In a city endlessly obsessed with what’s new and trendy, The Little Door on West 3rd St. continues to happily defy that notion as it approaches its 16th anniversary. We sat down with Chef Nicolas to hear his take on success, seasonality, and what makes his toes wiggle.
Coming up on 16 years, that’s an impressive milestone in LA. How has The Little Door evolved?
Well, we started out mostly Provençal, with a very small menu and there was no sign, no advertising. The first wave of customers were mostly industry people. And I was looking for great dishes to add to the menu, so it changed frequently! Slowly we became more Mediterranean with Moroccan influences, as it is today. The Little Next Door came after about 10 years, serving all day long – breakfast through dinner, full catering menu, plus all the homemade jams and sauces, baskets, etc. And we only added liquor this summer at The Little Door. That brought in a whole new clientele.
How often does the menu change now?
About every month. I love working with seasons because it gives you a very distinct sense of time and place. I’m at the farmer’s markets twice a week, looking over everything, picking and choosing what I want to work with. We’ve got a core group of farmers we buy from, but it still comes down to the highest quality ingredients. Personally, one of my favorite things to eat is an amazing piece of fruit, perfectly ripe or a fresh vegetable. All the flavor is there.
What are your go-to dishes to cook for yourself or your family?
I love comfort food, food that makes sense. Lately, it seems like everyone wants to reinvent the wheel in food all the time. You don’t need something fancy, just the food that makes your toes wiggle. Something like a great grilled fish and in-season vegetables and rice or potatoes. It’s homey, it’s spontaneous – you open the refrigerator and see what can be created from what you have.
How does that approach to food in general influence The Little Door?
You know, I’m old school. I believe that consistency is the key. I believe in serving great food that makes you feel good after you’ve eaten it. It’s very straightforward. Here, most of my kitchen staff has been here for over 14 years. I think if you keep people happy at work, they become family. And it’s the consistency that holds everything together. At The Little Door, what you see is what you get. I’m just being myself, and I’m not here to impress, I just like keeping a low profile. Look, I don’t have any tattoos like so many chefs now! This is what I love, and I’m so happy we stay busy with people who love it, too.
Now that we’re finally getting into some fall weather, what ingredients are you excited to work with this season?
It’s funny, years ago no one did anything with figs. I could go to the markets and be the only one buying them. Now, figs are everywhere! So I really like quince. Growing up in the south of France, we had a tree in our backyard. You can use them for the fragrance, in closets and around the house because they have a very strong perfume. But they’re not great to eat raw until they’re very ripe, so people don’t mess with them much. I love to cook quince down for jams and jellies or for tarts or a salad. It’s interesting, the fruit is yellow, but once you cook it for a while, it turns this bright red. It’s great for autumn – a wonderful unique flavor.
Speaking of quince, Chef Nicolas also gave us this recipe for a great fall salad, starring the intriguing little fruit.
To poached the quinces:
- 2 quinces peeled, cored and quartered
- 1 ounce of lemon juice
- 2 rind of lemon
- 2 ounces of honey
In a sauce pan, poache the quinces with the lemond, rind, honey and enough water to cover.
Cook until the quinces are cooked but still a little firm.
Set aside to cool.
For the vinaigrette:
In a stainless bowl, whisk together:
- 1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon of mustard (dijon)
- ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
- Salt, white pepper and cayenne to taste
- Drain and wedge the quartered quinces in three pieces each
- 5 slices of prosciutto, cut crosswise in ribbons
- 16 slices onetik cheese with vegetable peeler (1″ x 2″)
- 3 bunches of wild arugula, washed
- ½ cup fresh pomegranate
- ¼ cup of roughly chopped marcona almonds
- 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons of fine diced shallots
In a serving bowl mix all ingredients together, add the dressing to coat to your liking.