My friend Lucy is one of those people who turn everything they touch into fun, so when she invited us over for dinner and fireworks last Thursday, I said yes before she even finished asking the question. The former editor of Edible LA magazine, she recently published a cookbook called "Made in America: Our Best Chefs Reinvent Comfort Food" whose success has generated a series of culinary events with top LA chefs at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. Her wonderful food blog, Ladles and Jellyspoons, continues this theme and is full of recipes, stories and inspiration on cooking with chefs past, present and future.
(The Fantastic Lucy Lean. All photos by LBG, 2013.)
Me: Whatever gave you the idea to dip the champagne glasses in edible glitter? That was such a festive way to give a party some immediate atmosphere.
Lucy: It was completely spur of the moment. I had bought red, white and blue glitter at Surfa's [LA's legendary culinary supply store] thinking I would decorate a cake with it. Literally an hour before people were coming, I saw it and thought, Oh my God, what can I do? I didn't have a cake. So I wet the rims of the glasses and dipped them in the glitter.
Me: It was kind of glam rock.
Lucy: The Founding Fathers meet Ziggy Stardust! I loved that everyone embraced it -- it was such a fun ice breaker. But everything was covered in glitter from the guests to me to the washing up -- perhaps I might use a little less next time!
Me: Remy and Minty have enviable culinary genes, what with the combination of your talents and those of your father-in-law [Jean Jacques Rachou, owner of New York City's famed restaurant La Cote Basque]. Are they total gastronomes?
Lucy: They do have amazing palates. And from accompanying me to various chef festivals they really appreciate high-end food. That being said, they are going to be the worst people to take out for dinner when they're grown up! They think it's totally normal to go in the back of the kitchen and talk to the chef about their meal.
Me: Can we go over the menu? Because ohmygod, that salad.
Lucy: It's the roasted cauliflower with hazelnuts and pomogranates from Yotam Ottolenghi's "Jerusalem" cookbook. Get the English version because it has a much nicer cover. You cook the salad hours before and then assemble and dress it at the last minute. It's just cauliflower roasted with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and some finely sliced celery, pomegranates, hazelnuts and chopped Italian parsley. The dressing has cinnamon, allspice, sherry vinegar and olive oil.
Me: And I still can't believe you made that bread from scratch.
Lucy: I promise you it's so easy -- it's the kind of thing you do a couple of times and think, "Why would I ever buy bread again?" The recipe's on my blog, but it comes from Ken Forkish's book Flour Water Salt Yeast. You have to get it, it's amazing. My friend Charlotte became so obsessed with it she actually packed her proofing bowls in her hand luggage when she went to England over the holidays so she could bake fresh loaves for her whole family.
Me: She did not.
Lucy: She did! Fresh bread out of the oven never ceases to amaze people. Even the most diehard low carb eaters can't resist! I serve it with a really good butter from Devon or France. You can easily throw together a cheese plate with three pieces of good cheese - I like a rich triple cream brie, a nutty Comté and some good English sharp Cheddar. Do as the Europeans do and serve it with salad or after the main course.
Me: What about the roast chicken?
Lucy: Also from Yotem's Jerusalem cookbook. It was roast chicken, clementines and Arak (but you can use ouzo or Pernod). You marinate the chicken overnight and then lay it out on large baking sheets and pop it in a hot oven about thirty minutes before your guests are due to arrive.
The genius of Ottolenghi is that his recipes are so original. I'm a judge for the James Beard Foundation Cookbook Award and you wouldn't believe how dull most cookbooks are. With Ottolenghi's food, you know it works, you know it's delicious, and even though you're using flavors that people aren't familiar with, it's not scary.
Me: I wish I had a photo of your dessert to show my readers but we all gobbled it up too quickly!
Lucy: It was a fresh apricot crumble with almonds and thick vanilla custard. I laid a few sprigs of verbena on top of the apricots when I cooked them and removed them before serving. Cooking is all about layering flavor, even with dessert -- I usually like to add a little crystallized ginger to the crumble topping, but I was out of it. I have a recipe for pink rhubarb crumble on my blog but you can make it with whatever fruit you like.
Me: That custard was amazing. I love homemade custard.
Lucy: (laughing) It wasn't homemade -- that was one of my little cooking tricks! I took a can of Devon Ambrosia custard, mixed it in a jug with a cup of heavy cream and a teaspoon of vanilla paste and refrigerated it until dessert time. Making custard from scratch can take an hour -- I'd rather spend my time making the crumble.
(This was supposed to be a photo of apricot crumble with custard sauce.)
Lucy: We're lucky that our property includes a section of mountain ridge that's wild and uncultivated. We do it every year. It's become better and better as the kids have gotten older.
Me: And then your neighbor regaled us with a private fireworks party.
Me: What's up next for you?
Lucy: I just started working with Ludo Lefevbre's wife Krissy on Chef Fest, a curated event in Los Angeles featuring twenty-plus celebrated chefs for demos and dinners. It's going to be fabulous [Editor's Note: Check Lucy's blog for future details].
Me: Any last advice?
Lucy: People try to get fancy for dinner parties and I like to keep it simple. Cook something that can be prepared in advance so you aren't cooking when everyone arrives. It's not that difficult if you keep to what you know. I have so much fun entertaining it almost feels like cheating!