Meet Culinary Associate and chef at Plated, Suzanne Lehrer! For New York native Suzanne, a career involving food was inevitable. Her family life surrounded their kitchen table, where as a child she learned to cook pizza from her father. After attending culinary school at the French Culinary Institute, she traveled to South America where the diversity of flavors offered her a world of inspiration. Her background includes working as a culinary editor for the Cooking Channel and teaching cooking classes out of her apartment.
Keep an eye out for Suzanne’s dishes on the menu! You can learn a little bit more about her cooking style and background in our exclusive interview with her below.
What is behind your culinary inspiration? Has any place you’ve traveled impacted your cooking in any way?
I have traveled a lot, which has been really influential. I was in South America for a while and just loved everything I ate down there – all the flavors are so vibrant, which is really amazing. In culinary school I learned that really simple things can make such a difference – whether it’s a little bit of extra butter at the end in the sauce, or just adding herbs – things that are so simple that elevate the dish so much. These are things that have pushed me to do what I do.
What’s the best cooking advice you’ve ever gotten?
Best cooking advice I’ve ever gotten: patience is a virtue in the kitchen. So many things really benefit from just letting them sit and do their own thing. Everyone’s instinct is to shake the pan a million times, keep flipping, keep checking – but food really benefits from leaving it alone – it’ll turn out great! Don’t keep opening the oven door, you’ll just let the heat out and your cake will fall. That was great culinary school advice. Also just to relax and have fun – it’s so intense and you’re so focused when you’re cooking, but ultimately, it’s food and it should be fun. You should be having fun and not panicking about what could go wrong.
What’s the first meal you ever learned to cook on your own?
I grew up in a house where we had homemade pizza every single Sunday that my dad would make, and we would always play catch with the ball of dough – it was this whole fun event. He really wanted us to learn how to make pizza. When I was a child, he would stand over me and teach me how to make the dough or teach me how to use the food processor, and let me pick the toppings and spread on the sauce. Not the fanciest meal, but one of my favorites.
What are the three tools you can’t live without while cooking a meal?
First, definitely tongs – I feel like not enough people realize that tongs are your best friends in the kitchen. It can replace a wooden spoon, it can grab a hot pan out of the oven for you – I use it for absolutely everything while cooking. It’s sort of my right hand in the kitchen. Also, you really don’t need anything fancy – you just need a sharp knife. Another thing I really can’t live without is a dish towel in the kitchen, because I’m definitely that person who’ll forget that pan was just in the oven. Even if I don’t remember if it’s hot or cold I will grab it with a dish towel because I’ve burned myself way too many times.
What’s one skill that every amateur chef should develop?
A: I think a great basic skill to have is how to sear. Any kind of protein, searing just makes it taste better. It’s really easy, but searing does require a certain amount of patience. It’s such a great way to make your food look absolutely beautiful and get a great crust on fish or steak or whatever it is. If you can just get a quick sear on something and then put it in the oven for five minutes to finish cooking, then you’ve made something restaurant quality. I always feel like that’s the thing I like to teach my friends when they come over – when something looks really great it’s probably just because I seared it and browned it – made it look nice.
Chef Challenge: Make something you’ve seen in a restaurant that you don’t think you could master at home. If you’ve ever really been impressed by a dish, try to make it at home. Just set aside an afternoon – even if it means you need to buy 20 ingredients, it’s fine because you’ll totally start using them, and you’ll be so happy when you open your cabinet and see them. There’s an excellent chance that you’ll be able to make that dish and you’ll be so proud of yourself when you do!