How to Become a Great LA Chef
By Curtis Stone
As a chef, I try to constantly educate myself in the ways of food and culture. I like to keep the blood flowing and the ideas fresh, so here are seven tips for those of you cooking your way through Los Angeles.
1. I love heading to places like the West Hollywood Farmers’ Market at Plummer Park on Mondays. The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market on Arizona Avenue and Third Street is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays and also has a huge spread to choose from. Shopping at a farmers’ market is a great way to familiarize yourself with the seasonality of fruits and vegetables. A nice perk is getting to know the vendors, who will often give you a great deal if they recognize you.
2. I try to keep my mind and taste buds open by checking out the ethnic markets. It’s an excellent way to expand your knowledge of international foods without leaving the country. Silom Supermarket in Thai Town (5321 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, 323-993-9000) is a favorite of mine not only for superb ingredients but also for equipment like rice cookers and bamboo steamers. La Guadalupana Market in Echo Park (1624 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-250-2445) is ideal for finding specialty items such as dried chilies and cactus.
3. One thing I am crazy about in LA is the weather, so I take advantage of it by cooking outside. Whether it’s smoking, grilling or even curing foods in the sun, I use any excuse I can to cook outdoors— and you should, too. You never know what kind of new techniques you’ll come up with.
4. A strange pit stop of mine is hardware stores, mainly for their gardening departments, where I buy pre-potted herbs like basil, rosemary, thyme and cilantro. They’re very easy to grow, and just need sun and a little water every day. You trim the herbs directly from the plant, wash and use. One dish I love to make is roasted leg of lamb, which I wrap with fresh-picked rosemary.
5. With so many great wines made locally, I enjoy hosting wine-pairing dinners at my house. I have the pleasure of being friends with Jim Palmer, owner and winemaker of Malibu Vineyards in Western Malibu (malibu-vineyards.com). Jim and his lovely wife, Irene, popped in to a dinner I recently had at my place and shared some of their amazing wines with us. Jim’s Sangiovese went really well with the grilled Cornish game hens I cooked.
6. I like to use my pool as an excuse for having friends over and creating new drinks to sip poolside. The fruit available to us here in LA is incredible, and creating your own cocktails or mocktails adds an innovative twist to the gathering. A few standouts of mine: a watermelon-and-mint spritzer with fresh lime and a pineapple-and-mango tequila cooler.
7. I often head to sushi hot spots to get inspiration for my own creations. Sushi Park (8539 Sunset Blvd., No. 20, West Hollywood, 310-652-0523; sushiparkonsunset.com) is an awesome spot for traditional sushi, and since we are in Nobu’s original stomping ground, Matsuhisa Restaurant (129 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310-659-9639; nobumatsuhisa.com) is another must for me. Sushi is a fun thing to do at home because your guests can interact and help prepare the meal, so keep that in mind when planning your next dinner.
The most important advice I can give to anyone about cooking—no matter where you live—is to embrace it and appreciate what it can do for you and those around you. Take it from me: Eat fresh, eat local and always keep an open mind and extra seats at the dinner table.
PHOTOGRAPH BY QUENTIN BACON