Chefs at Home: Suzanne Tracht's California Country Kitchen

Chefs at Home: Suzanne Tracht's California Country Kitchen

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The mother of 2 and chef at Los Angeles' Jar shows off her vintage stove and 4 adorable dogs

Suzanne Tracht shows off her Southern California kitchen, her adorable breakfast nook, and of course, her dogs.

Jean-Georges and Marja Vongerichten's New York high-rise apartment might be all cool glass, modernist designs, and waterfront views, but out in suburban Los Angeles, Suzanne Tracht's kitchen brings in the sunshine, flowers, and antiques.

We stopped by the Jar chef's Beverlywood home over Presidents' Day weekend as she prepared a little feast for a few friends, including Jar bartender Margo Tyler. The open kitchen, sans island, makes working with multiple people in the kitchen that much easier, although counter space is pretty sacred. And while Tracht chose to keep most of the original kitchen intact, she swapped out a standard kitchen stove for a vintage four-burner range. "It's my baby," she says of the stove.

Click through our slideshow to see Tracht's homey kitchen, where family, friends, and of course, four dogs can somehow all magically fit. And since Tracht has four lovable dogs, there are more than enough bonus puppy shots (not to mention plenty of food porn).

17 Awesome Women Chefs in Los Angeles You Should Support Right Now

L.A. is home to some outstanding female chefs&mdashfrom the stalwarts who broke ground for other women many years ago to young female chefs making their own mark in the culinary world. In honor of Women&rsquos History Month, we are highlighting some of these amazing women here. While there are other women chefs that we love in LA (such as Nyesha Arrington and Mei Lin), the list below focuses on those whose restaurants are currently open, so we can all support local.

Recipe Summary

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons pickled ramp brine plus 1 cup chopped pickled ramps (such as Blackberry Farm), divided
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 3 pounds heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  • 15 cherry tomatoes (about 1/2 pound), halved
  • 2 medium-size sweet Maui onions (about 1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch rings
  • 1/2 cup fresh leafy herbs (such as basil, tarragon, parsley, and chervil)

Whisk together olive oil, rice vinegar, pickled ramp brine, 11/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.

Layer heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, onion slices, and herb leaves on a serving platter. Sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Scatter chopped pickled ramps over salad, and drizzle with pickled ramp vinaigrette.

Women Are Really Cooking Now

Shari Lynne Robins of the restaurants James Beach and Canal Club was 13 when she started a small catering business making sandwiches for her mother’s beauty shop customers. Granita’s Jennifer Naylor grew up in a venerable Los Angeles restaurant family, granddaughter of Tiny Naylor. Babette Ory is the daughter of jazz legend Edward Kidd Ory, who taught her to cook Creole for his jazz cronies when she was just 2 years old. Josie Le Balch’s father was the chef at L’Escoffier.

Crustacean’s Helene An was a princess of Vietnam’s royal family Xiomara Ardolina was born and raised in Old Havana Mako Antonishek is from the Philippines, and Chez Mimi’s Micheline Herbert was a governess from Montreal who cooked for her employer.

12:00 AM, Mar. 22, 2000 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 22, 2000 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 2 inches 70 words Type of Material: Correction
Women chefs--The key to a photo of women chefs in Tuesday’s Southern California Living was misnumbered. The women are: 1. Jennifer Naylor, 2. Josie Le Balch, 3. Tara Thomas, 4. Mako Antonishek, 5. Ann Gentry, 6. Xiomara Ardolina, 7. Helene An, 8. Susan Feniger, 9. Scooter Kanfer, 10. Shari Lynne Robins, 11. Nancy Silverton, 12. Mary Sue Milliken, 13. Suzanne Goin, 14. Angela Hunter, 15. Gwen Gulliksen, 16. Suzanne B., 17. Suzanne Tracht, 18. Babette Ory, 19. Danielle Reed, 20. Allyson Thurber.
PHOTO: (no caption)

But they now have at least one thing in common. They are part of a new phenomenon marking Los Angeles as a vanguard on yet another cultural front: women chefs.

This city is being swept in a wave of women executive chefs--not to mention chef-owners--of some of the most high-profile, influential restaurants defining cuisine locally, and thus nationally. There are dozens of culinary stars in what, in other parts of the country, is still a rarefied male sphere. And when you add managers, pastry chefs, sous chefs, line cooks and such, Southern California is leading the feminist movement in professional kitchens globally.

Numbers are hard to come by, as women chefs are still under-counted. But the three dozen-plus women in Southern California are a strong presence when you consider that a mere 157 of the 3,873 chefs accredited by the American Culinary Federation as executive chefs are women. Executive chef annual salaries can range anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000 and higher, but most fall within the $60,000-to-$70,000 range.

“Los Angeles has done a better job of [having] women rising to the top,” says Jean Wolinsky, spokeswoman for the James Beard Foundation, the preeminent culinary organization in America. Foundation President Len Pickel adds that “the women in Los Angeles have more chance to exhibit what they can do and exhibit their talent. It takes a lot of perseverance and dedication to really jump to the top, especially when you go east of the Mississippi.”

While Northern California may have pioneered the empowered woman breaking through the wall of the male chef mystique via Alice Waters, Molly Katzen and others, Los Angeles now heads the quiet revolution.

These women are shaping palates and tastes, recruiting women kitchen staffs and helping to define American cuisine. The phenomenon, going beyond the upscale Beverly Hills-Westside grid, is playing out all over the Southland--from Christine Brown in Torrance to Ardolina’s Xiomara in Pasadena, Susan Fine Moore’s reformatted coffee shop near Beachwood Canyon to Allyson Thurber at the Lobster in Santa Monica and Tara Thomas’ Traxx in Union Station.

Even the Getty Center has a woman executive chef, Gwen Gulliksen, who oversees three restaurants, a full-service catering division and half a dozen coffee carts. And there are a slew of female chefs--Jennifer Naylor, Jennifer Jasinski, Gina Decew among them--whose careers are being launched by the Wolfgang Puck-Barbara Lazaroff empire.

“Women are just as good, and better, than men,” says an adamant Puck, who is venerated in culinary circles for catapulting many of the women to success. “And they deal with a handicap. It’s like being an immigrant and coming to America, and you have to try harder to do better.”

It was Puck who helped many of them along the way.

“Well, Wolfgang and Barbara get the credit,” Moore says. “They were willing to train anyone who could do the work. They didn’t care, as long as you could do the job,” she says, contrasting that to the glass ceiling she faced when apprenticing at the Century Plaza Hotel in 1970. “They told me there weren’t any openings for women. They looked at it like a rooster in the henhouse.”

By the mid-'80s, says Suzanne Tracht, executive chef at L.A.'s Jozu for the last three years and who is now scouting property for her own restaurant, “if you were a woman in the kitchen, you either worked pastry or pantry.”

Moving to the Front Burner

That began to change when Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger opened City Restaurant in 1985 and Border Grill five years later. Nancy Silverton opened Campanile and LaBrea Bakery in 1989. Other Puck-Lazaroff proteges began moving up to executive chef positions, and as they did, they hired more women kitchen staff. And now, many local women have national profiles.

“Some of the front-runners of the whole California cuisine movement have been women,” says Bloomingdale’s food consultant Michael Weinberg. Milliken and Feniger are at the top of the pyramid, having alchemized Mexican food with a California twist now with Ciudad in Southern California and Las Vegas, and also having parlayed their animated pal banter as the “Too Hot Tamales” on television and radio.

Silverton, along with husband Mark Peel, created high-profile venues and was one of the first to get national press for the burgeoning light California cuisine. Suzanne Goin has made the top 10 lists and covers of Saveur and Food and Wine magazines, and has also been featured in Gourmet, for Lucques’ upscale yet homey California-French mix. And An, the former Vietnamese royal, has catapulted Crustacean’s Euro-Asian cuisine into Esquire’s top 10, as well as mentions in Town & Country and the Wall Street Journal.

And this spring more women plan to stake their flags on Los Angeles property. Josie Le Balch, who made a name for herself at Saddle Peak Lodge and opened the Beach House in Santa Monica, will launch Josie at the former site of 2424 Pico. Scooter Kanfer, formerly of Nik’s, is opening the House, a new American bistro on Melrose, with Dana Caskey. Babette Ory has just begun construction in Santa Monica on Cafe Paradiso, which will be her third restaurant, to open by early summer. L’Ermitage pastry chef Angela Hunter is co-founder (with Benjamin Ford, son of Harrison Ford) of Chadwick’s, which will use bio-dynamic organic produce it is farming itself.

And Ann Gentry’s Real Food Daily, with restaurants in both Santa Monica and West Hollywood, has pushed the envelope as the only operation in Southern California serving a 100% vegetarian-vegan menu using foods grown exclusively with organic farming methods.

So why is it all coming together here?

“I think that L.A. is a really progressive town,” Milliken says. “This is a forward-thinking kind of environment.”

She recalls her first job at a high-end French restaurant in Chicago: “I had to practically beg my way into it because I was a woman. I love L.A. There is this open atmosphere to be creative in your food, whatever, career, lifestyle.”

Opportunities in the Golden State

When Suzanne Bourg bought Pasadena’s Raymond restaurant 21 years ago, “I didn’t know of a single other woman chef,” she says. She transformed the historical Craftsman cottage from an unassuming sandwich place to its current award-winning, if traditional, mix of French and California cuisine.

“Los Angeles has a lot of opportunity for women. It’s unbelievable how independent women are,” Ardolina adds. She has been on the cutting edge not only because she introduced authentic Cuban cuisine ahead of the current Latin wave but also because she is one of the many women chef-entrepreneurs operating their own restaurants. “When women find out I’m a woman chef, a single mother and a restaurant owner, they think I’m a hero.”

“We’re more casual out here,” explains Crustacean co-owner Elizabeth An, Helene’s daughter, pinpointing the West Coast receptivity to gender equality in the kitchen, among other arenas. And Traxx chef-owner Tara Thomas says her Union Station eatery benefits from “a wonderful amalgam of different cultures here, of different walks of life.” Thomas had worked at a number of venues, including the Ritz-Carlton kitchen in San Francisco, before opening a restaurant in Little Tokyo with her husband. When the couple split up, she took the plunge on her own and signed a contract for the historic train station.

Silverton, another icon among women chefs in Los Angeles for both breaking the gender barrier and hiring women kitchen staff, says that there is a natural, almost organic, synergy between California energy and women.

“I always say, ‘There are two types of food, there’s girl food and there’s boy food.’ And I’m saying this in fun, as a gross generalization. But girls cook to please and to nurture and boys cook to impress. The food that is very typical of California is girl food. Food that comes from the heart, food that comes from our local food sources, the huge bountiful vegetables. We in California don’t cook as much to camouflage as we do to encourage these flavors. That’s what you find at many of the restaurants in California. And a lot of women are doing this food.”

Thomas cites a common motive among women restaurateurs: a maternal instinct.

“I think we women chefs, myself included, tend to run the restaurant like family,” she says. “The reason I got in the business was that I thought it would be great to entertain all the time. I had a fantasy of a salon where my friends would come in and I’d see them, cook for them, give them a little sustenance, things I want to share with them, and then develop a relationship with my guests.”

That same biological proclivity to family has also been a career obstacle for some women.

“I have this theory,” says Mako Antonishek, chef at Le Colonial, one of the city’s most high-profile restaurants on the border of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. “Women are as driven as men until you reach a point where you are forced to decide how you want to balance the pressure of executive chef and a family. Being a chef is all-consuming. And you ask yourself, ‘What do I want? Can I have both?’ But it’s tough.”

But within the field there is much more support than rivalry, they say.

“It’s a very nurturing community,” Milliken says.

Veteran restaurant publicist Joan Luther describes a get-together dinner she hosted in the fall, attended by 16 of the top women chefs.

“Seeing all these women in one room, so interested in each other and what they were doing and so supportive, was thrilling,” she says.

Gender Differences in the Kitchen

There are clear differences between men and women in the kitchen, notwithstanding the general caveats about stereotyping.

“Women tend to be a bit more organized and methodical than men, as a gender thing,” says Pickel, the Beard Foundation president. Temperament is a ticklish issue, say chefs.

“Oh, boy, it’s a loaded subject,” faculty instructor Toni Sagaguchi says, with a laugh. Sagaguchi works at the Culinary Institute of America. “Women are a little more nurturing, a little less screaming, than men.”

Adds Antonishek: “Women are more prone to try other methods of reprimanding cooks, whereas men go that very French way of just yelling. Immediately. It’s, like, automatic for them to bark.”

The number of women in professional kitchens is rising dramatically, here and around the country.

“When women run kitchens, more women go work in them, so it becomes something that increases exponentially,” says Deann Bayless, the Chicago-based head of the national Women Chefs and Restaurateurs.

“And the doors are open for line cooks, sous chefs, line chefs,” adds the Getty’s Gulliksen. According to Dina Altieri, instructor at the local California School of Culinary Arts, “classes have gone from 30% female in the early ‘90s to 50-50 male-female now.”

The city already has a plethora of female pastry chefs, a field that has traditionally accepted women. In addition to L’Ermitage’s Hunter, there is a slew of women working at the top-tier restaurants, like Spago Beverly Hills’ Sherry Yard, Wonyee Tom at the Water Grill and Jan Purdy at Linq’s.

And Jasinksi, who has been with Puck-Lazaroff for a decade, broke the corporate gender divide with her appointment by Puck as overall chef for the corporate division of Wolfgang Puck Cafes, concepts and frozen food--a first for a woman.

“I haven’t met any other chefs who are running multi-unit corporate operations who are women,” Jasinski says. “I love it when I go out to the dining room and talk to the people. They get a kick out of women chefs. They go, ‘Great, go for it.’ Because it’s a tough business. But I couldn’t see myself doing something different.”

12:00 AM, Mar. 22, 2000: For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 22, 2000 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 2 inches 70 words Type of Material: Correction
Women chefs--The key to a photo of women chefs in Tuesday’s Southern California Living was misnumbered. The women are: 1. Jennifer Naylor, 2. Josie Le Balch, 3. Tara Thomas, 4. Mako Antonishek, 5. Ann Gentry, 6. Xiomara Ardolina, 7. Helene An, 8. Susan Feniger, 9. Scooter Kanfer, 10. Shari Lynne Robins, 11. Nancy Silverton, 12. Mary Sue Milliken, 13. Suzanne Goin, 14. Angela Hunter, 15. Gwen Gulliksen, 16. Suzanne B., 17. Suzanne Tracht, 18. Babette Ory, 19. Danielle Reed, 20. Allyson Thurber.
PHOTO: (no caption)

Old-fashioned trumps high-tech in chef’s kitchen

LOS ANGELES — Chef Suzanne Tracht is quietly elegant her teenage daughter is beautiful and casually fashionable in black leggings. Their kitchen? Kind of like grandma’s house — and that’s just how they like it.

Tracht doesn’t want to spend her off hours in a modern, stainless-steel kitchen that feels like the kitchens at her restaurant, the Beverly Boulevard chophouse Jar.

“I don’t want to come home from work and see that,” she says.

The atmosphere was set when she moved to the house in Beverlywood about a decade ago. Her friend, artist Jill Young-Manson, painted a still life of pretty pink and yellow flowers in a pale blue vase near two blue teapots.

“It’s done on the back of a grocery bag,” Tracht says. “It was the first thing I put up in the house.”

At the other end of the room is something she bought from Young-Manson’s husband: an O’Keefe and Merritt four-burner range, with a chrome center piece that keeps food warm. A Chemex coffee maker, two French press pots and an espresso pot sit on top. Dish towels — roosters on one, vegetables on the other — hang on the oven door handles.

It’s a kitchen that’s worldly but cozy, a collection of things that carry family history and present-day preferences. Her mother’s squat silver sugar bowl and creamer sit on the breakfast table, and plates from Luna Garcia in Venice, Calif., hold fresh fruit and vegetables on the white tile counter. There’s a round vase holding small white roses, and near the sink there’s an orchid from Orchids Anonymous on 3rd Street.

“Orchids are beautiful, and they’re low-maintenance,” Tracht says. “They’re nice, they mind their own business.”

She and her daughter, Ida Trevino, often eat in the breakfast nook, which is set off from the rest of the kitchen by a doorway and has its own built-in entertainment: One of their three rescue dogs, Juno, can jump high enough to peek in at the window.

Up on the shelf that surrounds the nook, Mexican dioramas include one of skeletons playing pool. The corner hutch has two ingenious triangular drawers that open toward each other. Its shelves hold a collection of seltzer bottles and four ivory-colored metal water jugs.

“I always stop at garage sales and antique stores,” Tracht says.

Next to the Young-Manson painting, on a narrow ledge, a wooden painted rooster seems to be inspecting the work. On another wall is a poster by de Roger Blachon in which a complete chaos of cooks and cakes and copper pots makes a mess in a delightfully wild restaurant kitchen. Spilled pastries, dirty dishes, even a toque-wearing pig at the stove fill every bit of space.

It’s the polar opposite of Tracht’s own kitchen. She good-naturedly complains about Ida and her friends leaving a mess in the kitchen — pizza boxes and the remnants of pasta.

“I like my house nice and clean,” Tracht, 48, says in serious understatement.

The breakfast nook and, separated by a wall, a room for pantry and laundry lead through separate doorways to the working heart of the kitchen, a square area with the appliances and, of course, the food.


On the counter sit tomatoes and lemons, an apple cut to eat, as well as a loaf of bread. Two bags of Umbrian lentils sit in a cupboard that also holds Nutella and chestnut honey for tea, and truffle salt for topping pasta with butter and Parmesan cheese. In a drawer, an old carbon steel knife has a blade that’s nearly black.

A glass-fronted cupboard near the sink holds three big white mugs, decorated with initials for Tracht, her daughter and her son, Max, a student at the California Maritime Academy. Another cupboard holds a fold-down ironing board.

Without an island, there seems to be a lot of open space, even though Tracht’s kitchen is modest. The dishwasher can’t open all the way because it hits the oven.

The refrigerator is smaller than average. It’s big enough to hold the two rows of boxes of chocolate milk Ida says she “could live off of.”

“I think people work better in a small kitchen,” Tracht says, adding the space didn’t leave enough room for the one appliance Ida and Max always wanted.

“My kids are still mad at me for not having a microwave,” says Tracht.


She has been cooking professionally since she was 19, when she left college for a job in the “very male” kitchen at the Arizona Biltmore hotel in Phoenix.

And sure enough, a few minutes later Ida walks in and says she doesn’t cook much but can use the O’Keefe & Merritt. “I learned how to do the oven because we don’t have a microwave,” she says with a glance at her mother.

Tracht cooks steak or a whole leg of lamb out back on an old-style Weber grill. She and her daughter eat lots of salads and make omelets or sushi, using ingredients from Tracht’s weekly farmers market trips.

“One of my joys is when my daughter gets up, I make her breakfast.”

Tracht has a set of brown plates she collected from the Heath factory outlet in Sausalito and some Laguna Beach consignment shop china.

Tracht was raised in a kosher home, where the rules of kosher eating would mandate different sets of dishes for different purposes. She does not keep a kosher kitchen now, but the effects of family never disappear, as Tracht acknowledges when she says of the china plates, which she uses for breakfast: “I would never put meat on this plate.”



With all the electric gadgets on store shelves, many chefs still turn to a lowly piece of equipment, one that has been around for centuries, to mash garlic or make spice blends: a mortar and pestle.

Chef Suzanne Tracht has a white porcelain Milton Brook version, which she got 20 years ago in London after seeing it while working at the Los Angeles restaurant Campanile.

“I love working with that one because I love the feel of it, and it’s not grainy, especially when I’m working with garlic and I want a smooth paste,” Tracht says.

The bowls (mortars) and mashers (pestles) are also made from marble, rougher stones, glass, steel and wood. To use one, put garlic or chilies or other spices into the bowl and use the pestle to grind to the desired consistency. It was for a time considered chic for waiters to make guacamole table side using mortar and pestle.

When she cooks a special dinner at home, Tracht likes to use the mortar and pestle while she hangs out with friends in the kitchen, sharing some wine and conversation without the noise of a machine.

But there is a catch: “My rule of thumb: I never let anyone else use it because if they broke it, I’d never speak to them again,” she says. “It’s my baby. I love it.”

Most kitchen shops sell mortar and pestle sets. The Milton Brook one is available through Amazon.

L.A.'s Easygoing Star

I moved to Los Angeles expecting to find a city of fitness enthusiasts nibbling sushi, salad and frozen yogurt. Those are popular dishes here, but the real fixture of the L.A. food scene came as a surprise. It's pot roast.

Chef Suzanne Tracht, whose restaurant Jar has received myriad honors since opening in 2001, has become nationally known for her pot roast. Twice a month, she gives classes to patrons, who pay $125 each to learn how to make the pot roast and other fare she serves at Jar. She never takes it off the menu, even in summer, and she also offers it at her other restaurant, Tracht's, which opened in Long Beach in 2007.

It was with anticipation that I arrived at Jar to learn how to make this legendary dish. Ms. Tracht, a petite, intense woman of few words, took me to the kitchen to demonstrate. She browned a hefty cut of short ribs, chopped some vegetables and doused it all with sherry and chicken stock. Ten minutes later, it was in the oven.

"It's so easy, it's stupid," I said. "Yeah, it is," she replied. "But don't tell anyone."

L.A. Chefs Reveal Their Must-Have Thanksgiving Dinner Dishes

From Vietnamese beef stew to spicy coconut crab, city chefs share the unique dishes they’re grateful to have on their own holiday tables.

Say Cheese
At Brandoni Pepperoni, chef Brandon Gray makes haute pizzas topped with lemon ricotta and fennel-pollen salami. But his Thanksgiving macaroni and cheese relies on a more humble ingredient to achieve a perfectly velvety texture: Velveeta. “A lot of chefs shit on Velveeta, but it’s not a true macaroni and cheese without it,” says Gray, though he admits to sometimes adding smoked gouda to keep guests on their toes. During his time cooking in the navy, Gray picked up a secret technique: “One of the shipmen would strain three quarters of the water the macaroni was cooked in, leave the last quarter of the now-starchy water, throw all the cheese in, and then mix it up,” says the chef. “You’re essentially creating a sauce with a thickened liquid.”

Stirring the Pot
Cassia co-owners Bryant and Kim Ng host an annual Thanksgiving potluck at their San Gabriel home that’s famous for two things: its karaoke contests and Kim’s beef stew. “Never mind that this is my profession,” says Bryant, who is also the chef at the couple’s acclaimed restaurant. “We want Kim’s stew.” The hearty riff on a traditional Vietnamese beef stew features slow-cooked short ribs, carrots, potatoes, and peas seasoned with star anise and fish sauce. The Ng’s holiday table is rounded out with everything from Vietnamese spring rolls to Bryant’s mother’s sticky rice to Porto’s Cuban pastries. “Who cares if it matches?” says Bryant. “In fact, it’s even better if it doesn’t.”

Claws Out
When she was growing up in Buena Park, chef Sabel Braganza’s family table was a mix of American turkey alongside Filipino and Chinese dishes. Her favorite was her aunt’s spicy coconut crab. “For some reason she stopped making it. I missed it, so I started making it,” says Braganza, who heads the kitchen at West Hollywood hot spot E.P. & L.P. She prepares her childhood favorite by steaming a whole crab in a broth made of coconut milk, ginger, garlic, shallot, jalapeños, and fish sauce—a classic Filipino blend of sweetness and spice. It’s best served with rice and a glass of Prosecco. “Super simple. The hardest part is eating it,” she says.

Family Fusion
“It was always a mix of Western and Chinese,” says Jon Yao, the chef-owner of Michelin-starred Kato, of his childhood Thanksgivings in Walnut. “We’d do a turkey with sticky rice and Chinese sausage stuffing.” When coming up with holiday dishes these days, Yao also mixes things up, incorporating elements of his Taiwanese mother’s cooking into traditional American dishes. For the past couple of years, he and his family have been experimenting with Chinese hot pot-style Thanksgiving dinners. “Trying to keep one foot in Chinese-Taiwanese culture and one foot in American culture was confusing when I was a kid,” Yao says. “Now I’ve found a healthy compromise between the two. That’s the real American Thanksgiving story.”

The Right Stuff
Growing up in the scorching climate of Arizona, Jar chef and co-owner Suzanne Tracht always looked forward to Thanksgiving. “It’s my favorite time of year, November—fall, the start of winter.” Along with the changing of the seasons, Tracht fondly remembers the “aroma of the house” when later she and her own family spent full days cooking together—often preparing food for 20 to 50 people. “We never say no to somebody who doesn’t have anywhere to go,” Tracht says. “We’re chefs we feed people whether we’re at home or in the restaurant.” Her hospitality is on full display in her finely tuned recipes like her classic cornbread turkey sausage stuffing, which took years to perfect. The dish features turkey sausage, shiitake mushrooms, and sourdough bread, though Tracht emphasizes the true key is to not “be cheap on the stock, or number one, the butter.” She never tires of her job, often drafting new recipes while messing around in the kitchen with friends over champagne. “You always want to make every dish with love, and Thanksgiving is the best time to love what you’re cooking and who you’re cooking for.”

Let’s Take a Moment to Appreciate The Enduring Brilliance of Chef Suzanne Tracht

A certain mythology represents chefs as buccaneers who toil over flames and party till dawn. That image might sell for Anthony Bourdain, but it’s hardly reality. The unglamorous cycle of exertion and recovery that is a chef’s routine is practically anti-clickbait, yet the ability to find balance is what separates those who last months and those who last decades. When you’re spending years pulling double shifts, you need to find a way to recharge, maintain focus, and stay sane in the process.

The way Suzanne Tracht sees it, the time she spends swimming laps at the Culver City Plunge (three times a week in the fast lane) is partly why she’s been able to perform nightly for 16 years in the hot kitchen of Jar, her Beverly Grove chophouse. Working at her usual spot alongside Armando Perez and Preech Narkthong, the petite 53-year-old mother of two has developed a series of moves that might be likened to the inside-the-paint game of an NBA center. There’s the hip-check of the pullout broiler where she chars Kansas City strips, the knee-tap of the lowboy fridge where she stores herbs, a quick pivot and long reach across the stove to grab the mussel appetizer—classic marinière with a splash of Sutter Home chardonnay and sliced ong choy greens.

Before launching Jar with decorated chef Mark Peel in 2001, Tracht operated Asian-fusion pioneer Jozu on Melrose. Back then she’d pay little heed to her own well-being. “I think I gave birth to my son on my day off,” she says with a laugh, recalling a time when she was a linchpin of Peel and Nancy Silverton’s team at the now-defunct Campanile. Taking care of herself, though, has not only contributed to her ability to keep cooking, it’s helped her become something increasingly rare in the restaurant business: a chef-owner who executes at the highest echelon on the line night after night.

Since opening, her brick-faced spot at Beverly and Harper (you remember it from the scene in La La Land when Emma Stone runs into the night to meet Ryan Gosling) has seen restaurants come and go it’s become a beacon of stability, allowing Tracht to develop treasured relationships with staff (food runner José Luis Escobar is not the only one who’s been there from the start) and customers alike. “I have one regular who wants me to call him when another regular makes a reservation,” Tracht says. “That way they don’t miss each other by being here on different nights.”

Though her cooking has taken her from an apprenticeship at the Arizona Biltmore through the decisive early era of Cal-Italian cooking, it has settled into an updated, confident version of the American repertoire. Her pot roast has just enough sherry to soothe shredded kimchi enlivens the brussels sprouts.

Tomorrow Tracht will take her two rescue mutts hiking at Runyon, but tonight…well, she’s a blur beside the swinging kitchen door, as usual. There’s enough time before starting the next order to say hello to table five.

A groundbreaking chef with the soul of a peasant makes her way home

California chef Nancy Silverton has just published her ninth cookbook. (Oriana Koren)
Charred Broccolini With Salami and Burrata, from Silverton’s new “Mozza at Home” cookbook. (Oriana Koren)

LOS ANGELES — Of course it was a worthy cause. They’re all worthy causes.

But the singular detail about the charity event in Santa Monica, Calif., that Nancy Silverton was about to cook for was that the hostess was feeding her 300 guests at home — on her tennis courts.

Silverton looked past my dropped jaw. “Isn’t it wonderful someone like that is so generous?” she asked brightly.

Well, yes. And if that event ratifies a show-business stereotype about Hollywood excess, let’s be clear that Silverton, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, is the antithesis of a Disney princess.

At 62, she is not only an iconic California chef but also an iconic American chef. When she opened La Brea Bakery in 1989 with a sourdough starter she’d made herself, she created six breads — including a country white, an olive loaf and a dark Normandy rye — and essentially founded the artisan bread industry. As the head pastry chef and co-owner with her then-husband, Mark Peel, of the L.A. restaurant Campanile, she introduced a weekly grilled-cheese night in 1998, kicking off a national trend that has yet to wane. Along with Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich, she owns and runs the Mozzaplex, as her four businesses here are called: Osteria Mozza, an upscale Italian restaurant Pizzeria Mozza Mozza2Go and Chi Spacca, a tiny meat-centric spot in a hidden space that began as a cooking school and has become one of the most critically acclaimed restaurants in town. Chi Spacca is everything a traditional Florentine restaurant tries to be but goes it one better with meat that boasts an unmistakable West Coast char.

This week marks the publication of Silverton’s ninth cookbook: “Mozza at Home: More Than 150 Crowd-Pleasing Recipes for Relaxed, Family-Style Entertaining,” with Carolynn Carreño. When she was running La Brea Bakery and Campanile, Silverton didn’t have time to cook at home for her three children, who are now grown. And it wasn’t until 2000 that, along with her good friend and fellow L.A. chef Suzanne Tracht, of the estimable Jar restaurant, she started spending chunks of her summers in Italy. For several years, the two women rented an apartment on a piazza in a small town at the Umbria-Tuscany border and spent all day cooking dinners — 15 to 20 dishes, typically — that they served each night right in the piazza, at long tables, for friends and neighbors.

Silverton cooks in her Los Angeles kitchen. (Oriana Koren)

“As a chef in a restaurant, going away to cook was a busman’s holiday, but really a joy,” Silverton said. “When I’m here, my parties are more planned, and I always have the restaurants at the back of my mind. There, you have all the time in the world to make it great. We laid out giant spreads, the food was at room temperature and nothing was individually plated. I like to do the dishes ahead of time, one by one. No fragile salads. Some braised dishes. I always prefer a buffet. So much happens at a buffet table. You learn.”

The “home” in “Mozza at Home” refers to both Italy, where she has since bought a house, and California, although she cooks more frequently overseas, and for larger groups, than in Los Angeles. The book is organized by meals, each with a main dish and a selection of antipasti, side dishes and salads to accompany it. “This is not a menu cookbook,” Silverton said, “These are suggestions. You don’t need 15 dishes. Some of them are easy, some more complex. If you even pick a couple and scramble it all together, it will still taste good.”

True enough. But on certain issues, Silverton is unyielding. Take the way she writes about salt. It is not for the timid. In every recipe that calls for salting boiling water, she specifies that it must “taste like the ocean,” one tablespoon of salt for each quart of water. “People are so afraid of salt,” she said. “At the end, you can dump as much as you want on top, but if you’re not using it during the cooking, you don’t have it.”

The book includes a radicchio-and-beet salad with either labneh or goat cheese, and her recipe headnote is a classic. She has always had mixed feelings about beet salads, she says, specifically about their aesthetics. “I needed something to protect the white cheese from being stained by the beets, which always reminds me of an old lady’s lipstick using the wrinkles on her upper lip to crawl up her face,” she writes. To prevent that from happening, she makes bite-size cheese balls and coats them in chopped walnuts, an idea she got from some giant cheese balls she saw in a Harry & David catalogue. “It hit me,” she said. “The nuts will stop the beets from bleeding.”

Silverton on cooking: “First and foremost, it’s selfish. But in a good way.” (Oriana Koren)
A collection of vintage eggbeaters hangs in a window in the kitchen. (Oriana Koren)

She calls that solution “an un-Nancy thing to do,” because of the fuss involved. Silverton has always shunned ostentation, celebrating her love of plebeian ingredients such as iceberg lettuce and popcorn, not to mention her passion for burgers. (Huntington Meats at the Original Farmer’s Market here sells her “Backyard Burger Blend,” which is ground chuck with an added 10 percent fat.) She is the chef least likely to wield a pair of tweezers in a kitchen, restaurant or home. We had been talking at her dining room table as she was about to prepare two of the side dishes she recommends serving with her skirt steak. I looked skeptically at her white dress, which would take her through that exercise and then to her charity event, bemoaning the cleaning bill. But she shrugged that off, speaking animatedly: about her latest trip to Italy, her addiction to CNN and the way she has started to braid her hair. She’s what my grandmother would have called “a live wire.”

Silverton’s affect was decidedly different from the last time I interviewed her, in 2011, when she published “The Mozza Cookbook.” Then, we discussed the unhappy fact that after selling La Brea Bakery in 2001 for $7 million, she invested it with an L.A. money manager who in turn invested it with Bernard Madoff. In 2008, she lost it all. She was stoic about it — publicly, at least. At the time, she told me she never lived on that money, using it only to pay taxes, so her lifestyle never changed. She did what she always had done. Worked.

The first two Mozza restaurants had been launched and were solid by then, and now there are the four here, two branches in Singapore and one in Orange County. She produces a small-batch line of gelati and sorbetti called Nancy’s Fancy, sold nationally through Dean & DeLuca and other upscale grocers. She still owns her home in the Hancock Park section of the city, where she has lived since 1993. And she has made her peace with television, as any book-writing chef must. In January, she will be featured on an episode of “Chef’s Table,” David Gelb’s Netflix documentary series, and she is on an episode of “Emeril Eats the World,” now on Amazon. (She takes him to Italy for pizza.) “I never watch myself,” she said. “But the only people who sell books these days are on TV.”

Silverton roasts broccolini for a salad. (Oriana Koren)

In the kitchen, Silverton got busy. You would never guess that a professional chef lives here. Yes, there are two ovens and a butcher­-block station, but also a microwave and a standard four-burner stove. The cabinet doors are mustard-colored, the counters avocado tile, the floors wood-planked. Mostly, the decorating motif is whimsy. The window over the sink is hung with eggbeaters, which Silverton used to collect. One wall is covered with rolling pins, displayed as art.

For her Charred Broccolini With Salami and Burrata, she spread the broccolini onto two baking sheets and salted them the way a sailor curses. Her recipe — for this and many other dishes in the book — calls for setting the trays on the oven floor and cooking at 500 degrees. That does char the food, and if you don’t watch how you open the oven door, it may feel like it’s charring your face, too.

Ten minutes later, she moved the broccolini from the oven to a bowl and covered it with plastic wrap to let it steam. Then she deftly assembled the fava bean succotash salad using butter beans, because favas were already out of season.

I watched her artfully compose the broccolini on a plate and shook my head. I just don’t have the salad gene, I told her. “The salad gene is my dominant gene,” she replied. “It’s the hardest station in a restaurant because, recipes aside, what is a properly dressed or seasoned salad? That’s really hard to gauge. This succotash is a different kind, but in restaurants they’re built and layered and you just can’t tell someone how to do it. When you put fish on a plate, it’s square every time. With lettuce, each shape is different. You need an eye to build it on the spot.”

She cut the burrata. Her phone was ringing in the next room — she was late for the tennis courts — but she was ensconced in her home-cooking zone.

“I get so much pleasure making the food I make, especially when it comes out the way I want it to,” she said, painting the burrata with vinaigrette. “The pleasure when people eat it is so rewarding. So first and foremost, it’s selfish. But in a good way.”

Witchel is a former staff writer for the New York Times Magazine and the author of “All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia. With Refreshments” (Riverhead Books, 2012).

Tonight on Top Chef Masters

50, New York), Suzanne Tracht (The Jar, Los Angeles), Graham Elliot Bowles (Graham Elliot Restaurant, Chicago) and Elizabeth Falkner (Orson, San Francisco) recreate one of my all-time favorite quickfire challenges: Create the perfect amuse-bouche using only what they can find in a vending machine. What I remember most from that episode of season two was Michael's creation, topped with a Cheeto, that was so ridiculous looking the Bravo cameramen were probably laughing as they took the beauty shots of his dish. For the record, the winner was Carlos, who created Sunflower & Carrot Loaf with Cilantro, Sesame Seed & Squirt. (Does anyone remember this? I can't find an image or other evidence of it anywhere!)

As an elimination challenge, master chefs will be challenged to create a LOST-themed meal: Yes, based on the hit TV show. Chefs will be using wild boar, fish, fresh fruit and other "island specialties" as featured ingredients.

As I confessed last week, I'm pulling for Elizabeth Falkner on this one &ndash and the reasoning is admittedly personal &ndash I had a particularly fun meal at Orson last year with friends, amazing cocktails, and my first taste of duck-fat french fries &ndash a must-try! She's also the chef-owner of San Francisco favorite Citizen Cake, where I once enjoyed this amazing parfait:

Which no doubt would have taken the prize in last week's Quickfire!

Tune in tonight to see which of these four super-talented Master cheftestants will join Hubert Keller in the Championship Round (and to check out a special appearance by Lost co-creators!

Watch the video: Σωτήρης Ευαγγέλου Cretan Street Food Festival 27 9 2018 (June 2022).


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