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BOOKS : Crossing the Continent With the Authentic Cafe

August 17, 1995|ROSE DOSTI

Dinner at the Authentic Cafe By Roger Hayot with Sheila Linderman (Macmillan Publishing USA: $34.95, 246 pp., illustrated)

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Whoever thought to tint the list of ingredients in Roger Hayot's book the color of bleached money must have been dreaming.

The pale lollipop green is pretty, but can you see it? Can you follow it? Can you cook from it? Really, guys, any bifocaled cookbook user like me will have an impossible time with this, and what a darned shame.

Should you buy this expensive book anyway?

Sure. It's fun to read, the recipes make sense, and the ideas are like no other you probably will encounter.

Where do you find, for instance, a warm breakfast polenta with chocolate mascarpone spiced with cinnamon and almonds?

Who would think up "Pan-Asian guacamole made with pickled ginger, low-fat yogurt, wasabe powder, black sesame seeds and kosher salt? And it's good. Believe me. I tried it and liked it.

To understand Hayot's cooking, you first must know a few things about him. The son of a German mother and Jewish-Moroccan kosher butcher, Hayot knows a thing or two about sausages. All kinds. It was his father's butcher shop on Beverly Boulevard that Hayot expanded into the eclectic restaurant he called the Authentic Cafe, and where they still make a beef-based Moroccan mergez sausage, as well as trendier jerk pork and chicken-cilantro sausages.

Hayot started cooking at Fluky's hot dog stand in Chicago, advanced to the kitchens of a Los Angeles country club and spent 10 years at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain, where his boss, David Overton, allowed him to experiment. "He even encouraged me as he tasted the dishes I was creating," says Hayot.

You also have to know how California's bounty nurtured this chef's creative juices. For Hayot, the products from California's "great purveyors and farmers" laid the groundwork for the kind of experimentation that made Authentic Cafe's style and breadth possible.

"The menu is like a culinary jaunt through the United States, Latin America, Asia, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean," he says in his book. And I can vouch for that.

I first encountered Hayot's cooking when I popped into the just-opened Authentic Cafe in 1987 and immediately was taken by the creativity of the menu and boldness of the food.

Since the Authentic Cafe is near my home, I passed it often, and I was fascinated by the hordes who waited on line to dine there. I realized that Hayot is not the run-of-the-mill L.A. restaurant groupie chef with a cute idea for a cafe.

Hayot has adopted dishes from every major ethnic cuisine on the West Coast. Caribbean spice-rubbed pork tenderloin are served with plantains.

South American yuca , a potato-like root plant, is served grilled with pineapple salsa.

Banana leaves cover chicken tamales. Escabeche, a Latin American condiment, is served with crab pupusas or grilled fish. Pupusas are filled Central American grilled masa cakes or tortillas.

If you're looking for Mediterranean things, they are here too. Falafel, tahineh , numerous vegetable dishes and salads. Moroccan dishes are plentiful because that was the cuisine of his grandmother as Hayot grew up. "I can still smell the aromas of peppers being scorched over an open flame," he says.

Most all standard Moroccan dishes are represented, including the tajine , which is not only a category of Moroccan stews, but the cone-shaped dish in which they are cooked. But expect improvisation on authentic dishes. A mango-raspberry Napoleon and a banana in filo are typical innovations.

There are Thai curries, satays , peanut sauce, soup and such. From the regional United States, Hayot, whom you are convinced would make a great teacher, offers things such as pecan-cornmeal-crusted catfish. But it's done up as a club sandwich.

In the book, you'll also find a Cajun spice mix you may want to use in stews whenever there is an urge for intensely peppery flavors. Authentic Cafe black beans are distinguished by their use of chiles. Lemon poundcake should remind you of a sweltering day on a shaded porch where people are sipping iced tea somewhere in the South. Banana-chocolate cream pie, coconut-macadamia cream pie, rice pudding, ginger-orange flan should assuage anyone's sweet tooth.

Be prepared, however, for some heavy-duty cooking. This is a no-nonsense cookbook for those who really love to cook and don't mind a sink full of dirty pots and pans. You cook from Hayot's book? You work.

LIME-CILANTRO DRESSING

2 medium shallots, minced

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1/4 cup lime juice

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 small clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

1/3 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine shallots, cilantro, lime juice, mustard, garlic, sugar, white pepper and salt in blender container or food processor and process a few seconds until smooth.

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