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'From Clueless Cook to Creative Chef': LAist Interviews Eli Sussman of Freshman in the Kitchen

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"This dish emerged from a combination of two of my favorite flavors. The rich flavor of the roasted salmon and vegetables pairs so perfectly with the sharp flavor of the goat cheese. Stacking a dish is a quick and not too difficult way to show off the different colors and components of this dish." Photo courtesy of Freshman In the Kitchen. Check out the recipe below.

"I'm making pork belly tacos and fresh orange sorbet served in oranges," Eli Sussman said, when asked what he was currently working on in the kitchen. The twenty-three-year-old LA resident and Detroit native has a passion for food - specifically making great food affordable and accessible. However, the radio promotions manager has no professional culinary training...which is all the better as testament toFreshman In the Kitchen, a cookbook he co-wrote with his brother Max, designed to inspire and take novice chefs on a step-by-step journey through the kitchen. The cookbook starts out with easy and simple recipes and techniques and gradually increases in terms of difficulty. Like many of us who spent at least some of our time in college living in a huge house with a bunch of friends and an often dirty kitchen, Eli used his first-hand experiences to write a book that a college student (or new chef) could relate to and understand. LAist had a chance to talk to Eli about the cookbook process, why it's important to cook, the LA food scene...and their national debut on The Today Show tomorrow. UPDATE: Today Show segment below.

What inspired the cookbook?

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The cookbook was inspired when both Max and I were finishing up college and we felt there was a need for an easy to use cookbook with affordable recipes of delicious food written for college kids by thier peers. We wanted to showcase tips on how to grocery shop, set up a kitchen and present time saving tips throughout to keep a college kid engaged. It's not only about cooking but getting the user comfortable in the kitchen doing thier own thing.

Your brother, Max, is the head-chef at high-end Eve Restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan. So how did this project come together, with you in LA and him in Ann Arbor?

When I first moved to LA, we were writing it and testing recipes just sending things back forth over and over via email and talking 10 times a day on hte phone until we got recipes to a point where we agreed it was ready for the book. Then my brother actually went to be the head chef at a fishing resort in Chile, so some of the book was written LA-Michigan the other portion LA-Chile.

Have you always been into cooking? Where did the interest come from?

We got into cooking through our parents. My mom cooked from scratch 5 nights a week so we were usually asked to help out in some capacity. As we got older, we started doing more and more cooking. At first it was just a useful skill to get a job, but then I became much more passionate about it in college. My brother and I returned to our childhood summer camp to run the kitchen and that is where our ability to work together to design meals as a team and work in tandem really exploded and we thought to ourselves how fun it was to bounce ideas off each other and cook side by side.

How did you guys come up with and create the recipes?

All the recipes are original conceptions or our own interpertation on a classic. We came up with things we would want to eat ourselves and that would appeal to our friends and peers. We also made sure to think about what would take less than an hour to cook, would not be confusing all while staying under a reasonable price point for a high school, college student or recent graduate. So no, there aren't any foie gras or squab recipes.

What is the most valuable lesson you learned in the process of creating the book?

Creating the cookbook took an incredible amount of time, dedication and personal investment. We found out firsthand that creating recipes takes precision and organization and both myself and Max are sort of fly by the seat of our pants in the kitchen. We like to find things in the fridge and put it together. With a recipe you have to be incredibly specific because you are teaching people how to re-create a dish. There were several recipes that we tested 15 times back and forth before we got them where we wanted. To develop the entire book's content, to help with the look and layout and to get to a point where we felt it was a complete product we could be really proud of took well over a year. And we both spent many days in a kitchen cooking things, tasting, refining...and forcing people to eat things and give feedback.

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Why is it important for college kids to cook?

In today's economic climate, cooking at home can save you tons of money. If you were to cook a dish from our cookbook, it's going to less expensive than eating out and there is bound to be leftovers you can eat for lunch the next day and maybe even stretch things into several meals. Especially in LA where a meal can easily run you $25 a person, you can stretch that money much more buying your own groceries and cooking at home. $25 can easily make recipes in our cookbook that serve 2 or more people.

What foods can't you live without?

I love all meat and could probably be happy eating nothing else. I could be content eating beef, chicken, lamb, turkey for every meal. I also eat tons of pastas, potatoes, breads of all yea - lots of carbs and protein.

What should everyone have in their kitchen?

I love to use fresh basil and rosemary when I cook. Pasta dishes with a simple tomato and basil sauce are really fast and easy. I think every kitchen should have heads of garlic, onion, fresh basil and potatoes.

Who is your favorite celebrity chef?

Anthony Bourdain. He's articulate and hilarious and his show is awesome. He makes me want to quit my job and travel the world sampling the cusine of other cultures.

LA has the best....

LA has the best korean BBQ. All you can eat Korean is the best thing to happen. Ever.

Favorite late-night food in LA?

Canter's Deli - hands down. They have about 1000 things and the Fresser is my go-to late night food. It's open 24 hours and there are always crazy characters in there. Also the Kogi truck is amazing if you can find it.

I wish LA had...

I wish LA had more late night food options...for such a big city, it's pretty weak in non-fast food 24 hour locations. After 11 on a week night, it's tough to find things open. It also desperately needs a Coney Island, which if you aren't from Michigan is sort of like the Greek equivilant of a deli. It's fast service and has greek salads, pita sandwiches, souvlaki, avoglemeno soup... Any high schooler from Metro-Detroit lives off on coney islands.

Best LA dining experience?

My Best LA dining experience has got to be anytime I'm eating tacos on the street, picking up schwarma or going with friends to any of the Korean BBQ joints. The high end restautants in LA, like AOC, are right up there with the best I've ever been to, but this city gives you incredible options for sushi, Korean BBQ and mexican food all within a few miles. And Zankou is my jam for sure

The center of LA is....

The center of LA is wherever you are and that's why I love it. If you are in Silverlake for the's the the beach in Malibu...that's the a show in's got all these great areas that function independently so whatever you are in the mood for there is a mini-city to fulfill that. People knock the lack of connection between areas but I sort of like that. You can be totally isolated in one neighborhood inside of one of the biggest cities in the US.

What's your favorite recipe from the cookbook?

I love the chicken with artichokes and sundried tomatoes recipe. The flavor is fantastic and it seems fancy to college kids but it's fairly simple recipe. That is the recipe i suggest the most to make. It's not that heavy and it looks great if you serve it to people.

What's next for you guys?

We are going to be the Today Show on April 17th (tomorrow!) preparing our Salmon and Goat Cheese Napoleon (recipe below) with Kathie Lee and Hoda during the 10am hour. This will be far and away the biggest thing to happen to my brother and I since the book came out in August of 2008. It's awesome because we set out to write a cookbook because we thought it would be fun to do together and there was a need for it, but we never really in our wildest dreams thought we'd get to share our book with a national audience on the Today Show. Also I want to meet Kathie Lee. She seems absolutely hilarious.

Where we can find the book in LA?
The book is available at various Barnes and Noble and Borders locations and Cook's Library in LA and at our website,

Freshman In the Kitchen's Salmon and Goat Cheese Napoleon

  • 10 ounces salmon filet
  • pinch salt and pepper
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • ½ teaspoon dill
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin or blended olive oil
  • 1 zucchini
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
  • 1 Roasted Red Pepper
  • ½ pound goat cheese (Chèvre)
  • Wild Rice Pilaf
  • Serves 2

  1. Season salmon by sprinkling it with the salt, pepper, thyme, and dill.
  2. Heat olive oil in a nonstick frying pan and cook salmon on medium for 10 minutes, turning over halfway through.
  3. Cut zucchini in half width-wise, then in thin slices lengthwise. Sauté or grill until tender with the garlic and chives.
  4. Cut Roasted Red Pepper, goat cheese, and salmon to match zucchini slices.
  5. Layer salmon, goat cheese, zucchini, and roasted red pepper to form a tower. Secure with toothpick if necessary.
  6. Serve with Wild Rice Pilaf.

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