Dana Cowin, the long-time editor in chief of FOOD & WINE MAGAZINE, has an expert palate. For more than two decades, Dana has been at the helm of the talent-seeking (her Twitter handle is indeed @fwscout), design and lifestyle-focused, foodie bible FOOD & WINE. She can spot rising talent a mile away. But her own skills in the kitchen? “I’m going to be honest: I am not a great cook,” Cowin says in the introduction to her new cookbook. In her inimitable style, Dana turned to her chef friends (in many cases, FOOD & WINE made their careers) and asked for some tips and tricks.
The result is the gleaming Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen, which has Dana’s self-professed “pathologically positive” voice strongly urging everyone to push past their comfort zone, learn something new and become better at one of the most gratifying talents available: being a great cook. It’s like a cooking class in a book with 65 chefs whispering secrets to you while providing over 100 recipes to master.
On May 5, 2015, the morning after the James Beard Foundation Awards were held at the beautiful and grand Lyric Opera of Chicago, Dana was joined by the incredibly talented, extremely likeable, and charismatic chef Suzanne Goin for the first in a series: The COOKGIRL Cookbook Author/Chef Series at Elawa Farm.
Suzanne Goin is a James Beard Award winner and FOOD & WINE BEST NEW CHEF, Class of 1999. Suzanne's restaurants in Los Angeles include two that are celebrated in the cookbooks that were received in addition to Dana’s by all of the attendees at the event: Sunday Suppers at Lucques and The a.o.c. Cookbook. Suzanne is a chef of impeccable pedigree; she got her start cooking at some of the best restaurants in the world, including Chez Panisse. As Alice Waters observed: “A great many cooks have come through the kitchen at Chez Panisse, but Suzanne Goin was a stand-out. We all knew immediately that one day she would have a restaurant of her own, and that other cooks would be coming to her for kitchen wisdom and a warm welcome.” Since opening her L.A. restaurant Lucques in 1998, Goin’s cooking has garnered extraordinary accolades. Lucques is now recognized as one of the best restaurants in the country. She won one of her James Beard Awards for Sunday Suppers at Lucques and then wrote a follow-up cookbook about her sophomore project, a.o.c..
Suzanne and Dana had a shared mission on May 5th: Understand Suzanne’s techniques and philosophy so that you can enjoy yourself in the kitchen and have no problem achieving restaurant-quality results at home.
So what did we learn at the COOKGIRL Talk/Demo/Taste/Q&A and Cookbook signing? Some key things, my friends.
1. MASSAGE IS NOT JUST A SPA TREATMENT. USE YOUR HANDS. Especially for things like salad and hand-torn croutons. Get your hands in there and massage the oils into the ingredient – the net result is more flavor and a better end result. As Suzanne pointed out, if you massage the olive oil into the bread, they get nicely toasted on the outside but stay soft and delicious on the inside. No rock hard croutons!
2. ORGANIC CAN BE A SHAPE. Chef Goin is a fan of ingredients that look like themselves. Tear your lettuce, rip your bread and don’t cube your vegetables (she prefers cutting veggies on the bias). Doing so gives you that perfect balance of perfection and authenticity when everything is put together on the plate. It’s the cooking equivalent of “natural make-up.”
3. WHEN USING A MORTAR & PESTLE, THE FIRST SHOT BETTER BE YOUR BEST. Dana mentioned that in her attempt to smash her garlic and anchovies for the dressing in one recipe, she created a mess as everything flew out of the mortar. Suzanne said, “Smash it like you mean it. The first time.”
4. ANCHOVIES. YOU DO NOT HATE THEM. We talked a lot about anchovies and learned that anchovies come already filleted in oil or packed in salt, with a refrigerator life of….let’s just say forever. Either way, give anchovies a chance. They create amazing flavor and if prepared properly, should not be fishy.
5. DON’T BE LAZY AND SKIP STEPS. Dana mentions this in her cookbook and it was clear watching Suzanne’s calm perfectionism that God is in the details. The difference between the chef’s intention and your result with a recipe is following directions, taking your time and being patient.
6. COOK WITH CONVICTION. Another learning from Dana’s book is that you need to cook like you mean it. Watching Suzanne Goin, it is true that chefs are chefs because they are not casual about their cooking. “Good chefs focus mightily when they’re in the kitchen. You need to, too,” says Dana in “What I’ve Learned: A Cheat Sheet” in Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen.
7. DEBONING ANCHOVIES CAN BE A MEDITATION. Apparently, it is meditative like knitting. Suzanne told the story about working the salad station at Chez Panisse. In order to get a head start on her day, she would take the anchovies home at night to debone them and then arrive at 4:30 am (rather than the appointed 6:00 am start time) to get her station ready. “That’s why you’re a successful restaurateur now. You were already planning ahead and going the extra mile,” said Dana.
8. CHUNKY BIG INGREDIENTS ARE THE BEST. BUT DON’T CROWD THE INGREDIENTS WHILE COOKING. For nearly every ingredient that Suzanne prepared, Dana remarked that when she made the recipes at home, she made the individual ingredients much smaller. Suzanne noted that it had to do with scale on a plate and that she loves the individual items to be large rather than minute. Suzanne’s tip with the chicken liver in the sauté pan and the breadcrumbs on the cookie sheet: Do not overcrowd your ingredients while they are cooking. The result is mush.
9. IT’S OK TO LIKE SALAD. WITH EVERYTHING. Suzanne is lucky enough to live in LA where salad is always fresh and in season, so it’s no surprise that almost every recipe - - and the 3 that were demonstrated - - had greens on the plate. It made the presentation fresh, spring-like and restaurant-worthy. Add your greens!
10. EVERYONE DESERVES TO COOK LIKE A CHEF. PREP YOUR INGREDIENTS MISE EN PLACE AND PRETEND YOU’RE ON STAGE. It was such fun to watch Suzanne pick and grab from the ingredients prepped on the cooking demo stage. This is absolutely something worth replicating at home. Prep all of your ingredients BEFORE you start cooking. You are less likely to forget something, less likely to overcook something while you rush to chop the next ingredient, and the entire process is more enjoyable. So be a TV Chef and mise en place!
COOKGIRL Shout Out to our sponsors for the day: William Blair and Terlato Wines International. Their generosity and dedication to the success of women in every industry makes them COOKGIRL favorites.
William Blair & Company is an independent and employee-owned firm, based in Chicago with offices in 16 cities across five continents with profound and varied philanthropic impact in the Chicago area. In addition to their Women’s Initiative Network, William Blair supports The Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Healthy Kids Market.
Terlato Wines International delighted to attendees with a sampling of three wines that were expertly paired with the recipes of the day. Terlato selected wines with the Tasting Notes in The a.o.c. Cookbook, written by Suzanne Goin’s business partner and Wine Director, Caroline Styne.
Chicken Liver Crostini with Pancetta
Tasting Notes: Pairs beautifully with a glass of Prosecco, with a slightly fruitier and lighter body than champagne.
Terlato Wine: Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco NV - $19.99
Sweet Pea Pancakes withDungeness Crab & Red Onion Crème Fraîche
Tasting Notes: Lesser known, but perfect with the briny saltwater flavor inherent in the Dungeness crab, Italian varieties such as Biancolella, Forastera, San Lunardo and Uva Rilla
Terlato Wine: Anselmi Capitel Croce 2013 - $28.99
Young Escarole with Anchovy Dressing, Pecorino, and Torn Croutons
Tasting Notes: A forceful, bright Sauvignon Blanc from Italy would pair beautifully with racy citrus and bracing acidity, marrying perfectly with the sharpness of flavor in the vinaigrette and anchovy.
Terlato Wine: Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc 2013 - $23.99
TERLATO KITCHENS was also on hand to sample the unique and delicious specialty food that is made in small batches using hand-selected ingredients for unparalleled quality. Attendees were able to sample and purchase products including Pomodoro Sauce, Arrabbiata Sauce, Vodka Sauce and Certified Organic Maple Syrup. There was a rush for the Strawberry Low Sugar Preserves that John Terlato personally sources from a little strawberry hut on the drive up the Silverado Trail to the Terlato wineries. The Preserves are available on a limited basis for an extremely short season….just like the strawberries themselves.
And COOKGIRL’s partner, Elawa Farm, provided the warm (despite the cold, rainy day) Hay Barn as the perfect rustic culinary enclave for Dana & Suzanne’s cooking demonstration. 30 miles north of Chicago in the bucolic City of Lake Forest, Elawa Farm is an architecturally significant “Gentleman’s Farm” built in 1917 by architect Alfred Hopkins for Elsa and A. Watson Armour. With a working 2.2-acre garden, Elawa Farm provides the farm-to-table concept through their Garden Market, local businesses and at their fall harvest benefit, “FEAST”.
COOKGIRL cannot wait for the next in the series of Cookbook Author/Chef Visits to Elawa. Join COOKGIRL for updates and invitations to this and other special events, all with a portion of the proceeds to the COOKGIRL FOUNDATION.
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