The Lulu and Georgia team recently spent a perfect afternoon at home with Courtney Storer, the Culinary Director of the famous Jon + Vinny’s Italian restaurant in LA. We chatted with Courtney about what her path to becoming a chef looked like, what her favorite entrée to cook is, and how she makes her house a home. As an added bonus, Courtney cooked us up a delicious meal while teaching us some helpful tips on cooking. Bon Appétit!
You are the Culinary Director of Jon + Vinny’s, tell us about how you got to where you are today?
I came to LA not knowing what to expect and sought out chefs that I respected and admired. I wanted to be challenged and mentored to continue pushing myself to become a better cook. I started at animal at the bottom and fought hard to work my way up. I jumped at any opportunity to learn, work events, or any station that I didn’ t know and made mistakes until I began to not make them as much and gained confidence little by little. I had hoped that I would find my way back to cooking Italian food and the universe had impeccable timing. When I first started to run Jon & Vinny’s I had no idea what to expect. It was challenging in ways I had never experienced. I have worked really hard to continue to learn, listen and be open-minded to evolving in the kitchen as well as in my personal life. I’ve learned a lot from chefs I have worked for or with and I strive to continue to adapt to be the best leader I can.
You work with St. Anne’s to help young mothers in the foster care system. Tell us a little about that.
A couple of years ago I was asked by Khatira Brown and Jen Prakash to lead a class as a guest Chef of Raising Foodies, a program they had started with the Alliance of Moms at St. Annes. Raising Foodies is a healthy cooking class series for young moms in foster care living at St. Anne's residential facility in East Los Angeles. I teach the moms tips and tricks on how to cook more affordably at home. I like to give the moms options and ways to create new memories around food. After each lesson, we eat the meal we made together and talk about life, motherhood, sisterhood. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life thus far.
Do you have an all-time favorite entrée to cook?
Yes, minestrone. I absolutely love it any time of year, anywhere. It is the perfect thing to cheer me up after a long day and bring me back to myself. It reminds me of home and family.
What is the secret to your team at Jon and Vinny’s food?
The care, thoughtfulness, and training behind it. It is so important to set the team up and give them the tools to succeed. It takes a village to execute large volume, consistent food, every day. Training and guiding the cooks, revising recipes, tasting everything, it’s a living and breathing process every day. I am so grateful for the team that works so hard to make it happen.
Your style of cooking is Italian - what are a few of your favorite Italian ways to liven up a dish?
Acid and sometimes a pinch of sugar! I have a collection of vinegars but to be honest, I mostly add a pinch of this or that when I cook at home. It is fun to dive into the unknown when learning how to cook. When I find I may have overdone it my trick is to add a pinch of sugar (or honey) to balance it out.
Your mantra is “cook like something is always burning”. What’s that mean to you?
It is more a mantra I try to pass on to the cooks. A chef once said it to me and it sort of stuck. It helped me to have better peripheral awareness almost like eyes on the back of my head. When you move quickly on the line you can’t have a one-track mind, you have to be quick and aware like you have eight arms. I always thought something was burning, I moved quickly and was able to multi-task and not forget something was always on the heat, somewhere. It’s like learning to dance, you have to keep up with the pace.
You just got home from a long night at work. What do you cook?
Lately, I have been making big batches of soup and freezing them. It helps to eat something nutritious when I don’t have the energy to whip it up after work.
Having a cozy place to come home to is so important. What’s your personal design style for your home?
COZY is my favorite word. I like neutral colors that are soothing and add warmth to space. I also try to seek out accent pieces that are soft and make for easy napping. Simple patterns that are easy on the eyes are also soothing. After working in a fast paced work environment it is nice to come home to find calm.
If you were designing your dream kitchen, what might it look like?
A big center island is a must for me so I can talk and cook and catch up. I would love enough room for people to sit and relax. I always feel like no matter where I live everyone always ends up hanging out in the kitchen. It tends to be the heart of wherever I live. It also tends to be the place I find my way to in other people's homes. I love a nice fancy oven but to be honest I prefer an old vintage oven from the ’50s. Love items that tell a story.
When entertaining, what are your tips for wowing guests?
Candles! Very easy and affordable to add warmth to any dinner party. I also like to have something cooking low and slow that smells delicious. I love the idea of a guest smelling something yummy walking into a dinner party. It can be very inviting and relaxing. Being in Southern California having access to the farmer's markets is a very quick and easy way to throw together a centerpiece. I used vegetables, herbs, fruits, plants! Whatever is in season and accessible.
What are 3 must-haves pantry items for anyone who cooks?
Olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, bianco organic crushed tomatoes.
What’s next for you?!
Helping to develop a third Jon & Vinny’s location, I am continuing to work with Raising Foodies and Alliance of Mom’s and hoping to watch that blossom as well. Continuing to search for wellness and balance in my life and spend more time in nature.
Recreate The Perfect Meal
Chicken | Salad | Pasta
Purchase chicken butterflied at a deli (preferred). If not, butterfly at home. Place pieces in between two pieces of plastic and pound thin. Heat a large skillet with 2 tbls olive oil and heat med/high temp.
In a separate shallow plate or pan. Season 2 cups of AP flour with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in flour and cook in the hot pan about 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown. Remove from heat and cook the rest of the chicken.
To make the sauce, slice 2 shallots and 4 cloves of garlic. In a small sauce pot cook the shallots and garlic in 1 tbls garlic until aromatic and slightly translucent about 3 minutes. Add in 1 cup white wine (use something you like and would normally drink) reduce for 3 minutes and add in 1/4 cup lemon juice and the zest of one lemon. Turn off the heat and with a whisk stir in 2 tbls of butter until incorporated then strain. You can then reduce the sauce to thicken to your liking of cover to keep warm until ready to serve.
When ready to serve, stir in 2 tbls capers drained of liquid) and add to sauce. Arrange the chicken on a platter of your liking and pour over the sauce. Garnish with picked parsley leaves and lemon wedges
1 head escarole
1/4 c pomegranate seeds
1/4 c pistachios (toasted)
1 tbls honey
1 tbls dijon mustard
2 tbls white balsamic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt to taste
Cracked black pepper
1 easy step, throw the above ingredients into your salad bowl!
To make the dressing:
Whisk together white balsamic, honey, dijon and olive oil. Add in salt and pepper and taste. Lastly stir in shallots and let sit 30 min to develop flavor.
The trick for this pasta is to season the water diligently. Make sure there is enough salt in the water to season the pasta. Use a pot large enough so the pasta has enough space to double in size and not stick together. Cook the pasta (usually 8-10 minutes) tasting for al dente to be sure it is finished.
To finish the pasta, toss in a bowl with olive oil, fresh lemon zest, and pecorino cheese. Toss until well incorporated and season with salt. Portion into a serving bowl and top with grated parmesan, lemon zest and cracked black pepper. Compliments the chicken piccata really well.