Cooking with Top Chef Jamie Lauren
Recipe: Trout with Sweet Corn Sauce
Jamie Lauren cooks fresh summer corn two ways: in a creamy sauce and in an aromatic sauté with tarragon, both for crisp-skinned trout. This is our simplified version. Watch Lauren make the recipe with all its components at Sunset Celebration Weekend in June 2009.
You’ve cooked in two culinary hot spots ― one on the East Coast and one here in the West. How does eating on the two coasts differ?
People in San Francisco are way more serious about food. In New York, they just want to have fun, rather than know where each particular piece of lettuce came from.
What are your favorite summer drinks?
A mojito, for one. You can put in fresh raspberries or huckleberries and muddle them with the mint. Jeff [Hollinger, general manager at San Francisco’s Absinthe, where Lauren is executive chef] also taught me a drink with peaches, sage, and a little vodka, topped with sparkling wine.
What was a favorite dish of those you created on Top Chef?
Fried coconut- and oat-crusted shrimp (we had to work with oats, which was ridiculous), served on avocado crème fraîche with a nectarine salsa. And I did a chilled corn soup that Padma [Lakshmi, Top Chef host] said was her favorite dish of the whole season.
What’s your go-to summer dish to throw together on a night off?
A beefsteak tomato salad with shaved red onion, Persian cucumber, a nice sherry vinegar, sheep feta cheese or Greek manouri, and fresh oregano.
We hear you’re obsessed with onions. What do you like to do with them?
I put them on everything. They’re in stocks, sauces, braises, all of our cooking. I had a dish on the menu last summer with a caramelized onion sauce with sherry vinegar. I sautéed dandelion greens with sweet and sour red onions and currants, and served it with black cod and the onion sauce, and garnished it with crispy onion rings and nigella seeds. The sauce had some vanilla in it too. People complained ― they thought it was weird ― but it was good.
Any favorite new seasonings?
Lately I’ve been working with a lot of seasoning blends from Le Sanctuaire (a high-end chef’s supply store in San Francisco). I like a spice called vadouvan, which is like a French-Indian curry or masala. I also like peppers a lot ― Indonesian long peppers, grains of paradise, and Sichuan peppercorns. They’re not as harsh as regular pepper.
You really enjoy Indian food. Do you have a favorite style?
Southern Indian. Its flavors are so much more interesting than northern, and less heavy. They use a lot of coconut milk, curry leaves, and mustard seeds. I get Indian spices into the menu at Absinthe wherever I can, working with that “new American” theme.
Where do you go for Indian food in San Francisco?
There’s a hole in the wall called Little Delhi in the Tenderloin ($; 83 Eddy St.; 415/398-3173). I also like Dosa ― the new one on Fillmore ($$$; 1700 Fillmore St.; 415/441-3672). They have a Keralan-style fish curry that’s one of the best dishes I’ve ever had.
If we saw you shopping in the Bay Area, what would be in your grocery cart?
I like any hot sauce with habanero. El Yucateco is the hottest I’ve ever had. It’s amazing. Some sort of cheese like a burrata or a triple-cream cow like Explorateur ― I love cheese. Olives, bacon, salami, wine, potato chips, hot sauce, and hot dogs. If it’s a pork product and it’s cured, I’ll eat it.
What’s in your fridge at home?
Right now, not a lot. A Brita water filter and two slices of American cheese (individually wrapped, of course). And I just went to New Orleans and brought back pickled okra and pickled green beans for Bloody Marys ― it’s ridiculous, they’re so good. And pickled olive salad for muffuletta. And there’s a can of anchovies packed in oil, and a bag of baby carrots. Oh, and a bottle of Champagne that’s been in there for a year. In the freezer, there are four bagels and a box of Jamaican beef patties from New York, and half a bottle of vodka.
Anything you’ve always wanted to cook?
I would love to learn how to make Korean food like kimchi. I’ll pickle anything. Last summer I pickled cherries and served them with goat cheese, and they were so awesome.
INFO Absinthe Brasserie & Bar ($$$; closed Mon; 398 Hayes St., San Francisco; 415/551-1590)