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Special Sauce with Ed Levine

Serious Eats' podcast Special Sauce enables food lovers everywhere to eavesdrop on an intimate conversation about food and life between host and Serious Eats founder Ed Levine and his well-known/famous friends and acquaintances both in and out of the food culture.
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Apr 2, 2020

It's obviously still not business as usual at Serious Eats (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter), so we're going to continue to produce Special Sauce episodes that deal with the coronavirus pandemic. On this week's episode, we once again hear from Serious Eats's Chief Culinary Advisor Kenji López-Alt. Kenji has been pitching in mightily on so many coronavirus-fighting efforts, both on Serious Eats and off.


On Serious Eats, he published an epic post on coronavirus and food safety that millions of people have found useful. We followed that with our first Special Sauce episode focused on the impact of coronavirus, which detailed what's happened at Kenji's restaurant Wursthall since the pandemic broke out. Then we released a video featuring Kenji in which he answered many of the questions he posed in the original post. To complete this multimedia effort, this week's Special Sauce episode features the audio track from the aforementioned video, since we think the information is that important.


Here are some examples of the kinds of questions answered in this episode: Can I be infected by coronavirus by touching or eating food? Is it safe to eat raw foods? What is the safest way to shop at the supermarket? Is it okay to buy produce from open bins?


And as Kenji and I both note in this episode, he has promised to continually update the original post as new information becomes available in this rapidly-changing situation.


On a personal note, Kenji has really helped so many people in these exceedingly tough times by answering these questions. The least we can do is ask that you return the favor, if you're able. If you can afford to support Kenji's Wursthall-centric coronavirus initiative by donating to his Patreon account, or by directly purchasing meals-for-free from Wursthall's own take-out website, please do so.  

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats:

https://www.seriouseats.com/preview?record=452525

Mar 26, 2020

<em><small><strong>Editor's note:</strong> The Coronavirus story is unfolding at a breakneck pace. That means that something said that was true at the time may no longer be so. On this episode please note that Lola, the Tom Douglas restaurant in the Hotel Andra in Seattle, is now closed, as is the hotel itself.</small></em>

Before the sh*t hit the proverbial fan, I had the next several episodes of Special Sauce all queued up. They were going to feature Susan Spungen, the founding food editor of <em>Martha Stewart Living</em> and author of <em>Open Kitchen: Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings</em>; and Alexander Smalls, an opera singer turned chef-restaurateur and cookbook author (<em>Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes From My African American Kitchen</em>). But when the coronavirus pandemic struck with full force, destabilizing and eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs in our industry, I realized that we needed to put those episodes on hold and change up the Special Sauce MO. So over the coming weeks, the podcast will be focused on the virus' effect on people in the industry who sustain and feed all of us, like chefs, restaurateurs, farmers, bread bakers, servers, and so many more.

For our first episode in this vein, I knew I wanted to speak to our very own <a href="https://www.seriouseats.com/editors/j-kenji-lopez-alt">Kenji Lopez-Alt</a>. Kenji, along with his partners, opened Wursthall in his adopted hometown of San Mateo, CA in March of 2018; like the rest of California's restaurants, they were forced to close their doors to all business but takeout and delivery earlier this month. He's spent virtually all his time since trying to aid his laid off workers and keep the restaurant going in order to rehire as many of his people as he can. Miraculously, Kenji did find the time to pen a ridiculously comprehensive and clear-headed <a href="https://www.seriouseats.com/2020/03/food-safety-and-coronavirus-a-comprehensive-guide.html">guide to food safety and the coronavirus</a> for us.

On this episode of Special Sauce, Kenji shares the problems he, his restaurant, and his staff are facing, and the tactics he's employing to keep the lights on and the burners fired up. Just as importantly, Kenji also talks about the macro socio-political and cultural issues the coronavirus pandemic has merely brought to the surface for businesses like his.

I hope that those of you who can are able to support Wursthall and its employees past, present, and future. Kenji has opened <a href="https://www.patreon.com/kenjilopezalt">a Patreon account</a>, and 100% of donations will soon go directly toward producing and providing meal kits for local San Mateo families affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

In addition to their own local initiatives, the Wursthall crew has been working with organizations, including <a href="https://wck.org/">Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen</a>, to deliver meals to various organizations in need, including Samaritan House San Mateo, the Oakland Fire Training Center, and San Francisco General Hospital emergency room. Folks will also be able to directly buy meals for families, individuals, and front line workers who are affected by the pandemic. Go to the <a href="http://www.wursthall.com/">Wursthall website</a> for the latest details about this program.

One more note about this ever-changing crisis: Even if the proposed multi-trillion dollar federal legislation is passed in the next day or two, all of these efforts are desperately needed in the short, medium, and long-term.

https://www.seriouseats.com/2020/03/special-sauce-kenji-coronavirus-wursthall.html

Mar 5, 2020

On this week's Special Sauce, I continue my conversation with visionary pastry chef Claudia Fleming. But before we get to Claudia's captivating story, Kenji fields a question from Serious Eater Joan Moore, who wants to know how long the blade on her Cuisinart food processor should last.

After Kenji delivers his characteristically thoughtful answer, Claudia and I pick up where we left off last week, and talk about her harrowing and moving journey. We start off by examining why she and her late husband, the prodigiously talented chef Gerry Hayden, decided to pack up their knives and scrapers, leave New York City, and buy an inn on the North Fork of Long Island, despite the fact that at the time, Claudia was, as she says, "kind of the it-girl when we left. I was on top of the world."

Turns out, the move was made in part for Gerry. "I felt like I was eclipsing the larger talent in the relationship," Claudia says. "He devoted his entire life to being a chef, a cook. I loved him very much and wanted him to have his time. I hope that doesn't sound patronizing. I wanted him to live his dream and I wanted to help facilitate that."

The inn hardly turned out to be a panacea. "It was a little money pit and it was a bit like The Shining," Claudia remembers. "It was kind of crazy. The inn was literally falling down and falling apart... There were lots of hysterical things about that. But it was kind of creepy and scary, too." If there was a single lesson Claudia took away from the experience, aside from the necessity of being well capitalized, it was this: "Beware of your passion. It can kill you."

The battle to keep the dream of the inn alive took a tragic turn when Gerry was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Claudia became chief caregiver to Gerry, even as she was running the inn. And yet somehow they persevered. "I got my strength from him," Claudia says, explaining how she managed to keep everything running. "I'm like, 'How is he doing this?' It was incredible. I'm like, 'If he can do it, I can do it with him.'"

Claudia and I also spend some time talking about the reissuing (a rare occurrence in the cookbook world) of her profoundly influential book, The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern. I ask Claudia what she set out to do with the book. "I was trying to make restaurant desserts more accessible by deconstructing them," she says. It was also a way for her to advance the idea of dessert as something more than just something sweet to end a meal. "I think maybe I was or am a frustrated cook," Claudia says, "so I started making dessert just like another course: the last course. It became less about sweet than about just another course that wraps up the dinner. It didn't come out of left field."

To close out the episode, Daniel Gritzer checks in from the Serious Eats test kitchen and schools us on grilling pork chops. "Grilling pork chops can present similar problems as chicken breasts. The meat is lean and prone to drying out, even with the slightest overcooking. With a few simple steps, though, you can guarantee that your pork chops will be juicy and perfect every time."

I urge all Serious Eaters to check this episode out, just because Claudia Fleming's story is so moving.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/preview?record=452053

Feb 28, 2020

There are forgotten giants in the food world, people who have profoundly influenced what we eat, but whose names we barely know. James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Claudia Fleming is one of those people.

She is the author, along with Melissa Clark of the New York Times, of The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern, which you'll find on the bookshelf of anyone who's serious about dessert. She is also my guest on the next two episodes of Special Sauce, and man does she have some stories to tell! First, in this week's episode, Claudia talks about ice cream, dance, and dessert construction; then, in next week's episode, she'll talk about love and loss.

When Claudia first became a pastry chef, it was the era of vertical desserts, which she wasn't thrilled about. As she says in the book, "I wasn't very interested in Legos. I wanted it to taste like something." She expanded on that notion in the interview. "They make things that stacked on top of each other and how high can we make it before it falls down," she says. "Technically, the only way to do that is with tons of sugar and it's almost inedible. You'd have this tiny edible thing on the plate and then you have all of these things on top."

Claudia has a gender-based theory for why that trend came about, and why her approach is different: "I think it's a more feminine approach because- I'm going to be really sexist- boys like to build things. Women nourish more. I'm being incredibly generalistic and very sexist, but that's my experience."

But before we hear from Claudia, Serious Eater Ryder Cobean asks Kenji for a non-meat alternative to use in Kenji's very fine pressure cooker chile verde. Kenji offers up two ideas. One is soy-based and not so surprising. The other, however, shocked the hell out of me. I'm not giving it away here, but I will give you a hint: It's a fruit I most often associate with the Caribbean.

Finally, we hear from our beloved Pastry Wizard Stella Parks about how to improve your banana bread, no matter which recipe you use.

Pastry chef legend Claudia Fleming on the rise and fall of Lego-like desserts, Kenji on losing the meat in his pressure cooker chile verde, and BraveTart weighing in on banana bread. Quite an episode of Special Sauce.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2020/02/claudia-fleming-1-1.html

Feb 14, 2020

In part two of my conversation with Supernatural star Misha Collins, we dive into his family's eating habits, which eventually lead to The Adventurous Eaters Club: Mastering the Art of Family Meal Time, which he wrote with his wife, Vicki. Their children Maison and West had adopted the chicken nuggets-centric diet typical of many children in America until West, seemingly at random, put some Jerusalem artichokes into the shopping cart. From that moment on their food lives changed forever.

All of a sudden the Collins family started making things like kale chips at home. Of course, the Collins children's newfound food agency did lead to some-ahem-unusual recipes, which are documented in the book, like the pasta with jam sauce (Misha readily admits it's not a recipe to be made). I don't want to give away the whole recipe here, but I can tell you it includes chocolate chips, Goldfish, and popcorn for a garnish. On a more serious note, Misha also talks about his extraordinary charity, Random Acts, which will receive a cut of the royalties from the book (100% of the Collins' royalties will fund Random Acts and other nonprofits).

But before we delve into the intricacies of pasta with jam sauce, Steve Garbacz asks Kenji whether it's okay to leave butter out of the fridge for days. As someone who leaves pizza and mozzarella out for days on end, this was a question near and dear to my heart.

And at the end of the episode, Serious Eats's Senior Culinary Editor Sasha Marx weighs in on making pizza at home. What do we need to make the dough? "If you're serious about making doughs, breads, whatever, it's good to have two types of scales. I like having a large scale, and then having one of these small jeweler's scales. You can buy this online, and also in head shops, is a good place to get them. Tell them it's just for making pizza, and they'll be like, 'Sure, definitely, for making pizza.'"

Misha Collins on pasta with jam sauce, Kenji on one of my favorite food topics, and Sasha's visit to a head shop to make pizza dough: A far-ranging Special Sauce, to be sure.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2020/02/special-sauce-misha-collins-on-pasta-with-jam-sauce-and-random-acts-of-kindness.html

Feb 6, 2020

One of the things I love about Special Sauce is how often I am surprised and moved by my guests. And this episode, in which I interview Supernatural star Misha Collins, who, with his wife Vicki, just published The Adventurous Eaters Club: Mastering the Art of Family Mealtime, is a perfect example.

Collins had a peripatetic childhood- "I think I lived in 15 places by the time I was 15," he tells me&mdash;and often found himself living in parks and teepees. Yet his "idiosyncratic and eccentric" mother somehow managed to almost always gather the family at dinnertime, even if what they were eating was procured by shoplifting. When your mother teaches you how to shoplift a peach, I would say that that's more than idiosyncratic and eccentric.

Before I was mesmerized by my conversation with Misha, Kenji answered Serious Eater Ryan Daugherty's question about when to use dried or fresh herbs in preparing food. And to close out the episode, Daniel Gritzer schools us on the joys of making sous vide chicken wings.

I hope you tune in for a supernatural, moving, and surprising episode of Special Sauce.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/preview?record=451403

Jan 31, 2020

This week's Special Sauce features part two of my conversation with the online cooking star Maangchi, but first we get to hear from Kenji, who answered a question from Serious Eater Kyle Johnson about whether or not you can freeze the base for his white chili with chicken. Kenji being Kenji, he doesn't just limit himself to yes or no, but he offers a few pears of food-freezing wisdom, like "Flat things freeze faster and they defrost faster."

Maangchi and I mostly discussed her new book Maangchi's Big Book of Korean Cooking: From Everyday Meals to Celebration Cuisine, in which she wrote that Korean food "embodies generosity, innovation, patience, compassion, frugality, practicality, flexibility, and resourcefulness." But she also told me about how she was surprised by the fact that people have called her "YouTube's Korean Julia Child." In fact, she said, "Actually, when I heard the Julia Child...I didn't know who she was. I'm telling you the truth."

Finally, we close out the episode with SE Culinary Director Daniel Gritzer weighing in on making the perfect French omelet. He says that you need the right gear, of course, but it isn't anything fancy: Gritzer's omelet-making secret weapon is a plastic fork.

Maangchi on Korean food, Kenji on why the frozen food world should be flat, and Gritzer on the special qualities of a plastic fork. All in all, a fun, revealing, and informative Special Sauce.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/preview?record=451351

Jan 23, 2020

Maangchi. Maangchi. Maangchi! Need I say more?

On this week's Special Sauce I had a chance to sit down with YouTube cooking sensation Maangchi, who, in addition to being an inspiration to all of us here at Serious Eats, is our associate producer Grace's hero. And I discovered she's an impossibly engaging woman, as charming and disarmingly forthright as anyone we've had on.

And her path to success was definitely unorthodox: Maangchi went from living in a room in the back of her father's seafood auction house in Korea, to cooking fried chicken and burritos for her grocery store manager boss in Toronto, to becoming a master video gamer (that's when she came up with her nom de game, Maangchi), to teaching millions of people on YouTube how to cook real Korean food. Her life would make a great movie.

But before we get to Maangchi's story in this episode, Serious Eater Little Chefs Dubai asked Kenji, "What are your favorites to cook with [your daughter] Alicia?" I won't give away Kenji's answer, but I will tell you that Alicia is an accomplished and willing sous chef and she's not even three.

And, finally, to finish, we have the latest dispatch from the Serious Eats test kitchen, with Stella weighing in on no-bake cookies. "I have a secret to share with you about no-bake cookies," Stella says. But to hear what that secret is, you'll have to tune in.

Maangchi, Kenji, Alicia, Stella: This episode is indeed a very special Special Sauce.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2020/01/special-sauce-kenji-on-cooking-for-his-kid-and-maangchi-on-becoming-a-youtube-sensation.html

Jan 16, 2020

On this week's far-ranging Special Sauce we cover a lot of territory- and I mean a lot- of territory. We've got Sean Brock on the highs and lows of an extended stay in rehab, and the joys of parenthood; Kenji on being a Juicy Lucy skeptic; and Stella on making an olive cake so delicious and so easy it can be in your mouth in less time than it takes to watch an episode of Billions.

Before we get to Sean Brock's ongoing battle with recovery, Serious Eater Mike Suade wants to know if Kenji will join him in Minneapolis for a Juicy Lucy (two hamburger patties stuffed with cheese), which is most assuredly not Kenji's favorite style of burger. "I've probably said in the past that Juicy Lucys just don't sound like a great idea."

Sean Brock talks honestly and painfully about the non-linear path of recovery he embarked on when he checked into The Meadows rehab facility. He also reflects on the unadulterated joy of parenthood. Finally, he discusses the pleasures of letting go of his compulsion to control everything in his life, which has allowed him to redefine success. "I had a different definition of happiness. I thought success was happiness."

Finally Brave Tart rhapsodizes about her shockingly easy to make olive oil cake. "This is a fantastic last-minute recipe," she says. "It comes together in about five minutes flat, bakes for 33 minutes, give or take, cools in 10. So let's do the math. You can have this cake in your face in an hour."

This episode of Special Sauce will both make you hungry and make you believer in the power of redemption.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2020/01/special-sauce-sean-brock-on-the-distinction-between-happiness-and-success.html

Jan 9, 2020

On the first new Special Sauce episode of 2020, we go deep and wide on a whole range of topics. First the insanely talented chef Sean Brock, whose new book, South: Essential Recipes and New Explorations, has just been published, takes us on part of his extraordinary journey as a chef.

Brock talks about picking vegetables in his grandmother's kitchen and getting his first job in a restaurant kitchen as a teenager, which he describes as feeling like walking on to a pirate ship. He then delves into how that first restaurant job set him on the path to becoming a James Beard Award-winning chef. But Brock doesn't just talk about his success; he also reveals how his proclivity for obsessively going down culinary rabbit holes and working in fits of manic intensity threatened his mental and physical health and well-being.

But before we get to Brock, Serious Eater Zack Kreines asked Kenji about his favorite cut of meat, and his answer might surprise you, and our pastry wizard Stella Parks rounds out the episode with the key ingredient to her pumpkin cake (which she says is superior to pumpkin pie), a three-dollar purchase that'll enable anyone to make the "fluffiest cake in the universe."

Any episode of Special Sauce that covers Kenji's favorite cut of meat, Sean Brock's extraordinary life story, and Stella giving us the key to making the fluffiest cake in the universe is worth a listen.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2020/01/special-sauce-chef-sean-brock-on-the-perils-of-working-too-hard.html

Dec 19, 2019

This year, my wife and I managed to get through Thanksgiving without any major mishaps or blow-ups. That domestic and culinary tranquility was thanks (at least in part) to the answers Kenji and Stella gave on our special episode of “Ask Special Sauce.” This week, “Ask Special Sauce” returns with even more reassuring answers to an impressive array of holiday cooking questions posed by serious eaters all over the US and Canada. 

We got straightforward inquiries, like how to navigate holiday baking when you’re avoiding gluten, dairy, and refined sugars or what’s the best way to crisp up sweet potatoes. But we also helped untangle some tricky family traditions. Listener Heather North came to us for advice, explaining, "My in-laws grew up using primarily box desserts, jello, cream cheese, Cool Whip, that sort of thing. And they continued those traditions.” Heather explained that every year she offers to make pastries or bake a pie, but her in-laws always request things like “that yellow salad with the pretzels or pudding pie....Something I don’t consider baking.” Her question? “How do I, without offending them, merge what they consider desserts with what I would consider more traditional baking?” As always, Stella came to the rescue.

 

Meanwhile, Kenji tackled a question from Brad. “I’m looking to update a family favorite recipe, a fixture at our table has always been broccoli rice casserole. And since taking over primary cooking responsibilities, I just haven't had the gumption to make it. And I think that's because of what goes into it....It's four main ingredients, right?...Minute rice, a bag of frozen broccoli, a big old jar Cheez Whiz, and crumbled saltines on top.…That's it. Sometimes a diced onion would go in. Sometimes we'd use jalapeño Cheese Whiz instead of the normal stuff for extra zing.” Without a trace of snobbery, Kenji helped Brad out. 

 

We had a blast helping these serious eaters answer these holiday cooking and baking questions, and my guess is you’ll enjoy listening to this episode just as much. On behalf of Stella, Kenji, and me, we want to wish you all happy holidays. May each of you find yourself surrounded by seriously delicious food and people you love.

 

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/12/ask-special-sauce-kenji-and-stella-answer-your-holiday-questions.html

Dec 13, 2019

In part two of my conversation with the extraordinary bakers Amy Scherber of Amy's Bread and Melissa Weller of High Street on Hudson, we take a deep dive into what makes a proper (and I would say perfect) bagel, keeping wholesale bread fresh and high-quality, as well as the balancing act required to make entrepreneurship, marriage, and parenthood work.

Both bakers have overcome extraordinary hurdles in the process of building their baking empires. Melissa recounts making bread in an outdoor wood-burning oven, without easy access to running water. Amy gets into the importance of crafting a unique product and opens up about the experience of juggling work, motherhood, and marriage- especially difficult when your husband is your VP of sales.

Also in today's episode, Kenji helps Serious Eater Nate the Greatest answer two egg-related queries. First, he wants to know whether boiling eggs in a flavored broth imparts any flavor, and second, whether marinating the cooked egg in that broth has any additional effect. Kenji, of course, has all the answers.

After Kenji schools us on eggs, we head into our test kitchen to catch up with Stella Parks, who takes us on a brownie-baking journey. "I've thought about brownies more than anyone else alive. I think about brownies every day, and I think about how fudgy they should be and how chewy they should be. I test batches side by side, over and over and over again. So join me on this journey as we make brownies from scratch." It’s hard to argue with that.

So, what makes a perfect bagel? How does a superstar baker manage her personal relationships and grueling hours? Plus, Kenji on eggs and Stella on brownies….Now that's what I call a perfect episode of Special Sauce.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/12/special-sauce-kenji-on-eggs-plus-wisdom-from-two-master-bakers.html

Dec 5, 2019

This week's Special Sauce episode unintentionally turned into a carb fest. Although I knew I was having on a couple of the finest bakers in the land- Amy Scherber, the founder of Amy's Bread, and Melissa Weller, a baker and partner at High Street on Hudson- I had not anticipated that the other segments of the show would have a similarly starchy focus.

But let's start with the bread-bakers: Scherber founded Amy's Bread way back in 1992, and it was one of the first artisanal bread-baking businesses in New York City, established long before "artisanal" became such a ubiquitous marketing term. Weller, who used to be the head baker at Per Se and has overseen a number of well-regarded baking operations around New York, is now turning out some of the finest bagels in the city (and that's saying something). The two of them gave me some much-needed insight into what it was like to earn their chef stripes in all-male kitchens and, more importantly, what it takes to finally say, "Screw it!" and start your own business.

In the advice portions of the episode, Kenji fields a question from Serious Eater Melissa Staricha about the food processor he uses for his New York-style pizza dough, which sends him on a Kenji-like riff about enzymes and autolysis and how to make good pizza. And, finally, just in time for the holidays, Daniel Gritzer offers some advice for how to make mashed potatoes way ahead of time and "still have them shit the table as good as new."

Kenji on pizza dough, Amy Scherber and Melissa Weller on their paths to bread-and-pastry entrepreneurship, and Gritzer on making mashed potatoes in advance to ease your holiday cooking stress. As someone on a low-carb diet at the moment, I have to say this episode of Special Sauce is an exquisite and yet thoroughly enjoyable form of torture.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats:  https://www.seriouseats.com/preview?record=450340

Nov 21, 2019

I don't know about the rest of you Thanksgiving hosts out there, but my wife and I tend to become increasingly stressed as the holiday approaches each year. On more than one occasion, I've reached out to Kenji and Stella to help relieve my cooking-related anxiety. It was during one such conversation that I came up with the idea of having a call-in Thanksgiving episode of Special Sauce co-hosted by Stella and Kenji. We put out the call for your Thanksgiving-related cooking and baking questions and Serious Eaters from all over the country submitted their most pressing questions. As usual, Kenji and Stella had answers in spades.

We fielded inquiries about what foods travel well for a Thanksgiving feast, how to get pumpkin pie filling to set properly, and whether it's better to cook stuffing in or out of the bird. From Lani Houck’s question about whether turkey can receive the reverse sear treatment to Adrianna Lahti’s request for an improved take on her mother’s questionable pie crust, Kenji and Stella offered answers with their customary elan, grace, and humor. Their seemingly inexhaustible knowledge of all things cooking and baking will take out at least some of the stress associated with Thanksgiving, I promise.

Happy Thanksgiving, Serious Eaters.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/11/special-sauce-kenji-stella-thanksgiving-faqs.html

Nov 14, 2019

On this week's Special Sauce, we take a deep dive into The Gaijin Cookbook: Japanese Recipes from a Chef, Father, Eater, and Lifelong Outsider, the new cookbook from Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying.

We pick up where we left off in last week's conversation, and Chris and Ivan talk about how this new project came about. They said that while their previous collaboration, Ivan Ramen: Love, Obsession, and Recipes from Tokyo's Most Unlikely Noodle Joint was received well, they decided they'd like to try writing a book that was more focused on cooking. And, as Chris tells me, as they tried to figure out what that book would look like, "I wanted to figure out specifically what it was that made a Japanese cookbook from Ivan and me worth buying or what the perspective was that made sense. We...pretty quickly arrived at this thing that Ivan's a gaijin. I'm a Chinese guy; I'm a gaijin. We can't hide that. There's no pretending otherwise."

After they figured out an approach, the rest was relatively simple: Ivan supplying the recipes and the anecdotes, and Chris figuring out how to cobble them together into an organized whole. And the result is a book filled with observations about Japan that are incredibly personal, accompanied by recipes and guides for how to enjoy them. For example, here's Ivan talking about Japanese New Year:

"So, New Year's food, it's a little like Shabbos. You cook all day on Friday and then you turn off the stove, you got your cholent on the stone thing and you just eat from that and you relax. Japanese New Year's, you cook all these things, a lot of the little treats have different meanings about long life and sweetness and bitterness and whatever...On New Year's Day, you wake up in the morning and...everybody in the country just sits down and watches TV and drinks and eats delicious food."

In addition to Chris and Ivan, Kenji and Stella pop up in the episode to dispense some advice. Kenji fields a question from Christian Hiller, who's looking for some advice about competing on the Swedish version of MasterChef. Stella, on the other hand, comes on to talk pie dough, just in time for Thanksgiving, the biggest pie day of all.

Chris and Ivan on Japanese food, Kenji on cooking competitions, and Stella on pie dough? It just might be a perfect Special Sauce episode.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/11/special-sauce-kenji-on-competitive-cooking-ivan-orkin-and-chris-ying-on-being-gaijin.html

Nov 7, 2019

Sometimes, my Special Sauce interviews are the best way to catch up with old friends and colleagues. I was reminded of that when Chris Ying and Ivan Orkin, co-authors of The Gaijin Cookbook: Japanese Recipes from a Chef, Father, Eater, and Lifelong Outsider, walked into the studio.

The first thing you have to know about Ivan and Chris is that they are great company. The second is that, since they've worked together for long enough that they've established an easy rapport, one that comes through in every one of their exchanges. Consider this snippet of our conversation, when we on what role cleaning plays in becoming a chef or cook in a restaurant.

Ivan: I was a dishwasher.

Chris: As all good cooks should start.

Ivan: I agree. If you don't know how to clean, then you can't cook.

Chris: If you don't love cleaning...

Ivan: I have to say, that as I become a better cook I've learned to actually love cleaning. I mean, when I cook, man, you should see it. I mean it is sparkly...When I talk to a young cook it's always, "Look, I promise you, when you hit that point when you can have your station be clean, you'll know that you're a good cook, because what happens is if your station is messy you can't see what you're doing and you lose track." When I was leading the kitchen, I'd say, "Everybody stop. Nobody cooks. We clean now for five minutes. Everybody straightens, refills, get it all together. Everything gets wiped down. Wash your hands. Everything gets set.

It's in moments like this one where you can see why both Ivan Ramen: Love, Obsession, and Recipes from Tokyo's Most Unlikely Noodle Joint and Gaijin Cookbook are compelling reads, even as they are also wonderful cookbooks.

I want to note, too, that this episode also features advice from both J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, who answers a pressing culinary question about what it means to marinate something "overnight," which was submitted to the digital mailbag by Camille Germany. And then, with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I thought it would be fun to check in with Daniel Gritzer about the art and science of gravy.

To hear how you can get your gravy right this year, how long you should really be marinating meat, and the first part of my conversation with Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying, you're going to have to give this episode a listen. It will be time well spent, I can promise you that.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/11/special-sauce-ivan-orkin-and-chris-ying-on-the-gaijin-cookbook.html

Oct 31, 2019

On Special Sauce this week, I had the pleasure of continuing my deep dive into the history of fast food with Adam Chandler, the author of Drive-Thru Dreams. But before I tell you more about that conversation, we kicked off this episode, as we always do, with another round of "Ask Kenji."

Serious eater Nick Bastow asks Kenji why minced meat has to be cooked before it's added to a sauce, such as a Bolognese or chili. Kenji explains that it's not just about rendering excess fat but also about creating the right texture- which will be different if you're making, for example, his chili sauce for burgers and hot dogs rather than the other recipes named above: "In that recipe, what we actually do is, we take the meat, we don't brown it at all, we add our liquid to it, and we kind of break the meat up in the liquid. And the texture you get from that is completely, completely different.... Like a very chunky paste. So, rather than a chili texture, where you have big chunks of meat that are kind of bound in the sauce, you end up with a much looser- I don't know how to describe it without being completely unappetizing, but it's like a sludge." Though a delicious sludge, to be sure.

And, er, speaking of meat in unusual surroundings, Adam Chandler tells a great story about the real-life Colonel Harland Sanders, who sold fried chicken from a gas station in southeastern Kentucky for 20 years before "KFC" ever became a household name. Apparently, Sanders wasn't necessarily the courtly Southern gentleman the company portrays him as; according to Chandler, "He actually got into a feud over roadway traffic being diverted from a [gas] station and shot a guy." The story, which didn't make it into Chandler's book, just gets stranger from there.

Beyond telling the fascinating origin tales of Sanders and many other fast food chain founders, Chandler's terrific read also connects the evolution of fast food to the overall history of American culture in the 20th century, starting with the spread of motor vehicles and the increased mobility that that afforded some Americans. "[They wanted] food that was quick and easy, to go, which relates to the White Castle phenomenon in the '20s. This is 100 years ago. And wanting familiar experiences, wanting something that seemed safe. We didn't trust meat. We'd all read The Jungle and were afraid of ground beef. And so to have a restaurant, and eventually a chain, produce the exact same experiences over and over again, in stores that look the exact same, was comforting. And now, that could not be less comforting at all. We want personalized- it sounds dystopian to go into a place and say, 'I'm going to have the exact same experience wherever I go. It's going to look the same.' But a hundred years ago, that was a huge relief."

Finally, Stella Parks, the bravest Serious Eater among us, gives us step-by-step instructions for making one of her greatest discoveries, toasted sugar; a kind of dry caramel that's made simply by heating ordinary white sugar in a low oven for several hours. The result is a less sweet form of sugar that can be swapped out for regular white sugar in any dessert. "It's a great way to reduce sweetness and add complexity to your favorite recipes," Stella says.

How often do you get to listen to Kenji wax rhapsodic on browning meat, hear about the wild exploits of Colonel Sanders, and be schooled by BraveTart on the joys of toasted sugar, all in one terrific Special Sauce episode?

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/11/special-sauce-adam-chandler-part-2.html

 

Oct 24, 2019

This week's Special Sauce episode kicks off with Serious Eater Marc Lampert asking Kenji about the process of cooking with ingredients packed with umami. "Does umami cook out like an acid would?" Marc asked. Here's part of Kenji's response: "A general rule of thumb for cooking is if you can smell it that means that its concentration in the pot is going down...So if you are cooking a stew and it smells like there's this wonderful red wine aroma that means that the more you smell red wine in your house, the less is left in the stew. There's a finite bucket of it, and if it's in your house then it's not in your pot."

With Marc's question squared away, the episode moves on to my far-reaching conversation about fast food with former Atlantic staff writer Adam Chandler, the author of Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America's Fast-Food Kingdom. He described to me the high school fast food ritual that started his journey: "On weekend nights, we would all pile into our cars and go to Whataburger. It was the last thing we did before we rushed across Houston to go home for our curfews. And that was our sacred ritual. I have the fondest memories of sitting down, and having breakfast with my friends right before we all went to bed...They have something called a breakfast taquito, which is eggs, a tortilla, hash browns, and American cheese...It's my deep-fried madeleine right there. It's just perfect."

I asked Adam why that taquito was perfect, and he said, "It was a comfort food for me. I think that was all I really considered it to be as something that even the adult menus at fast food restaurants kind of feel like a kid's menu. There's something about eating something with your hands, and taking it out of paper wrapping that feels kind of like a celebratory innocent thing...There was no formality required."

Adam and his wife even celebrate Valentine's Day with fast food. "We have a ritual for the last four years. We've gone to White Castle on Valentine's Day, so I have to do a special shout out for that because I don't know if you know this, at White Castle, they do table service every Valentine's Day. They have a red tablecloth."

Finally, the episode moves on to Daniel Gritzer, who talked about his favorite ways to cook a steak, which includes a technique that many cooks have been told is verboten. He said he does use a smoking hot pan, but then he busted a myth about flipping your steak just once while cooking.

To hear the rest of Kenji's explanation of how to use flavor agents, lots more fast food wisdom from Adam Chandler, and Daniel's steak-cooking tips, you'll just have to listen to the whole episode.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/10/special-sauce-kenji-on-cooking-with-fish-sauce-and-adam-chandler-on-fast-food.html

Oct 17, 2019

This week's episode of Special Sauce kicks off with our new culinary Q&A segment, "Ask Kenji." At the behest of listener Dave Shorr, Kenji lays down the law on the best way to freeze chicken. It’s a simple process that includes placing chicken pieces into a zipper-lock bag and pouring in a saltwater brine. Tune in to learn more about why- and be sure to read up on the benefits of freezing flat.

Next, Little Tong Noodle Shop owner Simone Tong explains how she came to open a restaurant serving mixian. These rice noodles, which are typically served in a brothy sauce with an array of toppings, hail from China’s Yunnan Province, and were largely unfamiliar to her customers. We both agreed that building a restaurant around a relatively unknown dish might not have been the wisest business decision, but she was undeterred. "I was naive and I was brave," she says. “I was like a New Yorker, confident."

Tong’s confidence and bravery were well rewarded. "Yeah, like you and many other food writers, supporters and foodies, they eat my food and they decided that they like it and they share the stories...and slowly, gradually people come. People come and I cook."

Finally, we listen to Serious Eats' very own pastry wizard Stella Parks as she tackles an at-home version of the famed (enormous) Levain chocolate chip cookie. “These cookies are no joke,” she says. “They came not to play, but to slay. You can kill a man with these cookies. Not that you should, but if you needed to, it would certainly get the job done.” You can watch the full video of her process and get the recipe for those cookies right here.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/preview?record=448957

Oct 10, 2019

This week's Special Sauce kicks off with our new culinary Q&A segment, "Ask Kenji." This time around, Kenji schools us and serious eater Paul Anderson on the differences between cornstarch and flour when used as thickeners. Among them: Unlike flour, "cornstarch tends to break down when you hold it hot," Kenji says. "So you've been to a Chinese buffet, and they have the pot of hot and sour soup that's been sitting there all day, that's usually thickened with cornstarch, and as it sits in that steam table over the day, it'll actually get thinner and thinner.... [it] breaks down over time. So, a sauce that you made [that] was nice and thick and glossy the day before, when you microwave it and reheat it the next day, it might end up really thin and watery." Keep that in mind next time you're wondering why your takeout leftovers don't hold up so well- and when you're making big batches of your own saucy dishes that you hope will last the weekend.

After that, we meet Little Tong Noodle Shop chef and restaurateur Simone Tong, who has made her Yunnan-style mixian noodles required eating (and ensured their place on our list of best NYC eats under $15. Tong tells us about her initial experiments in cooking, as a high school student in Melbourne, Australia. In Australia, she first discovered the joys of Vietnamese pho, and cherries: "I had cases and cases of cherries. I have this microwave, so I'm like, I want to make fried rice in the microwave with egg. And so I ate that for a week, and then during exam time...I decided to mix salad with Caesar salad dressing and soy sauce." Despite her adventurous tastes, there's one very basic ingredient that Tong still can't personally get behind&mdash;of course, you'll have to listen to the episode to learn what that is.

Finally, we check in on what's been happening in the kitchen lately at Serious Eats HQ, where Senior Culinary Editor Sasha Marx describes his process for making homemade trapizzini, a terrific Italian street food invented by Roman pizzaiolo Stefano Callegari. "It combines Roman pizza al taglio, which is our equivalent of pizza by the slice, and the tramezzino, which is a type of sandwich served in Italy that's made on white bread cut into triangles," Sasha explains. The result is a thick, puffy, beautifully golden focaccia-like bread, ready to be split open and filled with whatever strikes your fancy, from meatballs to stracciatella cheese to marinated artichokes. You can get the recipe and/or watch Sasha making this elevated take on a Pizza Pocket here.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/10/simone-tong-starches-trapizzini.html

Oct 3, 2019

For the first segment of this episode of Special Sauce 2.0, Kenji takes a question from serious eater Phil on how to make naan in a Big Green Egg. It starts with our grilled naan recipe and ends with a 60- to 90-second bake on a pizza stone.

Next, ice cream Jedi Master Nicholas Morgenstern, of Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream, talks about how he comes up with his notoriously inventive flavors, like Burnt Sage, Black Pepper Molasses, or the Banana Kalamansi ice cream he had me taste on mike.

His ice creams are excellent on their own, but Morgenstern also has a sundae bar in his shop. Why? "The ice cream sundae has come to represent the egalitarian indulgence that ice cream can be in this country...everyone can have an ice cream sundae,” he told me. “Ice cream is already strictly an indulgence, and you're taking it to another level by adding the things that if you were a child and could have whatever you wanted, you would have on there. It turns out everyone wants to have that." To prove his point, he also came to the studio with a seriously delicious chocolate peanut butter sundae he's named the Rosenthal, named after friend-of-Special-Sauce Phil Rosenthal, the host of "Somebody Please Feed Phil" on Netflix.

The final segment of the episode captures low-key rock-star Chicago chef Rick Bayless teaching me the secrets of making the perfect fresh ginger sparkling margarita. Bayless is a master storyteller and explainer, and he does it all without a script or a teleprompter- pretty darn impressive.

With these three great guests, it's an episode you won't want to miss.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/10/nick-morgenstern-kenji-rick-bayless.html

Sep 20, 2019

This week Serious Eaters get to see the all-new Special Sauce format we've cooked up for the new season. Every episode of Special Sauce 2.0 will start off with "Ask Kenji," a brief section in which <a href="https://www.seriouseats.com/editors/j-kenji-lopez-alt">J. Kenji Lopez-Alt</a> will answer a pressing question one of our readers has <a href="mailto:specialsauce@seriouseats.com">sent in</a>. We're going to do one of these every week, so keep those questions coming. This week the question comes from Tucker Colvin, who asks Kenji which outdoor pizza oven Kenji recommends.

After "Ask Kenji," each week we'll have on a guest, and this week that guest is ice cream wizard Nicholas Morgenstern, whose eponymous ice cream shop in New York's Greenwich Village offers 88 flavors. As my friend Brian Koppelman said on his podcast, "The Moment," Morgenstern is Willy Wonka of ice cream. He also happens to be an extremely thoughtful person; for example, when I asked him why he chose to devote his life to ice cream, he replied, "The product itself is a terrific vehicle for expression for me...It's become more and more interesting to me to think about it as a cultural reference point, especially in America, and what it means to Americans, and why it's so important."

Finally, at the end of every episode, we'll check in with the test kitchen crew at Serious Eats World HQ. This week, <a href="https://www.seriouseats.com/editors/daniel-gritzer">Daniel Gritzer</a> gives us his definitive take on the pros and cons of <a href="https://www.seriouseats.com/2014/09/why-you-should-refrigerate-tomatoes.html">refrigerating tomatoes</a>.

So do give Special Sauce 2.0 a listen. I hope you, like me, think it's snappy, informative, and surprising.

 

https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/09/introducing-special-sauce-2-point-0.html

Sep 20, 2019

Part two of my at times emotionally overwhelming interview with Tom Roston, author of The Most Spectacular Restaurant in the World: The Twin Towers, Windows on the World, and the Rebirth of New York, focused on the employees of Windows on the World who were in the North Tower's iconic restaurant on September 11, 2001, all of whom tragically died that day.

According to Roston, "there were immigrants from, I think it was over 25 nations.... People from Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria, Ecuador, Peru, and Mexico." For many of these employees, getting a job at the prestigious institution was a watershed moment in their lives. "It was like, basically, you made it. This is going to be your ticket to whatever it was, or maybe this is just the answer and you don't need to fight anymore, and then it was gone."

As Roston and I discussed, those employees who weren't in the restaurant that morning didn't escape completely unscathed, and each was profoundly impacted in their own way. These survivors ranged from servers to a sous chef to the executive chef, Michael Lomonaco, who happened to be in an appointment in the retail concourse of the building at the time of the attack and struggled with tremendous survivor's guilt afterward. Apart from those who lost their lives, Roston said, "think about all these restaurant workers who were so irrevocably affected by this event...and they walk amongst us. There was no victim compensation fund for these people. They live with it. They live with it every day, the fact that their best friend died and they didn't die."

In a way, the effect of 9/11 on the Windows staff was a microcosm of its effect on all of New York. "There are different layers of victim. The victim spectrum is very long and wide, and everyone felt it," Roston said. "I think it's interesting to think...about the city of New York, and how it was a victim."

Asked if a place with the spirit of Windows on the World could ever exist in New York again, Roston stressed the restaurant's connection to a different time in the city's history. "There was a romanticism back then, in the '70s, and there was a belief in certain things. Now, we're much more sporadic. It's about whether or not you can put it on Instagram, and attention spans are so fast and quick, but for me, I can see it all over the city, really. Not all of the city, but there are a lot of places where you can feel the spectacular spirit of the city."

Our conversation was both wrenching and edifying, just like Roston's book. This episode of Special Sauce is not an easy listen, but it is an essential one.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/09/special-sauce-tom-roston-part-2.html

Sep 13, 2019

No matter where you were when the two planes hit the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, you were profoundly affected by the events of that day. And if you, like me, were at all involved in the food culture at that moment, your thoughts quickly turned to Windows on the World, the glitzy restaurant on the 107th floor of the North Tower, where visitors could enjoy unparalleled views while sipping $5 drinks (at the adjoining Greatest Bar on Earth) or dropping serious coin for a celebratory dinner. One hundred seventy employees and patrons of the restaurant died that day.

Author Tom Roston, this week's Special Sauce guest, has written The Most Spectacular Restaurant in the World: The Twin Towers, Windows on the World, and the Rebirth of New York, a compelling and doggedly reported book that details the history of both Windows on the World and the Twin Towers, from their inception to their demise. As Roston says, "It's no coincidence that the book is coming out in September, right around 9/11, because it's when we are all forced to remember. Even though we are all thinking about it. I think so many of us always have it in the back of our minds.... I didn't lose anyone, but as a New Yorker, my city suffered. It just makes sense when you're...putting a book out, let's do it when this is part of the conversation. And I want the life of this restaurant to be a part of the conversation about 9/11, because it's not just about the tragedy."

Roston was particularly drawn to the poignant stories of the many immigrants from all over the world who worked at Windows on the World. "...There are these stories that have gone untold. We experienced 9/11, we think of this smoke, we think of these awful things, potentially. Or people go to the memorial, and they commemorate what happened. But it was interesting to me as a storyteller to say, 'Well, what about all these stories that haven't been told?' And it turned out they were these incredible stories, like from September 10th. This range of experience of life that happened in the restaurant that, of course, is heavy with meaning and profundity when you consider what happened the next day."

These next two Special Sauce episodes with Roston moved me to tears, and I imagine they will move many other serious eaters in the same way.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/09/special-sauce-tom-roston-part-1.html

Aug 29, 2019

In part two of my thought-provoking interview with San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Soleil Ho, we dove right into how she thinks about restaurant criticism.

Soleil explained, "I like to think of restaurants as texts in the same way that you read a book and then you extrapolate upon who wrote the book, when did they write it, why did they write it, what did the audience think at the time? What does it say about society at the time? What kind of snapshot is it? You're really reading it for meaning, and I think restaurants, you can take the same way."

When she took the Chronicle job, Soleil announced that she was banning certain words from her reviews, including a widely used adjective like “ethnic.” “When you say ethnic restaurants, I would beg you, not you Ed, but people who are listening, to think about what kinds of restaurants you're including under that umbrella. Are only some restaurants under that umbrella or all restaurants, because don't we all have ethnicity?"

Soleil takes her responsibilities seriously. Very seriously. She was recently quoted as asking, ”What if I screw up and no one ever hires a queer woman of color for a role like this again?"

I asked her to expand on that worry. "I get...a lot of messages from young people, younger than me, who are coming up or who are just reading my work and find me inspiring. And so I take that to heart as something that tells me to tread lightly, to be honest with who I am, but to also make sure that the door is open even wider for them.”

To find out what other words and phrases Soleil refuses to use in her reviews, and why she gave a lukewarm review to the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley, you're just going to have to listen. It’ll be well worth your time to do so.

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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/08/special-sauce-soleil-ho-on-representation-in-food-media.html

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