The Cooking Channel’s Aida Mollenkamp Is a Girl Who Can Really Eat

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Photo: Julie Michelle

Despite being a rail thin former dancer, Aida Mollenkamp does her fair share of eating in her role as host and recipe developer for Ask Aida and FoodCrafters on the Cooking Channel. "You don't want to dine with me unless you're ready to share," she says, and we can speak from personal experience that she can put it away with the best of them. This week she submits to the San Francisco Diet, while splitting her time between here, which she considers her adoptive home, and L.A. for work.

For my job both the work and the dining out amount to a feast or famine situation. Lately I’ve been on the feast end of the spectrum as I’ve been planning the next season of FoodCrafters and the first steps for my cookbook. That said I’ve been out of the kitchen and in restaurants for much of the last week. Here’s what I indulged in these last 7 days. My lesson learned? It might be time to consider a cleanse.

Thursday, August 5
6:45 a.m. - While some people hit the snooze button when they wake up, I hit the French press. Until I’ve consumed a cup of coffee, I’m a zombie so I got the day started with some Blue Bottle’s Three Africans.

9 a.m. - You don’t want to dine with me unless you’re ready to share, as I’m all about trying everyone’s food. My friend and recipe cross-tester knows that, so we ordered appropriately when we met for a breakfast meeting at Berkeley’s Guerilla Café. Apparently, we were feeling savory grains as we decided on both polenta options: one with poached eggs and Gorgonzola and the other with grilled mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, parmesan and chives. Keeping up on the caffeine run, I ordered another hit of Blue Bottle Three Africans.

1:45 p.m. - I was due for a flight delay as I’ve had a string of good travel karma, but no one I feel deserves a canceled flight. I mean, didn’t Southwest know I had big plans to hit up the tasty Cacao Deli when I landed in L.A? Apparently not. Hours into the ordeal I broke down and got a salad at Andalé Café. As with all airport food, it was forgettable and barely edible. To top things off I got a stomachache and it stayed with me all afternoon.

8:30 p.m. - My family knows how to eat so when they incessantly raved about the omakase at Sushi Park, I knew I had to go. Like all self-respecting sushi joints, it’s tucked away in a nondescript strip mall but this one is in the thick of it on the Sunset Strip. Though it much stacked up against it, the place was a find with excellent though not mind-blowingly good sushi. My friends and I did damage to the tune of a pretty penny and many dirty plates. We started with charred shishito peppers then the omakase started up. What I recall eating was: albacore sashimi with scallions, chutoro and otoro, seared snapper, yellowtail with soy, hamachi with shiso, braised abalone, seared skipjack, jackfish with daikon, Spanish mackerel with ginger, pompano with shichimi, salmon with cucumber, albacore toro with soy, blue crab hand roll, and some sho chiku bai unfiltered sake to wash it all down.

Friday, August 6

7 a.m. - Breakfast at my family’s place. We’re savory breakfast people so eggs and yogurt are mainstays. Today it was greek yogurt with blueberries, goji berries, honey, and flaxseed. I keep telling myself I make up for all my eating sins with a good breakfast.

1 p.m. - As cliché as it sounds, I had a Hollywood working lunch at the Chateau Marmont. Chef Carolynn Spence came by and tuned me in to the cucumber sandwich. Though I may have been a lady who lunches, the sandwich was no tea party fare. Stacked sky-high, it was packed with cucumber, avocado, butter lettuce, sprouts, pickled onions, and pesto on a sweet roll along with some simply dressed thick-cut heirloom tomatoes and radishes on the side. It kept me going strong for the rest of the afternoon.

9:15 p.m. - I had passed by Cube for some pasta and cheese in the past, but this was my first time dining there. As a salute to summer, we started with the salad of heirloom tomatoes, yellow peaches, imported buffalo mozzarella, fruity olive oil, and a 6-year balsamic. Simple deliciousness, but I fear telling my Italian friends about it as they find balsamic on a Caprese salad blasphemous. We moved on to braised octopus with charred radicchio, and cipollini onion marmelade - perfectly cooked and complex it was the best thing we had all night. Next up was the hearty sweet creamy corn succotash with limas, bacon, and seared scallops. My friends was set on the fresh matagliati with oxtail ragu and grassi parmesan while I have a hard time with heavy dishes when it’s hot out. Turns out I didn’t eat much of it anyways as it was the least exciting thing we had all night. To end on a high note, I contemplated getting at drink next door at The Tar Pit but decided to get my beauty sleep for my friend’s wedding the next day.

Saturday, August 7
8 a.m. - Barely squeezed in a few bites of cereal and soy milk before I was volunteered to watch after my nephew. Again, the coffee situation was fruitless.

12:45 p.m. - A farm-to-table café that seems to have gotten sidetracked on its way north, Silver Lake’s Forage seems like it’d be more at home in the Bay Area than SoCal. The menu changes constantly but I settled on watermelon salad with feta, tahini jidori chicken salad, with pita crisps, fattoush salad, cherry tomato crostini, and a plum agua fresca.

1:30 p.m. - How I haven’t been to Pazzo Gelato before is a mystery, but I finally went. The Thai tea gelato was seriously addictive and I concluded that I’m fortunate that I don’t live nearby, as it’d be hazardous to my health.

1:50 p.m. - Requisite stop by Intelligentsia for coffee. I hopped on the long line and decided to try out their iced coffee. Refreshing indeed, yet it was so intense I struggled to finish half of it.

7 p.m. - I concluded that country clubs are where bad food goes to die. Had a great time celebrating my friend’s wedding at the Wilshire Country Club, but the dinner was a relic of the Reagan era. With things like mixed greens with Italian dressing, surf and turf with baby carrots and asparagus, and a sorbet trio, I ordered a Makers and ginger and got busy on the dance floor.

Sunday, August 8
11:30 a.m. - Brunch at Suzanne Goin’s Hungry Cat. Making up for the lack of dinner on Saturday, we ate two meals worth of food. Started things out with an Iced LaMill coffee and some monkey bread then moved on to blue prawns, crab cake benedict with kale and bacon, fish tacos with cotija and slaw, scramble shallots, herbs, goat cheese, toast, and roast potatoes, and yet another watermelon salad with feta.

8:15 p.m. -I was about to eat my hand I was so starving, so we made a quick decision to hit up Loteria Grill. I grew up on chilaquiles at the farmers' market but had yet to try out the Hollywood location. Things started off strong with a spot-on tamarind martini, a Paloma cocktail, a huitalacoche quesadilla, and some queso panela with a nopalito salsa. Next up were the tacos (they’re known for them) as well as the snapper Veracruzana. The apps were the highlight and after our mains, I started to understand why it’s received mixed reviews. I’ll never give up my allegiance to those chilaquiles though.

Monday, August 9
6:15 a.m. - Early breakfast of yogurt parfait with greek yogurt, nectarines, and honey and copious amounts of French press coffee.

2 p.m. - Cooked up lunch at home to try out a few new recipes and some potential products for FoodCrafters. Happy to be back in my own kitchen, I threw together a salad with coriander, heirloom tomatoes, pepitas, and Cypress Grove’s Purple Haze goat cheese then experimented with a quinoa “fried rice” loaded with roasted garlic, scallions, peppers, herbs, and a drizzle of the butternut squash oil. Promptly typed up my thoughts on the oil for the rest of the production team.

4 p.m. - Montmorency dried tart cherries are way too addictive. That is all.

9:15 p.m. - Went old school L.A. and tried out the hole-in-the wall Argentinean joint, Carlito's Gardel. Along with a few glasses of Malbec, we started with stuffed mushrooms, salad with artichoke hearts, cucumbers, hearts of palm, and roasted peppers. The spinach gnocchi with cream and marinara was my favorite of the night as it reminded me of my grandmother’s take. We finished with the requisite red meat and the skirt steak was perfectly cook and served up throwback style with steamed broccoli and carrots. Took home the extras and it’s possible my family is still working on the leftovers.

Tuesday, August 10
6:55 a.m. - Standard breakfast at home of nectarines, yogurt, and blueberries and a big cup of coffee.

12:45 p.m. - For lunch, I got in the kitchen and experimented with a braised romano bean dish. I gave the traditionally Italian dish a twist with some clove and pomegranate molasses and served it up with mixed greens tossed with the latest incarnation of my cardamom fennel pickle recipe.

3:15 p.m. - Had a mid-afternoon cheese-plate snack of nectarines, Andante’s Etude cheese, and some Marcona almonds.

9:10pm - Checked out Prospect for the first time for a work dinner. Tried out the bison carpaccio with fried oysters, calamari with black rice, beets with brittle and manchego, and the mushroom and ricotta crepes with maitakes and spinach. The meal was a perfect pairing to the blistery San Fran weather.

Wednesday, August 11
7:20 a.m. - Blueberries and coffee for breakfast as I wrote up my grocery list.

12:15 p.m. - Marinated some Hodo Soy Beanery tofu in ginger, garlic, soy, mirin, roasted it off, topped it with sesame seeds, scallions, and noshed it with some pickled carrot and chile salad.

1 p.m. - I’ve never been a huge soda person but in the name of FoodCrafters research, I popped open a Root Beer from Hawaii’s Wailalua Soda Works. It’s not too sweet and has a nice root-y flavor though I’m a bigger fan of their tropical flavors like Pineapple, Mango, and Lillikoi.

7:25pm - Wasn’t up for fighting the crowds at Commonwealth, so I hit up Mission Chinese Food. Ordered up the Ma Po Tofu (wanted to add crab but they were out), the Tingly Lamb Noodle Soup, and the Taiwanese Eggplant. The food was as flavorful as everyone’s said yet so spicy that I think I started sweating before I even took a bite. The experience was, no doubt, made all the better by the addition of the gangsta rap soundtrack.

Thursday, August 12
7:20 a.m. - Despite my well-rounded dinner, I still managed to wake up starving. Though super tempted to dip into the leftover lamb and noodles from last night, I reminded myself that a lady over 30 really should break such habits and reached for the oatmeal and fruit instead. As always, a French press of Three Africans was brewed up to get me charged.

12:25 p.m. - I usually hit up the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market on Thursdays as it’s not as crazy as Saturday, yet has more going on than Tuesdays. It didn’t pan out today as I was in book planning meetings all morning and fought baseball traffic to get home. Whipped up a black bean salad with roasted corn, cucumber, tomatoes, bell pepper, red onion, feta and a cilantro vinaigrette. Slipped into a food coma for a while.

2 p.m. - Brewed some LaMill iced coffee to celebrate that it’s actually sunny in San Francisco!

Earlier: Timothy Hollingsworth Ate Some *Really* Spicy Sh*t in Sydney [Grub Street]
Chris Kronner Loves Sebo Almost as Much as Ryan Farr’s Burgers [Grub Street]
Where Didn’t Michael Bauer Eat This Week? [Grub Street]