Choosing the perfect recipe with Cal Peternell
Cooking in context with the cookbook author and former Chez Panisse chef.
This piece is part of our Friday series in which Salt + Spine producer and avid home cook Clea Wurster offers a new Q&A, an essay on cookbooks, and other bonus content for our paid subscribers.
The last thing Cal Peternell had cooked for himself when I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago was a salad with cucumbers and golden beets featuring salmon belly, tons of herbs, and a drizzle of yogurt. He made it for a dinner party and it was, allegedly, really good.
“It was kind of one of those dishes that, you know, people are talking and chatting and as soon as they take a bite, the whole room kind of goes quiet a little bit, you know?” Cal said, smiling, as we met over beers in the East Bay.
That’s the kind of result that one could only expect from an expert, but I’m still desperately trying to reach that level in my own kitchen at home. So, I started to pick Cal’s brain, trying to find a way to absorb his confidence. I still have a creeping suspicion that Cal’s 20 years of running the kitchens at Chez Panisse may be the only way to get to that point, but I haven’t run out of resources yet. Cal has published four cookbooks since 2014—his latest, Burnt Toast, came out last year—and in his books, he offers glimpses into the flexible style that defines his work.
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