Dishing and grilling with Chef Daria

Daria Vegetables

Vegetable medley from the grill of Daria Le Sassier of  Le Sassier Catering.

There’s nothing like the sound of women in the kitchen.

Their laughter and voice inflections are almost lyrical. Their animations and antics are enlivening.

And no matter what race, creed or color, when women gather around food, it’s always a magical experience bathed in warmth and richness.

The end of the summer is near, and the last big summer holiday is approaching. My friend, and Los Angeles based caterer Daria Le Sassier of Le Sassier Catering,  gathered a few sister friends together for a little pre-Labor Day celebration.

Pat Karani Daria and me

The girls. Left to right: Yours truly along with: Daria Le Sassier, Owner Le Sassier Catering; Pat Prescott, broadcaster and Morning Show Host of  LA’s  94.7 The WAVE; Karani Johnson,  Los Angeles based writer and television editor.

Daria has been a caterer in this town for over 30 years. She has a vast client list that ranges from individuals, social organizations, politicians and the entertainment industry.

She is one of the most sought after caterers in Los Angeles largely because of the authentic New Orleans style influences in her menu offerings.  Her “food to tablescape” approach always elevates ordinary dining experiences to casual elegance.  Paella, jambalaya, ribs, red beans and rice, catfish and crab cakes are among her most requested items.  And she has a flare for transforming basic “comfort food” into coveted cuisine.

Early lessons learned

“Growing up in New Orleans, everything was about the food,” reflected Daria. “Sunday was our food day with family, cousins, and close friends.  Everybody would get together with their kids, and we all cooked together.”

Those early experiences showed Daria the important role food plays in deepening and strengthen family ties.  When she became a parent, she said those lessons learned were more defining than she ever imagined.

“My son loved to eat.  When we sat down to have a meal together, I had his attention,” said Daria.   “So it was easy to have a conversation with him and he was always open to listening.  While it was just a conversation, we worked though a lot over a meal.  Food is important. It absolutely matters.”

After years of experience as a caterer, her artistry and mastery of all aspects of her profession have been at the center of her success.  And let’s not forget about the food.  It’s certainly her calling card and what sets her apart from so many.

Daria PicMonkey Collage

Daria says simple, fresh ingredients always work best. Left: Daria preps vegetables for the grill. Right top: seasoned ground turkey burger destined for the grill. Right bottom: boiled potatoes for potato salad.

Daria dishes about food

In this age of epicurious intrigue, food adulation and culinary stardom, Daria remains true to her passion for cooking “good food” and remains unfettered by the latest gastronomic movement.

“I think people are getting away from the simplicity of making good food and mixing too many foods together,” said Daria in reference to some of the wild and whimsical mash-ups she’s seen of late.  “They are over doing the  combinations in an attempt to make the dish sound exotic and look intriguing.  I like food to look good and taste good. But everything doesn’t go together.”

Our pre-Labor Day feast

When planning our pre-Labor Day menu, Daria focused on the favorites – all which were fit for a girls day dinner.  Baked beans, baby back ribs, boneless chicken breasts and wings, corn salsa, Texas caviar, grilled catfish, potato salad and peach mint sweet tea. It was a menu that left us wide eyed and speechless.

Darias spead

Our pre-Labor Day spread. Barbecue ribs and chicken wings, baked beans, grilled turkey burgers and boneless chicken breasts. Not shown: Grill catfish, potato salad, corn salsa and Texas caviar.

We dished, slipped and watched as she prepared these Labor Day delights. She even enlisted our help in chopping, stirring and helping out.

Daria Pat Karani plated dish tablescape PicMonkey Collage

Top: Pat Prescott, Daria Le Sassier and, Karani Johnson enjoying the meal.  Bottom left: a plated delight. Bottom right: holiday place setting.

Planning is the key to success

The execution of our pre-Labor Day feast was flawless.  Daria shares a few basic tips for making your special event or holiday bash a success:

  • Plan your shop time.  Shop for your ingredients at least three days prior to your event. The selection is better, there aren’t as many people in the store and it’s less stressful.
  • Prep ahead.  Cut vegetables and meats and store them in the refrigerator. This way you aren’t doing everything on the day of your event, tiring yourself out.
  • Season everything at least two days before your event. The longer it sits in the refrigerator seasoned, the better it is going to taste.
  • Ask for help.  Have a family member or friend come over and help cut, dice and help with your prep.
  • Use catering services.  Some menu items you many not want to cook like ribs, appetizers or desserts.  But plan ahead because holidays are peak seasons for caterers.
  • Pace yourself on the big day. Get an early start, get your grill going and ease into cooking now that most of the prep work has been done.  Remember the secret to great ribs is to cook them on low heat and slowly.
  • Set up a buffet or serving table.  This allows guests to serve themselves. Just keep it replenished and freshened up.

How to grill vegetables

In this video, Daria shares how you can create a grilled vegetable platter that has the “wow factor” in taste and presentation.

With the wealth of great family recipes that have become the cornerstone of her business, Daria says they may find their way in a cookbook someday. But for now she’s focused on her business and perhaps expanding her brand into the realm of event consulting.

But in the meantime, Daria shares a quick and easy baked bean recipe. The food hack is to use canned beans. The method is to cook the beans in a cast iron skillet slowly in the oven,  stirring them frequently, and adding more barbecue sauce, butter and yes pancake syrup to keep them moist and saucy if they begin to dry out. Daria says, “The more love, time and care you put into your food preparation, the better it is going to taste.”

You can follow Daria on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LeSassier-Catering-Events-242470832545353/.  Now – get cooking!

Chef Daria’s Easy Baked Beans

Darias baked beans

Ingredients
48 ounce can of Bush Vegetarian Baked Beans
½ cup barbecue sauce
2 tablespoons  mustard
½ cup pancake syrup
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup diced brown onion
3 tablespoons of melted butter

Method
In a bowl, mix all of the ingredients together and pour into a cast iron skillet. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour until the beans become thicken.  Stir them several times during the hour.  If beans start to become dry, add more barbecue sauce, syrup or butte, to  your taste.

 

A place where culinary dreams come true

epicuriousWe are unquestionably an epicurious culture.

We get a lot of help from the wave of new food blogs, magazines, and articles now delivered to our smart phones each day to the wealth of cooking classes and schools available for those with cooking aspirations and culinary dreams.

And let’s not leave out the explosion of network food and cooking shows that range from instructive to pure cooking competitions. Oh but the culinary rock stars that have emerged from this epicurean explosion are as awe-inspiring as they are  entertaining.

I’ve been fortunate enough to not only meet a local culinary rock star –  who just happens to a Los Angeles native –  but I’ve had the opportunity to attend his cooking school too.

Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom

Chef Eric and school

Left: Chef Eric Crowley. Right: Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom.

Chef Eric Crowley founded Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom in 2003 (located in West Los Angeles)  where he offers many recreational, individual, couples, kids, and professional cooking classes. He’s a media favorite with frequent appearances on local stations KTLA, KCAL 9, NBC 4, FOX 11 as well as BET, E! Entertainment and more.

“Food matters because people need to eat. And today people clearly have more self awareness about what they eat,” Chef Eric said.  “Some people view food as a fuel and necessity for the body. Others view it as a central experience as well as a visual and aromatic experience. For many people, food is a big deal especially when it revolves around family and relationships.”

His extraordinary passion for cooking and teaching are no accident. His father was a teacher and his mother was a gourmet cook who was quite fearless in the kitchen. However his road to the culinary world was not a straight line.

His circuitous culinary journey

Interesting enough, he started out as a saxophone player and music major at California State University at Northridge ( or CSUN – my alma mater).  Following CSUN, he started working at a law firm in Los Angeles.  But when a cooking class ignited his passion for cooking cultivated by his mother, he got a part-time job working in the kitchen of a local restaurant. That led him to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America in New York where he graduated with honors. What followed was a stay in Europe where he worked at Michelin Star restaurants in Barcelona and Munich.  Upon his return to the United States, he was hired by the Patina Restaurant Group where he supervised catered events and intimate dinners.

Chef and class

Left: Chef Eric assisting student. Right: Students in my Culinary Basic Series class.

It was fortuitous that the teaching bug bit Chef Eric. It happened after filling in for a friend who taught at a culinary school.  Chef Eric said the student feedback that followed was so positive that the “light bulb” went off and he knew teaching was his calling.

Since Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom opened in 2003, he has taught over 7,500 students. Some of his  former students have gone on to pursue their culinary dreams and started successful businesses after completing his Master Chef and Master Baking/Pastry professional certification programs.

The basics and so much more

Although I twirl a pan or two with relative ease, I wanted some professional training. I enrolled in Chef Eric’s 4-Week Culinary Basic Series. I learned that my basic skills needed a little sharpening.  I must admit, I’m sharp now. Literal speaking because in the very first class we learned about knife skills.

“Having a good quality knife and one that can be sharpened can make your time in the kitchen that much more enjoyable,”  emphasized Chef Eric. This tip has already paid dividends for this home cook.

The 4-Week Culinary Basic Series breaks down like this (click here for full description and list of all the food we made):

  • Class #1 – Introduction – Knife Skills/Sauté Techniques
  • Class #2 – Meal Preparation/Organization
  • Class #3 – Fresh Pasta, Sauces, and Potatoes
  • Class #4 – Fish and Shellfish Meals

Cooking like a rock star

Week 2 entrees

Featured here from week 2: Spice Rubbed Skirt Steak (Carne Asada) with Guacamole and Pilaf-Style Rice, Mama’s Meat Loaf with Mashed Potatoes and Carrots, Asian Five Spice Chicken Skewers With Spicy Peanut Sauce, Thai-Style Noodle Salad with Lemon Grass and diced Cucumbers, Hearty Chicken and Chile Stew with Tortillas, Lemon Orzo Pasta with Kalamata Olives and Chicken with Tomato Herb Sauce.

The classes are taught in a professionally designed, fully equipped kitchen stocked with the freshest ingredients. Upon first glance, the menu of dishes we were slated to prepare each class seemed overwhelming.  But we quickly learned that Chef Eric’s pre-cooking class discussion was great preparation before we were dispatched to our workstations.

The classes are all hands on. You chop, shear, sauté, simmer, plate and more. I never felt so confident and empowered from his guidance and instruction. His warmth, enthusiasm and expertise made the class fun and rewarding. The result: we made most amazing and delicious entrées from the simplest of ingredients. The best part – as a class we ate all our creations after the cooking was done. The number and array of items we made each week varied. Here’s the menu we prepared during the final week of class:

Week 4 Menu

Featured here from week 4: Seared and Spice-Crusted Ahi Tuna drizzled with Sesame Dressing on Julienne Lettuce, Brown Rice and Edamame Beans with Soy Sauce, Salmon Steamed in Wine and Spices on Mixed Greens with Balsamic Vinaigrette, Grilled Chipotle-Spiced Shrimp and Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with homemade French Dressing, Succulent Featured here from week 4: Bass and Mixed Vegetable Packets with Mint and Basil Pesto, and Sole Vin Blanc with Ginger-Lime-Scallion Butter with Shiitake Mushroom and Asparagus Sauté.

What’s next for Chef Eric

Chef Eric and wife, co-partner Jeannie Crowley

Chef Eric and wife, co-partner Jennie Crowley

Chef Eric and his wife and business partner Jennie Crowley (President and COO) have put a lot of love, sweat and care into every aspect of the cooking school. It shows.  With teaching 5 to 6 days a weeks, developing and managing new products like his Sizzle and Smooth spice blends, and juggling his numerous media and public speaking engagements, what’s next for Chef Eric?

“I am working on cookbook based on my very popular couples cooking classes. It will have fantastic pictures and easy recipes for busy couples.  It will imbue the feeling couples get when they take our classes. The cookbook will be out early next year or  perhaps sooner,  so stay tuned,” Chef Eric said.

Easy recipes from Chef Eric

Chef Eric chicken and potaoes

Left: Sizzling Grilled Chicken Breasts. Right:Sizzling Oven-Roasted Potatoes

Chef Eric shares two recipes you can try at home. His Sizzling Grilled Chicken Breasts and  Sizzling Oven-Roasted Potatoes. If the cooking bug in you yearns for more, see the list of cooking classes on his website at  http://culinaryclassroom.com/. Now, get cooking!

Chef Eric’s Sizzling Grilled Chicken Breasts

See the YouTube link demonstration at https://youtu.be/Uee-pS1dfMc

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients
Chicken breasts, boneless 4 each
Orange, zested and juiced 2 each
Chef Eric’s Sizzle Spice Blend 2 tablespoons

Method

  1. Cut the chicken breasts in half horizontally, making two thin cutlets. Put the finished chicken into a zip top bag or a pan and set aside.
  2. In a bowl, combine the orange juice, zest and Chef Eric’s Sizzle Spice Blend.
  3. Pour the orange juice mixture into the bag with the chicken and seal. Let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for as long as possible. Overnight is fine.
  4. Preheat a grill pan over medium-high heat and spray the pan with vegetable oil spray. When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the marinade and grill for about three minutes per side, or until the chicken is cooked through.
  5. While the chicken is grilling, pour the leftover marinade into a small pan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and keep warm to use as a sauce.
  6. Serve on a warm plate and garnish with a spoonful of the sauce.

Tip: Tofu steaks, turkey breasts, steak, fish and pork chops would be great with this marinade.

Chef Eric’s Sizzling Oven-Roasted Potatoes

See the YouTube link demonstration at  https://youtu.be/Uee-pS1dfMc

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients
Red bliss potatoes, halved 2 pounds
Olive oil 1 tablespoons
Chef Eric’s Sizzle Spice Blend 2 teaspoons
Salt 1 teaspoon

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, Chef Eric’s Sizzle Spice Blend and salt.
  2. Preheat an oven to 450 degrees. Wash and dry the potatoes. Cut the potatoes into halves and place them into the bowl.
  3. Toss the potatoes in the Sizzle mixture, making sure that they are coated in oil. Add more oil, if needed.
  4. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet that has been lined with aluminum foil.
  5. Roast until the potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes to an hour.
  6. Serve with the Sizzling Chicken Breasts for a delicious meal.