Taroko National Park
More to come next week! In the meantime, search the hashtag #itsontaiwan for more photos!
Taroko National Park
The valley of Taroko National Park is tranquil and majestic. The air is warm and smells sweet, at least in mid-July. This is where you will find the Eternal Springs Shrine peering out of a wall of green forest and Swallow Grotto descending to meet the Liwu River. Both worthy of visiting. This is also where you will find The Leader Hotel and Restaurant in Leader Village. This was one of my favorite stops.
The restaurant serves aboriginal meals prepared with only local ingredients. Here I was served my first “rice coffin”. That’s what I called it anyway. It was rice that had been steamed in a long bamboo tube. I love sticky rice, so this was an absolute delight. I was also served savory grilled pork, sweet potato, fried wild boar skin (first time for everything) and a delicious sweet tomato salsa. The food was so fresh, it didn’t need any condiments. The natural flavors of these whole foods were prepared with care making them taste plenty satisfying.
Along our drive to the next tribal meal for dinner, we were suddenly stopped in the middle of the road along the Eastern coast. Foreign chants snuck up through the windows of our bus. It became apparent we weren’t going anywhere soon as hundreds of young locals danced in massive circles down the road making their way to the nearby village. Their voices powerfully drifted above their vibrantly colored head dresses and costumed mid-sections, creating a sound cloud over the nearby land and sea. A wave of emotion came over me. It was a beautiful expression of community that I don’t see in the car-flooded streets of Los Angeles. That film will play in my mind for ever. To see so many people my age and younger united in a tradition that must be old as time was priceless. That moment will always be my Taiwan.
For dinner we continued with the day’s tradition of enjoying tribal meals. Rain lightly drummed the open-air dining room roof of “Old Tribe Good Food,” the translated name of the this Taitung Tribe’s restaurant, while we feasted on roasted chicken, bamboo salad, fried rice, sautéed spinach, spicy lamb, grilled fish and the most unique dish of all, pineapple fried shrimp with mayonnaise and rainbow sprinkles. Rainbow. Sprinkles. They made me think about the costumes I had just seen parading on the concrete. The shrimp was sweet and crispy, it didn’t need the sprinkles for flavor, but sure, they added some serious pizzazz! Our round wooden table made it easy to pass plates and share, not just the food, but the looks of comfort and joy that only honest food and rainbow sprinkles can bring.
I slept well that night, pleased with another day of new memories and first-time tastes.
More to come next week! In the meantime, search the hashtag #itsontaiwan for more photos!
Though the body of Taiwan is petite, it’s heart is huge. The country is roughly the size of Delaware and Maryland combined and still home to 16 recognized indigenous tribes - each with their own specific culinary story to tell. With additional influences from Chinese immigrants, it makes for an extremely unique country in terms of food. I was mostly looking forward to a dinner of Peking Duck, hoping it wouldn't wait too long to find me.
With fellow food media personalities, my friend GiGi Dubois (GiGi Eats Celebrities), Lynn Chen (The Actor’s Diet), her husband Abe Forman-Greenwald (Buzzfeed), Ronnie Chen (Taiwanese Media) and her husband George, I experienced lush green landscapes, accommodating people, sky high views and meals that I will never forget. Many thanks to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, our five day culinary tour of Taiwan left me surprised, appreciative and mostly full.
Suddenly an older, silver-haired, nicely suited man entered the exhibition dining room where Hualien artist, Wu Yi-sheng, lent his hand carved jade utensils to 40 of Taiwan’s most well-known chefs for the display of 40 equally unique dishes. This man was Prime Minister Mao Chi-kuo. His presence before me at the Taiwan Culinary Exhibition in Taipei’s World Trade Center, told me everything I needed to know about this country’s relationship with food. He circled the giant illuminated table with digital bulbs blinking at him, calmly admiring each culinary creation and addressing each chef personally. I knew nothing about him or his politics, but instantly saw that his respect for his culture, his people, and the variations of his home-land cuisine was huge. Day #1 of my fascinating culinary journey through Taiwan had a significant highlight and it wasn’t even noon.
Taipei sits at the head of the table. It's Taiwan's largest city and also home to the landmark dining phenomenon, Din Tai Fung. I'm aware you don’t have to leave Los Angeles or the U.S. even, to taste their famous xiao long bao (soup dumplings), but they just taste better in their home country.
At our table were plenty of xiao long bao: pork, pork & crab, and the most spectacular -- pork & truffle. There was also the cucumber salad, shao mai (steamed dumplings) stuffed individually some with fish, vegetable, shrimp and pork. There was also vegetarian fried rice, sautéed spinach with garlic, hot and sour soup and the red bean rice cake with flecks of rainbow sprinkles for dessert. It looked much sweeter than it tasted.
If you visit Din Tai Fung, in Taipei or any other worldwide location, the only things you need to order are the traditional pork xiao long bao, the pork and truffle xiao long boa and the cucumber salad. I say the simpler the better. All of these things are incredibly delicious and will fill you up to completeness. If you still have room I would try a red bean bun for dessert. (Sugar addicts beware, Taiwan is not a culture of refined sugary sweets. Eventually you will appreciate the mild sweetness of the traditional pineapple cake or red bean steamed buns.) Before or after dining specifically at the Taipei 101 location, as our troupe did, be sure to ride the world's fastest elevator to the top for incredible views of the city (ground to 89th floor in 37 seconds).
To be continued...
In mid-July, GiGi and I flew from LA to Taipei for the adventure of a lifetime thanks to the Taiwan Tourism Board. Are you ready for the complete visual experience of GiGi and I eating the entire country of Taiwan? Well, here it is! You might also see Lynn Chen of The Actor's Diet who joined the adventure as well!
“You know what this used to be, right?” Chimed in Eddie Lin, who was seated next to me. “What?” “This was Ford’s Filling Station.” “Oh my God, you’re right!” I fully realized in the moment. I think it’s impressive when a restaurant makeover is so cleanly done that all remnants of what was in the space before are erased, even to previous diners. Sambar, the newest restaurant from Chef Akasha Richmond has opened in Culver City and it’s everything. Richmond's interpretation of traditional Indian Cuisine is out-of-box, but fits perfectly on the plate. Homage is paid to traditional flavors and various regions of the country, but they are presented in a fresh and genuine way, “through a California lense” as Chef describes. Everything is fluid: the modern dining room complete with a multi-colored, lamp-shade chandelier, sets up the craft cocktails and various dishes and shows them off exquisitely.
I loved sipping the Sacred Cow. A delicious cocktail mixed with a froth of yogurt, sloane’s gin, apricot liqueur, lemon, honey, egg white, saffron bitters and pistachio crumble. Innovative while telling a story true to Indian culture. I also tried one of the non-alcoholic options, The Tumeric and Ginger Lemonade. It definitely had a bite, but I like that in things that touch my lips. If you don’t like raw ginger, best to order something else. The Rose-Pomegranete Punch perhaps.
I also loved everything I tasted on the menu. I know that is so boring to say, but it’s true. I am a huge fan of Indian food in general. Chicken Tikka Masala has been a favorite dish since my dad made it for me when I was growing up. And don’t get me started on naan. I could LIVE on naan and naan alone. Clearly my expectations were subconsciously high, but thank God they were met.
I need to explain to you the head-on prawns. The sweet, plump meat snapped into my mouth with conviction. That prawn knew how good it was going to taste and couldn’t wait to prove it. I don’t know how long it had been marinading in mango-powder, but something magical happened to arrest such an addicting flavor deep in the layers of meat. I wished I didn’t have to share with the other guests, I could easily have eaten every single one of the prawns.
Let’s move onto the lamb kabobs. I’ve always thought that lamb was the sexiest of the red-meats. There’s something about its flavor that’s a little exotic and spicy. There’s always intrigue for me when I eat lamb. Sambar’s pistachio lamb sirloin kabob with punjabi corn roti, kachumber salad, mango chutney & eggplant raita made me a very happy lady. The meat was super tender and softly melted through my teeth. The next time you’re craving a gyro, mix things up and try this instead.
There are few things that comfort me more than a cheese plate and yes, Sambar has their own unique version. Cheese Thali, a wooden board with goat & cow paneer, yogurt cheese,naan, gujarati crackers, pappadum, chutney, lemon pickle and spiced pistachios. This is almost my favorite thing on the entire menu despite it’s simplicity. I just loved putting all of these different textures and flavors together in one bite. The coolness of the cheese, the warm softness of the naan, the perk of the chutney and the crunch of the pistachios. My taste buds were gifted with various sensations at once, that is my favorite way to experience a meal.
Another highlight for me was the Pork Shoulder Vindaloo with pickled radish pods & ramps, malabar hot sauce and papaya chutney. This dish was the ultimate sweet meets spice collaboration. The salty pork was enhanced by the heat of the hot sauce and sugar of the chutney.
My final note is to save room for dessert. There is an incredible variety of cookies that change frequently which can be enjoyed with a soothing cup of house-made chai tea.
I am truly looking forward to another trip to Sambar soon. Everything was “on fleek” as the kids would say. India offers us such a beautiful culture with a multitude of recipes to taste. Richmond’s execution of these ageless dishes from different parts of the country are carefully crafted and because of this, they are flawless.
For more information please visit
I wish that Mainland Poke Shop could steal the Skittles slogan, "Taste the Rainbow" because I sure did when I had my first bite. My layered bowl was so vibrant with pink salmon, red tuna, green cucumber and other tasty additions! Poke (Pok-eh) is a Hawaiin dish and is essentially a raw fish salad consisting of Yellowfin Tuna, Maui onions, seaweed, soy sauce and other various ingredients depending on one's preference. It's both parts satisfying and healthy, so a win-win meal all around. A few other shops have opened in LA; Poke Bar, Poke-Poke, Big Daddy's Poke Shack but I'm here to tell you about my experience at Mainland Poke Shop...or as I like to call it "Yogurtland for sushi".
Located on West 3rd Street, Mainland has been open for just over a month, but word of the fresh, raw fish bar where you can mix and match bases, proteins, and toppings has spread quickly. There was a line out the door when I arrived for an evening snack at 6pm on a Wednesday! Owner Ari Kahan and Executive Chef Kayson Chong have started something worth noticing.
My eyes darted between the fresh ingredients spread through the glass in front of me and the menu posted on the wall. I didn't know where to begin. I explained to the staff that it was my first time having a go with the Poke. They promised to be gentle.
I learned there are a few different ways to order. You can choose one of the "favorite" bowls or you can custom-build your own, either a Poke Bowl (with a base) or Aloha Bowl (without a base). All come in small or large sizes. I chose to build my own large Poke Bowl!
This was one of the funnest things I've eaten in awhile. Shortly after this photo was taken, I stuck in my chop sticks, mixed everything together and smiled toward a setting So Cal sun. My goal was to get a little bit of everything all in one "rainbow" bite. The tuna and salmon were incredibly fresh: firm and melty at the same time. I truly felt like I was nourishing my body with each chew. My tummy was like, "Thanks for this, if I had to digest cheese one more night I was going to scream!" The next time I go, I'm going to add more spice...some jalepenos and sriracha for sure.
If you already love sushi, but have never been "Poke'd" you must have the experience. It's fast, healthy, affordable and you can easily eat it on the go. That's right ya busy schmuck, you can eat and walk at the same time! C'mon do what The Food Pervert says...
For more menu options and shop info please visit: www.mainlandpoke.com
The Sparkling Shochu Granita: a combination of Kalamonsi and coriander infused Kakushigura shochu, is just a pre-dinner cocktail to warm up the blood before tasting several new menu items at Katsuya Hollywood. You can't forget the Katsuya signatures: crispy rice, baked crab hand roll and rock shrimp tempura, but you can give some new creations a taste thanks to Chef David Lespron.
When I was served the Truffle & Chive Chawanmushi I had to stare at it, take it in. It was so delicate. The layers of truffle, egg and light soy sat wisely in three egg shell molds. It was one of those dining moments where something arrives to the table that is so beautiful, you don't know what to do with it. You suspect the inside will taste like magic, but it looks like it will turn to glitter dust the second you take a bite. My little spoon dipped to the bottom of the faux-shell and twisted up to capture every layer. I loved the creamy texture complemented by the rich, savory flavors. My spoon dipping was on repeat until only air was left. Sigh.
Chef Lespron's interpretation of Japanese Street Food arrived next. I wish I could say that I've tasted Robata Chicken Tsukune, Gyoza and Confit Egg Yolk fresh from the streets of Tokyo, but I haven't, so I don't have much experience in comparing how authentic these interpretations are. All I can share is how they tasted to me. You can see below, the simplicity of this threesome, but each so individual in flavor. I rotated bites over and over - a carousel of sensations. The tender and moist chicken, the warm, creamy salty egg, the crisp shell of dumpling skin. This plate is the prime example of how simple foods, when paid close attention too, can taste extraordinary.
The anticipation of tasting the Octopus Carpaccio was nearly overwhelming. It sounded so provocative. Served on a stark white plate, the purple-red octopus skin seemed to float between the bright yellow drizzle and green herbs of the lemon herb relish. After one bite I knew that this dish was tested and tested until it was just right. The relish sealed the deal. Lemon must be served with octopus or squid in some capacity. Not an argument. It's in the food bible. Lemon is what makes the flesh sing, it awakens something in the cells. I recently ate somewhere in Pasadena where lemon was not served with the calamari and I immediately knew that whoever was in the kitchen, had no idea what they were doing. Thankfully this kitchen nailed it -- both in flavor and the stunning presentation.
If there is anything that is a must order from this new menu, it's the A4 Wagyu "Fried Rice". The velvety mouthfeel of deliciousness will joyfully haunt you for days. I just want to call it "butter-meat and rice". It was as if the meat was scooped from a vat of freshly churned butter and browned on all sides. That is how melty, salty, and smooth the chunks of wagyu are. It's truly divine. The rice adds another texture and even though it can't escape the juice of the butter-meat that coats it, it's fabulous. My mind traveled to waking up the next morning with the leftovers and dropping a fried egg on top. Naughty me.
Dessert confused me...at first. Passion fruit with soy milk, white chocolate and lychee-shiso sorbet. When I read it on the menu, I tried to form a comparison in my head, but couldn't. I had an idea of what each individual flavor would deliver, but how would they all work together? Was there enough room for all of these ingredients? I had to let my thoughts go and wait. Wow, I had never tasted anything like it. Each bite was an observation. My tongue waved from side to side wanting to study the moment when each specific ingredient was recognized. The fruit and sorbet on their own would have been too tart, the milk and chocolate on their own would have been too sweet. Together they were a brilliant match. The white calmed the bright, creating a taste that was sweet but controlled.
If you enjoyed this menu review, I invite you to continue reading for an exclusive Q & A with Chef David Lespron.
Q & A
FP: What drew you to a career in the culinary world?
DL: In elementary school our class won a contest for reading the most books in our grade. We won a field trip to Domino’s Pizza. As a kid seeing how pizza is made, I thought it was like magic. I think that had something to do with it.
FP: What kind of food did you grow up eating? Does that food influence your cooking style today?
DL: Mexican barrio snacks, Texas BBQ & Mega Mart meals by Mom. It hasn’t influenced my cooking yet, but I have a feeling it will catch up to me eventually.
FP: What inspires you more, an idea of a full meal or a single ingredient that you can build from?
DL: That depends on the season. In the colder months I think of a feeling, like comfort, so I’m thinking full meal and what that looks like. In the warmer months, I’ll obsess over a single ingredient and build around it for fun.
FP: What was the creative process for this new menu?
DL: Lots of sitting and talking about dishes and ideas. Lots of testing. Lots of tasting. Lots of drinking. Notes for days. Then getting up the next day and doing it over and over until it was finished
FP: What is the best compliment someone could give your cooking?
DL: Well, when I taste something that I really like, I start laughing. Kind of like a “Why the f**k is that so good?” kind of chuckle. I guess that would be the best compliment someone can give to my cooking.
FP: If you could cook with any chef in the world for a dinner service who would it be and why?
DL: That’s rough. Either Yoshihiro Murata of Kikunoi in Kyoto because of the simplicity and tradition or Rene Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen; they have this kind of punk-rock, in-your-face kind of style that I appreciate.
FP: What are the benefits of being a chef in LA?
DL: The multicultural culinary landscape in LA is mind boggling. Especially on the low end. Just so much good food to eat and be inspired by.
FP: How would you describe your presence in the kitchen?
DL: I like to build a positive culture in the kitchen. I like a to create an environment that’s fair and a fun place to work. Generally, I only want people in my kitchen who are dedicated to the craft. My presence is a believe or leave kind of attitude.
FP: What is your favorite meal to order when you dine out?
DL: I usually go with the Chef’s recommendations.
FP: What is your favorite flavor to cook with?
DL: Umami. If that counts. Which it should.
FP: Did you go to culinary school or straight to the kitchen?
DL: Straight into the kitchen out of culinary arts in high school, then got a partial scholarship to the Art Institute of LA which I dropped out of.
FP: Use one word to describe your cooking style.
FP: Lastly, where is your favorite burger in LA?
DL: Irv’s Burgers in West Hollywood has a special place in my heart. The team there rules!
For more reservations and more information,
please visit the Katsuya Hollywood Website.
Hey LA! This Cinco de Mayo I suggest you give some good thought to spending it in downtown Santa Monica! I recently experienced a pretty badass "Taco Trek" that started at Border Grill and ended at Copa D'Oro. It's a no-fail plan. You can park your car in one of the garages on 4th street and then you're free to roam for hours, unless you plan on Ubering, which is also a great option. Check out some of the delicious taco and cocktail pairings you can enjoy on Tuesday!
This taco was incredible. I could have eaten five of them! The meat was so tender, moist and flavorful and the avocado added a delightful creamy texture to every bite. I also loved the pickled salsa. It gave the taco that slight cut of acidity that rounded out the palate experience! The cocktail had a little too much kick for my preference, but if you like it hot, get one!
Blue Plate Taco
Chef Tom Block of Santa Monica's The Independence Tavern, has applied his personal philosophy on food, flavor and presentation to create a menu that exceeds its beach-casual surroundings. These dishes are as pleasing to the stomach as they are to the eye.
The Snapper Crudo elevated me. The combination of candy striped beets, murcott tangerine, serrano chile and fresh lime was all at once breathtaking and scream worthy. The tangy, spicy, sweet juices swam together as one remarkable flavor, guiding the clean meat to my palate while my eyes absorbed pinks, reds, oranges and greens.
The following dishes only continued to impress. The Smoked Whitefish Toast with pickled shallots, apple and fried capers. The Kale Chopped Salad with iceberg, smoked egg, baby carrots, green beans, feta, candied walnuts and lemon mustard vinaigrette. The Rack of Lamb with Thai red curry rub, smoked eggplant puree and coconut. As a persistent diner, this is the experience I am seeking -- a kitchen lacking in fear.
Block grew up in Connecticut and came west to study at Pitzer College, but, after graduation, found himself wanting to experience the kitchens of Manhattan — which he did for a decade. Oh, he also squeezed in a year and half long stint in Hong Kong.
“My first experience in a professional kitchen was at Lutéce and it was mind blowing to me. I had never seen anything like it before and I was just pulling herbs.” From Lutéce, Block went on to several notable kitchens including the 21 Club, Zoe, Aquavit, Falai and of course there was BLT Steak in Hong Kong.
When you taste Block’s food, you taste his experiences from the various kitchens he played in. Mainly, his exposure to techniques at Zoe, Aquavit and Falai helped him to develop his desire for food to taste interesting and be visually enticing. At Zoe, he worked with Tim Kelly, who had brought West Coast color and seasonal-ingredient appreciation to Soho and with whom Block also traveled with through Southeast Asia.
At Aquavit, on its way to becoming a two-star Michelin restaurant, he dabbled in molecular gastronomy.
With Iacopo Falai, he learned the delicate and sometimes tricky art of modern Italian cuisine. “We were doing kind of molecular gastronomy stuff but still seasonal, still very ingredient driven, but a very modern style of Italian food that was hard to get people to like — people are not used to seeing a plated pasta with ten different components.” Now he’s in LA turning his lessons into edible proof. He knew he would end up here eventually.
Independence's menu consists of American classics and a few internationally inspired items as well. There is an Angus Burger, but also Butternut Squash Arancini. Inspiration, begins with shopping. “It starts with one thing, either a product or ingredient that’s either from the Farmer’s Market or from Japan. Local’s great, but I’m also looking to really get the best product. Sometimes it starts with the idea to do something, but I’d say 90% of the time it comes from a product or going to the market and seeing stuff and then there’s my interpretation of it.”
All of the details are important to Block. The sun gold cherry tomatoes from Long Farms or the fish he had flown in from Japan. It’s all part of his plan to surprise diners. “I’d rather have people be impressed with the way something looks or just the way it tastes, how delicious it is. I try to surprise people.” He recently served peas, uni, and burrata with cous cous and a stinging nettle gnudi with bacon and asparagus. “That’s the kind of thing I like to do. Instead of spinach we’re gonna use this local wild product.” It’s hard to get more wild than stinging nettle.
His ingredients are imaginative, but, also his plating is wonderful. His use of flavor and design go hand in hand. Nothing incredibly technical or highly stylized, but recognizable as his own. There is color. You could say it's his compass. “You eat with your eyes, you know what I mean? Color is very important to me —the way to cook vegetables right, they should have color. If it’s dark and it’s not vibrant that means it’s cooked wrong.” He emphasizes with certainty in his voice. This chef is painting with multiple taste sensations too. “I think all of those things, color, acidity, spice, kind of play off each other. I know everyone talks about minimalism, but I’m kind of a maximalist.”
When asked about his future ten years from now, he sees himself staying put. ” I love neighborhood restaurants and I like working in them. I would like to have several neighborhood restaurants. And I’d like this place to be an institution.” His business partners, most likely, would agree. A chef’s career depends on how hard he or she is willing to work and how clever they can be with flavor interpretation, reinvention and presentation. Chef Block seems pretty smart to me.
The Independence Tavern
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Drinking coffee is something that makes me incredibly happy. Drinking coffee that is benefiting others, makes me INSANELY happy. When I found out that Three Avocados, a non-profit coffee company, is helping to bring clean and water and education to the world, one delicious pour at a time, I decided I must get my morning cups filled with their blends ASAP!
I received the ground Nicaraguan and Uganda Bugisu recently and couldn't wait to try them. Both are 100% Arabica coffees with rich, bold tastes. When purchased, each bag funds either education (Nicaraguan) or clean water (Uganda Bugisu). 100% of their proceeds go to these causes. It really makes sense to get both!
Founder, Joe Koenig, was inspired to change lives after one special and eye-opening trip to Uganda when he saw a woman give away all she had, three avocados, to someone she felt needed them more. By selling bags of delicious coffee from Uganda and Nicaragua, the organization has so far, improved 20,000 lives. Who wouldn't drink to that??
After tasting both coffees, enjoying them so much, and knowing what a huge difference this organization is making, I became nothing less than inspired to share this story and product. It's one thing to want to make lives better, it's another to actually participate in doing so.
To get your own bags of Three Avocados Coffee and to learn more, please visit their website, www.threeavocados.org.
The walls of Chef Perfecto Rocher's LA restaurant, Smoke Oil Salt, are such a warm red that you feel as if you've literally stepped into the heart of something. The chamber beats and glows with an ancient passion for Spanish cuisine. Chef Rocher recently unveiled his newest project:
Traditional Valencian Putxero, a Spanish stew made with rice, lamb, beef, pork, pilotes (Valencian meatballs), chickpeas, potatoes and other vegetables. The stew is being served exclusively on Monday evenings for $35. After being impressed with my meals and overall experiences at SOS, I wanted to learn more about this Chef. We sat down at a neighborhood Starbucks and got to talking. I found out he likes to eat bikinis...
FP: Are the Monday night dinners only for a limited time?
PR: We are going to try to work with that and see what the reaction is, see if it’s the same one we have in mind. If they like it we’re going to continue it, if not we’re going to change. You adapt yourself to the situation. You try something, it works or not and you go from there.
My dishes change all the time on the menu. One day I have this one day I have that. The paella, I keep it consistent, it’s only served one time a week (Sundays). If the people come one time to have paella and maybe they don't come back after three or four months or six months, why do you want to change it? I like to change things on the menu for my weekly regulars, but for paella and putxero I think we need to me more consistent for one year or something for a creative base. Maybe I am wrong, but that is the mentality I have.
FP: What is your favorite meal memory?
PR: My favorite meal will always be Arros al Forn. My mother used to make it, that is my favorite. It has blood sausage, rice, a whole clove of garlic, sweet potato, chick peas, pork, you can put pig feet too if you want. It is served as a cassoulet. I don’t think I could try something that would be better than that. Maybe it’s because I am used to it from when I was younger, but yes, this is my favorite.
FP: What inspires your cooking?
PR: I think travel. I get to live in LA which is amazing because there are so many cultures here and things to see, but I love the Valencian cuisine more than anything because I bond with that. We have fish, we have meat, we have cheese, we have wine. You know? It is a very good area. Travel opens your mind to see other possibilities, to think about your own food to see how you can use other products and incorporate it into your traditional methods. I usually go back to Spain every year.
FP: What’s one of the weirdest things you’ve ever eaten?
PR: In China I tried monkey meat, snake, cockroaches...that was the most disgusting. I wanted to try it because I was in this part of the world, you need to try things.
FP: What Chefs do you admire?
PR: I come from a family of the restaurant business, but I didn’t want to be a chef when I was younger. I wanted to be a musician, but my mother and grandmother inspired me a lot. I have cooked here with David Kinch at Manresa and I think that is one of the biggest places I’ve been to. He’s lived in California his whole life, I think he’s a very smart guy. He opened my doors to understand food in a very different way. I’m used to the food in Spain, but when I came here to California, he was one of the pioneers to you know start working more with organic food. The produce you make, you cook, you know, farm to table. I came to him in 2005. That was amazing. I think it is one of the best places I ever worked and I learned a lot from David Kinch. He’s a good person.
FP: How would you describe the Culinary scene of Los Angeles?
PR: Five years ago, I said, “LA is going to be the number one city in the United States.” I said that five years ago and I continue to say that. Why? Because, San Francisco is on the top, Chicago, New York and this is a big city to be lower than the others. I think here you have more people, more cultures together, more food. We have millions of foods here in LA you can’t find everywhere. You change one area, you find something new. It’s amazing. I think that during the ‘80's and ‘90's, you know, the chefs came here and they catered more to the people than they tried to cook what they really felt inside themselves. They tried to do what the customer wanted and that is good because we work in a customer service industry, but this style is not mine. When you’re a chef you want to do whatever you want. You know, people go to your restaurant because they like your food. A chef is something very…it is something that comes from your soul, if somebody breaks your soul, you are losing your identity you know? You’re losing your soul when you try to do what the others say. There’s a lot of restaurants like Republique, Union, Bestia, Alimento; these are good restaurants and the people, they are doing what they want. It’s not that they do it for other people and I think that is going to change this year more people and next year is going to come more people and one day comes somebody from New York like Daniel (Boulud) or somebody like that and boom! Michael White I heard is coming and I love that guy and that means something. That means that this city is starting to grow and when these people from New York, Chicago, from San Francisco come here it is special.
FP: Are there any restaurants on your list that you’ve been wanting to try?
PR: I want to try Alimento.
FP: What is one of your favorite things to cook at home?
PR: I always make a rice dish. I love rice because in Valencia we have almost 200 different kinds of dishes of rice. People only know Paella and a couple others but we have many more. Something quick I will make is a “bikini.” A “bikini” is a sandwich of ham and cheese but we call it bikini because when we cut it like this it looks like a bikini. This machine what is it called? For making the sandwiches? The Panini machine. I love it, a bikini with just ham and cheese and in that, oh f*ck I love it, a lot. And I put olive oil and salt. Olive oil, salt, ham and cheese some pickles some olives or whatever that’s enough a glass of wine with the cheese that’s enough…buh-bye. You don’t want a complicated life.
FP: Do you have any tricks as a chef for home cooks?
PR: I always think to get a good olive oil and get good salt and a good vinegar. This will change the quality in your kitchen. I focus on one thing, I like this olive oil I’m just going to use it and be consistent. You don’t want special olive oils in my opinion, you don’t want special olive oils for special food. You want one olive oil you can use for everything. At my restaurant you will get the same flavors every time.
FP: What would you do on a day off?
PR: I would love to play my guitar. You know when I have a day off I go to the mountains...Topanga, Malibu, where ever there is a mountain I go. I like the big trees.
Smoke Oil Salt will be celebrating its one year anniversary at the end of this month and in LA, that is saying something. The traditional dishes, honoring Chef Rochere's hometown of Valencia, have the flavor of timeless pride and cultural dignity. If you bite into the house-made sausage, sip the Brut Cava from Catalonia, or touch anything else to your lips, you will know what I mean.
For past blog posts (2011-2013), please visit The Food Pervert Wordpress Blog.