“I try to think about a perfect bite when I’m making a dish,” Sophie Dalah says. “It’s one thing to serve a steak… but you have to think about what’s acidic, what’s textural in the bite.”
Dalah thinks deeply about such matters. The private chef and founder of Sophie’s Table — an entertainment industry-beloved catering company — specializes in intimate family-style experiences and highly crafted cuisine, using food as a vessel for storytelling. For Dalah, it’s not enough to build a menu that follows simple parameters. Instead, she spins meals into conceptual journeys, each bursting with big ideas and yet never losing sight of deliciousness.
Recently, at Uproxx’s SOUND + VISION launch, Dalah referenced the event’s “Bourbon Tasting Library” by serving whipped “corn butter” — made with corn husks simmered in cream, strained, and churned by hand. It was an extraordinary level of effort just to underscore a connection with bourbon (also made with corn), but was in that simple (seeming) dish that Dalah revealed just how thoroughly she imagines all of the food she serves.
More than a month after the event (and with her cooking still hovering in our collective memories), we reached out to Dalah to talk about how her passion for food began, what drives her creativity in the kitchen, and why seasonal ingredients are your best culinary tool. She also provided a season-specific pickled carrots and tarragon recipe for you to make for the people in your life this fall.
Let’s dive in!
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How did you first get into food?
So I come from a family of food people. We were all obsessed with food. My dad had a catering company in Australia, so I grew up sort of in that world a little bit, but I never would’ve imagined it was something that I was going to do professionally.
I was always obsessed with cooking. I was the kind of person who would come home on a Friday for Shabbat, I would make food for my entire family. I wanted to perfect xiaolongbao, and I wanted to make perfect dumplings for my family of seven. I just really loved it. I also had a food blog in school. It’s funny because even though I was really into it, it wasn’t ever something that I thought would be a career.
And then I moved to LA. I was out here acting, and I found myself cooking a lot and I just kept it up my entire life until one day I had an opportunity to cook for one family for a couple of months. And then from there, it was just word of mouth and I started cooking for multiple families and then it turned into events and then it’s just been growing and growing and building ever since.
You mentioned some of the dishes that you were experimenting with when you were younger. What cuisine do you think unlocked the possibilities of what cooking could be for you? What’s something that inspired you and deepened your love for food?
Well, my dad did this thing every day when we were kids, I still look back at it, it was one of my most loving memories. He would come home and make my entire family a huge bowl of Israeli salad. It was perfectly diced. I would come home from school and he’d be just sitting there and cutting Israeli salad. And it’s kind of the whole reason why I think I have great knife skills.
I’ve always wanted to make my Israeli salad the same as my dad’s. I always wanted to make it perfect like he did, and I would show him my job, I’d show him what I was doing. He’d be like, “No, cucumber needs to be smaller.” And it was just… I don’t know, I think I became really into cooking because I loved the ability to get better at something and to make something more perfect all the time. My whole family is into that.
You bring something to the table and we talk analytically about what it was and if it was good or what we could do differently next time. That’s how I got into food.
My dad was born in Baghdad but grew up in Israel and I really love cooking Middle Eastern flavors. When I was in school I wouldn’t eat regular toast in the morning, like toast, butter, and Vegemite. I would come downstairs and I would make myself green tea, and soba noodles every single morning, and I would ice them and everything.
I’m a peculiar person. I look back and I’m like, “Yeah, that was weird.”
Who makes the better Israeli salad now?
Definitely still my dad.
Would he agree?
Definitely. Or… I don’t know, he probably wouldn’t. He’d probably say “she does a good one, she does a good salad” but there’s something in his salad that makes it special.
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So tell me about Sophie’s Table and the main ethos of your catering company.
Well, the main ethos for the catering company is that I like to bring beautiful food into people’s homes and I like to work with brands and figure out what it is that they’re doing, what they’re trying to achieve… A lot of these brands and these events are trying to launch a new product, and I love to find out what it is and bring that through the food as well. So trying to make the food as much of the experience that is tied to the brand as possible.
Then sometimes clients just want me to go to the market, see what looks good, and make something based off of that. I love working with people and figuring out what they want and making their hosting experience feel really special, ’cause I love hosting. For me, it comes so naturally.
I love doing it, and so I feel like I give people help and confidence to do that in their own homes or at their events.
Where does that storytelling aspect come from? Why is that an important component for you to latch onto these products and think about how to incorporate what you do into another brand?
It allows me to be creative because it puts me within parameters. It gives me great starting off points, and making sure that every event is different puts into perspective what I’m trying to do. I just think it allows for greater creativity and a more unique event and that’s why it’s cool to me.
I was looking into your website and I noticed you mentioned a lot about seasonal dishes. I saw that you think the best food is the food that’s in season.
I’m the same way. I’m always complaining to people when they’re buying strawberries off-season. It’s like, why are you even buying strawberries right now?
Oh my God! My mom does it all the time. It’s so frustrating. It’s so frustrating. I’m like, “Mom, why are there plums? It’s winter. This is Australia.” She’s like, “Oh, they brought the cherries in from America.” And I’m like, “Mom, that is so bad. Just wait for cherry season.”
You might not have a favorite but I wanted to ask, what’s your least favorite season when it comes to ingredients to work with?
Oh, interesting. What’s my least favorite? Oh, that’s so hard for me to answer. I look forward to the change. I actually get sad when seasons go. My dream in life is to have a fruit tree in my yard for each season so that while I might be sad about the loss of plums, I’ll be so excited about persimmons coming in, and so there’s always something that I’m so excited to see at the markets.
I’m going to mourn the loss of tomatoes, but persimmons are coming, so it’s a win-win.
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Let me twist the question a little bit then. What’s a season that you find difficult to work with or find that other people think of it as difficult to accept?
I guess I have to say winter but… I feel like I truly don’t think any season is hard because we have cauliflower in winter. That’s a good vegetable. We’ve got persimmon in winter. Cabbages. I love cabbages. That’s one of my favorite vegetables. How could I say winter? I’m not going to say summer. Well, spring would be crazy.
You’re asking me to do the impossible.
No, that’s great. I think that reveals that there is no excuse for not trying to eat seasonally. How could you say one season is better than the other? It’s different and different is good.
Yes! There’s so much to look forward to in each season.
What does cooking seasonally like this teach you about cooking in general?
Well, personally, it just makes me feel really good to cook seasonally because I know not only am I doing the right thing for the environment, but it feels like what we’re supposed to have done for our bodies, and it teaches you to sort of do less.
When the vegetable is really in its prime and hasn’t been on a ship, or plane, for whatever it is, however, they commute vegetables… You go to the farmer’s market, you’re picking a vegetable that was probably either picked very early in the morning or the day before. It’s at its prime. You don’t need to do much to it.
Doing less with vegetables and making things simple is what it teaches you. A perfect peach really does not need much. It’s the best on its own.
And I think that kind of goes back to this idea of parameters, right?
Absolutely. It puts you on a path. It’s like, this is what I’ve got to work with — so what are we going to do? How are we going to do it? This tastes good like that. Yeah, exactly. That’s a good way of putting it.
You mentioned that you love hosting. You love feeding people, but what do you like to eat? When you’re indulging, what’s your go-to food?
Probably what we call “yum cha” in Australia, what you call dim sum.
That, and Japanese. I love going to Omakase, but yeah, I had to say that dim sum was maybe my number one “indulge day” food. Like, go sit and have just lots and lots of dim sum.
What do you love specifically about dim sum and Japanese food?
Well, what I love about dim sum is just how comforting it is, how warm it is — how it’s just a burst of flavor. It’s like every little bite is just so perfect and constructed so perfectly. It’s like a perfect food, in my opinion.
I would say Japanese food is similar. They’re the two things that I always really want to eat when I’m going out. They’re the two things that I can try and make and I can try and make, but nothing is going to be as good as getting it out elsewhere.
It’s interesting that you say that because dim sum has this comforting, warm quality and that high level of construction, and the same with an omakase tasting — high level of construction, high level of craft… that’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re not making those specific foods, but what you are doing is also comforting as a caterer and host and yet it’s highly constructed. So I think it’s interesting how your preferences kind of reflect what you do.
Thank you. Thank you. That’s a huge compliment. I try and think about a perfect bite when I’m making a dish. I think about it, it’s one thing to serve a steak, but you have to think about what’s acidic in there? What’s textural in there? Considering what’s a great bite of food is super important to me.
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LA has a pretty famous food scene, a lot of great food here. But I constantly hear about how most people are sleeping on the food of Australia. Since you’re from Australia and living in LA, where’s your favorite food scene? Who do you think is doing it better? Is there a “better?”
I don’t think that there’s a better, but I do think the general standard of… look, I’m probably going to get slaughtered for saying this, but I think the general standard in Australia is very high. I think you can go to pretty much any place and I think the level of excellence is the same. On one hand, if you’re going to a restaurant and if you’re trying to eat an excellent meal prepared by an extremely experienced chef, I think Australia and Los Angeles are probably on par with each other.
But the general standard of what’s available and the quality of ingredients that are kind of accessible to everyone in Australia is a little bit higher because I think food is really important to people in Australia. Cafe culture is huge. Coffee culture is huge. It’s just the lifestyle. But I mean, I think the level of restaurants and really good chefs I think is on par.
It is a good question because I think about that a lot, a lot of Australians will tell you “Oh my God, Australia just has so much better food. We just get it. We just know. Perfect toast, perfect salad.” Australians will say that to you and as someone who’s lived here for eight years, I’ll say right back, “No, you just don’t know really where to go.” It’s all about finding and knowing where the good food is here… but it’s more accessible, I would say, in Australia.
I want to talk a bit about what you did at the Sound + Vision launch, tell me about this corn butter that you made with the corn husk and how it connected to Michter’s bourbons.
That corn butter idea just stemmed from me staging at Birdie Gs. I was working with sous chef CJ Sullivan, and he made this ice cream that is maybe one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. It’s corn husk ice cream. He doesn’t use any corn in it. He just makes it from corn husks. When I was there, I made tomato leaf butter with them, and so I tasted the corn husk ice cream and was making the tomato butter with the tomato stems and I thought that it would be an interesting idea to make a corn butter.
Growing up, I danced. I was a dancer. I did it for seven hours a day on a Saturday and pretty much every second day during the week.
But the one thing I liked about it, was that there was a farmer’s market right across from my dance school. So every Saturday I’d spend my hour break in the farmer’s market, and I mean, who doesn’t love corn and butter? But every Saturday I was just eating giant corn all day. I practically drank corn on the cob smothered in butter. So I love corn butter, that’s my personal connection.
And it was so much fun making butter at Birdie Gs.
Does it take long to formulate and idea like that? How much time do you generally have between when a person hires you and when you’re developing this menu? Is it kind of like a rush to do it, or are you always thinking of ideas?
A client might give me an appropriate amount of time, but the problem is that I have multiple events and different menus every single week, and that’s really, really, really tough. I would love, so love, eventually to build my company to a place where I get to do some more R&R and get to think even more deeply about my ideas.
With the ideas that I have, I’ll try the dish one or two times, or maybe sometimes it’s like I’m just working on an element and I’ll work it until it’s perfect and then I have to construct it and then I have to alter it, cause sometimes with the events that I have with all of the different menus… It’s hard.
I know the restaurant industry must be so difficult, I don’t want to take away from that but it would be pretty incredible to recipe-develop a menu, and then execute that same menu every single night. To me, that sounds pretty incredible. You could get your food to such a perfect place. For me, every menu is so different. The sort of development that goes into it is not as extensive as it might be for a chef who’s working at a restaurant. And I would love to sort of change that, but I do the best with what I can and with my bandwidth.
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Pickled Carrots with Tarragon
1 pound young carrots, any color, trimmed, peeled
1 shallot, peeled, quartered
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 red or green Thai chiles
2 sprigs tarragon
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
- Pack carrots, shallot, garlic, chiles, tarragon, peppercorns, and coriander seeds in a large heatproof jar.
- Bring vinegar, sugar, salt, and 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan, whisking to dissolve sugar and salt.
- Pour pickling liquid over carrots to cover. Let cool; cover and chill at least 24 hours.
- DO AHEAD: Carrots can be pickled 5 days ahead. Keep chilled.