Q & A With Suzanne Tracht, Part 2: The Jar Chef on the Importance of Keeping Things Simple, Heading to Abu Dhabi, and NOT Eating Dog
Yesterday we gave you the first part of our interview with Suzanne Tracht of Jar, who has her hands full opening not one but two new restaurants in L.A. this year. So what's her secret to successful multitasking? Easy: Do what you love. Turn the page for the second part of our interview, and check back later for Tracht's recipe for her fabled pot roast.
SI: So, what's your favorite ingredient to cook with?
ST: There are so many. I love to cook with ginger, garlic. Really fresh ingredients. I get inspired if I go to the farmers market or any market around Southern California, where we get such fresh stuff. Every day it's different what inspires you, what you're feeling.
SI: What's your first culinary memory?
ST: Of course, I've always loved food, I've been inspired by it my whole life. But I think just my first time in a professional kitchen... It was a five-star hotel [the Biltmore, in Phoenix]. Just watching the way this little city worked. You had the chefs at the restaurant in the hotel: the banquet chefs, pastry shop, butcher's shop. Just watching it all was amazing to me, and still is amazing to me. And inspirational. Back then, at the hotels, we made all our own stuff. Veal stock was made out of veal bones. Nothing was made out of powder. It was fresh. You know, walking by the kettles every day...
SI: Who was the most influential person in your life, food-wise?
ST: I don't think I could narrow it down to just one person. I think, in your career, what molds you as a chef or cook is working with so many different types of people. That's really what molds you into who you want to be. My first chef who I did my apprenticeship with... that's where you learn your basics, your sauces, how to make a roux, how to chop an onion. He's probably the most influential because you can't skip those basics. Chefs that skip those basics and try to go to the top too fast, it just doesn't work. So I think the first chef I worked with, Siegbert Wendler [at the Biltmore], is the most influential to me. And then also working with other chefs such as Nancy Silverton, and my chef that I work with right now, for the past 12, 15 years, Preech. We collaborate and work together every day on different recipes, and different tastes, and come up with different things, so at this point of time--he's my inspiration and I'm his as well... Sometimes we put our fists to each other.
SI: It must be nice to work with someone you have that synergy with.
ST: Right. And I'm so lucky because I'm in a profession that I truly love. Not a lot of people can say that. It's not an eight-hour job. You don't get up and think 'Oh I have to go to work today.'
SI: Have you ever thought 'What would I be doing if I wasn't doing this?'
ST: Yes, I think about it, and I haven't put my finger on it yet. I could never just sit at a desk or just sit for a long amount of time. I love the pressure of the night time. I work on the hot line. When it's busy and everybody comes in together, and there's that struggle and that push... It's a challenge. And that's what I love about it.
SI: You thrive.
ST: Right. At the end of the night it's like 'Phew, okay, we got through it,' and we're all happy. Hopefully. Unless there's a full moon...
SI: What's your favorite cookbook?
ST: I love Julia Child's cookbooks. All of Julia Child's cookbooks. I love going over those. I love older cookbooks.
SI: Did you see the movie?
ST: Don't kill me but I have not seen it yet. I'm waiting to see it. But I've read her books.
SI: Did you ever meet her?
ST: I have met her before. She could be here in spirit. She could be sitting here right now. Oh no, the wine's empty, so...
SI: What's the one thing you wished people realized about cooking?
ST: To keep it simple. Don't go overboard. Cook with your heart and use fresh ingredients. The important thing is keeping it simple and healthy and really just loving it. And enjoying what you're doing. You can really tell that maybe the mood that the person was in--they just threw it together. So I'd say [to a novice]: Start really simple. Use great olive oil, and really simple ingredients.
I do cooking classes here too, once or twice a month, on Saturdays [$125 per person, call for details.] I do them because my clientele, the guests, ask me to do them, and it's a really great way to be one on one. I only take about ten people at a time because we do it in a small kitchen. So it's really personal. People really enjoy it. They learn how simple it really can be. They learn what kind of olive oil we use, what kind of salt we use. The basics.
SI: Do you like to cook to music?
ST: Absolutely. I love cooking to music. We like everything here. Rock 'n' roll. Seventies. Eighties. We don't cook to music during the service but when we're prepping we do. We have speakers in the kitchen, and we always have music on. Of course, when I'm here it's my choice of music.
SI: Is there anything you will not eat?
ST: I won't eat monkey brains. I wouldn't eat anything from a monkey--definitely not monkey brains. I'm sure there are some other things too.
SI: What about if you went some place where they eat dog? Would you eat dog?
ST: No, I would not eat dog. I own three dogs--they're my babies. I wouldn't eat cat, either--especially in China, knowing how they kill it--it's really inhumane. I wouldn't eat anything that's raised or killed inhumanely.
SI: Do you buy organic meat?
ST: I use prime beef. I buy some organic pork and chicken. I buy prime corn-fed beef because I find that it tastes a whole lot better. When it comes down to it, if someone's going to come in here and order a steak, they want something that tastes good. But it's all raised humanely, and I choose the sources carefully.
SI: What's the worst thing you've ever eaten?
ST: I don't remember exactly where I was but I was in a restaurant and I ordered a piece of fish, a skate wing or something. I took the first bite and it was completely ammoniated. That's the worst thing I've eaten. You smell it and you don't know what to do... You want to go find the tequila to kill what you've just put inside you. Bad fish is just the worst.
SI: So do you have any more plans for Top Chef or anything? Anything lined up?
ST: Not right now. I'm focusing on Jar--including catering and parties. I'm also planning a trip to Gourmet Abu Dhabi [a world food festival] in February. So I'm really excited about that. It's a great place to network.
SI: How do you find time to fit it all in? I suppose you're used to it by now.
ST: Yes. And I love it. I love what I do. I always want to be reinventing, and coming up with something else and working on different projects. Also, we do our bit of charity work. We like to help people that are in need of food. There's a lot of hungry people out these days, so we're very involved in SOVA, and we also help out with Project Angel Food as well. That's what we do--we feed people. It's good to give back.
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