Corina Weibel of Canelé in Atwater and Jane Choi, the restaurant's GM and Weibel's business partner, run a cozy place. The menu is written on chalk on the wall, there's a big communal table near the picture window, the bar is so close to the stoves that you can talk to the chef (and even tape an interview) while she cooks, and they don't take reservations. Oh, and they hand you a canelé on your way out after dinner. If Weibel was missing her days catering to the occasional L.A. big shot, she probably had a few flashbacks the other day, when the cast of Brothers & Sisters showed up to shoot in the restaurant. An occupational hazard in this town.
Read on for part 2 of our interview with Weibel, and check back later today for her recipe for salt-crusted branzino with parsley, celery salad and caperberries. And tune in next week, after we persuade Weibel to give us her cheesecake recipe too. (Corina, if you're reading this…)
Squid Ink: So what's your favorite cookbook?
Corina Weibel: My favorite cookbook. I think I have two favorites; it depends on my mood. I really love Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking and I also really love Mario Batali's Babbo Cookbook. They're so completely different. Patricia Wells is kind of a story-teller, with her anecdotes about how you do things in France. And with Babbo, the food is really beautiful and it's a really accessible cookbook. It's easy to execute the recipes and everything makes sense. I go between the two of them.
SI: What's your first culinary memory?
CW: Making Nestle chocolate chip cookies. I was allowed to make them on the weekends with a girlfriend. I was seven years old. It was the first time that I remember being allowed to do something.
SI: Is there any food that you Will Not Eat?
CW: I feel like I would try anything. There's some stuff that grosses me out, like pre-fab fast-foody things, and I certainly wouldn't do any of that Anthony Bourdain-like going to weird countries and eating in vitro things. I couldn't do any of that. But normal food, yes.
SI: What's your favorite kitchen utensil?
CW: Aside from my hands? A wooden spoon and a rubber spatula.
SI: If you could open a restaurant anywhere, serving any kind of food, what would it be?
CW: I would love to have a little tiny restaurant right on the water, like right on the beach. It doesn't matter where. Super tiny. It couldn't be in the States, because there are too many laws about checking everything out, so it would have to be some little fishing village in Italy, France, Greece, wherever. And where I had money from something else, so i wouldn't be worried about money. A little fish restaurant. A frying pan and some olive oil and some herbs. Lemons, anchovies, maybe some tomatoes.
SI: Do you like to cook to music?
CW: Okay. Chef's playlist. And it's often what the cooks choose and its pretty eclectic. It goes anywhere from hip-hop to Van Morrison to Jimi Hendrix, but it has to be certain of those. Today they were playing OutKast. Prince is always great to cook to.
SI: What's the best dish you ever made?
CW: My god, it's so hard to say. In recent history? It was the roasted pork dish that we have on the menu tonight. I did it for catering. I did an event at the Schindler House and I cooked the whole pork rack and I basted it really slowly with sage and butter. Brussel sprouts, Black Arkansas apples, cippolini onions, with like fresh herbs, whole grain mustard butter. Super simple, super seasonal. And it was just really perfectly executed. And I feel like so many times you're doing something and in the heat of the moment you're like oh, I could have done this better, I wish I had done this. And there we had the time and it just came out perfectly.
SI: Why did you name your restaurant Canelé?
CW: I like eating canelés and making canelés, but I never thought of it as a restaurant name until I had this lightbulb moment. Super simple ingredients: the flour, the sugar, the butter, the milk. And then you have to wait 24 hours for it. And then you have this really wonderful thing that isn't always the same. [laughs.] So i just thought that reflected us really nicely. It's more than the sum of its parts and it's a little bit temperamental and always changing. It seemed to make sense. And I know that they love making caneles, don't they??