In my previous post I mention all the new friendships I’ve made because of the blog. Included in that group would be Heidi Robb – a true foodie, talented cook, yoga and music lover and all around genuinely wonderful person that I’ve really enjoyed getting to know. And on top of that she has a pretty interesting gig testing recipes for chefs and restaurants, including Michael Symon for his upcoming cookbook. This Q&A is a great read – informative and entertaining (she even shares some restaurant scoop!).
1. Top 5 spices everyone should have in their pantry? Fine and flaked sea salt, vanilla bean, red chili, black peppercorns, cinnamon – stick and ground.
2. What is your favorite spice or herb to cook with and why? Although salt is a mineral and not a spice, cooking would be nothing without it – both in sweet and savory preparations. Salt lifts flavor – a good steak requires nothing but salt, add a cut ripe tomato, a slice of juicy mango and sweet butter. A slab of dark chocolate spread with almond butter and sprinkled with sea salt frequently serves as my breakfast on the run. I crave the salty-sweet treats from Thailand. Try a pinch of sea salt in your sweet chai tea – better, yes?
3. Favorite kitchen tool? A well-sharpened chefs knife can do it all on many days.
4. What do you love about Cleveland and what drives you nuts. There’s a pervasive sense of community in Cleveland that can be more difficult to find elsewhere. Generally speaking, Clevelanders are largely a friendly and helpful bunch. It’s also pretty easy to get anywhere else from here.
February. I managed to avoid all but five days of it this year and that was a beautiful thing.
5. Favorite restaurant? I can’t possibly single out one as my favorite. I’m happy to say there are many I frequent for different reasons and I’m content to share the love.
6. What restaurant do you miss? Higbee’s Sliver Grille, for sentimental reasons. I would have brought my kids there when they were younger. I remember having lunch there with my mom and nana. The kids lunch would come served in a little cardboard oven with a precious little lidded chicken dish of creamed chicken. It was kind of fancy and special and we dressed up and rode the rapid. Actually, as I write this down, I don’t think my son Julian would have been fired up about the Silver Grille after all – he is more of the old Kon-Tiki ilk- but Sasha would totally go for it.
7. Favorite dish to make? Roast chicken – I must roast one a week and it’s a family favorite. Pre-salt a good free-range bird overnight. The next day pull out that glob of fat from the inside, chop it fine with some salt and work it under the breast skin- sustainable basting. A halved head of garlic, quartered lemon, fresh thyme, fresh parsley fill the cavity. More salt on the outside and into a cozy little pan it goes until done in a hot 450 oven. Let rest and serve with pan juices. Save the carcass for stock making.
8. Easiest item to make for a large gathering? For a buffet I’d suggest a big platter of Asian style sesame-miso noodles topped with crunchy julienne snowpeas, cucumbers, scallions. Have available one or more DIY additions: grilled duck breast or shrimp, Chinese BBQ pork, slices of seared rare beef or albacore tuna, or baked tofu, for example. Not only is this preparation both visually striking and delicious, but most of the work and prep can be done the day before.
9. Where do you grocery shop? You name it, I’m there: Heinen’s, Mustard Seed, Whole Foods, Miles Market, Asian markets, farmer’s markets, West Side Market, Latin markets, online….
10. Where does your passion from cooking come from and how did you get into this business? I can’t recall a time I was ever disinterested in cooking. Both my mother and her mom, my Nana, were fantastic home cooks in their own right. Nana was a supreme baker in the old eastern European style, and her cooking reflected the same. My mother was more a contemporary cook with a slant towards fresh and wholesome. I helped in the kitchen whenever I could, shelling peas, beating eggs with a rotary beater, breading cutlets. It was not unusual to find me parked in front of the oven seated in a chair while studiously observing our dinner cook. I know, I’m a bit weird like that.
I’ve worked in the food and restaurant business in some capacity since I was fifteen. I’ve tried to escape and work in other venues, but the force kept pulling me back to the food. Along the way I was fortunate to establish friendships and connections that ultimately paved the way to various opportunities.
11. Biggest lesson(s) learned in the kitchen? Salt judiciously. Practice restraint in execution. And, no matter how short you are on space, never ever ever store plastic cutting boards in the oven.
12. How does your love and regular practice of yoga inspire your dishes? My practice affects less the way I cook and more the way I eat as I’ve generally lived a whole and healthy style of cooking. Yoga does force me to slow down, take notice and be mindful of which foods make my body feel good and which don’t, what causes energy to lag and peak, to observe when I’m sated, what my cravings are – too little, too much – balance – it really all comes down to balance.
13. What projects are you currently working on now? My super-talented beautiful friend and catering partner, Karen Gorman, is opening a new wine bar and carryout venture in Moreland Hills, The Nine of Cups and Nine of Cups Market. I’m consulting on recipe and menu development. There. I just spilled nine cups of beans. I’m absolutely thrilled for Karen – exciting times!
I’m also developing a slew of cooking classes with a new local farmer, Kelli Hanley of Hanley’s Homegrown, to be held out at her place. We are hoping to get started this summer.
14. You’re having a dinner party, top 5 songs on your playlist? So important! However, experience as a caterer has taught me the value of the delegation of duties. Knowing I would niggle far too long over a 5-song playlist, when my time is much better spent in the kitchen, I passed along music detail to friend Edward Angel Sotelo – bassist for the Jack Fords, Cobra Verde and freelance writer. He is passionate about food and has incredible musical taste. I asked Edward to give me a little something to go with beer, wine, tequila and salmorejo…this party is already sounding like a celebration.
You can hear the playlist here.
15. Describe your job in culinary media and the role you played in Michael Symon’s upcoming cookbook. A definition of media: “transmissions that are disseminated widely to the public”. My projects reside in the niche of culinary arts – ones destined for public consumption. Work can bring me recipe testing for cookbooks or restaurants, product development for retail, food styling, food-related writing, restaurant consulting. It’s safe to say that I always have something cooking.
I tested the recipes for Symon Says: Live to Cook. Testing, at times, meant following Michael around while cooking – having him stop, measure and weigh as he went, then writing a recipe from my notes and then reproducing it at home again with success. More often, I would receive recipes from co-author Michael Ruhlman, recipes from the restaurants or family that needed to be accurately reproduced – quantities, ingredients and processes modified and rewritten as required. It’s so important to ensure a great recipe result out of an average home kitchen – which I have – quite small devoid of high-end large appliances. If these recipes can work beautifully out of my home, they will work for you. The experience was a wonderful collaboration and the book truly is fantastic.
16. What local farmers do you support most often and why? I am crazy for Tea Hills Poultry, their chickens taste like chicken. I also shop Ohio Honey for the loveliest of local honeys.
17. If you could be any chef for a day, who would it be? Less chef and more master craftsman, Domenico DeMarco, the 70-something owner of Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn is the choice for me. He’s been at his craft for close to 50 years – turning out these unbelievably delicious pies, one at a (painstakingly-slow) time, out of deck ovens that you might swear were coal fired. Lately I’ve been making a lot of pizza and I want his secrets. The only way to really know would to BE him as it’s been his hands, his taste, his dance – it’s all there in his body’s memory. I could watch Mr. DeMarco create pizza for hours.
18. You have two plane tickets to anywhere in the world. Where are you going and who has the other ticket? As much as I MUST return to Southeast Asia to eat all of it proper, I’m heading back to Spain to thoroughly explore each one of the culinary regions. Karen gets the other ticket – we travel well together and our meals are enjoyed with wonder, thoughtful conversation, good wine and inspiration that translates to our work. Oh, the people, the culture, music, mountains, ocean, sea, late night dining, merrymaking, and land of Javier Bardem – please, when can we start packing?
19. What’s your favorite meal from your childhood and last meal on Earth? My mom always made a special birthday meal: steamed artichokes with mustard vinaigrette served on artichoke plates, coquilles St. Jacques baked in half-shells, chilled lemon soufflé with whipped cream and candied violets. I remain devoted to lemon soufflé in lieu of birthday cake to this day.
Last meal: A cup of New England lobster stew of the simplest kind – fresh lobster, butter and cream, a bucket of steamed soft-shell clams and broth, just-picked sweet summer corn, a fresh herb salad, beautiful runny raw-milk cheeses with one perfect peach and cherries. Great champagne, champagne, champagne, and a big after-dinner aged sipping tequila. Won’t need to worry about a hangover, right?
20. What advice would you give to someone planning an event? Hire someone you trust and let the caterer do their job. Please make sure the stove and ovens are in fine working order, the counter tops are clear and there is space in the refrigerator. Have a glass of wine, relax and enjoy your event.