A wise man (and a talented chef) once told a much less confident me to stop downplaying my home kitchen experiments. "We are all just cooks and bakers" were his exact words.
The food news and reviews for a town inevitably focus on all things branded and big named Chefs. Good for them; both have worked hard to get their names at the top of the lists. But when you (as a diner) rely on Yelp or local newspapers for the skinny on where to get great food, you miss many of the most incredibly delicious meals created by passionate, even slightly obsessed, cooks and bakers.
Some of these talented folks downplay their kitchen experiments and shun the titles "chef", "cook" or "baker". Fools, I say. Incredibly talented, fascinating, generous fools.
Finding these hidden gems takes a remarkable amount of dumb luck. Or this series of blog posts, because I am about to spill some secrets. It is up to you to woo them, befriend them, or just ask for a sample of their wares.
- Does this picture make your belly growl?
It is difficult to pinpoint Lori's exact culinary specialty. It is much easier to say she is the perfect blend of brains, personality and ability.
Lori is the person that knows all that is happening in this foodie town at any given moment. She can take all of that information and put it into any sort of context: historical, geographical, butter-al, political...
I cannot even write about how kind and funny and thoughtful she is without blushing and getting all poetic. So, instead, I will tell you that if you haven't met Lori, you should head over to the Hills Market next week to meet her. Or join us for a CMH Dinner Club event.
But what I want you to take away from this post is that this woman can cook.
She is being talked about for her plum cake (the bundt cake, donut, cocktail and alcoholic jello varieties)
AND the drink named after her at the Clarmont
AND her limoncello
AND that spicy maple mustard she mixed up for a certain secret CMH Gourmand something.
And her vegetarian/vegan experiments.
And more. That was just from the past few weeks.
We (the people lucky enough to have a taste of anything she has mixed up) are certain that soon she will have all the world eating coffee jello shots out of her hand while she is mixing up soulful biscuits with the other. (Her bisquits really do have soul.) I think we would all agree that the Twixlen brand empire ruling the world is more of a sure thing than the Rapture actually happening (less room for mathematical error).
I asked Lori how it felt when we talked about the Twixlen empire. "Not gonna lie - it's a little weird. It's gotten less weird over time. As long as I don't turn into Napoleon.
It only makes sense that the ruler of an empire would live in a fantastical place. Lori lives in the Westgate neighborhood, a magical land of ingredient abundance and these unforbidden fruits are ripe for the picking. By you.
Lori is the person to talk to if you need to forage the alleys of Westgate/Hilltop for the herbs, mint, grape leaves (to keep your homemade pickles crispy), all types of berries and mulberries, and any other ingredient that can be grown in Ohio but usually isn't sold in stores.
I am having a hard time with the adjectives in this post. I want to use so so many.
Let's try something different, okay?
Me: Was there an experience that changed the way you thought about food?
Lori: I don't know if this qualifies. But it's the only thing I can think of... I was working at Hoss's Steakhouse, and since the only thing we got at a huge discount was the salad bar, that's mostly what I ate. The managers, got one free meal a day, although, I'm pretty sure they ate whatever they wanted all the time. This one manager used to eat a steak every. single. day. He would grill it himself, and he liked it just one shade past rare. I'd never eaten rare meat - my mother firmly believed that all undercooked meat was a one way-trip to wormville. One day, he got it in his head I needed to eat part of his bloody steak (we'd been talking about how we liked ours cooked). I tried it, and was *amazed.* Totally converted.
: Heh. I do use recipes, I just don't follow them very well. And, I'm really not sure. About 6-7 years ago, I started cooking, and really grew to love that I had the ability to tackle even complicated foods (I'm thinking of you, asian dumplings!) and make tasty meals. At about that time, I started trying to recreate the foods of my childhood - the things I learned standing on a chair in the kitchen. My mom gifted me with a church cookbook (one of those spiral bound deals) where she'd hand written family recipes on the divider papers, and somehow that connection between past and family and humanity in general solidified itself. (This is getting too deep.) But there is something about specific foods that convey a period of time in my life. Also, I watched a lot of Food Network - specifically, Good Eats & I started reading about food and the science involved in it. It changed the way I cooked, and I became much less tied to a written recipe & discovered cooking was much more about what tasted & felt good in my mouth.
Also - you know how there are things that just make sense? Cooking is that thing for me - and the more I taste new things and explore different cultures through their food, the more sense it continues to make.
Me: What are you currently experimenting with in your kitchen (or bar)?
Lori: Sadly, nothing at the moment. There's just not been time! My last experiement yielded Plum Cake Jello - really a whole assortment of Not-For-The-Kiddos jellos. Even one that was vegan. I'm pondering making a lemon-lime-cello... because I'm currently completely addicted to lemonaid/limeaid etc.
Me: What food or drink eludes you - what is missing from your life and haunts your belly?
Lori: Real bbq. The bbq of my childhood - White's BBQ. Small white building on a rural highway, picnic tables inside, covered in red checked vinyl, lift top CocaCola case that kept sodas *just short* of freezing... and the bbq. Pulled pork. Shredded. Soft, intensely flavorful, sauce free. The only dressing it ever got was their homemade hot vinegar sauce (I'm thinking it was white & apple vinegar + red pepper flake, little bits of other not-dried hot peppers & their seeds, salt & probably a little sugar. The only way they served it was on a super fresh-soft hamburger bun. They did old school-pit-style bbq - literally a hole in the ground where the pig would smoke. City BBQ tries, and theirs is great, but it's not White's.
Me: Favorite ice cream: brand and flavor.
Lori: For sure Jeni's... and to pick a favorite flavor is impossible. But right now, I really love the lime rhubarb cardomom.
Me: Of all of the suburbs and neighborhoods and gin joints in this town, why Westgate?A friend & coworker lives in Westgate... and I picked him up to go to dinner, and driving through the neighborhood, the whole place just felt right. I loved the big trees & the yards & that I saw people out walking around. It was also a surprise, right there off a less-than-good-looking stretch of West Broad. I looked at other neighborhoods, with similarly aged homes, and even looked into living downtown in a condo, but they were all out of my budget. I do really love the neighborhood, having met so many people there - I actually know my neighbors, and see people I know when I'm out walking my dog.
Me: What does someone have to do if they want to try your plum cake or if they need a pint of Westgate mulberries?Lori: Heh. For the mulberries, there are a couple select alleys where the trees are at the alley line & they just grow wild... free! Free! No one who lives in the houses even seems to know you can eat/cook/whatall these berries. It's crazy. Last year I also had a major crop of purslane, but I'm not seeing any this year & I'm bummed. As for plum cake - I think mostly, it's something I'll make for friends or for sharing at an event. I haven't made a batch in a while... I'm thinking of doing the mini-cupcakes for the Home & Garden Tour afterparty this weekend.
(It's me again.) Did you hear that? Plum cake at the Westgate Home & Garden tour?
In summary, Lori is amazing and talented. Free mulberries exist in this town. Westgate is secretly delicious.
While I work on the next post in this series, tell me: what is your favorite thing from Lori's kitchen? What is your favorite secret source for great food in this town?