Shola Olunloyo might be the most highly regarded chef in the city without an actual restaurant. Which is not to say he’s unemployed; he’s a private caterer to wealthy clients - who, in the interest of discretion, he’d rather not name, but we can tell you are the variety who own things like major league football teams. Raised between Nigeria and England, Shola has called Philly home since 1998, training at the late, lamented Deux Cheminees and Le Bec-Fin before helming his own kitchens at the also late, also lamented Blue Angel and Bleu. His experimental dining project, Studiokitchen, which ran from 2002 to 2006, is on hiatus, but his Studiokitchen blog, where he chronicles his culinary experiments in both prose and photography, lives on. In our first installment of The Philadelphia Diet, wherein a local food fanatic documents his dining experiences for a week, Shola fills us in on his favorite Indian restaurant in Philly, asserts why one must drink sake while reading about it and explains why lemon-Brie ice cream can’t fail.
Wednesday, August 5
For breakfast at home, I had Emmi grapefruit yogurt with half a pink grapefruit, toasted Balthazar brioche with Sarabeth’s peach jam, stracchino from Di Bruno Brothers and La Colombe Monte Carlo from a French press. Emmi is my favorite yogurt - I just think it’s delicious and I kind of always eat the fruit of the yogurt I’m eating with that yogurt - I chopped it up and ate it with the yogurt. As for the bread and the toast - I love creamy cheese in the morning, like stracchino, you know? Balthazar’s brioche is more like a cake. I buy it when I’m in New York, then freeze it and toast it and it’s as good as new. It’s good, good stuff. Then I met my friend Kelly Turso at Cafe Ole in Old City and had iced green tea with mint. Kelly and I get together once a week and we talk about photography.
Later, I made a drink experiment - a “Pisco Not Sour.” I work with Fresh Origins farm in California; I come up with creative ideas for them to use with their products. They sent me a bunch of tiny leaves of stevia - they’re horribly sweet - like NutraSweet. I thought I’d pair it with a sweet shellfish, but it was still too sweet. I decided to just do something where sweetness would not be undesirable because it was bitter or sour to start with. A Pisco sour is extremely sour, but the balance of sweetness is hard to achieve - it’s either too sweet or it’s like battery acid. So I made a Pisco sour and added some stevia into the whole mix. The lime juice helped to temper it. It had this interesting sort of sweetness. If you were marketing a lower calorie cocktail - you could use it with stevia - you don’t have to use a ton of simple syrup. It’s more of a play on the words and mostly born out of the frustration of ‘what am I going to do with stevia?’ But, it was tasty, yes.
A friend called me and he wanted to try out a couple of appetizers at this new place Sonata, so I said ‘sure, let’s go’ and went and met him for a random eating expedition. We had lobster pierogi and foie gras.
Strangely enough, I went back home and made dinner. I’m working on flavored pastas. I have this machine called a PacoJet - it’s a food processor that processes frozen food. So I saute scallions with peanut oil at a very high hot heat, then I cool and pack them into this metal container for the machine, it gets frozen solid, then the machine will process it into a fine powder. The brilliance is things that are fibrous, like scallions, are shredded to bits and you can fold them into your pasta. I made this really tasty simple dish: burnt scallion cavatelli with littleneck clams, tomato, jalapeno and mint. When I get a new idea for a pasta, I just bang it out.
I had a post-dinner drink at Snackbar - a Jimi Hendricks. I made it up. It’s four parts Hendricks gin, one part St. Germain, two parts soda and lime zest. I chitchatted with Jonathan Makar, the owner, and the chef, who’s also named Jon, about doing a guest chef dinner together this fall. We’re going to do it, we just haven’t picked a date. It’s going to happen.
Thursday, August 6
For breakfast I ordered a double short macchiato on the rocks from Café Ole. I top it with simple syrup and pour it over ice myself. It tastes better that way - 20 minutes later it still tastes good. That’s how I used to drink it in Europe. All my memories of European iced coffees were really just strong coffees dumped in ice.
Lunch was a toasted buttered croissant from Artisan Boulangerie, it’s probably best croissant in Philly. I filled it with horseradish butter and Santa Barbara Sea urchin. It was inspired by the Sea Urchin Toast at El Quinto Pino in New York - I get cravings for my favorite restaurant snacks sometimes. I made the horseradish butter and I was catering something the day before and had some sea urchin leftover and I just used it. I had already eaten, but I got a call from food writer Francine Maroukian to meet her and Stephanie Reitano from Capogiro at Meme. We just chatted about the merits and demerits of fried chicken methods and they sent out a chocolate cake to us and I had a forkful.
Dinner was at home. I made capellini with uni, crab and butter, inspired by a dish at New York’s Esca, which is delicious. I made an arugula salad with lemon oil and juice and had toasted reheated frozen pane Pugliese bread from Grandaisy Bakery. Half of my freezer is bread from New York. I had a glass of Marcel Diess gewurztraminer and ate at my kitchen counter. Sometimes I eat on my balcony.
For late-night reading, I’m reading a book about sake, The Sake Handbook, written by a fellow named John Gauntner. It’s one of the best beginner sake books. As I read, I drink. It’s a 225 page book with one sake on every page, so I’m really going slowly. I was drinking Tsukinokatsura “Yanagi” Junmai Ginjo Sake. I probably buy like two bottles of sake a month, I’m trying to get into the nuances, really trying to get into it. you certainly just can’t read about it, it’s not going to get you anywhere. It’s a waste of time, you’ve got to drink it yourself.
Friday, August 7
Iced green tea with mint and lemon from Ole.
For lunch, adobo rojo from Taco Riendo. It’s good and a good value in my neighborhood.
I met my friend Jelena Radenkovic, one of my best friends in the whole wide world, at the Franklin Mortgage. I had the La Floridita daquiri. I love it there, but the philistines are starting to overrun it. It’s getting loud, they’re making the music louder so it can be louder than the people. I hope they don’t become a crazy place. It has the frightening possibility of Vango spilling into it, which I hope does not happen. I try to go on off nights. Then it was dinner at Snackbar: pasta with lamb ragu and a Jimi Hendricks.
Saturday August 8
Breakfast at home, Emmi peach yogurt with Jersey peaches, streusel and La Colombe.
I had lunch with Jelena again at Parc. We just shared a Nicoise salad and I had a Basilic cocktail. Then Artie, the chef at Parc, sent me a tray of Kumamoto oysters to eat, which I gladly accepted.
I had a late dinner at home after catering - bay scallop risotto with sweet corn and bacon,
arugula salad with L’Etivaz cheese. I ate the same thing I just cooked them - it was a third course in that dinner. They gave me a nice bottle of wine as a token of appreciation - Scholium Project; 2008 Naucratis from Lost Slough Vineyards and I had a glass. Lost Slough - it just sounds so great. It was quite delicious.
Sunday, August 9
For breakfast I made peach pain perdu. I go to Headhouse Market every Sunday. I’m there at 10 and I’m done by 10:25 - it’s not a fishing expedition, I just buy the shit and leave. So I bought amazing peaches from North Star Orchards, they’re very fragrant this time of year. No one in the city makes pain perdu and it’s one of my favorite freaking things to eat ever. It’s old school French toast. I make it with brioche, dipped in egg wash, crust it with crushed corn flakes, then fry it up in butter. Then I just ladled the peaches on top and garnish with Blis maple syrup. The syrups are aged for about 18 months in old Tennessee bourbon whiskey barrels; it’s a very complex maple syrup. It just has stunning flavor.
Lunch was pho dac biet at Cafe Diem. I love pho - theirs is best in the city, to my taste. They could perhaps hold back on some of the MSG, but I like the depth of flavor in their broth and I like their meat. it’s an unsanitized pho. You’ll get all of your connective tissue there.
I ate dinner at Osteria. I went in, got a table, ate by myself and left in a span of 35 minutes. I ate two slices of the lombarda pizza and veal cannelloni, no wine, then took half the pizza home. Sometimes I just like to go out and eat - I don’t want any celebrations or layers of service, I just want to eat and go home.
For late night reading, I made a sazerac. I was finishing a book called Au Revoir to All That. It’s a good book about how the Americans helped the French ruin their food habits.
Monday, August 10
Double short macchiato at Cafe Ole.
I didn’t eat lunch because I was making lunch for a client in Villanova, a simple three-course luncheon, very conservative and not complicated. A white eggplant soup with an edamame and crab croquette and lovage; the main course was slowly cooked Tasmanian trout with apple and fennel and Meyer lemon vinaigrette - they are not butter people - but they did have dessert. I made them a strawberry and rhubarb sorbet with yogurt powder and Frog Hollow pluots. I will tell you seriously, those pluots are the single best fruit in America. Amazing! It’s like an injection of sugar into your blood stream. Put simple syrup in a syringe and stick it in your arm, that’s what the pluot is like. You’d kill a diabetic with it.
For a snack I had toasted whole wheat bread from Parc with butter, salt and cucumber.
The whole wheat bread at Parc is the best loaf of bread in the city. They baguettes are not bad - but that whole wheat bread is rockin’ good.
I went to a Mangalitsa pork dinner at Elements Restaurant in Princeton. It was a guest chef thing with the Ideasinfood people and Elements. They invited me and asked if I would come take pictures. It was eight courses of pork. I was stuffed after that dinner.
Tuesday August 11
Emmi yogurt, a toasted Portuguese muffin topped with scrambled eggs and uni. I buy Portuguese muffins they’re a little bit more dense than English muffins and they’re softer and have a better texture when you toast them.
Lunch at Café Diem again. This time pho ga - chicken soup, and Vietnamese iced coffee.
I catered a dinner that day outside of the city. On the way home, I usually try to eat dinner with the three women who work with me. We decided to have Indian food so we went to Tandoor India. I think it’s my fave a la carte Indian in the city; it’s the flavors of my memory of the Indian food in London - which is sometimes better than Indian food in India. We had shahi biriyani, lamb pasanda, saag paneer, lahoree nan and a mango lassi with cardamon.
Wednesday, August 12
For breakfast, scrambled Meadow Run eggs, they’re the best in the city. I buy them at Fair Food Farmstand, they’re a bit expensive at $4 a dozen. Plus potato pierogies. Everyone likes potatoes for breakfast, but why eat potatoes when you can eat potato pierogies? It’s less of a hassle. I learned how to make pierogies from Greek women at a church, but there are also some good frozen ones out there.
Lunch at Café Diem again, the bun bo hue, pork soup - extra spicy. I know I shouldn’t, but I drank the gratuitously sweet coconut water. It reminds me of my childhood - I love coconuts.
Dinner at home was corn juice polenta, Flying Pigs Farm pork chop, arugula salad with purslane and Moliterno cheese. For dessert, lemon-Brie ice cream. The ice cream was fan-freakin-tastic.
You know how you want to eat something, but nothing makes logical sense in your fridge? Well, I toasted brioche and put Brie on it, I wanted something sweet like a chutney with it, but I only had lemon curd, so I put lemon curd on it and it was really good. Brie and lemon curd, who knew? I decided it needed to be an ice cream flavor and 48 hours later, bada bing! It’s become one of my classics now. I serve it with pineapple ginger ravioli - it works really great as a counterpoint for fruits and sweets - and floated it in Moscato for a cocktail and at an engagement party for a bunch of chicks. They all looked at me like I was crazy, but it was the best thing ever.