Gaby Dalkin Grows Her Food Empire, One Recipe at a Time

"What's Gaby Cooking" Emphasizes California Style Cuisine and the Utilization of Simple, Easily Accessible Ingredients

by: Madelyn Gagnon

What's Gaby Cooking
Gaby Dalkin’s second cookbook, What’s Gaby Cooking: Everyday California Food

Gaby Dalkin, creator of the popular food blog What’s Gaby Cooking, sets her recipes apart from the crowd through her emphasis on California cuisine and utilization of simple, easily accessible ingredients. After pursuing her blog full-time, Dalkin experienced vast success with the recent release of a second cookbook, What’s Gaby Cooking: Everyday California Food, as well as two product lines with Williams Sonoma: a recently released trio of spice blends and line of salsas with a guacamole starter.

Food blogging may have once seemed an unexpected path for Dalkin, who grew up as a picky eater. It wasn’t until college that she began learning how to cook, expanding her palate beyond her original recipe staple of chicken parmesan. “After college, I went to culinary school just on a whim with no intent of being in the food world forever,” Dalkin says.“My culinary school instructor said if you don’t learn how to eat mushrooms and fish and steak and all these other things, you’ll never make it. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a personal challenge.’ After that, I started eating everything.”

Dalkin officially launched her career in the food industry by working as a personal chef for several Los Angeles families. She also found time to write and publish her first cookbook, Absolutely Avocados, in 2013, and taking time off to promote it influenced Dalkin to shift her full attention to her blog after she had to walk away from her job as a private chef. “It was terrifying, if I’m being totally honest. As a private chef, you have a steady income and fairly normal hours, so going full-time freelance and working for myself was intimidating,” Dalkin says. “But I was 25 at the time, and I just thought, ‘If I’m going to do it, now’s the time to try. I have plenty of time to fail and pick myself back up.’ And luckily it was a success!”

To keep the momentum going with her new endeavor, Dalkin decided to explicitly define what her blog and brand stood for by developing a mission statement, editorial calendar, and specific process behind her content creation. “Everything was really thought out, and I think that kind of made the biggest difference with building my blog and my audience,” she says.“Now people understand what they’re getting when they come to What’s Gaby Cooking, and there’s a real reason for coming. I think that’s been the biggest catalyst for my growth.”

After experiencing the trials and tribulations of freelance food blogging, Dalkin stresses that it’s all about balance. “When you work for yourself, you really could work all day, every day, without taking a minute off and not realize it, but at the same time, I never feel like I’m actually working,” she says.

Gaby Dalkin, founder of What’s Gaby Cooking. PHOTO: MATT ARMENDARIZ

After developing 125 recipes within six months, the well of inspiration could easily run dry, yet Dalkin says she rarely struggles to generate fresh recipe ideas—especially considering she has an additional list of 600 recipes she wants to try at any given time. She says she draws a lot of influence from the food scenes of L.A. and Seattle, where her husband is starting a company, as well as through her travels (she recently returned from a trip to South Africa, where she gathered recipe ideas for fall and winter). And as an Arizona native, Dalkin’s recipes also exhibit some Southwestern flair by utilizing lots of spice . . . and, of course, avocados.

Although content creation may not be an issue for Dalkin, she jokes that the hardest recipes to decide on are dinner dishes. One of her favorite easy weeknight meals is her cookbook’s chicken larb dish (see below for recipe), partially inspired by L.A. Thai restaurants like Jitlada and Night+Market. “When you try to recreate [larb] at home, normally you need 87 ingredients and no one is ever going to have those on hand,” Dalkin explained. “So I took it upon myself to re-do the recipe and make it very accessible for people who just have basic pantry staples.”

When discussing her favorite places to find ingredients, Dalkin says she frequents farmers markets at least two times a week to supplement dried goods from Trader Joes and meats and seafood from establishments like Whole Foods or Erewhon. “We don’t eat a lot of meat, so when I do eat meat, we get very high-quality meat. That’s important to me. Same with fish, I want to source it sustainably,” Dalkin explains.

Although Dalkin focuses on recipes with high quality ingredients, she’s no stranger to indulgence. As a former college athlete, clean eating is important to Dalkin, so she says she strives to make “healthy decisions 80 percent of the time.” After all, it’s hard to resist a “slutty brownie”—one of Dalkin’s classic guilty-pleasure recipes.

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Chicken Larb Bowl with Coconut Rice
Serves 4 | Time: 40 minutes

You’ve never seen two girls attack a chicken larb situation like me and my friend Mink. It’s a traditional Thai salad that just hits all the flavor spots—spicy, meaty, herby, pickle-y. So I had to figure out how to recreate it at home, down to the sticky, sweet coconut rice.

For the quick pickles:

2 Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced

½ red onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

For the chicken:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

5 oz. kale, stems removed, chopped

1.3 (roughly 570 g) pounds ground chicken

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

6 scallions (white and light green parts), thinly sliced

2–3 tablespoons soy sauce

1–2 tablespoons sambal oelek

1 tablespoon brown sugar

For the rice:

2.5 cups water

1 cup coconut milk

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups jasmine rice

Zest and juice of 1 lime

For the garnishes:

Fresh mint leaves

Fresh basil leaves

Fresh cilantro leaves

To make the quick pickles: In a small bowl, toss the cucumbers, red onion, and vinegar. Set aside to marinate while you cook the chicken.

To make the chicken: In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the kale and cook until wilted, 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and carefully transfer to a medium bowl.

Add the ground chicken to the same skillet and cook, breaking it apart with the back of a wooden spoon and stirring frequently until no pink remains, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and scallions and cook for 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add the soy sauce, sambal oelek, and brown sugar and stir to combine. Return the cooked kale to the skillet and stir to combine. Season with salt and reduce the heat to low until ready to serve.

To make the rice: Combine the water, coconut milk, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until the mixture starts to simmer. Add the rice and bring back to a low simmer.

Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and cook undisturbed for about 15 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Turn off the heat and let the rice steam for another 5 to 10 minutes until fully cooked and soft. Uncover, fluff, and toss in the lime zest and juice.

To assemble: Divide the rice among 4 bowls, followed by the chicken and kale, pickles, and plenty of fresh mint, basil, and cilantro. Serve immediately.

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