Arts & Culture

At the table with Susan Alper

Owner of Clean Plate talks homemade cookies, late-night ice cream and taking that bite of chocolate cake

By
Contributing Writer
Friday, November 21, 2014

Experienced restaurant owner Susan Alper frequently draws on her past successes and mishaps to shape Clean Plate’s ever-changing menu.

Susan Alper is no stranger to culinary innovation. Clean Plate, a new restaurant on South Water Street that advertises itself as specializing in American cuisine, is the fourth eatery she’s opened with her partner, Lauren Speisman. With the constantly changing menu inheriting many of its flavors and recipes from these previous ventures, Alper aims to stay fresh by creating new and surprising combinations of tastes and aromas.

A self-described “passionate lunatic about food,” Alper spoke with The Herald to share the sources of her enthusiasm for the kitchen.

Herald: What’s your earliest memory in the kitchen?

Alper: I used to bake chocolate chip cookies with my cousin when I was a kid, because my mom wouldn’t let us buy cookies. We had to make them. That’s one way to get around it — if you want a cookie, make it!

What was your go-to college food or meal?

Pizza. It’s a classic, and that’s probably why it’s still popular.

What’s your favorite thing to cook and why?

My favorite thing to cook is the last dish I created, because there’s such a thrill in creating something new. You know, getting the balance right, getting the flavors to dance.

What’s your “spirit food?”

Dumplings.

What do you think makes Providence a good food city?

There’s so much energy here. It’s ethnic. It has incredible local food. The farmers are doing wonderful things. It’s an educated city. It’s full of thinkers, and because of the thinkers, new things are happening all the time.

How would you describe your food philosophy?

I like everything. I like food. My philosophy is, if you like it, eat it. Be adventurous. Have that bite of chocolate cake. Don’t deprive yourself — take a bite!

How does food fit into a larger conversation about culture?

It’s everything about culture. It’s about religion, it’s about monetary status, it’s demographic — if you’re landlocked or if you’re on the ocean. It’s all about (culture).

What’s your favorite midnight snack?

My midnight snack would be Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Chickpea Salad Spread

About the recipe:

For this recipe — one of Alper’s many innovations — students can quickly modify chickpeas into a tuna salad-like spread to use on bread, salad or anything.

Ingredients:

1 can of chickpeas

1 tsp. mayonnaise

1 cup of diced celery

Salt and pepper

Directions

Take the can of chickpeas and mash them up.

Mix in the mayonnaise and the diced celery.

Sprinkle some salt and pepper.

Your “tuna fish” is ready to go.

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