Delicious food has always been a way of life for Aida Mollenkamp, founder and editor-in-chief of Salt & Wind, thanks to the culinary talents of her mother, grandmother and her family’s Italian-American roots. But it was her grandmother’s gnocchi recipe that really sparked her passion for well-made cuisine. “Every Christmas, we would join her in the kitchen and help her make it from scratch,” Aida recalls. “The diligence and time she put into making this one type of pasta was amazing to watch. I don’t think I realized that food could require so much care.”
That experience—and Aida’s innate attention to detail and interest in quality ingredients—is what led her to launch her culinary-focused career, first as a food editor, then as a TV host (you’ll recognize her from Ask Aida on the Food Network) and, recently, as author of her first cookbook, Keys to the Kitchen. Her current gig puts her at the helm of Salt & Wind, a lifestyle website where food and travel (and wellness and shopping, among other things) intersect. “We’re all about helping you live your life in good taste,” Aida explains.
On how she always finds the best food on the road. “These days, I tend to just stalk people through Instagram. Finding someone in Paris, for example, that you feel has the same mentality as you (something you discover just by combing their feed) is so exciting. I’ll literally message them through the app to ask for recommendations or just copy the places they’ve gone. I also consult The New York Times and chat with locals about the best spots. But it really goes back to finding your social media twin in a specific locale and relying on them as an on-the-ground source.”
On the destination with the best up-and-coming food scene. “Right now, I would say Tel Aviv is where it’s at. The mix of Mediterranean ingredients with the global experience of Israeli chefs leads to some amazing cuisine. There’s also a great cocktail scene, juice bars and more. I’m also really into the northern area of Baja California. There’s a wine region there called Valle de Guadalupe, plus an area of Tijuana with three restaurants ranked in the World's 50 Best this year. But there’s also just really great street food.”
How she takes the pressure off entertaining. “You need a wing person who can come early and help out. Maybe it’s your best friend or significant other or a family member, but they’re on call to make sure anything you forgot is being handled. They’re also the greeter, if you have to be in the kitchen. For example, my husband knows I always serve a specialty cocktail when we’re entertaining. His #1 job is to welcome them inside and put that into people’s hands.”
A culinary trick she picked up at Le Cordon Bleu. “I’m Italian-American so I cook with garlic every two seconds. To save time, I take a head of garlic and put it head down, then smash it into cloves on the countertop using my hands. Next, throw the cloves inside two stainless steel bowls and shake them like you would a cocktail for 15 to 20 seconds. Just like that, all the peels will come off.”
The food trend she’s most excited about. “The Spaniards have completely reinvented the gin and tonic, and it’s starting to come over to the United States. (Here’s a recipe from our site.) Basically, the whole cocktail is made in a big wine glass. You add one shot of liquor, a ton of ice and a ton of really good tonic, which makes it more of a sipping drink versus the heavy G&Ts we make in the States. And if you’re entertaining, you can add all sorts of fun herbs or fruit or spiced citrus.”
Her perfect L.A. day. “I love being outdoors, so I think I’d head to Malibu first and go for a hike. There are some really amazing wineries there, so after that I’d head to Cornell Winery, which is a wine tasting room. Then, I’d finish the day waterside either with dinner either at Nobu—a classic—or Malibu Farms, where you can have a glass of wine and watch the sunset.”
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