Corina Weibel, chef-owner of Canelé in Atwater Village, cooked for Nancy Silverton at Campanile for five years, and with Suzanne Goin at Lucques for three, then catered before she opened her own restaurant. Canelé, her cozy place on Glendale Boulevard, just celebrated its three year anniversary. But before Weibel started making brandade with tomato confit and her buena chica cheesecake, she worked as a commodities trader in Switzerland. (Weibel's father is Swiss; her mother is Venezuelan.)
Weibel took some time the other night to talk about trading boxite for branzino. This was hardly a sedate sit down, as a cook hadn't shown up and Weibel was working the line. (Fortunately it's a small, open kitchen.) So she chatted about day trading, working at Campanile and catering for Russell Crowe while she fired and plated dishes. Cooking is all about multi-tasking anyway. Check back tomorrow for the second part of our interview and for Weibel's recipe for salt-roasted branzino with parsley, celery salad and caperberries.
Also, anyone interested in signing up for Friends Cook night at Canelé, where normal people are given a chance to helm the stoves and cook their own menu, should call the restaurant. Weibel says that she hasn't booked December 22th yet.
Squid Ink: So tell me about Friends Cook night. How did you come up with that?
Corina Weibel: Friends Cook started before we even opened the restaurant. When we were working on the space, we'd have dinner at my house with friends, because like, what's all this for? Then we thought we'd try and do something like that at Canelé. It goes along with the community spirit, and it's good for business because you get new people to come in. It's like we're the enablers. The cooks who come in take it so seriously. They don't want to feel like an asshole in the kitchen with the other cooks. It changes the energy for a whole day. It's a very festive thing.
SI: When did you realize that you wanted to cook professionally?
CW: That's a good question. I think I knew it when I was in high school, but it wasn't something that I pursued seriously until I'd gotten into another career. In high school I knew that I wanted to get into the service industry, like hotels or restaurants. But I decided to go to college instead and get a liberal arts degree.
SI: So you're a second career person?
CW: Yeah. I was working at a trading company in Switzerland before. We traded all sorts of commodities: boxite, aluminum, gold, silver, etc. I was in the boxite and aluminum department and I did the traffic, the shipping of commodities from point A to point B, from Australia to South America, say. It was completely different. But I got to eat a lot. I had an expense account and I ate really well everywhere I went, including living in Switzerland, because the food there is really good.
SI: What's your favorite style of cooking, based on all that?
CW: I would have to say it's not dissimilar to what I do here. And it's what I'm most comfortable with. Comfort food with a Mediterranean influence. Simple ingredients, not over complicated, not over touched.
SI: Aside from the whole trader thing, if you hadn't been a chef, what would you have been?
CW: A librarian! I always thought it would be fun. I love to read. I mean it's totally a fantasy. It would be so fun to work in a library, more so than in a bookstore. Research, knowing where everything is.
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SI: What's your favorite ingredient to cook with?
CW: Well, that's a hard question. Thyme is my herb of choice. I use a lot of thyme, I use a lot of parsley, as you know. What else? I guess the basics: salt, olive oil, fresh herbs. I love onions and garlic--but not too much garlic.
SI: Who's been the most influential person in your life, food-wise?
CW: Nancy Silverton was really almost mentor-like to me, even though I didn't realize it at the time. But when I was a sous chef there [at Campanile], as demanding as she was and her high expectations made me become a better cook.