Profile: Holistic Chef Eric Salazar
Eric Salazar is a very good cook. On a recent Sunday afternoon, I was standing in his well-equipped kitchen in Chatsworth, California, sampling his latest creations: crunchy par-boiled carrots scattered with fresh parsley and doused with kicky vinaigrette—his oft requested potluck dish—and a piece of freshly baked loaf of bread. Both were excellent.
“I bake once a week,” said Eric, a personal chef who cooks and customizes menus for adolescent clientele in a drug and alcohol rehab facility in Ojai. “Mostly loaves, occasionally challah, brioche and pancakes. I created my sourdough starter in 2009 from crushed grapes and flour; it developed, and I’ve been feeding and using it since.”
Eric’s culinary calling came early. “As a kid, I would mentally combine flavors in my head,” he said. “Peanut butter/banana/strawberry or Monterey jack/soy sauce both sounded great to me.” He watched cooking shows on local TV and felt like “I could do this.”
His parents were good cooks, especially his father. “He made great menudo”— traditional Mexican beef tripe soup with red chili peppers. “I didn’t really know what it was but thought it looked cool, so I ate it.” Sometimes they went to an Italian deli, bought cured meats, tomatoes and olive oil, and made pizza together from scratch.
Eric’s maternal grandmother lived closed by and let him come help her in the kitchen. “She taught me so much,” he said. “How to make salad dressings, how to bake, different cooking techniques, and how not to be wasteful. She was a child of the Depression, so for example, she told me to always use my finger to scoop out all the egg white from an egg shell.”
Eric lived in a seminary boarding school between the ages of 14 and 18, and he briefly entertained the idea of becoming a priest but ultimately decided to cook professionally. He spent eight years as a chef at Project Angel Food—an L.A.-based nonprofit organization that delivers meals to critically ill clients—developing recipes for people with various health conditions and dietary restrictions.
“I was responsible for 240 different meals a day,” he said. “Low-fat, low-sodium, vegan, vegetarian, and so on. It taught me discipline, but it was fun, too—to come up with creative solutions for the recipe to work and taste good.”
Age 47 — Hometown Monterey Park, Los Angeles County (my parents still live there) — Where do you live? Chatsworth, California — Occupation Chef, specializing in therapeutic diets and menu design — Signature dish Raised in a large family, when asked to bring something for a family celebration, I don't mind others bringing mains or featured proteins, so I really enjoy making vegetable dishes: Vignarola, my roasted root vegetables or my signature, carrots vinaigrette. — Who taught you how to cook? REDO: Research, Experience, Disasters and Observation! — Favorite kitchen tool A sharpened 10-inch chef knife, and my copper beating bowl — Always in your pantry Sourdough starter (circa 2009), malted milk, peanut butter — Go-to snack Peanut butter; fruit—right now it's oranges from Ojai — Favorite cuisine Toss between Italian and Chinese — Do you diet? I don't need to take on any more irritability in life. — Food addictions Cold cereal, ice cream and malted milk (especially together or separately!) — Food allergies Beets upset my stomach — Food fad pet peeve GF. Enough said — Who’s your sous chef? No one yet — Drinking while cooking? Sure. Why not? — What’s for dinner tonight? Pho or maybe lox with a pumpernickel bagel — Do you ever cry over spilled milk? If it's over 1/2 a gallon — Best meal you ever had [That’s a] hard question. I have four distinct, multisensory experiences Bruce and I have enjoyed together: 1) Tidepools Restaurant, Kauai, Hawaii, 2006; 2) Bucato, Culver City, CA, 2014; 3) Craft, Century City, CA; and 4) Lucques, West Hollywood, CA, 2007.
Chicken Matzo Ball Soup
Eric makes this gutsy, incomparable soup for his husband Bruce, who is of Jewish heritage. The real secret, and what puts an oomph into it, is the strong chicken broth—an amalgamation of gelatinous bone marrow, sweet root vegetables, and a bouquet of fresh herbs—that is simmered slowly and undisturbed for 8 hours.
- Serves 8–10
- Chicken Stock
- 1 whole chicken (3–4 pounds)
- 1 pound chicken feet, washed, claws cut off
- 1 chicken carcass
- 5 large carrots, trimmed
- 2 parsnips, trimmed
- 6–8 cloves garlic, peeled
- 4 onions, skin-on, halved
- 4 stalks celery, green part included
- 15 sprigs parsley
- 10 sprigs thyme
- 10 sprigs dill
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorn
- 1 4-inch piece fresh ginger, skin-on
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Matzo Balls
- ¼ cup fat (half chicken schmaltz, half olive oil)
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1½ tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped
- 1½ tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
- 2 tablespoons chicken stock
- 1 cup matzo meal
- Olive oil
- Chicken Matzo Ball Soup
- Chicken stock
- 5 carrots, peeled, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
- 2 parsnips, peeled, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
- 2 zucchini, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
- 3 stalks celery, sliced into ½-inch pieces
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled, diced
- ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- ¼ cup fresh dill, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Matzo balls
- Salt to taste
- Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
- Prepare the chicken stock. Place all ingredients in a large soup pot, and fill it almost to the top with water. Cover the top with a lid and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to low and let simmer for 6 hours. Strain the stock through a colander. Reserve the chicken meat and discard the rest.
- Refrigerate the stock for 8 hours or overnight, and then strain the fat that has risen to the top (optional).
- Prepare the matzo balls.Mix the chicken schmaltz with the olive oil. Whisk the egg yolks in a medium-size bowl and mix with the schmaltz. Add the salt, garlic, dill, thyme, parsley, black pepper, and chicken stock. Combine with the matzo meal. Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the matzo mixture, and let rest in the refrigerator for 45 minutes.
- Fill a medium-size soup pot with water, add 1 teaspoon salt, and bring it to a boil. Scoop out 2 tablespoons of matzo dough, and using your hands, create matzo balls. You should have 10–12 pieces. Using a spoon, put them carefully into the pot. Cover with a lid and boil for 45 minutes. Drain, place the balls in a small bowl, and drizzle some olive oil over them to prevent from sticking. Cover and set aside.
- Prepare the soup.Place the chicken stock in large soup pot. Dilute the stock with water (20% water/80% stock), and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the carrots, parsnips, zucchini, celery and onion, and simmer over medium-high heat, until the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes. Add the herbs, garlic and matzo balls and cook for 10 more minutes. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
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