Category Archives: Chefs

Paula Wolfert’s “Unforgettable” Duck You Can Eat With A Spoon

With crisp skin and flesh so tender you can cut it with a spoon, this duck by Paula Wolfert is a masterpiece.

With crisp skin and flesh so tender you can cut it with a spoon, this duck by Paula Wolfert is a masterpiece.

 

She is not a star of the Food Network. She doesn’t own a four-star restaurant that has a three-month wait for reservations. And she doesn’t write pithy food articles laced with expletives and bro-talk that everyone feels the need to read, dissect, and re-post again and again.

But Paula Wolfert should be as revered and renowned as any of those folks. More so, even.

She is one of the most influential cooks of our time — a woman who has dived deep into authentic Mediterranean cuisine long before most of us ever knew what a cassoulet or tagine was.

Over the years, she published eight seminal cookbooks. But when her friend, Emily Kaiser Thelin, a former editor of Food & Wine magazine, pitched the idea of writing a biography of Wolfert, no publisher would give it the green light.

So in a modern-day version of a barn-raising, Thelin rallied her friends and colleagues to the mission, recruiting photographer Eric Wolfinger, designer Toni Tajima, and cookbook author Andrea Nguyen to do editing duties. They mounted a Kickstarter campaign, which more than 1,100 folks supported, including yours truly.

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The result is “Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life” (M&P) by Thelin.

The title has dual meanings — and hints at why Thelin and her team were so driven to put Wolfert’s life and recipes down in perpetuity. Wolfert was diagnosed with dementia in 2013. The woman who once prided herself on studying up on almost a dozen languages in order to converse with cooks around the world, now finds most of those once familiar foreign phrases elusive. Even reading in English now and retaining its contents is difficult for her.

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Greet the Day with A Smile — With Balsamic Strawberry Muffins

A splash of balsamic vinegar hides in these strawberry muffins.

A splash of balsamic vinegar hides in these strawberry muffins.

 

The title of this cookbook represents two of my favorite food groups: “Muffins and Biscuits.”

So how could I not fall for this Chronicle Books cookbook, of which I received a review copy?

It’s by Heidi Gibson, chef and co-owner of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen in San Francisco.

You might think, what does a grilled cheese sandwich maker know about biscuits and muffins? Plenty, it turns out. After all, in addition to those ooey-gooey sandwiches, the restaurant also sells fresh-baked muffins, biscuits and other baked goods.

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Muffins and biscuits are among the easiest things to make. The trick is to use a gentle hand. You don’t want to overmix or overwork either of them, lest they will wind up tough.

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Eating Adventures in Los Angeles, Part II: Connie & Ted’s, RiceBar, Apple Pan and Shake Shack

A fun place to indulge your cravings for seafood.

A fun place to indulge your cravings for seafood.

Connie & Ted’s

Chef Michael Cimarusti has the utmost reverence for seafood. After all, his haute Providence has won every acclaim imaginable for its attention to seafood.

Now comes Connie & Ted’s, a West Hollywood seafood joint at the other end of the spectrum, a modern-day clam shack that treats seafood with equal esteem but in a much more laid-back atmosphere.

On a sunny day (which of course is most every day in Los Angeles), there’s no better place to be.

A mid-century-modern look at Connie & Ted's.

A mid-century-modern look at Connie & Ted’s.

A trio of chowders.

A trio of chowders.

Clam bellies and perfect onion rings.

Clam bellies and perfect onion rings.

There are three chowders on the menu: New England, Manhattan, and Rhode Island. The best part is you can get a sampler of all three ($11), which comes with baby doll-sized oyster crackers.

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Eating Adventures in Los Angeles, Part I: Taco Maria, Shibumi, and Mian

Mussels, clams, lima beans, cherry tomato and chile -- a third-course on the Taco Maria prix fixe.

Mussels, clams, lima beans, cherry tomato and chile — a third-course on the Taco Maria prix fixe.

 

I may have been in Los Angeles last month for only four days, but I did some major eating in that short time. Come along for a taste.

Taco Maria

In a building inside SoCo design complex in Costa Mesa is the OC Mix, a mini marketplace of fun trendy shops and small cafes.

It is here you will find Taco Maria. Its artsy locale is fitting because this is high-concept Mexican food by a chef who used to cook at Coi in San Franciso and Commis in Oakland.

Nope, this is not your standard enchilada- or burrito-drowned-in-cheese kind of place. While it serves a la carte lunch, it turns into prix fixe-only at night. And what a fine parade of dishes you’re in for with the $75 four-course meal (wine pairings are $35 extra), which is quite reasonable for what you get.

Sitting at the counter, you are up close and personal with the cooks preparing your food.

Sitting at the counter, you are up close and personal with the cooks preparing your food.

Each course offers a choice of two dishes. So if there are two of you dining, you can order the entire menu and share tastes of everything, which is what my husband and I did. Sit at the counter in front of the small kitchen, and you can watch the cooks in action.

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Chinese Food Reimagined At Mister Jiu’s

Chef Brandon Jew expediting in the kitchen of his Mister Jiu's.

Chef Brandon Jew expediting in the kitchen of his Mister Jiu’s.

 

For many years, my Uncle George had his insurance office on Waverly Place in San Francisco’s Chinatown. He’d often take clients for lunch or drinks to Four Seas restaurant across the street. Back then, it was the place to socialize, a glamorous spot where so many friends and family members of my generation remember attending celebratory banquet meals.

So maybe it was appropos that my first visit to Mister Jiu’s, which reincarnated that space a year ago, came just a few weeks after my uncle’s passing last month. Making my way through that tucked-away street, I somehow felt I was walking in his shoes, seeing this venue past, present and future.

Chinatown stopped being a destination dining scene long ago for so many Chinese-Americans of my generation. These days, if we head here at all, it’s because we’re playing tour guide to visiting friends. But Chef Brandon Jew, who grew up in San Francisco, was lured here to create a restaurant that he hopes will reinvigorate this historic neighborhood.

Certainly, he’s succeeded in drawing more Millennials, Generation Xers, and Baby Boomers to this area, as evidenced by the crowd I saw dining here on a Saturday night.

Original chandeliers from the Four Seas.

Original chandeliers from the Four Seas.

The open kitchen can be seen from the dining room.

The open kitchen can be seen from the dining room.

Located on the second floor, the restaurant has a wall of windows that overlook bustling Grant Avenue. The lotus-flower chandeliers from the original Four Seas have been polished to a gleam, giving a touch of elegant nostalgia to the space.

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