Brooke Williamson & Antonia Lofaso Talk Holiday Food Tips And Debate Air Fryer Trends - Exclusive Interview

Brooke Williamson and Antonia Lofaso are two of the leading lights of Los Angeles' renowned culinary scene. After her time working under Wolfgang Puck at Spago and opening the successful cocktail bar Black Market Liquor Bar in Studio City, Lofaso's Italian-American upbringing inspired her to open Scopa Italian Roots, one of the city's most popular restaurants. Meanwhile, Williamson's career has taken her from one of the country's top culinary schools through stints at Michael's Santa Monica before creating Playa Provisions, a beachside destination that includes a seasonal seafood restaurant, ice cream parlor, and whiskey bar.

Both are also Food Network stars. Williamson's victory in the 2014 season of "Top Chef" launched her into appearances on shows like "Bobby's Triple Threat" with Bobby Flay, and she captained the West Coast team on "Food Network's Beachside Brawl," a competition that just so happens to be hosted by another "Top Chef" veteran — Lofaso herself.

Tasting Table caught up with the two friends before Sip & Savor: A Happy Hour, an event they hosted to kick off Food Network's New York City Wine & Food Festival. In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview, we asked Williamson and Lofaso about their plans for enjoying the festival, their favorite meals of the year, air fryers, and the food trends of the year that they really got into. We even got a sneak peek of the Thanksgiving dishes that they're most excited to cook this year — and no surprise at all, they sound amazing.

Williamson and Lofaso share their festival plans

Do you have anything fun planned for the fest, other than this event?

Antonia Lofaso: We love to go to every part of the festival. After here, we're going to go over to the Italian event ...

Brooke Williamson: You can see it!

Lofaso: It's literally right across the street. Then, I might sneak into your dinner [on] Saturday night.

Williamson: Really? Oh, I would love that!

Lofaso: What else am I going to do?

Williamson: I'm doing a dinner on Saturday with Michael Voltaggio and Tiffany Derry, and I'm very excited about that. I'm actually doing it in the location where we did our dinner last year, in the Hard Rock.

Lofaso: It's a beautiful room, a gorgeous room.

Williamson: Right in the middle of Times Square. Lots of super fun, exciting things happening — lots of people to see.

Antonia, you have a New York connection, right? 

Lofaso: I was born and raised there. I moved to LA when I was 11.

Williamson: If we're in Los Angeles, she says —

Lofaso: "I'm from LA."

Williamson: But if we're in New York, she says, "I'm from New York."

Lofaso: It depends.

Williamson: She identifies with all, like ... "Those are my people."

Lofaso: Those are my people! ... What we are doing is playing in the pickleball tournament tomorrow.

Oh, fun!

Lofaso: I'm making Brooke do it.

Williamson: I did bring a great outfit ...

Lofaso: She has an outfit for the pickleball tournament.

The Top Chef vets reflect on their favorite meals of 2023 and debate air fryers

Do either of you have a most memorable meal from this year? Home-cooked or at a restaurant — it can be whatever you like.

Lofaso: I keep saying that my most memorable meal was at Zahav — it's Michael Solomonov. It was outstanding ... He pulled out a 45-day-aged veal that he was curing, and it was unbelievable.

Williamson: That's a Middle Eastern restaurant. Middle Eastern, Israeli, Mediterranean food is really having a moment right now. One of my favorite meals of the year was at Shukette, which ... I know everyone can say the same thing — that's definitely having a moment — but I think it's more than a moment. It's some of the most inspiring food I've had in a long time.

Lofaso: It's amazing seeing that food in restaurants in a way that you would go have Latin food or Italian food or French food.

Williamson: It's everyday food.

Lofaso: Exactly.

Do you have a favorite kitchen purchase of 2023? Something you bought for your home that you love or something new you think everyone needs in their home?

Lofaso: She's going to make fun of me. You know what I'm about to say ...

Williamson: Don't say an air fryer.

Lofaso: I'm 100% saying an air fryer.

What is your favorite thing you made?

Lofaso: Everyone wants to make fun of the air fryer, but I literally have this thing where you can put anything in it. Did I tell you I put a whole ribeye in there just to see what would happen?

Williamson: No, but I'm not shocked. Also, I can't get on board — I'm sorry.

Lofaso: You haven't seen it yet.

Williamson: I'm old school. I use a blender and a knife.

Lofaso: I use a blender ... But [air fryers] are really good for reheating things. If you have leftover pizza, you stick it in there, and it's like a mini convection oven. None of our ovens are convection ovens.

Williamson: I get it.

Brooke, do you have a fave, or not really?

Williamson: No. Honestly, I use very few tools in the kitchen. I'm not a "collect a lot of tools" kind of person. I find myself doing everything with a knife and a blender.

Do you have a knife recommendation?

Williamson: Korin started making their own knives, and they're some of the highest-quality, biggest-bang-for-your-buck knives you can get.

You definitely can't go wrong with a knife that is affordable and also good.

Williamson: Also, the new Hedley & Bennett knives are really, really good.

Talking turkey tips and Thanksgiving sides

Thanksgiving is coming up. What dish are you most excited to make, and do you have any tips for home cooks?

Williamson: I'm a stuffing person. I could be happy with a Thanksgiving dinner that consisted of sausage chestnut stuffing and a salad.

Lofaso: One of my favorite things to do is actually squash ravioli. It's like a pureed squash, and I put the egg yolk in the center, and then I grate cheese over the top. When it opens up it's not the traditional ricotta — it's like a squash.

Williamson: I'm also someone who loves to smoke a turkey leg. I have a smoker in my backyard.

Lofaso: Like Disneyland.

Williamson: Exactly — the big, giant turkey legs. I brine them overnight [and] throw 'em on the smoker for six to eight hours until they're super, super tender and get that beautiful smoke on them.

Are there any huge mistakes people make smoking turkey or tips that would guarantee success?

Williamson: People assume when you smoke turkey you have to smoke a whole turkey, but the best part is those drums or the legs ... or the wings. You can just buy the parts and smoke the parts, and those take half the amount of time. You never find a dry turkey leg. It's all dark meat — my way to go.

What is an underrated canned item you keep in your pantry, and how do you use it?

Lofaso: Canned potatoes are the most underrated.

Williamson: You love them.

Lofaso: I do — I love them. Totally underrated, canned potatoes. When I make chorizo and eggs for breakfast tacos in the morning, instead of doing my own potato, I dice up canned potato and throw it in there. They're perfectly cooked; there is no water on them; they're perfectly seasoned and they mix in so well. A friend of mine did it and she was embarrassed to tell me it was a canned potato, and I was eating it like, "How did you cook these potatoes so perfectly in this egg dish?" She was a little embarrassed to tell me. But you can fry them right out of the can. They're so good.

Williamson: Canned tomatoes ... I don't think they're underrated, but canned tomatoes should always be in your cabinet, especially if it's not summer.

Do you have a preference for brands? Some people are very picky.

Williamson: I like the San Marzano tomatoes. I'm not picky about that. I also often have cans of creamed corn in my cabinet that I use for cornbread.

Lofaso: I thought you were going to say it was a guilty pleasure. [laughs]

Williamson: Take that leftover creamed corn and make cornbread — [it] makes for a very custardy cornbread.

The go-to food gifts Antonia Lofaso and Brooke Williamson prepare for the holidays

What are your go-to food gifts for the holidays that you either make yourself or always buy to give out?

Lofaso: Cookie tins. This year, we're doing all Italian cookies.

Williamson: Yes — you gave those to us last year at our Christmas party. I like to make flavored marshmallows, tea-flavored marshmallows. Earl gray tea ...

Lofaso: They're so good.

How do you infuse the tea?

Williamson: You steep the tea in the water before you put the gelatin in. That's my go-to, strangely. I've been doing it for years.

What are your favorite and least favorite food trends of 2023 and why?

Williamson: I don't know if people are still doing them, but get the butter boards and the frosting boards out of here.

Lofaso: I love butter boards.

Williamson: Oh my god, why?

Lofaso: I make a cream cheese board.

Williamson: Why?

Lofaso: Because it's a fun little ... I like it.

Williamson: But it turned into frosting boards!

Lofaso: I don't like a frosting board. But [a cream cheese board] is basically like a smoked salmon bagel, but you can dip.

Williamson: Why not just turn it into a dip?

Lofaso: It's pretty when you do the little things sectioned off.

Williamson: Okay, I'm over it.

Antonia, are you over anything? You seem very pro—

Williamson: She's pro everything. She has such a great attitude. 

Lofaso: I'm going to put my cream cheese board in my air fryer. [laughs]

The New York City Wine & Food Festival runs now through Sunday. 

This article has been edited for clarity.