Akasha Richmond

F&W Star Chef

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Here, Akasha Richmond of Akasha, L.A. reveals a great winter cocktail, five places to visit in Los Angeles and the secret to a pleasant day after a holiday party.

What are your favorite holiday food gifts?
We make a lot of jams and chutneys at the restaurant. I like jam, but chutney’s more special and versatile—you can eat it with cheese, chicken, pork. We make a few kinds: I do a mango chutney made with these fantastic local mangoes from Palm Springs; their season only lasts a month, so we spent August putting it up. This year I did fig and apricot, which I like a lot. And then I always do tomato, which we have at the restaurant, with tomatoes, vinegar, brown sugar, jalapeño and some apple.

What’s your favorite holiday cocktail?
I love the quince cocktail we do at the restaurant. I make a quince syrup from the cores and peels left over from quince jam (the jam is so much work, I don’t like to waste anything). I throw the trimmings into a pot with water, sugar, lemon peel and lemon juice. Then we make a cocktail with that and some Tru organic vodka, it’s delicious.

Can you share a great entertaining tip?
Hire someone to clean up. I’m terrible at cleaning up afterward. If I entertain at my house, I have my husband clean up or I hire somebody. If I go all day and am creative, and cook and cook and cook, there’s just no way I can clean up, it’s not in me. You know how some people are the doing-the-dishes-as-they-go kinds of people? I’m not one of them. I’m pretty bad at that. I’m a good planner, like if I’m doing cookies, I’ll make a bunch of doughs and freeze them. But I suggest hiring someone. Call a local staffing agency; it’s the best money you’ll spend. Because you want to have fun at your party. You don’t want your friends to leave and see the mess and say, “Oh, my God.”

My other tips: Keep it simple, and use the best ingredients you can get.

What are 5 don’t-miss places for a holiday trip to Los Angeles?

  1. The Santa Monica and the Hollywood farmers’ markets. Santa Monica’s is on a Wednesday, and the Hollywood market is on a Sunday. They’re the best, they always have beautiful local fruit. Look to see what the chefs are buying: Especially at the Wednesday market, you can follow chefs around. There are also great fresh oysters at the Wednesday market, the Carlsbad oyster vendor sells them and you can eat right there, that’s really fun.
  2. Christmas lunch at FIG restaurant at the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica. I’m Jewish, so we don’t do a big Christmas. We love the chef, Ray Garcia, we love his food. I’ve gone there five years in a row.
  3. A cocktail at Cut at the Beverly Wilshire. Wolfgang Puck’s Beverly Hills steakhouse is a great place for a tourist to sit at the bar and have a cocktail. Great people-watching.
  4. A hike in Runyon Canyon in Hollywood. That’s where the locals go, so you can sometimes see celebrities hiking up there.
  5. A food crawl downtown. I’ve always wanted to do one, since there are so many great restaurants downtown now, like Ricardo Zarate’s Mo-Chica, and Bäco Mercat, all these cools places where you could have appetizers at each one.

What’s your #1 holiday travel tip?
Make your morning about being healthy. Particularly around the holidays, and if you’re a food lover, if you’re going out to lunch, and then going drinking and going out to dinner, go to an organic juice bar for breakfast in the morning. And find a Pilates or a yoga class. YogaWorks has studios all over L.A.

What’s your most requested recipe?
I don’t give it out, but I get a lot of requests for the recipe for my tandoori chicken wings. They have so many spices in them, it’s not the kind of thing where you go, “Oh, that’s a good combination.” It’s more like, “Wow, how the hell did you do that??”

What’s your favorite cookbook of all time?
It used to be the Joy of Cooking but I don’t use that as much anymore. These days the book I probably use the most is 1,000 Indian Recipes, by Neelam Batra. When I have to cater a party, I know how to make Indian food because I went to India and studied Indian cooking. But sometimes I want recipes that I know will work, since I don’t want to wing it, so I’ll turn to that book. It’s great—it has 1,000 recipes! And they all work.

What’s one cooking technique everyone should know?
How to make a great salsa. I like a salsa that’s a blend of red tomato and tomatillo, where you char the tomatoes and tomatillos along with the onions and jalapeños and garlic and then you blend it all together with salt and pepper and a little lime juice. I take the charred skin off the jalapeños but leave it on everything else. Ninety-nine percent of my kitchen staff is from Oaxaca, and they make the best salsa. The meals they make for themselves are so good. I often ask them to make their salsas for the restaurant. They think we won’t eat it because it’s too spicy, but we do.