Suzanne Guldimann is the editor of the Topanga New Times, and also TNT’s resident naturalist. She was recently asked to give a talk on being…
If you haven’t crossed paths with Jessica Monty in the canyon, chances are you’ve delighted in her blueberry muffins at Canyon Gourmet, her post-surf burritos at Cafe Mimosa, or the meatballs on the menu at Endless Color. The flavors she’s dreamt up are motivated by the environment and its seasons.
“Jess throws dinner parties the way an artist paints a canvas: A splash of food here, a dash of drinks there, a collection of good people peppered throughout,” Her friend Jordan Chiu says. “Spontaneous yet put together, her food is—like her life—never fussy…it’s vibrant, comforting, and a little bit wild. As a host, she’s the first one to hand you a taste, check on your beverage or pull you into some spontaneous salsa dancing in the living room. Cooking with her means having spoons stuck in your mouth with flavors to try, stopping to admire a piece of produce hitting its peak ripeness, and watching as she acts out When Harry Met Sally at the sight of a perfect whole fish, ready to be stuffed and roasted. Her door is always open and all it takes is a whispered ‘Jess is cooking’ for her house to fill up with a loving cast of characters ready to eat and soak up all the love that goes into her food.”
Her journey across the country started at a young age, “I was 16 or 17 when I left my home in Miami,” she says. “When I was 23 I moved to New York City, lived in the Catskill Mountains. When I finally landed in Topanga I knew this was home and where I would start a new career.”
“I was a holistic health counselor before I was a chef; nutritional counseling and consulting,” Jess says. In Topanga she began exploring the intersection of teaching and being a private chef.
“I’m so proud to live here and to have created a home for myself here. I’ve been a nomadic person for quite a long time,” she shares. “Topanga is embryonic in a way. I was finalizing a divorce and going through a lot of changes in my life. I was looking for a balance of grit and beauty, something close to the city but near the sea. It is the perfect place to live.”
The Topanga community was a great ally and resource for exploration. She made new friends and business connections. Led by what she describes as grace, she has manifested the career of her dreams. “I am so grateful,” Jess says. “I mapped it out but I honestly didn’t know for sure it would work.”
Her plan was to start at Topanga Table, what is now Cafe 27. The aim being to make new friends, work out some recipes, connect with and feed people and eventually become a private chef. “My first client that I became a private chef for, I met in a sweat lodge and I still cook for her to this day.”
A personal chef has the task at hand of creating menus for a wide variety of eating styles.
“Naturally when you talk about food and people’s addictions or intolerances, a lot of other things come up,” she says.
Counseling and being prepared to ask the right questions was a big part of the job. “In essence you want to guide the client towards figuring it out for themselves, instead of telling someone what they should eat.“
Jess began by describing or “prescribing” diets for each individual client, but it was while teaching people to cook that she found her niche. “To get someone healthy, you have to teach them how to cook,” she explains.
“After I went through my divorce, I just couldn’t counsel others at that time, I wanted to put my head down and cook. I asked myself, if I never had to work a day in my life again, what would I want to do? I’d go to school. What would I study? Cooking.”
“I was a really seasoned cook at the time, probably the oldest in my class and slayed it in NYC,” she says. At the same time, she was keenly aware that the environment wasn’t completely for her.
“The truth is I knew I didn’t want to work in that environment. That environment doesn’t feed me, what feeds me is creating beautiful experiences in nature, and honoring what people love. I’m a mother, I like to go to bed with the sun, rise with the sun, I surf most days because I work for myself.”
Seeking balance is her food philosophy, “It has to have some brightness, it has to have enough salt, enough love, all these things,” Jess explains. “I like people to feel great after they eat my food. I don’t cook anything too heavy. I prescribe with food, listening to my clients, honoring their cravings and their trust in me to cook what’s seasonal and in rhythm with nature. If you eat that way you’ll feel better.”
Jessica is really passionate about dining experiences in the future. “I dream about doing it out of my home one day. I really shine with 10-15 people. I love to have my hands in everything.
She envisions recreating her kitchen outdoors with some land. “Cooking classes, private instruction group classes, pop up dinners. I’ll keep putting it out there. I’m not shy about teaching, I want everyone to feel empowered to cook in their own kitchen.”
In the meantime we can follow along with her mouthwatering Instagram Reels videos.
“My hands are busy, I don’t always have time to make Instagram videos,” she says. “I have recipes though!”
It prompts the question, where did her earliest recipes and lessons in the kitchen begin?
“My grandmother was an amazing cook. I am a second generation Cuban. She came to this country with nothing. She is my muse, such an amazing woman. I spent a lot of time with her as a young child. She wasn’t just a cook to me, she was a caretaker and I think that’s so much of what I do. Yes, I’m a professionally trained chef, but really, I just care. It’s so fun to make something beautiful for someone and they enjoy it and feel good.”
For delicious details visit www.JessicaMonty.com @jessica__monty
A Bright Sauce by Chef Jessica Monty
Use a mortar and pestle. “Sure
you can do this process in a food
processor, but it’s definitely less sexy.
Cheers to old school methods
because the little things really make
You add this bright sauce to what
needs some brightness. I really love
it on fish; Crudo or cooked. I love it on
a veggie stew or soup, on fried eggs
or beans. It’s all good, it’s bright.”
1 Anaheim pepper, rough chop
1 Jalapeńo, rough chop with
seeds and pith removed
1 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1-2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup lemon juice ~ 3 lemons
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a cast iron to medium heat.
Toast the cumin seeds until they
become fragrant—got to feel it babe.
Place in mortar. Grind with pestle
until the seeds become powder.
Add garlic to mortar. Add a scant
amount of salt and grind to a paste.
Add the Anaheim pepper, and mash
to oblivion. Add the jalapeńo and do
the same, baby. Add the rest of the
ingredients, and mix the mix. Adjust
salt and pepper to taste.
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