Roasted sides of wild salmon showered with herbs, carrots with dandelion chimichurri, preserved lemon couscous with fried capers… I quickly learned that turning seasonal organic food into edible works of art is a signature move of chef Loria Stern.
After the lunch, I found her in the kitchen (where she was busy putting the finishing touches on this cake) to tell her how much I enjoyed the meal, and immediately fell in love with her infectious laugh and total love of life. Loria shared her passion for working with local farmers (she’s based in Santa Barbara) to find the most beautiful and wholesome raw materials that make up her colorful menus. Of course I couldn’t wait to find out how she entertains at home, so Loria invited us over for one of her signature “Magic Carpet Dinners.”
Loria wears a vintage dress passed down from her Gramma Flora, who sewed it herself in the sixties.
By the looks of it, you’re living my hippy California back-to-nature dream life. I’m jealous! What does a typical day look like for you?
I guess by some standards you could say my life is pretty hippie! Although more so, I’d say my life is more old-worldly as I spend a lot of time on my garden, in my studio sewing or painting, running my business, and testing new recipes in which feature homemade and many homegrown ingredients. An average weekday looks like this: waking up to a cup of coffee, feeding my canaries, and watering and observing my garden. By now it’s already 10am so I head to the kitchen where we make my flower pressed shortbread cookies. I bake with my staff, answer emails, do inventory, etc., and then all of a sudden it’s 5pm.
If it’s Tuesday or Thursday, I’ll head to the tennis club and play in a clinic– years ago I was a semi-professional tennis player so it’s fun to still be able to play. On Monday or Wednesday, I’ll head to the gym and work out for an hour or so. Exercise is extremely important for my well-being so I try to fit in a sweat no matter what’s going on.
When I met you last spring, I was struck by how beautiful your food was – and that was even before I tasted it! How do you approach the visual aspects of a dish?
Thank you so much! I have many techniques for plating food, although mostly I try to pair ingredients together that are complimentary in color. I try to arrange a plate in a way that the colors of the ingredients really pop.
Loria recently released her first cookbook, Citri — an ode to Citrus! Check it out here.
Any tips for at-home cooks when it comes to making their food look beautiful?
The easiest tip that comes to mind is to not try to place ingredients, but rather let them dance from your hands. For example, if you’re topping a dish with parsley, gather your handful and let it drop from your hand all at once high above your dish, rather than painstakingly arranging. I’ve found this technique to make the presentation look more natural, if that makes sense!
How do you get inspired to create new recipes?
I’m first and foremost inspired by ingredients themselves. I also love combining different textures of foods and balancing sweet and savory in unexpected ways. Healthy dishes are how I like to eat, so that is how I feed others. In my recipes you’ll never find processed ingredients, chemical food coloring or anything with a gmo. I like clean eating, so when I see a recipe, I always think to myself– how would I make this more healthy and aesthetically pleasing?
For tonight’s gathering, Loria celebrated two friends’ birthdays with one of her signature Magic Carpet Dinners that she’s been hosting for the past several years. The initial idea for the dinners was inspired by her lack of a proper dining room table. She started serving food on a rug and invited guests to sit on the floor. Guests kick off their shoes and embrace the casual atmosphere, and her spiced and exotic food adds just the right touch of “magic.”
What’s your best tip for shopping at the farmer’s market and cooking with the seasons?
Experiment! Buy a new ingredient every week that you’ve never cooked with before and try out a new recipe. That is one sure way to get out of those times when you feel like you’re in a cooking rut!
What is your most essential item for hosting a gathering?
My first essential item is my attitude!
Being excited and feeling grateful that friends are coming over to enjoy food with me and not stressing is key. Even if I’m way behind schedule, or people cancel last minute, I try to just enjoy whatever does end up happening, even if that is just two friends and a huge feast of food.
Although in general, I believe that if the host is relaxed and having a good time, then that sets the tone for the gathering and puts guests at ease to enjoy themselves fully. Other than that, I think that having snacks out and drinks when guests arrive is also crucial. Whether it’s a grazing platter or a bowl of toasted nuts, I always like to have something ready for guests to snack on.
Guests sipped sparkling water, sparkling wine, and hibiscus lavender lemonade.
On tonight’s dinner menu:
- Colorful Crudités with Spiced Lentil Dip
- Sumac Zucchini Chips + Rosemary Dehydrated Olives
- Nut Cheese Platter with fresh + dried fruits, house spiced nuts, saffron almond crackers (Macadamia Red Cabbage Nut Cheese)
- Fried flowers
- Smokey Eggplant
- Kaffir Lime Coconut Rice
- Wildflower Salad + Spiced Vinaigrette
- Ginger Date Fennel Flower
- Opal Basil Toum
- Cashew Cucumber Raita
- Salty Onion Pickle
How incredible are these fried flowers?! Scroll to the bottom of the post for the recipe.
Go-to hostess outfit:
A long dress and barefoot. I like wearing my hair down when hosting so I try to have most of the food prepared before guests arrive.
What would we always find in your fridge or pantry?
- coffee (Ethiopian blend)
- homemade dips and dressings (currently super into chimichurri and toum–which is a lebanese garlic dip)
- leafy greens
- good quality olive oil
- maple syrup / honey
One of the best meals of your life that you’ll never forget:
I’ve had a couple. Most recently it was in a small town outside of Mexico City where there was a side of the road outdoor spot that served the most delicious barbacoa. The entire experience was memorable.
Above, photographer Tessa Neustadt serving food.
Dream dinner party guests:
Definitely Jay Z and Beyonce. I’d also love to cook for Alice Waters, Ira Glass, Oprah, and Elton John.
Loria’s flower-pressed shortbread cookies have become Internet famous, and for good reason. Though widely imitated, I can attest from experience: the incredible taste of Loria’s have an alchemy all their own.
What’s the secret to a great party?
Plenty of food and beverage. There’s nothing worse than running out of either! Although if you do, it’s okay and people will understand. So then that takes us back to having a great attitude and feeling relaxed and happy while hosting.
Favorite spots in Santa Barbara:
Loquita is one of my favorite restaurants here– the food is korean inspired spanish tapas and it’s delicious. I also love getting a happy hour drink at the new hotel Rosewood Miramar, you feel like you’re transported to another time.
For dessert, Loria let guests DIY their ice cream sundaes— Homemade Ice Cream flavors included:
- butterfly blue pea, thai tea lily, rose petal
- toasted pistachios
- raspberry rose compote
- cardamom fennel cookies pressed with firestix
How do you live life like you mean it every day?
By doing what I love everyday, which generally is working with my hands in the kitchen.
Thanks Loria, we’re already looking forward to our next visit! You can follow her on Instagram here.