There are few chefs I truly trust*—Jennie Cooks is one of them.
Beneath an angled mirror at Surfas, Jennie—my hometown culinary champion—poured a generous amount of olive oil into a pan and whipped up Sweet Potato Pistachio Fritters with Saba and Jaffna Potatoes. I sat there waiting for the non-vegan ingredient to get dumped in—a pat of butter, a drizzle of yogurt —but it never happened. As the Endive Avocado Potato Salad and Cape Verda Vegetable were passed around, I realized every dish she made was vegan—and that never happens on accident.
At that moment I knew I wanted her to cater an event for me. That event turned out to be my wedding reception.
In her Atwater Village kitchen vintage pitchers, cookbooks, and salt and pepper creatures stare down at us. Jennie dances in and out of the kitchen, filling the tables with food. Some dishes are by request, some are by surprise. Wedding meal planning—as I learned—is a strange balance of personal taste tempered with the attempt to please the sometimes irrational and sometimes dietary needs of guests.
First up, a fritter—the overlooked champions of cocktail hour. Jennie’s Sweet Potato Fritters with Pistachios and Crema are flecked with meaty bits of pistachios and pan kissed to a crisp. Spinning the globe, we toasted with Sweet Potato Samosas dripping with raven dark tamarind glaze. I loved them both, but sometimes the needs of others trumps love. Translucent rice paper swaddling bean thread, red pepper, carrot, and cucumber as Fresh Rolls with Peanut Sauce (gluten free) were selected as our tray pass appetizer.
Not shown here are the Chicken and Waffles because there as no questions those would be served.
One of Jennie’s surprises turned out to be my favorite: Korean Dave’s Amazing Tempe with Campania. Caramelized onions, red peppers, and capers pucker with balsamic vinegar over panko crusted tempe—a distinctly Los Angeles ingredient. This chewy cutlet of fermented brown rice and black bean that is a local cult classic. Dave has no online or marketing presence yet almost everyone knows his Framer’s Market food. After sampling Jennie’s prep of this protein, there was no question my guests needed to taste it as well.
To balance the fried dish, we followed with the Spinach Salad with Crumbled Fettata, Apricots and Toasted Walnuts. While I had expected fresh apricots I realized such ideas were ridiculous for a March event. The soft fettata—seasoned tofu—clings to the leaves which we switched out for romaine to accommodate oxalate sensitive attendees.
Roasted Vegetables seemed boring option—one I’ve consumed ad nauseam in my vegetarian then vegan life. I had every intention of nixing this side until suckling on sweetly charred yet still juice carrots, onions, peppers, and zucchini caramelized kissed with balsamic vinegar.
Through the experience of wedding planning I learned that I basically love Thanksgiving food. I fell quickly for legumes melting into the Red Lentil and Apple Load of Love—the flavors blooming in a pool of thyme spiked creamy dijon gravy. Paired with rolling hills of Sourdough Stuffing cradling crescents of celery, carrot, and tart cubes of granny smith apples.
Just to prove that I’m not simply gushing, the soft mash layered inside the Sweet Potato Lasagna became too monolithic for my taste. But when these dishes made their way home as leftovers, my soon to be husband loved the lasagna more than the loaf. So we ordered a half pan of each because compromise and making each other happy is what marriage is all about.
3048 Fletcher Dr.
Los Angeles, CA 90065