EyeSwoon

I’m a naturally shy person. I’d never call myself witty (or a wordsmith) and I’m certainly not someone who can enter a room and know how to easily chat up strangers. Nope, that’s not me. I’m quiet and socially awkward and nervous. Maybe that makes me insecure or maybe it makes me endearing? Either way it’s me and I’ve gotta to work with what I’ve got. That’s not to say I don’t push myself to step outside my comfort zone. I can recall a specific time when a dear friend (who is equally shy) and I made a pact before entering an event: We would not stand behind a glass wall all night. Today I can proudly say EyeSwoon has shattered my glass wall. So even though I still get butterflies in my belly every time I have the opportunity to cook with a designer, chef or influencer who I admire, I remind myself to use what I love, FOOD, as they grand unifier. It’s the thing that levels the playing field and it’s something I always approach with passion and confidence.

A month ago I was lucky to be invited to a family tasting at Café Clover, a charming new restaurant in the West Village. From the minute I walked through its blue door, I knew I was in a special place. The décor is an eclectic mix of oversized antiqued mirrors distressed with mercury, vibrant blue banquets that pop against crisp white tabletops wrapped in brass – combining known elements with surprise ones, and as inventive as the menu. Simply put, I was blown away – totally swooned – by the food. The ivory lentil risotto was an exercise in creamy decadence, without the guilt of cream, butter and rice! I immediately asked my friend and co-owner Kyle Hotchkiss Carone if could cook with his chef, David Strandridge, who had been Executive Chef at Market Table and Sous Chef at L’atelier de Joel Robuchon, before joining Café Clover.

Just three days later, at 10AM on a Monday morning I was standing in the Café Clover kitchen beside Chef David in matching Hedley & Bennett aprons. Despite those shy nerves, David became both a teacher and a friend within minutes. As we cooked I learned not only how to create his swooned after lentil risotto, I became privy to his vision for the Café Clover menu – health inspired, pure and simple ingredients, delivered with imagination and every ounce of flavor. I also discovered that David’s home refrigerator is absolutely barren! And laughed at his brazen honesty as he recalled his entrance into the culinary world, “What started me cooking was my mother teaching me to bake when I was a kid and then leaving me home with no cookies in the house. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I could actually make those.” I got so excited cooking and chatting in the kitchen that day, that before leaving the beautifully sun-light dining room I made a reservation to come back that very same night with my hubby. Yes, I had the lentil risotto for breakfast and dinner. It’s that good! David describes his restaurant environment as the land of misfit toys, referencing his unusually creative pairings, but let me tell you this little misfit fit in just fine at Café Clover!  Photography by Masha Maltsava 

 

Café Clover

Chef David Standridge

  • swoonisms....

    • How would you describe the food at Café Clover ? What is the core value represented in the food?
      I would describe the food at café clover as modern American with a healthful focus. I try to create delicious food that is also good for your body. I think the core value is just to be delicious. Really the healthy aspect, although not altogether secondary is the next thing I think about.

      Favorite dish you created at Café Clover? Most popular?
      My favorite child who I love the most is….. Like children it depends on how they are behaving today. Today it’s the Hamachi because he’s the new one, and it has some interesting points: smoked sea urchin aioli, and a sauce made with dehydrated jalapeno and blood orange. Kind of fun. Probably most proud of the burger bun in truth since it took about a hundred tries to get right. Also the teff crepe cake is I think the best gluten free dessert I’ve ever had.

      Biggest misconception about eating healthy?
      That it has to feel any less enjoyable than eating “unhealthy”. So much of what we do is just being true to what the menu says. Most of the dishes here read the same as they do in many other places, but I’m not sneaking butter and pork fat in places  where I don’t make that obvious on the menu.

      Has it been a challenge or inspiration to be health focused when you develop recipes at Café Clover?
      Its getting easier. I don’t come from a health food background. At Market Table I was known for bringing in 300lb hogs every week, and of course Robuchon is the creator of the mashed potatoes that are 60% butter.   It’s been great fun though, that challenge, and has helped me grow as a chef. I think it’s starting to flow a bit more now with some of the new dishes.  It’s like playing music, its awkward when you are still learning the notes. I’m starting to feel comfortable enough to improvise a bit now.

      What inspired you to you become a chef and what was the genesis to where you are today?
      It’s been an interesting road, that is for sure. I’ve had a lot of mini careers before I started cooking professionally. What started me cooking was my mother teaching me to bake when I was a kid and then leaving me home alone with no cookies in the house.  Did not take long for me to figure out that I could actually make those. I came up very slowly through the kitchen ranks by current standards. I worked in restaurants or food service much of my youth and then got back into it in my late 20’s. Just loved the industry and the insanity and turmoil of it all.

      Restaurants are like the island of misfit toys. I was a line cook for 8 years before I took my first sous chef job, which is long by current standards.
      I had offers but I felt that you stop learning certain things when you take that management role. I wanted to perfect my technique and really understand what I was doing. What brought me into this concept is just getting to a point where I wanted to be fit and healthy. Clover is the restaurant that I want to eat in.

      Late night indulgence after a night in the kitchen?
      Back in the day it was bone marrow at blue ribbon. Then it went to spicy scallop hand roll at sushi seki (it will change your life), and now its lemon spaghetti at supper, which I’ve recently discovered is a block from my apartment and open till I often just make it.

      Any kitchen trick for home chefs that guaranteed to pack flavor into their dishes?
      There is no real “trick” per se.  One thing that I can call a philosophy or a style that I believe in is not to clutter compositions too much. I want to taste what is on the plate, and that’s really the point. Three flavors, maybe four, are enough. Otherwise it becomes some other thing that has nothing to do with the parts.

      Most important flavor-building ingredient or combo?
      Acid, spice, sweet.

      Do you have a different approach to cooking at home than at work
      Currently my approach to cooking at home is to not do it. The dishes don’t wash themselves at home for some reason. Mostly what I cook at home is simple breakfast. Egg, toast, parsley butter. COFFEE.

      Most overrated food? Underrated?
      Ramen (enough already)

      Favorite cities for food outside of NYC?
      Houston TX. I lived there for 3 years, and it may be the most culturally diverse city outside of NYC in the country. Most of my eating out is at casual ethnic restaurants and Houston has an incredible Vietnamese food scene, along with still having really good Italian, greek, and of course tex mex, authentic Mexican, and being so close to new Orleans, Cajun as well.

      You be lost in the kitchen without…..
      coffee

      A childhood snack you’re mildly embarrassed you still love?
      Salami sandwiches.

      Classic NYC Restaurant that makes you swoon
      Robertos in the Bronx

      What’s always in your fridge?
      I guess I would have to say wine. There’s really no edible food in there.

      Your ideal meal is…
      That’s another ever changing one. I’ll cop out and say something delicious that doesn’t leave me feeling like a stuffed animal.

Ivory Lentil Risotto with Parmesan and White Truffle

Chef David Standridge

  • Ingredients

    • Serves 4
      4 cups ivory lentils
      1/2 white onion minced
      3 T olive oil
      1 cup white wine
      4 cups veg stock or water
      3 T heavy cream
      1/4 cup grated Parmesan
      1 white or black truffle

  • The Prep

    • In a medium sauté pan, sauté the minced onion in the olive oil.
      Season with salt and pepper.
      When onion is translucent add lentils and continue to sauté for 2 or 3 minutes while stirring.
      Add white wine and simmer stirring constantly until wine is evaporated.
      Add veg stock or water and continue stirring until lentils are cooked to desired consistency and liquid is gone.
      You may need to add more liquid to cook the lentils all the way.
      Take one third of the lentils and purée in blender or food processor until smooth and then combine with the whole lentils in sauté pan.
      Add a bit more water or stock to loosen purée and bring to simmer while stirring.
      Add cream, Parmesan and season again while stirring.
      Portion onto 4 plates top with shaved truffles and serve.

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