Eleanor Maidment is a London-based food writer and stylist. Her first cookbook, California Living + Eating: Recipes Inspired by The Golden State (Hardie Grant), will be released in the UK on 16 May and in the U.S. on 22 May. Maidment shares with us her experience of road tripping around the Golden State as well as her top foodie haunts to grab a bite to eat, from top vegan restaurants to everyone’s favourite fast food joint, In-N-Out Burger.
Ask most food writers where they get their inspiration and I’d put money on the majority of them saying travel. I’m no different, and for me the one place that has always excited and impressed me is California. So much so that I ended up writing a book of recipes inspired by all of my travels there.
I’ve been fortunate to visit California on many occasions. I love driving through Sonoma County, stopping in quaint towns for wine and small plates, I’ve cruised up and down the Pacific Coast Highway mesmerised by the staggering coastline and felt the San Diego sand beneath my toes as I’ve tucked into fish tacos. I’ve witnessed the calmest, colour-streaked sunsets in Ojai, picked dates fresh from the palms in Palm Springs and spent numerous hours eating my way around San Francisco and Los Angeles, two truly pulsing food cities where you can sample everything and anything… from brilliant back-street ramen to pitch-perfect sourdough pizza, amazing Michelin-starred cuisine, loaded breakfast burritos and some of the world’s best plant-based food (while always finding time for an In-N-Out Burger somewhere along the way!).
There’s just so much on offer, and while it may not be possible to pinpoint exactly what “Californian cuisine” is, I think what can be identified is an energy, youth and dynamism to the cooking that is very different to the traditional cuisines of Europe that I grew up around and trained in. Californian chefs are endlessly creative (and given the huge ethnic diversity of the state, there’s a lot of inspiration to be had), and I love their bold and beautiful combinations and the focus on presentation.
I’ve had too many good meals to recount in California, but two of my favourite restaurants happen to be on Abbot Kinney in Venice, Los Angeles. Plant Food + Wine’s twinkling fairy-lit garden is the most romantic setting for an evening meal, and the plant-based food is equally magical. Every plate is visually stunning and unquestionably shows off the techniques and skill of the chefs—the kimchi dumplings and the heirloom tomato and zucchini (courgette) lasagne with macadamia ricotta are must tries.
A little bit further up the street is Gjelina. It’s often hailed as a quintessentially Californian restaurant. It’s cool, it’s laid-back and the menu has so many dishes packed onto it that the choice is a little overwhelming. But I guarantee everything tastes glorious. The flavour combinations are clever and considered, but never overly complicated. I particularly love the veg section—the kale salad is legendary—and the pizzas are excellent too.
Of course, one thing that helps to ensure all the food in California tastes so good is the quality of the produce. That wonderful climate and varied terrain, ranging from mountains and wetlands to desert and coastline, means a bounty of sun-soaked ingredients are grown up and down the state. Wherever I am in California, I’ll keep an eye on days and times for local farmers' markets, so I can see what’s in season. There’s almost always a new fruit or vegetable that I’ve never tried before.
When I’m not eating, I’ll undoubtedly be getting swept up in the breath-taking Californian nature: even in Los Angeles I’ll be planning my route on the closest hiking trail. But what really makes my heart skip a beat is the humbling magnitude of Yosemite National Park, the towering redwood trees of Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve and Big Sur’s jaw-dropping coastline. The scale of them is almost unfathomable and something I will never, ever tire of experiencing.
Purchase your own copy of the California inspired cookbook book here.