If he hadn't been a chef, he might have been a chemist, says Justin Klauba. As executive chef at Coeur d'Alene's Honey Eatery and Social Club, he gets to do both, putting his own twist on the restaurant's signature approach to comfort food.
The seemingly simple avocado toast he prepared for Health & Home (recipe, p.41), for example, is a thoughtful composition of flavors and textures. Nine-grain bread forms the foundation, while avocado adds creaminess. The shaved radish is crunchy and bright, while Klauba's nori (seaweed) seed blend adds umami and saltiness. The real kicker, however, is the preserved lemons, which he makes himself.
"I'm a food nerd," says Klauba, who gets excited about creating in the kitchen, from crafting mother vinegars, to the extensive process to make his own kimchi for the restaurant's dim sum breakfast experience.
Klauba credits several sources for his fascination with cooking, including his grandmother, a pastry chef, whose memorable cinnamon raisin bread created a strong sensory experience. Every dish is, in a way, an attempt to invoke a similar response in his diners.
"You want to have [each dish] entice your palate," explains Klauba, who started in the restaurants of his native Chicago as a young man.
His big break came by accident when he spilled a tray of wine glasses onto then-Mayor Richard Daley's wife's dress. Another restaurant owner took pity on him and invited him into his restaurant, where Klauba had his first crack at cooking. He found his niche and began a bit of a culinary odyssey.
In Philadelphia, he worked at Olivier de St. Martin's Caribou Café, then at Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar and Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse before moving on to Fuel in Wilmette, Illinois. In Las Vegas, he worked at Rick Moneen's RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay, then moved farther west to San Francisco to become executive sous chef at Alexander's Steakhouse.
The learn-by-doing schooling he got in America's kitchens took a toll, however.
"I've been yelled at and I've been that person yelling," says Klauba, who aspires to be a leader in the kitchen. For him, that means taking on whatever task is necessary — scrubbing dishes, taking out the trash — and elevating his teammates.
The difference between the chef he was then and the chef he is now?
"I'm sober," he says, the words hanging in the air a bit.
After San Francisco, Klauba tired of the urban experience so he and his wife returned to her native Idaho roots, where her friendship with EatGoodGroup founder Adam Hegsted provided an entrée to the regional food scene.
Klauba worked at EatGood's Le Catering a bit, then at both Scratch and Steamplant Grill in Spokane before joining Hegsted's Honey Eatery and Social Club as executive chef in 2019.
"It's gone from a career to a craft," Klauba says.
Chef Justin Klauba likes the balance of tastes, textures and colors in this dish that pairs a North African condiment with a spice blend featuring nori, or seaweed often found in Japanese dishes. Details matter. The thinness of sliced elements and use of specific spices allow each ingredient to heighten the flavors of the others.
Get acquainted with a good quality spice provider such as Spokane's Spiceology for this recipe, which includes the Moroccan ras el hanout, a complex spice mix that contains cumin, cardamom, ginger, chili pepper, fenugreek and more. The cinnamon used here is Sri Lankan Ceylonese, versus the more common Indonesian or Chinese cassia cinnamon. Klauba wraps fresh lemons in foil and chars them (the barbecue grill is ideal) until they resemble briquettes, then purees them to create a pungent, charred, lemony powder.
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 1 onion, diced small
- 4 green onions, green and white parts both, chopped
- 1 teaspoon charred lemon powder
- 1 tablespoon ras el hanout
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
- 1 Ceylonese cinnamon stick
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 14-ounce cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup chopped mint
- 1/4 cup green olives, sliced
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 cup water
- Combine all ingredients in a rondeau, large Dutch oven or wide, shallow roasting pan and cook at 350 degrees for 1 hour uncovered. This will make a large batch and several hearty meals.
- Remove cinnamon stick when done and stir.
- Serve with garnishes (over the top of the dish or on the side): poached eggs dusted with Aleppo pepper, pickled jalapenos, chopped cilantro, several slices of toasted whole-grain bread, or julienne-sliced preserved lemon.
RECIPE: Avocado Toast
- 2 slices whole-grain bread (try La Brea brand)
- 1/2 an avocado, sliced thin
- 1/2 of a preserved lemon, sliced thin
- 1 teaspoon nori seed blend (recipe below), toasted
- 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (available locally where gourmet spices are sold)
- 4 slices paper-thin radish (try cherry bomb)
Pinch of flaked sea salt
- Lightly toast the whole grain bread on both sides.
- Lay half of the sliced avocado on each piece of toast, fanning out slices.
- Top each piece of toast with half the preserved lemon, followed by the pepper, seed blend, salt and radish.
Nori seed blend
- 1 cup raw, unsalted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
- 1/2 cup raw, unsalted sunflower seeds
- 1/4 cup raw, unsalted sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup flax seed
- 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon ground nori
- Combine all ingredients in a nonreactive bowl.
- Pour onto sheet pan and toast at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Rotate the tray and bake 6-8 minutes or until the pepitas are somewhat brittle.
— RECIPES SHARED BY JUSTIN KLAUBA, HONEY EATERY AND SOCIAL CLUB
INGREDIENT SPOTLIGHT: PRESERVED LEMON
Preserved lemons are a staple of Moroccan cooking, and often appear in salads and tagines, which refers to both a stew-like dish and the covered, clay casserole in which it is traditionally cooked.
Inherently acidic, lemons need only be paired with salt and the anaerobic environment of a sealed jar to transform over a few weeks from a firm-fleshed, tangy lemon into something much more complex, pitting the punch of pickled food against lemony floral notes.
They can easily be made at home with store-bought lemons and will keep in the refrigerator for up to a year if continuously submerged in liquid (add lemon juice and shake the jar as needed). Or they can be purchased in the specialty food aisle of many local grocery stores including My Fresh Basket, Huckleberry's Natural Market and Damas Middle Eastern Grocery Store.
A little goes a long way in a dish, although store-bought might be less pungent than home-made. If making your own, rinse and pat dry to remove excess salt as needed.