At their restaurants Hatfield's, on the southern edge of Hollywood, and The Sycamore Kitchen, in Fairfax, Karen Hatfield holds the title of pastry chef, while her husband Quinn is the chef. Their relationship has been personal for almost as long as it has been professional. And whereas the restaurants may feature Karen's sweets and pastries, her official title, unsurprisingly, also only offers a partial description.
“I always had a role somewhat in the savory as well. With The Sycamore Kitchen, that's taken a even greater turn,” says Hatfield who was trained in professional cooking at the now-shuttered Los Angeles Culinary Institute. “As we started opening our own restaurants, I continued to be the pastry chef, but I also moved into the front of the house and started doing management.
“Now I oversee that restaurant a little bit more. Quinn oversees Hatfield's a little bit more. But we collaborate a lot.”
At home, their responsibilities shift as needed as well. “When we're entertaining, Quinn will always cook the main protein. Usually, I'll cook everything else. For our family, it changes. Quinn makes breakfast pretty much every morning. I do more of the dinner cooking for the family when we're home.”
The two initially met at Spago — one of Hatfield's first jobs out of culinary school — as colleagues in the kitchen around 1997. “He remembers it better than I do actually. It's been 16, 17 years. I think we were taken with each other really quickly. There was a lot of chemistry, but I think I might have hated him for a second in the beginning. He had a lot of ego back then. Very cocky. But that was also probably what I liked most about him.”
Within a year of dating, they moved away from L.A. together to expand their experience in the industry. “It's probably always been that people go to New York to really get their act together, hone their craft, develop their resume, and then maybe move back to wherever they're from.”
About the restaurant scene in Los Angeles, Hatfield says: “In the last five years, it's changed so much. When I started out cooking here, I had to leave. There was no choice. There was nowhere to learn. I mean there was like three or four restaurants — Spago, Patina, Campanile — that everybody worked at. Then what? Everybody's learning the same stuff,” she says. “It's interesting now that you have these amazing restaurants popping up all over the country.”
After years of working at fine dining restaurants like Spago and Grammercy Tavern then running their own in San Francisco, the Hatfields moved back to Los Angeles in 2006.
“We came up in very high-end, sort of traditional kitchens where technique and finesse in everything is really reinforced. We have a style that is rustic, but refined — something that encompasses a lot of our food,” she elaborates. “The Sycamore Kitchen is a super casual restaurant where we've taken what we learned and put a really rustic, approachable, more simple spin on things.”
Their style is echoed in one preferred method of cooking vegetables. “We cook all of our vegetables stovetop, from raw to roasted or caramelized without blanching or steaming them first. This includes a variety of vegetables like asparagus, bok choy, and brassicas.”
Hatfield recommends using a 10- or 12-inch cast-iron pan or steamless skillet. “You're working with low-to-moderate heat so it's not something that needs your constant attention. If you do it via the stovetop or roasting method, you can get the depth of flavor that you'll never achieve if you blanch your vegetables.
“It does take a little bit of time, but you can be doing other things while you're cooking grains, making a pasta, or doing the salads.” At home, she might add quinoa along with a salad of seasonal fruits and vegetables like tomato, avocado, apricot, and arugula with a vinaigrette.”
Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad with Pecans
From: Karen Hatfield
Serves: 4-6 people
2 ounces ginger root
1 ounce peeled garlic cloves
¾ cup soy sauce
½ cup rice wine vinegar
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon chile flakes
24 young carrots with tops (about 1-inch in diameter, about 8-inch in length)
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 Hass avocados
4 cups arugula
2 cups tatsoi
2 heads red Belgian endive
12 large basil leaves (Opal basil recommended)
24 mint leaves
Lemon juice and olive oil to taste
Salt and pepper
1 cup toasted pecan pieces
1. Cut the ginger into 1-inch pieces. Using the back of a sturdy saucepot crush ginger and garlic and place in a large mixing bowl. Add soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, lemon juice, dark brown suar, and chile flakes in a bowl; whisk until the sugar has dissolved. Reserve at room temperature for up to 4 hours. This will be the marinade for the roasted carrots.
2. Preheat oven to 425°F. Peel carrots and trim the tops to leave only one inch of green. Wash the area where the top meets the carrot as this is where dirt is the trickiest to remove. Dry well and spread carrots on a sheet tray (or two if needed) so that they are in a single layer, not touching.
3. Drizzle vegetable oil over and lightly season with salt (not too aggressive, the soy sauce with contribute more salt later). Roast the carrots in the oven until tender, turning only when the bottom side takes on a deep caramelization. The time will depend on the oven, but it usually takes between 12 to 25 minutes.
4. When the carrots are cooked, transfer them to a roasting pan large enough to snuggly fit all the carrots in a single layer. Pour marinade over and allow the carrots to stand in a warm place (like on top of the oven) for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.
5. Meanwhile, peel, seed and slice avocados to about ¼-inch thick and reserve. Trim the red endive and separate into leaves. Place endive leaves in a bowl with the arugula and tatsoi. Tear the basil and mint leaves into large pieces and add to the lettuces. Season all with a little lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and toss gently.
6. Divide the carrots evenly among serving plates keeping them together and parallel. By now, the marinade should have coated the carrots; but if desired, spoon a little extra over the carrots, being careful not to include the crushed ginger or garlic pieces.
7. Place avocado slices on top of the carrots. Carefully arrange the salad in a perpendicular row over the carrots so that the tops and bottoms of the carrots are still showing. Sprinkle the toasted pecans over the whole salad and drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the top to finish. Serve immediately.
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