I’m one step through the doorway of Andy Baraghani’s kitchen and suddenly the air is perfumed with peonies, earthy dill and just-fried onions. The chef and food writer, 32, is eager to play with the first tastes of summer but is also determined to let the season’s bounty speak largely for itself. “I want my cooking to be effortless, and this time of year, you don’t have to do too much,” he says, popping a strawberry into his mouth and grinning.
It’s a warm and glorious June afternoon, one perfect for cooking, even if Baraghani is due for a day off. He’s spent the past few weeks on a whirlwind cross-country tour promoting his new cookbook, “The Cook You Want to Be” (2022), which is filled with the kind of sophisticated yet unfussy recipes that, during his time as a food editor and video host at Bon Appétit magazine (where he and I worked together for a time), won him a multitude of fans. They know that in Baraghani’s world, no dish is complete without a bold finishing touch, whether in the form of tender herbs, acidic dressings or nori and sesame seed sprinkles.
Baraghani grew up in a Persian family in Berkeley, Calif., and first learned to cook by watching family members prepare such classics as kuku sabzi (an herbaceous omelet) and chelo ba tahdig (steamed rice with a golden crust), before going on to work in the kitchens of Chez Panisse, in his hometown, and Estela, in New York, where he’s now based. He’s already made stops on both coasts for his book tour, hosting pop-up dinners at Contra, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and at Los Angeles’s Found Oyster.
Presently, though, he’s on a brief break from the tour, and so has invited a group of close friends to feast on what he considers some of the book’s quintessential summer recipes at the home of his partner, Keith Pollock, near Bellport, Long Island. The couple met at Condé Nast, where Pollock, now senior vice president of creative for West Elm, was working as the executive digital director at Architectural Digest. Their relationship was just beginning to blossom when the pandemic hit, at which point Baraghani started staying with Pollock and their friend John Guidi, an associate director at The Real Real with whom Pollock shares the home, on trips away from the city. “We were very grateful that he was recipe testing for the book during that time,” says Pollock, who’s particularly fond of Baraghani’s chickpea cacio e pepe with lemon, the first dish Baraghani ever made for him.
Baraghani was grateful, too. Built circa 1860, the shingled house has enough room to hold his extensive mortar-and-pestle collection and, outside, beneath a trellis bearing heavy wisteria vines, there’s an ample outdoor dining table. What’s more, the area is something of a food-world nexus — Jean Adamson of Vinegar Hill House and Andrew Tarlow of Marlow Collective both have homes nearby, and Baraghani often bumps into them on Saturday mornings at the 20-acre H.O.G. Farm, which grew most of the produce for the evening’s dinner and is just across the street.
When the guests — the chefs DeVonn Francis and Susan Kim, the recipe developer Dan Pelosi and the florist Marisa Competello — arrive from the train station, Baraghani has snacks waiting for them. As they nibble on thick slices of Parmesan topped with lemon zest, thin moons of purple radish and a generous drizzle of olive oil and sip natural Ramato from the nearby Channing Daughters Winery, he deputizes them to help with prep for the other dishes. Here, he shares his tips for emulating aspects of the gathering yourself.
Do More With Less
“One aspect of my cooking is thinking about how it was done originally — not by our parents but our grandparents and their parents,” says Baraghani. Instead of using a salad spinner to wash and dry herbs, for instance, he hand-washed a bouquet of them before gathering them up in a clean kitchen towel and heading outside, where he whipped the bundle around in a windmill motion. The breeze and warm summer air banished moisture and the need to dirty and wash another device. Baraghani also favors multiuse appliances like his beloved mortars and pestles, which he collects on his travels and employs to pound garlic, mix dressings and even break down Morton salt into smaller crystals for more even distribution.
Embrace Different Temperatures
Lessen the stress of managing oven space and rest times with a menu that can mostly be cooked ahead of time. Baraghani paired just-grilled shawarma-spiced lamb chops with room-temperature dishes — such as fried vinegar-soaked toast and juicy salted tomatoes topped with an Italian-style chile crisp of anchovies, garlic, fennel seeds and basil — that get better with time.
Divide and Conquer
“To be a good host, you don’t have to be in charge of every single thing,” says Baraghani. “Ask for help based on what feels good to you. I don’t want a ton of people in the kitchen, but I do want someone to set the table.” His childhood tasks included shelling fava beans and picking herbs, so he’s also fond of delegating prep tasks. Kim sat on the back porch peeling garlic for the chile crisp while Francis sliced bread and tomatoes; Pelosi chopped rhubarb into ultrathin slivers for a tahini frangipane galette while Competello assembled flower arrangements.
Make It More Personal Than Polished
The table bore an eclectic mix of items, rather than a matching set. Olive pits and strawberry stems were placed in cheeky ceramic bowls featuring nude men by Alessandro Merlin that Pollock and Baraghani purchased on a recent trip to Venice. Guests drank from handblown bubbled glassware that is part of their friend Dana Arbib’s debut collection for the Los Angeles design gallery Tiwa Select, and which was produced in collaboration with master glass artisans in Murano, Italy.
Don’t Go Chasing Grill Marks
“I’m never a fan of perfect grill marks. I’d rather have lamb chops scuffed up like a good pair of sneakers, because I want browning all over,” says Baraghani, who used his Weber Kamado grill for the chops, quickly turning each one over several times to achieve that prized burnished crust.
Go All In on a Single Bloom
Baraghani has an advantage in the flower department: He’s friends with a talented florist. But you don’t need to be so well-connected to draw inspiration from Competello’s arrangements for the dinner. Each one highlighted just one type of flower, like gloriosa or edible bupleurum. “Focusing on one type of flower is her signature,” says Baraghani, noting that each of Competello’s “architectural” arrangements evokes a “distinct vibe.”