In 2011, entrepreneurial chef Jessica Koslow started a jam company in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. A year later, she expanded that company — Sqirl — into a café, which has since developed a following for its toasts and other market-driven dishes for breakfast and lunch.
Five years since Sqirl’s inception, Koslow has released an accompanying cookbook, her first, titled “Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and The New California Cooking.” Yes, the book features plenty of recipes for different toasts and jams and beautiful accompanying photos, but the scope of the book is much broader than that. We caught up with Koslow this week to learn more about the book, how the L.A. food scene has evolved over the last few years, and get a look at one of her recipes.
WWD: Why did you decide to put out a cookbook at this point in your career? What was the catalyst for this project?
Jessica Koslow: Five years into starting Sqirl, there was a wealth of knowledge that we learned on our end. What makes a Sqirl classic? What sticks? What doesn’t? What techniques have we learned to elevate a dish or to complete a dish? This is what I wanted to share — a viewpoint that elevated my own palette, technique and taste and shaped Sqirl’s success.
WWD: Who is your targeted reader for the cookbook?
J.K.: The target was to make something that I could stand behind, that I was proud of. It has easy recipes and hard ones but the point of the book is to offer full dishes that can be challenging and delicious and that the elements within the dish, maybe pickles, or spaetzle, or crème fraîche or even chicken kofte, can stand on their own. So the hope is that this book inspires beginner cooks and seasoned chefs alike.
WWD: How did you decide what recipes to include? Are there any recipes that you wanted to include originally, but didn’t end up including?
J.K.: The interesting thing about a cookbook is that it really shows a finite moment in time. And maybe during that period, you have three really great Brussels sprouts recipes, but you can only print one. There are so many recipes that I have developed since the book was finished, that I wish could have found a place in “Everything I Want to Eat.” But then I think, “Ah, I have another book on the horizon and there’s always room for them in there.”
WWD: Is there a recipe in the book that you find yourself personally making or craving the most?
J.K.: Well, the sorrel pesto and the kabbouleh are dishes that I eat pretty much everyday here at the restaurant. But the truth is that I have a big sweet tooth, and the malvas, rhubarb frangipane tarts, whole wheat date toffee cake and carrot sesame loaf get me every time. It’s better that they’re in the book and not in front of my face….
WWD: How has the restaurant and food scene in L.A. changed since you started Sqirl?
J.K.: L.A. has always felt like the land of opportunity. I quote the last line of “Pretty Woman” a lot…. “Welcome to Hollywood, What’s your dream?” Over the past eight years since I’ve lived in Los Angeles, I’ve seen a burgeoning restaurant community come to life. We are still a city of great ethnic cuisine and grand “industry” serving restaurants but we’re seeing more restaurants flourish for day and nighttime eating with unique and personal perspectives. It’s exciting to see what the L.A. food scene will look like just five years from now!
BELOW, A RECIPE EXCERPTED FROM “EVERYTHING I WANT TO EAT”:
Brown rice porridge
This is one of our OG dishes. We opened Sqirl during “winter” in California, when the temperature hovers around 65°F (18°C) and people tend to want something a little warmer for breakfast. It’s similar to the Danish dish risengrød, which is traditionally served with butter and cinnamon. Our kitchen crew actually loves to eat this porridge cold. My go-to is the vegan variation of this porridge with granola on top, plus a friendly dollop of jam.
Makes about 4 cups (960 ml); serves 4 (V, VVO)
1 cup (200 g) medium-grain brown rice
4 cups (960 ml) whole milk
¼ cup (50 g) sugar
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ vanilla bean
Chopped raw hazelnuts
Your favorite jam
Rinse the rice in a fine-mesh sieve under cool water until the water runs clear. Transfer the rice to a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Pour in the milk and 4 cups (960 ml) water. Add the sugar and salt and stir to dissolve. Slice the ½ vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the dull edge of your knife to scrape all the tiny black seeds into the pot. Drop in the scraped bean pod as well.
Bring to a boil. Watch the pot for the first few minutes; you want the liquid to boil but not boil over. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is soft, the porridge is thick, and most of the liquid has evaporated, 60 to 70 minutes. At first it will seem like way too much liquid for so little rice, but with time it will evaporate. As the porridge gets closer and closer to being done, you’ll need to stir more often to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Before serving, fish out and discard the vanilla bean pod. Top each bowl of porridge with a handful of hazelnuts and a spoonful of jam.
You can serve this porridge hot or cold, depending on what sounds best to you. When you chill it in the fridge, a skin will form on top. Don’t be afraid of that. If you need to reheat it and it’s a little too thick, add a splash of milk.
Do not rinse the rice; the starch adds body. Use water in place of the milk. We always serve vegan brown rice porridge hot and we always add a splash of almond milk to the porridge while it heats up.