As anyone who takes a great deal of pleasure from cooking can tell you, your palate is equal parts nature and nurture. You learn to cook by following the lead of others, whether that be by the apron strings or by the book (or nowadays, the internet) and then over time break away to create your own style through experimentation, trial, and error.
I’ve had a series of influencers in my quarter century of cooking but none that has shaped my style so distinctly as Cindy Pawlcyn. She gave me my first big break—hiring me at 22 to be the Sous Chef at her famous Napa Valley restaurant, Mustards Grill—and I was an avid student. After working 18 hour days six days a week, I’d spend my day off in her 4000 cookbook library pouring over cuisines I’d never even heard of. Some mornings before my afternoon shift, I’d meet her at 4am in the Mustards parking lot and we’d drive to the fish market in San Francisco to pick out the fish for that day’s special. She pushed me to cook way past my comfort zone and opened my Midwestern eyes to the Californian ideals of pristine ingredients and simple preparations. She wrote the Mustards Grill Cookbook during my years at the restaurant and when it was time for me to move on she gave me a signed copy that read, “Dear Kate, here’s a bit of paper and glue to remind you of your time in California. Cook for flavor m’dear.” That was it, her secret, cook for flavor.
She has a palate unlike any other, down to earth yet sophisticated, with unique touches that are all her own. This version of gazpacho is a perfect example of using simple ingredients in a combination that seems special because they are each held in harmony with one another—sweet grapes, toasted almonds, creamy yogurt, a hint of spice—a sum greater than its parts.
I make this soup often in the summertime when I’m hungry but chewing just seems like too much work. The nuts, yogurt, and buttermilk make it filling and the grapes, cucumber, and touch of chile make it refreshing. Is it weird I like to eat it for breakfast? Maybe, but I do, it is my favorite time to enjoy an ice cold bowl.
The soup will become more subdued as it chills so give it a taste before serving, it may need a touch more rice vinegar or salt. If you can find dill blossoms they are a pretty touch.
More of my summertime favorites:
- Watermelon and Apricot Salad with Sesame-Ginger Dressing
- Grilled Achiote-Lime Chicken
- Pasta with Zucchini, Mint, and Pine Nuts
- Simple Stewed Green Beans
Want more? Check out my Summertime board on Pinterest!
Slightly adapted from Mustards Grill Napa Valley Cookbook
- 2 pounds (5 1/2 cups) seedless green grapes
- 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped (about 1 cup chopped)
- 2 scallions, chopped (about 1 cup chopped)
- 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- 1/4 cup toasted almonds (I used whole almonds)
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (I used ground arbol chile powder)
- 2 large dill sprigs, minced for garnish
- Combine all the ingredients (except the dill) in a blender or food processor (You may need to do this in batches depending on the size of your blender). Purée until mostly smooth with a few small pieces remaining. Cover and refrigerate until cold.
- Serve in well-chilled bowls with minced dill on top.