(Editor's Note - The following article is reprinted (without permission) from pages 178-181 of the best-selling cookbook "Everything I Want to Eat Sqirl and the New California Cooking" by Jessica Kowlow)
If you are among the devotees of Jessica Koslow—and her intense dose of Los Angeles known as Sqirl—then you know “The Line.”
If you are not, then be informed that “The Line” is what you will get in when you come to Sqirl. It’s not merely a waiting line. It is Act One of the Sqirl experience. Sqirl without the line, well, it just wouldn’t be as good. Then again, Sqirl without the line is not going to happen.
Customers talk to other customers in that line. They share their latest personal stories. They gossip. They might talk about Jonathan Gold’s latest review or who has been nominated from town for the James Beard Awards. There’ll be Laker and Dodger talk, most recently dominated by the farewell games of Vin Scully. They might even talk politics. Recently, someone in The Line made fun of that independent presidential candidate who didn't know Aleppo by saying "What's Sgirl?".
But, what they don’t talk about is the criminal past of Jessica Koslow. They don’t talk about that because no one except Jessica, her parents, the judge, the district attorney’s office, and her victims even knew about it.
So, folks in “The Line,” here’s a li’l somethin’ to talk about next time you head to Virgil Avenue and Marathon Street for some Moro blood orange with vanilla bean marmalade.
Jessica’s first years on Earth—in Long Beach, California—were crime-free. It was when she moved on to the exclusive Chadwick School in Palos Verdes that the trouble began.
Dr. Jayme Darling, professor of juvenile criminal behavioral studies at Stanford University, said that the transition from a working-class neighborhood such as Long Beach to an affluent community, such as Palos Verdes is often a grueling change for a child.
“A kid like Jessica from the rough and tumble streets of Long Beach suddenly transported to an elite school in Palos Verdes, well, it’s no surprise she started getting into trouble,” Darling said. “Here’s a tough street kid who is accustomed to throwing—and taking—a punch, and now she’s around spoiled kids who are scared shitless by a mere threat.”
A spokesperson for Sqirl, Sara Storrie, declined to comment on Dr. Darling’s theory other than to say, “The Stanford lady professor is generalizing, and at Sqirl that’s not a good thing.”
Regardless, according to the court records and verified by a former vice principal at Chadwick, Koslow punched a boy in the nose in the fifth grade after she misunderstood something he had said.
The following is a school report on the incident:
A boy [name redacted] was making fun of a girl’s bra and said, “Michelle’s bra is stupid.” Jessica Koslow, without any warning, punched him on the nose, causing mild bleeding. Later, Koslow said she thought the boy had said “Michel Bras is stupid.” It was later confirmed that Michel Bras is a renowned French chef with a legendary restaurant in the town of Laguiole, France, and a hero of Koslow’s. When this was confirmed, authorities, knowing Laguiole is famous for its knives, obtained a search warrant and found twenty-nine very sharp steak knives in Jessica’s underwear drawer. Counseling was ordered.
But the incident that put Koslow in handcuffs happened when she was in the tenth grade. A twelfth grade boy, whose name is protected by the Child Victims Act of 2002, was, according to several eyewitnesses, bullying a group of ninthand tenth-graders. Right before he would push, kick, or punch them, he yelled out, in a very pronounced, exaggerated fashion “I, I, I am going to harm you!”
Observing this, and about to peel a Moro blood orange, was Jessica. As the bully repeated his threat, yelling out the second “I”—with his mouth wide open—Koslow fired the blood orange his way.
Now this blood orange must’ve been guided by the left arm of Sandy Koufax as it went directly into the boy’s agape mouth. It was thrown with such force that not only did it enter the mouth; it lodged in the soft palate. The boy immediately began choking.
As the students looked on in a mix of horror and celebration, Koslow calmly walked over and kicked the boy in the back of his neck. This is where the controversy ensued. As a result of the kick, the boy hurled the blood orange and was able to breathe.
However, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, after a thorough review, said the kick “was not designed to help the boy, but rather to inflict great bodily injury.” (A full report can be seen at www.LACITY.ORG/KOSLOWKICK/ CHADWICK.)
After a brief trial, Koslow was sent to the infamous Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey. It was here, in one of America’s most notorious juvenile facilities, that Jessica Koslow’s career began.
A brief introduction to the facility is in order. Unlike, say, at San Quentin or Folsom, the cells here had windows. They were barred and tiny. A human could not crawl through but still they were windows. It just so happened that Koslow’s windows were near a fruit orchard where trees were weighed down with Meyer lemons and Moro blood oranges. There were also exceedingly tall brambles—from neglect— with blackberries and raspberries.
One night, as she read Crime and Punishment on her threadbare cot, a lone Meyer lemon and a branch of blackberries blew into her cell on a summer breeze. As she was immersed in the anguish of Rodion Raskolnikov, she absentmindedly grabbed the fruit and, with all her fury, squeezed. A few minutes later—that book always does this to Jessica, to this day— she was asleep.
In the morning, the jail guard abruptly opened her cell door and slid in the daily prison-style “breakfast” of bread and water. As she sat up in that measly cot, she noticed the smashed fruit—the Meyer lemon and blackberries—in a rather pretty clump on the floor. With an elegant movement, she swooped the fruit up with the jailhouse bread and took a bite.
Do you know the opening lines to Irving Berlin’s classic “Cheek to Cheek”? If you do, you know how Jessica felt as she tasted what would become known in Sqirl lore as “The First Toast.” That is how the cooking career of Jessica Koslow began.
“Heaven, I’m in heaven
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek”
This article was first published on pages 178-181 inJessica Koslow's recently released cookbook "Everything I Want To Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking" which is available at your local bookstore or - for those with a car - at https://www.amazon.com/Everything-Want-Eat-California-Cooking/dp/141972231X