Professional Website: www.nicolemiizuka.com
Being a Los Angeles native, the strings of creativity have constantly flowed through my veins. Surrounded & inspired by filmmakers, artists, musicians, chefs, photographers, farmers & decorators my whole life, I’ve spent the last 10 years headed down the path of the Producer. Film School, followed by the training camp of working for the Devil Wears Prada, the 60 hour work weeks of the Agency life & the seemingly “easier” life of the Studio, I’ve realized that I’ve yet to be satisfied.
The path from inspiration & brainstorming to completed project could take anywhere from months to years… most things dying a slow death in development hell. Food on the other hand, allows for inspiration to take instant (and generally delicious) form with that crowd pleasing result I generally look for in storytelling. There’s no place for pretension in my kitchen, with some of the best ideas coming out of absurd collaborations & conversations, and with the constant rotating cast of comedians in my life, there’s always a witty pun to accompany each and every dish.
Food Styling & Photography are integral parts of the cooking equation. How can I convey my style without being able to present it properly? The simple answer is, I can't. Thankfully a background in film-making, several years on the Yearbook Committee & a mild obsession with achieving perfection create the perfect recipe for a Food Photographer.
And then there's writing. While visually portraying my craft comes easily, translating those images into words takes work. Lots and lots of work. And time. Oh and a really good dictionary & thesaurus set. Like they say, practice makes perfect, and I've had lots of time to practice. To my readers who have followed me through Xanga, LiveJournal & countless discarded blogs, thank you for your patience. Hopefully all that practice has paid off & you can now read my sometimes amusing and generally tasty musings on my two blogs below.
Cake & Heels (www.cakeandheels.com) serves as my creative outlet with my (not completely abandoned, but a little sidetracked) Cupcake of the Week challenge constantly keeping me busy. It's also home to the ever growing list of Los Angeles activities outlined in my Weekly Docket.
Cloak & Dinner (www.cloakanddinner.com) is my newest collaboration with a very talented duo of savory & boozy to my ever so wonka-y sweet, and we hope to hit the supper club scene with a bang!
Q&A with Nicole Iizuka
Writer, photographer, chef, world traveler, experimental eater... Those are merely a few terms that are commonly used to describe Nicole Iizuka. Nicole has a long list of culinary credentials which include writing about the trials and tribulations of experimental cooking on her blog Cake & Heels and running the secret underground supper club Cloak & Dinner and is currently working on her first cookbook entitled Deliciously Baffling. We were lucky enough to snag a seat with her this past weekend where she shares with us little tidbits about her philosophy in the kitchen, her favorite meal in 2011, the grand list of people and websites that inspire her, the one kitchen tool that she could never live without and of course, her cocktail personality.
Let's start off with an easy one... describe your philosophy on food and cooking.
It's pretty simple. I live by one rule, try everything at least once! I have never been someone to shy away from a challenge and I love the fact that our body (including our taste buds) regenerates every 7 years, so something that could have been awful as a kid, like sushi (I know I'm a terrible Japanese-American) could taste fantastic years later. That applies to my cooking as well. I love experimenting with flavors and textures and I believe that food is still very much an emerging frontier. I look to chefs like Ferran Adria and Grant Achatz who are constantly inventing new and fun ways to interact with food as my inspiration and daily reminder to myself that I have so much left to learn.
So with your philosophy of "try everything once" (which is totally making me hungry) what's the best meal you've had recently?
I don't know if I'd say that it was my best meal, but definitely one of my most anticipated meals of 2011. When Top Chef Season 6 winner Michael Voltaggio finally pulled back the curtain on his long awaited eatery "ink." I was lucky enough to score a table on opening night and brought along my Cloak & Dinner family to share the experience. While there were both hits and misses throughout the meal, the biggest thing we took away from the dinner was the food's ability to create conversation and connect diners with an enlightened outlook on the possibilities of what avant garde food can offer. Ordering a ton of items off the menu in a tapas friendly manner we were able to try a huge sampling of what makes Voltaggio so great; his constant outlook towards experimenting with flavors and pushing the boundaries of taste.
But lest I forget, you're hungry and this certainly isn't going to help. My favorite dish by far was Voltaggio's play on a corned beef sandwich, beef tongue layered on a hot and freshly baked churro with red onions delicately braised to look almost like rose petals, a sprinkle of freshly grated horseradish like a light dusting of snow and finished with a pastrami syrup. It tasted just like I imagine a Picasso would taste, at first glance it resembles something familiar but as you continue, it has just enough of a twist to make it extraordinary.
On your lazy weekends what are your favorite food blogs to browse while looking for inspiration?
I have to divide these into categories, naturally. When it comes to Molecular Gastronomy I know I can always rely on Playing with Fire and Water, Modernist Cuisine, Ideas in Food and Alinea at Home for some creative and original ideas backed up with science and test kitchens. If I'm hungry and looking for semi-simple ideas that don't require obtaining a cauldron of liquid nitrogen, I'm addicted to Pioneer Woman, The Kitchn, Epicurious, Tiny Urban Kitchen, Joy the Baker, Smitten Kitchen and Serious Eats. And then there's always the constant ongoing discussion of food, aside from my slew of local blogger friends, I always look to Grub Street, Eater, Tasting Table, YumSugar and Chowhound for thoughtful communication.
And who can forget the guilty pleasure blogs? Luxarie is always there to give me a glimpse into a life I'd love to have, Inn at the Crossroads fulfills my every nerd-tastic whim and Hostess with the Mostess constantly ups my game to be more creative with my presentation.
And magazines? Which are your favorite periodicals to get messy with in the kitchen?
Thank god for credit card companies that constantly offer magazine subscriptions to their clients, my home is chock full of Food & Wine, Real Simple, Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Saveur and of course Los Angeles Magazine to catch up on Jonathan Gold's food gospel. I'm pretty good at clipping and saving favorite articles and recipes so my house doesn't look like an episode of "Hoarders" with magazines piling up in corners!
Let's face it; we're all addicted to twitter. Who/What are some of your favorite twitter feeds?
There are just so many! Aside from all of the blogs and magazines listed above, here's my "shortened" list of favorite foodies (in no particular order): Anthony Bourdain, Ricardo Zarate (Food & Wine's Best New Chef of 2011), Tom Colicchio, Michael Voltaggio, Wolvesden (Underground Supper Club), Thomas Keller, Frank Bruni, Jonathan Gold, Walter Manzke (formerly of Church & State), Ilan Hall, Bread & Butter PR, Antonia Lofaso, Ted Allen, Marcel Vigneron, Test Kitchen (an experimental restaurant venture in Los Angeles), Jose Andres, Johnny Iuzzini, Dana Cowan, Alton Brown, Danielle Keene (Top Chef Just Desserts contestant), Jonathan Waxman, Food Buzz, LA Times Events, Sally Camacho (Top Chef Just Desserts contestant), Kevin Sbraga, Starry Kitchen (local LA Restaurant), Ludo Lefebvre, Grant Achatz, Gail Simmons, NY Times, Roy Choi (Kogi Taco Truck), My Last Bite (LA Food Blogger), Wagstaff and Yelp.
Being the head chef of Cloak & Dinner you create a lot of interesting dishes, what is your most prized cooking tool?
Believe it or not, I don't have an oven! It's a fairly boring story, one that involves our oven breaking 15 years ago and something about having to tear down a wall & remodel the entire kitchen in order to put in a new one, so my toaster oven is easily my most prized possession. I can make anything and everything in between from roasted parsnips, to honey baked ham, cupcakes, dehydrated apples and even a seven layer cake in that baby and not even break a sweat. (Mostly because the toaster oven doesn't heat up the entire kitchen to a boil like a regular oven.) It's really taught me how to be creative and constantly think outside the box to turn my wildest food imaginations into an edible reality.
And finally, we love to ask this question so we know what kind of libations you'll be bringing to the next party, but what cocktail best represents your personality?
There's this restaurant by Venice Beach called Joe's which recently added a selection of farmer's market inspired cocktails and their "Drunk Chicken" sums me up perfectly. A play on a silver gin fizz, the "Drunk Chicken" incorporates a delicious rhubarb syrup & rhubarb bitters into a foamy mixture of gin, lemon and egg white. Just like me, a proper gin fizz takes careful measurements, a delicate hand and a whole lot of shaking. It's not every cocktail that can double as a drum beat for an impromptu dance party. Plus the combination of the utterly ridiculous name that could easily inspire a delightful meal and the inclusion of a unlikely flavor to be found in cocktails has my name written all over it.