Govind Armstrong has never been a prissy, stick-to-the-rules kind of chef. Even his culinary background is unconventional – instead of culinary school, he gathered his knowledge working with Wolfgang Puck at Spago at age 13, then working amidst a crowd of young, innovative chefs in acclaimed restaurants in California and Europe.
Armstrong will present his latest book, Small Bites, Big Nights: Seductive Little Plates for Intimate Occasions and Lavish Parties, tomorrow at the Book Fair.
He’s the executive chef and co-owner of Table 8, a chic, loungey restaurant that has bases in Los Angeles and right here on South Beach. It only makes sense that Armstrong’s cookbook would be an unconventional exploration of all things delicious. It’s organized into funky sections – “Celebr8,” “cre8,” and “l8 night” are among the loosly sorted “chapters” -- each of which include recipes for cocktails, appetizers, entrees, and desserts. By organizing (some might say disorganizing) his book in this fashion, Armstrong liberates aspiring cooks to create their own culinary experiences.
“I didn’t want to write a food bible that would just sit there on the shelf. I wanted this book to be totally approachable. I want people to get it dirty, use it often, and enjoy it. It’s about having a good time,” the celebrity chef explains.
To prepare for the interview, this writer prepared two items from the book – grilled chicken thighs with wood roasted gazpacho and avocado salsa, yum – and warm new potatoes with melted brie and baby arugula. But truth be told, some of Armstrong’s ingredients were a little hard to find, even at the so-called “Super Publix.”
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When one vegetable stockboy was asked for new potatoes, he wrinkled his nose in confusion and replied, “I’ll go check in back.” “That’s hilarious!” laughs Armstrong. “But I think my ingredients are still pretty basic. And at the end of the day, cooking is about how you feel. I don’t want people to feel bound. If you didn’t find new potatoes, go for the red creamers,” he suggests.
And if you don’t like something, leave it out. Armstrong has no issues with people remixing his recipes. Quite simply, he thinks too many chefs are anal-retentive about their cuisine. “Cooking should be fun and easy. I take a real simple approach. Strip things down, don’t try to use a ton of ingredients and crazy presentation. Keep things simple – I’m like, pepper, salt, olive oil. Everything should be on the plate for a reason.”
The pure approach has stood him in good stead so far. Table 8 is satisfying the palates of Miami’s gourmands, even though Armstrong doesn’t identify with the typical traits of the Miami chef scene.
“Miami cuisine… it’s inspiring for me to eat it, it’s not so inspiring for me to try to conform to it. I’m not gonna put frickin’ mango salsa on my chicken just because I’m in Miami now. I’ve got news for ya sister, I’m not that guy! But I appreciate every aspect of being a chef here. Since my food is very market driven, I use so many local ingredients. Pink grouper, Key West snapper… this is stuff you just don’t get in L.A.” --Patrice Yursik