It's not often that you find a cookbook filled with soundtrack suggestions. Yet that's exactly what the Hot Knives team of Alex Brown and Evan George have done with their vegetarian cookbook offering Salad Daze. The fun-loving pair have also matched up beers with their recipes, and they often combine all three (beer, vegetables and music) in their pop-up nights at various kitchens around town. Most recently, they hosted a cheese and beer pairing night at Eagle Rock Brewery, but the veg-heavy duo can be found all over Los Angeles through their twitter feed @HotKnivez.
We caught up with Evan and Alex recently to discuss their life as chefs and beer bloggers, and to get an idea of what guides them around Los Angeles.
KCET: You guys exist in this really fun space where music, beer and vegetarian cooking collide. How did you go from line cooks to cool-as-hell chefs / beer bloggers?
Evan: Ha! Well, the key to becoming a cool blogger is to be a really cool line cook and then when you leave the kitchen you won't slip so far that you're completely lame. In our case the transition was natural because we worked food jobs in high school (scooping ice cream, washing dishes) and then throughout college (prep-cooking in the mess hall) so after liberal arts school when we were looking for writing jobs and company gigs we both helped run kitchens -- work we really enjoyed but didn't particularly want to do forever. So when we had the opportunity to write about home cooking experiments for a newspaper column and ultimately a blog, we jumped at it, and it's sort of sustained our passion for it without us having to work as full-time mercenaries.
KCET: You also released a vegetarian cookbook called Salad Daze last year, complete with soundtrack suggestions. Any absolute must-try recipes from the book that we should be on the lookout for this winter?
Evan: That's like picking your favorite child, but of course there is always a favorite child ... We find ourselves baking the Savory Rolls a lot -- you roast wild mushrooms, grate aged cheese, caramelize shallots with sherry and chop fresh herbs and pack all that into a homemade dough like it's a cinnamon roll but savory.
KCET: You've hosted not one, but two cheese pairings with Eagle Rock Brewery now. Why Eagle Rock Brewery, and what makes cheese work so well with beer?
Alex: Its funny -- we actually met Jeremy and Ting [two of the ERB principles] at a cheese and beer tasting we did at The Verdugo Bar a few years back. That was the first public tasting of their beer I think, and we've been friends with the whole ERB team ever since. They make very earnest, clean, specific beers. They exemplify everything we love about the craft beer movement in this effortless way. We could gush about them for days.
Why beer and cheese? This is another dangerous topic that we could discuss until the proverbial bovines return to wherever they were missing from. Bread and cheese are natural homies right? Beer is liquid bread, with bubbles to help lift every bit of milkfat off your tongue so you can taste it. We also know a guy who hordes cheese for a living. (He's me, actually.)
KCET: What do you say to die-hard meat eaters who can't seem to wrap their heads around the idea of a satisfying vegetarian meal?
Evan: Mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms. Besides the occasional tempeh, fresh tofu or homemade seitan loaf we prefer vegetal meat analogues to packaged, processed salty soy logs. And we think fermented goo and sauces can help bump the umami factor of a lot of things, whether it's kimchi in your stew or daikon brine in your broth.
Alex: We don't really care about that argument. We've never purported to be some kind of conversion force. We're into supporting vegetable producers and teaching people how to have fun with their cooking -- yeah we end up being advocates for a vegetarian lifestyle, but we're not trying to beat people over the head with eggplants. PETA can do that. We've got no illusions about annihilating barbeque or banishing burgers. We just do things differently. It's totally fine that there are people who think that's super weird.
Evan: Speaking more philosophically, our general 'tude is one of, "Really? Putting down vegetables is still a thing you want to stand behind as an adult at this point in human civilization?" No matter who you are and what your tastes are, it shouldn't be hard to grasp that meat is on a decline -- it's becoming ever more expensive and draining on resources. It's no longer as necessary to the human gut. A lot of chefs are choosing to be spare with meat and treat it like the delicacy it is, rather than just protein fuel. We think that's a good thing for people whether they eat no meat or less meat.
KCET: So when you're not in the kitchen yourselves, where do you guys like to eat and drink around town?
Evan: Some of the best grub around here requires day trips planned around meal times. We will drive to the San Gabriel Valley for the Szechuan cold noodles and fire-colored ma-po tofu. Or Reseda for the curry udon bowls or BBQ duck banh mi at Vinh Loo Tofu. If absolutely necessary to eat on the westside, we could live off of the mango avocado arepas from Cafe Bolivar. Our favorite salad by miles is from Elf Cafe [which they are affiliated with], and it's soon to have beer and wine license so we'll be there chugging Imperial pilsners and snapping along to Ethiopiques Vol. IV.
KCET: When you're on the hunt for great produce for your dinners, where's your first stop in L.A.?
Evan: That's easy, the answer should always be the closest farmers market to your kitchen.