Esther Kang

Aida Mollenkamp, Food Network star, returns home to Manhattan Beach

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Aida Mollenkamp

Aida Mollenkamp of the Food Network and the Cooking Channel hosts cooking demos at the Manhattan Beach farmers market Tuesday afternoon to promote her new cookbook, Keys to the Kitchen. PHOTO BY ESTHER KANG

Food expert and South Bay native Aida Mollenkamp may not be where she is today had it not been for a ski trip injury in Big Bear when she was 15.

She tore her ACL, which for six months deterred the busy high school student from her extracurricular activities, such as soccer, tennis, ballet and cheerleading.

“So I turned to cooking to keep busy, and it quickly became my prime passion,” Mollenkamp said.

More than a decade and a half later, Mollenkamp is now a celebrated food personality on television, having hosted her own Food Network show, Ask Aida, as well as the Cooking Channel’s foodCrafters. And for the first time, she has written her own cookbook Keys to the Kitchen – published Oct. 24 by Chronicle Books – which she describes as “the go-to book for anyone who could use a little more adventure in their cooking.”

“Keys to the Kitchen is a modern manual to the kitchen covering everything from how to shop, how to stock your pantry, and basic cooking techniques,” Mollenkamp explained. “It’s a technique-based book so the focus is on honing kitchen skills and making you a more confident, adventurous cook.”

Mollenkamp, born in Torrance and raised in Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Palos Verdes, said her cooking style – “based in Mediterranean flavors with a modern California slant” – is heavily influenced by her beachside upbringing.

“Growing up in the South Bay, the focus is always on healthy, real, whole foods, and that stays with me even today,” she said. “The flavors I use reflect my life experience including where I’ve lived and the communities and cultures of my friends I grew up around.”

So it only seemed natural to make a pit stop at the Manhattan Beach farmers market Tuesday afternoon as part of her national tour for her new book, where she hosted two cooking demos using fresh local produce she had picked up from farmers just moments before.

Despite the sun beating down, Mollenkamp showed the audience, which included her mother, sisters and friends, how to create some of her own seasonal dishes, such as the “Meatless Carpaccio,” made from unusual ingredients like buffalo mozzarella, pomegranate seeds and persimmon: “Think of it the same way you’d cut a strawberry,” she advised those unfamiliar with the sweet Asian fruit.

Practical tips like this are integrated throughout her book, which not only shares 300 original recipes but also her two cents on efficient grocery shopping and entertaining, Mollenkamp said.

Kris D’Errico, Mollenkamp’s longtime family friend and co-owner of downtown boutique shop Bella Beach where the food expert held a book signing after the demos, said she collaborated with the Downtown Manhattan Beach Business & Professional Association to plan the homecoming.

“When I knew she was doing a book tour, I knew we should bring her out here,” D’errico said. “It’s the story of local girl does good and everyone is proud of her.”

In the coming months, Mollenkamp is continuing the final leg of her book tour and making stops all over the country, including New York City, Honolulu, Washington D.C. and Long Beach.

“Bringing the book to life—via cooking classes, demos and events—really brings the concepts of Keys to the Kitchen home,” she said.


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