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