Driving up and down Hollywood's soft hills is like swinging in a cradle in one of those dreams that you never want to end. Seduced by the sweet city cocktail of warm asphalt and colorful blossoms popping up behind the iron gates of the elegant Spanish-style mansions along the endless streets and boulevards cutting through the city, I had to pinch myself to believe that I finally arrived at the first stop of my culinary trip around the world, an adventure I started together with ZWILLING.
These trips will take me to different continents to meet the locals and dive into the secrets and excitements of their cuisines. It's a colorful mix of Meet in Your Kitchen features that shows the beauty and richness of our worldwide kitchen heritage. The cooking of each country, region, or even village is unique, but despite the differences, we have one thing in common wherever we live: we meet in the kitchen, at the table, to eat, drink, and feast together with the ones we love. This has never changed and I don't believe that this will ever change.
LA wins me over in an instant, always, whenever I go there. There seems to be freedom in the air, no boundaries, but opportunities. Palm trees gracefully grow into the endless blue sky, and even the Pacific hitting the long beaches of Venice and Malibu with its wild waves seem to mellow down as it touches the city's golden sand. LA just puts a smile on your face, you can't help it, it makes you focus on what's possible rather than the obstacles. It's magical and this might be the reason why so many people from all over the country working in the food scene come together in this beautiful spot in California, to work together, to create, and to let their visions come alive.
This, and the fact that the state's unbelievably pleasing weather lets the produce grow so lusciously that it turns the land into a Garden of Eden. Whoever I met in LA, praised the gift of having the best fruits and vegetables at hand almost all year round. All the chefs, home cooks, and farmers who I met in California, who often came from far-flung places and left their home town or country behind, were pulled and inspired by the ingredients that California brings to their kitchens.
One of the first kitchens that I visited on my trip was at Botanica, a stunningly beautiful restaurant founded by the wonderful Heather Sperling and Emily Fiffer. Both women had been working in the food industry as editors on the East coast for more than a decade, but they were hungry for more. They chose LA to bring a project to life, giving it all their love, passion, and honest determination. An old run-down liquor store in Silverlake looked less than promising when they first saw it, but Heather and Emily knew from the start that this would be the right place to give their vision a home.
They gutted it and after a year of sweat and work you can't even imagine how this gorgeous bright and airy space looked before the renovations. A tall wall touched up in a soft Tuscan pink holds the old wooden beams above the restaurant's rustic wooden tables and a little market where you can buy the products and produce used in Botanica's kitchen.
The two ladies also started an online magazine (http://botanicamag.com/), a collection of the recipes used at their restaurant to complete their customers hungry needs: you can eat a dish at Botanica, fall in love with it so much that you want to cook it at home, buy the ingredients right away, grab the recipe from the magazine, and go straight to your own kitchen and cook it again.
Sitting at this restaurant feels a bit like being in Heather and Emily's home and this was an important aspect for them when they first started thinking about their restaurant baby. The design, the menu they put together, the way they work together with their employees, this all shows a philosophy of working and living together in a community. They have strong connections with the other restaurants in their neighborhood, many of which are also run by women and together they put the spotlight back onto LA's culinary scene (you can read about quite a few of them in the following Meet In Your Kitchen series coming up in the next few weeks). They not only share the same work ethics, but also their farmers and suppliers.
And they all have one more thing in common, all these restaurants celebrate vegetables. Heather and Emily manage to turn a potato, cauliflower, squash, or carrot into a vibrant feast. They shift the traditional focus from meat and seafood centric dishes to roots, cabbages, and legumes. Botanica is not a vegetarian restaurant, but ribs, steaks, or fillets aren't the star of the meal anymore, they can be a part of a greater composition, add flavor, be a luxurious treat of outstanding quality, but they aren't essential anymore. And the two women's recipes are so fantastic that you won't even miss it, you just indulge in a dish like their seared vegetables with romesco (see above), which is so rich, balanced, and exciting that you don't ever think of anything but tasty vegetables. And apart from this more than satisfying pleasure for the taste buds, you can be sure that you just enjoyed food that is good for your body, locally sourced in a strong community that works with and not against nature and our environment.