aware that this is a moment in time when they can be actively involved in changing the culture of the restaurant world.”

 

 

Thank you, Heather and Emily!

 

Botanica

 

Botanica

 

Botanica

 

Botanica

 

Botanica

 

Botanica