Special Sauce has obviously changed a lot with the advent of the pandemic. But before we changed the format a couple of months ago to adapt to the times, we'd already recorded a couple of great interviews.
One of them was with my old friend, cookbook writer and food stylist extraordinaire Susan Spungen. Susan's new book, Open Kitchen: Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings, came out 17 days before New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued his stay-at-home order. Susan's bag was already packed for a national book tour, but obviously that tour never happened.
With the country slowly opening back up for small gatherings, I thought it would be a great time to check back in with Susan. I figured she might have some interesting things to say about what a properly socially distanced gathering would look like and what we would eat there. As she says, we've arrived at a moment when "people are craving togetherness and they like to eat together and be together." We should note that Susan's comments and mine are impressionistic and most assuredly not prescriptive. People should consult trusted sources like the CDC to find out how they can gather and eat.
We also went back in and edited some of her original interview into this episode. With so many people out of a job today wondering about what the future holds for them work-wise, I found it comforting to hear about Susan Spungen's circuitous career path. She went from dropping out of art school to making omelets to order at a hotel buffet to working side by side with Martha Stewart for ten years. I hope Serious Eaters will find it comforting as well.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats:
On this week's Special Sauce, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, who's been used to eating out six nights a week, tells us about cooking lunch and dinner for his two teenaged sons now that he's home every day. Pete explains that he's really enjoyed returning to the kitchen every day; he notes that he originally got into food writing because he loved to cook.
I asked him if his sons appreciate his culinary efforts? "At least they're not complaining," Pete says, which is about the best you can hope for with teenagers. But you'll also want to tune into the episode to hear Pete's thoughts about how the role of the restaurant critic will need to adapt to the restaurant landscape, which, as everyone knows, has been overturned by the coronavirus pandemic.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats:
What does a restaurant critic do when there are no restaurants to review? The San Francisco Chronicle's Soleil Ho has shifted to primarily covering how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the restaurant industry in the Bay Area, while also writing profiles of people like the Indonesian artist known as Nao, who publishes drawings of toast that, according to Soleil, "have garnered her a legion of followers who swoon at the accuracy of her char marks, the glorious shimmer of her half-melted butter and the detailed brush strokes in her crusts."
And this week's Special Sauce guest, Pete Wells of the New York Times has similarly broadened the scope of his work. He recently wrote a terrific piece with Jennifer Steinhauer about the ripple effects of restaurant closures, particularly in areas where restaurant booms have helped sustain local economies. The story really struck a chord with me, so I decided to ring Pete up and find out more about what he's been up to for the last two months.
Our thought-provoking, far-reaching conversation covered so many bases that we've split it into two episodes. The first one covers how the restaurant industry has shifted, and how those changes have affected cities throughout the U.S.; in part two, which we’ll publish next week, you’ll hear more about how his job and life as a whole has changed.
And, again, if you care about the fate of restaurants as much as Pete and I do, please go to saverestaurants.com to find out what you can do. Or donate what you can to Jose Andres's organization, World Central Kitchen. Through its Chefs for America initiative, it has served over seven million meals to people in need during the pandemic and has activated many restaurant kitchens in the process.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats:
According to Ezekiel Vázquez-Ger, my guest on this week's Special Sauce, everything was going swimmingly at his new Washington, DC, restaurant, Seven Reasons. The place was packed almost from the minute it opened its doors in April of 2019. A rave review followed in The Washington Post in October, and then, a month later, Esquire named it America's Best New Restaurant of the year. It even survived a fire that started at the bar next door.
It was all good, until it wasn't. The coronavirus pandemic hit, and Ezekiel had to close his doors in March and lay off all of his employees. But, as you'll hear Ezekiel describe, he and his chef and co-owner, Enrique Limardo, along with their employees, banded together in creative ways in order to survive.
The Seven Reasons story is hardly unique. The pandemic is forcing independent restaurant owners and all the people that make up those restaurants' supply chain to tap their creativity to reimagine their businesses in ways that go way beyond take-out and delivery.
The outcome for these endeavors is uncertain, but if you care about the vibrant food culture we've created in this country, you can't help but root for all of these folks to succeed. We need as many of these people to make it to the other side as possible.
Once you hear Ezekiel tell his story, I'm sure you'll want to do something about the situation he and the hundreds of thousands of small food business owners, and their millions of employees, find themselves in. I urge you to visit the website for the Independent Restaurant Coalition to find out what you can do to help.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats:
In 2010, Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin founded Ovenly, which they originally envisioned as a bar-snack business, providing bars with better alternatives to beer nuts and potato chips. Over the course of ten years, Ovenly transformed into a combination wholesale/retail bakery, with four retail locations and a healthy wholesale business selling to coffee bars and upscale grocers. By March of 2020 it had grown into a business with more than fifty employees and a new, about-to-open location at Kennedy Airport.
Then, when the pandemic struck, it had to close up shop both as a baked goods retailer and as a wholesaler. And in what Agatha called the most heartbreaking decision she has had to make as a pro-socially-minded businesswoman (many of their employees were people who have faced high hurdles entering the workforce), Agatha and Erin had to lay off just about their entire staff. On this episode of Special Sauce, we get to hear the Ovenly story in Agatha's own words.
Once you hear Agatha tell her story I'm sure you'll want to do something about the situation she and the hundreds of thousands of small food-business owners, and their millions of employees, find themselves in. I urge you to visit the Independent Restaurant Coalition's website to find out what you can do.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats:
As part of our special Special Sauce series on the pandemic's effects on the various constituents of the food community, I reached out to Xi'an Famous Foods co-founder Jason Wang. Jason had told his remarkable story previously on Special Sauce, so I was confident that his experiences as a Chinese-American, his knowledge of financial matters, and his experience as a restaurateur serving his justifiably famous hand-pulled noodles would give him a unique vantage point on the pandemic.
As you'll hear, I was right on all counts. Jason shut down all Xi'an Famous Foods locations a few days before he was mandated to, and his previously healthy cash flow was reduced to zero immediately. And, unlike many of his colleagues, he isn't serving take-out or doing delivery in an attempt to survive. That doesn't mean he's short on ideas about how to create a sustainable business model in the future. But you'll have to listen to the episode to hear about why he's not doing take-out and what his ideas for the future are.
His take on the situation he and his fellow independent restaurateurs are facing is a must-listen for anyone interested in the future of restaurants like Xi'an Famous Foods.
I feel compelled once again to underline the perilous plight of independent restaurants during the pandemic. If you want to make your voice heard on this issue, please contact your representatives in Congress. And, if you can afford to, give what you can to one of the many terrific organizations that have been formed to support the millions of restaurant workers that have already lost their jobs, like Jose Andres's World Central Kitchen.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats:
As we all try to deal with the crisis confronting us, I thought we'd follow up on the Special Sauce episodes that focused on Kenji's stories with other voices from the food and beverage industry. In the coming weeks you're going to hear the stories of farmers, bakers, cheesemakers, bartenders, servers, chefs, and anyone else in our food supply chain that should be heard from in these troubled times.
This week, food activist, chef-restaurateur, and Top Chef co-host Tom Colicchio gives us the lowdown on the goals of the newly formed The Independent Restaurant Coalition, an organization formed on the spot to lobby Congress to do right by the more than 500,000 independent restaurants that employ nearly 11 million people—a big part of the nearly $1 trillion dollar hospitality business. Tom knows his way around food policy—he has been working on the issue of food insecurity in this country for years, as when he worked on the terrific documentary, A Place at the Table, which was produced and directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, a talented filmmaker who happens to also be Tom's wife—and so he is really wise in the ways of DC policy making. Tom is talking about really important stuff here, so please do give this and the future episodes of Special Sauce a serious listen.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats:
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.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats:
<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.
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.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/preview?record=452053
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.
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
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.
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
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—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.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/preview?record=451403
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.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/preview?record=451351
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/preview?record=450340
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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?
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
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.
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
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.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/preview?record=448957
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—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.
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
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.
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
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:firstname.lastname@example.org">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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
Like a great deal of food media in America, the world of restaurant criticism has a long history of hiring white writers and closing its doors to people of color. So it was exciting to see the San Francisco Chronicle break the mold last year when it hired Vietnamese-American food writer and co-host of The Racist Sandwich podcast, Soleil Ho, to be its lead restaurant critic. If that wasn't cool enough, Soleil also happens to be a fellow graduate of Grinnell College, the small progressive liberal arts college in Iowa that I attended a mere 40 years before she did. For all those reasons and more, I had to have Soleil on Special Sauce.
At Grinnell, Soleil remembers "having to petition dining services to leave soy sauce out for breakfast, and they didn't understand why we needed it. And I had to make my case like, ‘No, soy sauce and eggs is a thing that people eat.’” Vocal as she was about food, though, she didn’t start out wanting to be a food writer. "When I entered college, I wanted to get into physics. I was really into quantum physics and was reading the History of Time and all of these other books,” she recalls. But cooking always had an undeniable allure. "Oh, I used to be so into Iron Chef when I was a kid. I loved the bravado of it, of peeling eels alive and all of that stuff. And that's what really attracted me to that.”
Learning to cook came later, initially from reading, watching TV, and dining out, and eventually from working in Portland as a line cook. It was during her line cook days that she started her groundbreaking podcast, The Racist Sandwich, with Zahir Janmohamed. "We wanted the show to be a reliable place within food media for people to find these stories that seems like they only ran on special occasions. You know, like you'd only read black stories in February during Black History Month, or you'd only read LGBTQ stories during June, Pride Month, those sorts of things. And we wanted to cover that stuff all the time and not feel like those stories were an exception or tokens or anything like that."
We covered so many interesting topics during the first half of our conversation we never even got to her San Francisco Chronicle gig. For that, you'll have to wait until next week. In the meantime, you can check out her bylines for the newspaper right here.
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-her-journey-from-quantum-physics-to-racist-sandwich.html
In part two of Ed Levine's conversation with Max Falkowitz and Matt Rodbard, the three discuss how Falkowitz and Rodbard got started in food media and how their careers evolved.
Falkowitz begins by underlining how intimidating it was when he first started working at Serious Eats. "I can't really describe the terror upon walking into the office," he says- though, he observes, that fear was tempered by the frenetic publication schedule, which was both liberating and educational. "It was a great trial by fire," Falkowitz says. "There was no time to second-guess yourself, and there was no time to dawdle with irrelevancies that weren't going to move the next story forward."
Rodbard notes that the early days of his food-media career, around 2006, were an incredibly exciting time to be working in the industry. "It was a great moment for me to cover New York at a time when celebrity chefs were starting to really become a thing," he recalls. "It was captivating to me to cover this burgeoning celebrity-chef world."
The two then describe how they eventually ended up where they are now: Rodbard is the editor-in-chief of Taste, an online magazine, and Falkowitz is a freelance writer, consultant, and host for Taste's podcast.
Ed asks the two of them to expound upon the current state of food media, and what they think has changed. "I think it's a more diverse world," Rodbard says, echoing a point Falkowitz made in part one of their interview. "I think editors and editorial directors and bosses are making a really clear and conscious effort to diversify their staff, diversify their freelancers."
The three of them discuss far more about the future of food media than can be captured in this brief blurb. To hear everything they have to say, you're just going to have to listen to the episode.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/08/special-sauce-ed-levine-matt-rodbard-max-falkowitz-2.html
In the next two episodes of Special Sauce, we take a deep dive into the challenges and triumphs of building a career in food media. I invited former Serious Eats editor/current contributor Max Falkowitz, and founding TASTE editor Matt Rodbard to share their perspectives. As two people who have co-written cookbooks with chefs, been on staff as editors and writers at food publications, and freelanced extensively, I thought they’d offer unique insights into what it takes to become food writer. And sure enough, they had no shortage of thoughts to share.
Max started us off with a hilarious tale about life at the Falkowitz family table: "So my dream story is to write one of those really tender, loving, emotional pieces about my dad's pasta sauce, which he spends all day making. He has these giant cauldrons that his aunt used to only used to boil gefilte fish in and they're probably 30 gallon cauldrons. He chops up all of his olives and he browns his ground beef and he gets special types of tomatoes and he spends all day making the sauce. He invites his old college buddies to have the sauce. It's a whole thing, and the sauce is terrible...It's so bad. It tastes like canned olive juice...which is effectively what it is. Both of my parents are wonderful cooks, and they were for the most part raising me as independent single parents and did a fantastic job and gave me a life long love of food, but they have their missteps and one of them is the sauce."
Matt's advice for aspiring food writers is quite simple: "Write all the time. It's like a muscle. It's like riding a bike. I mean, it's cliché, but it's true. You have to stay in shape. I think that's why I said the Yelp review was such a good thing to start with, because I was Yelping literally every meal I had and I think often with Twitter and with Social, people assume that's writing, but it's not writing. That isn't writing. That's something else."
Max added this bit of pointed counsel: “Give a fuck. There's so much writing that feels totally dispassionate and procedural. If you're not doing this because you love it, you're not going to get paid doing this."
Anyone who has contemplated pursuing this fulfilling but challenging career path should give these next two episodes a listen.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/08/special-sauce-matt-rodbard-and-max-falkowitz-on-becoming-food-writers.html
In part two of Ed Levine's conversation with Lazarus Lynch, who goes by more titles than any 25-year-old has any reasonable expectation to have (cookbook author, performer, singer...the list is incredible!), they delve into how Lynch decided he wanted to write his book, Son of a Southern Chef: Cook with Soul.
Lynch tells Ed that he came up with the title in his junior year in college, long before he even thought about what the book would contain, during a meeting in which a campus advisor asked him to think about his dream profession. "And I remember I kept bringing up my dad," Lynch says, "and I...went to my room that evening and woke up the next day with 'Son of a Southern Chef' sort of on the tip of my tongue."
And while Lynch adopted the phrase for his overall brand, producing a cookbook was just a natural extension of the many projects he'd already undertaken. But the process of writing the book was a bit mystifying, particularly since he didn't see any other book like it on the market- one written by someone who was in their early 20s and, as Lynch says, "who just came out of college, who's a part of the LGBTQ family, and who's talking about soul food." Add to that the skepticism he initially faced from publishers, many of whom rejected the book pitch out of hand. "We sent it out to about ten different publishers," Lynch says, "and...everyone was like, 'No, no, no.'"
Eventually, he found a publisher, and had to navigate the process of getting the book written and edited, but to hear more about what that was like, and how the book changed over the course of its writing, you're just going to have to tune in.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/08/special-sauce-lazarus-lynch-2-2.html
Singer, author (Son of a Southern Chef), and food personality Lazarus Lynch is not your typical cookbook writer or social media star. As an openly gay young Black man, Lynch is blazing his own trail in the food and media worlds, so I couldn't pass up the chance to talk to him for Special Sauce.
Lynch started his food TV career in college, where he enlisted friends to hold cameras and other equipment for his cooking show in exchange for free food. "We put it on YouTube. I didn't think anyone was going to watch it. And suddenly people on campus started to notice it, pay attention to it, and then [online food video network] Tastemade came calling." The next thing Lynch knew, Tastemade was flying him out regularly to LA to shoot his show.
Who inspired him to pursue a career in cooking on camera? "In the early days of watching Food Network, I would come home [from school] and turn on the Food Network- it was everyone. It was Bobby Flay, it was Emeril Lagasse, I mean, it was Ina Garten. It was all of the ones that we see, or that we know to be sort of the Food Network people. And that was my education, really.... I didn't know about the powerful women in soul food, like Edna Lewis or Leah Chase. I didn't know. I didn't know that they existed until much, much later."
Lynch came out to his parents in college. His father was immediately accepting, but his mother, a product of a strict Catholic upbringing, found his sexuality challenging. It took three conversations over the course of five years for her to come around. He told her, "I think that part of my purpose in your life is to help you evolve in accepting people of all different places, and whoever they are. That's part of what I'm here- to grace you in that process of learning and knowing. And you're here to support me in being my best full self. So, we had a very compassionate, loving conversation the last time we talked about it."
Despite the difficulty of those talks, the payoff for Lynch in increased self-confidence was huge. "It's been so freeing to be okay with who I am and where I am, and, you know, I think the best reward is not just living a happy life but also to know that there are other young people who are looking at me and who are being inspired, whether it's with their sexuality, or 'I need to change this.... My parents are forcing me to study something I really don't want to study,' which was very common when I was in school. Whatever that might be, but to follow your own heart and follow your truth."
I found Lynch's story and path fascinating and inspiring, and I think serious eaters everywhere will, too. And that's even before we get into a discussion of his cookbook and shows, which we'll do in next week's episode.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/07/special-sauce-lazarus-lynch-part-1.html
In part 2 of my extraordinary chat with chef-restaurateur-activist Alvin Cailan, we delved deeply into his socio-political motivations, but we still managed to fit in some laughs.
Cailan says he's always been motivated to confound the pessimism he frequently encountered growing up, akin to what former President George W. Bush described as "the soft bigotry of low expectations."
"I grew up in the early 1990s in the rebellious era of gangster rap and...the rise of the immigrant voice," Cailan tells me, and that spirit helped him push back against the people in his hometown of Pico Rivera in California, who would tell him his ambitions were fantasies. "Everyone tells you, 'Oh, you can't do that.' 'Don't even think about going to UCLA or USC.' My whole entire life I've always been fighting for,'I can do it, too.'"
That can-do attitude basically led to the creation of the popular web series he hosts on First We Feast, The Burger Show. After convincing the producers of the FOX cartoon Bob's Burgers to allow him to run a pop-up that offered burgers featured on the show ("I had seven days, seven chefs, seven pun burgers and we did out of my incubator in Las Angeles."), Cailan became known for his burgers. Or, as he puts it, "I became the burger dude. People started asking me to go on their shows, their podcast, whatever. Finally, [the producer] Justin Bolois...asked me if I can host this show he's working on." And he couldn't pass it up. "I love burgers," Cailan says. "I never really intended to be a TV or personality."
The Usual, one of Cailan's restaurants in New York City, has an unusual sandwich board sign in front: "American comfort food cooked by children of immigrants." I ask him what the story is about that. "I want people to know, when they're coming here, they're going to have food cooked by people of color and it's American comfort food, but influenced by our ethnicity and our culture...It's American food in 2019."
I also get Cailan to explain to me why you can't order one of his signature sandwiches at The Usual, but to find out what sandwich that is and why he can't give it to you, you're just going to have to listen to find out.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/07/special-sauce-alvin-cailan-2-2.html
Every now and then on Special Sauce, I just hit it off with a guest, feeling immediately as if I've known them all my life. That's what happened when I talked with Eggslut founder, chef-restaurateur, and ruckus-causer Alvin Cailan.
Cailan, who grew up in an LA suburb, got his first kitchen job while still in his teen years, washing dishes at a retreat house run by the Catholic Church. His very religious mother thought it would keep her wayward son out of trouble, and it worked- sort of. "[I was] in my car on my breaks...getting stoned, and the next thing you know, a nun would knock on your window and was like, 'Hey!' And I'm like, 'Oh, my God'.... And so I slowly started to change, because their way of fixing that was giving me more responsibility.... At first, I was hired as a dishwasher, and the next thing you know, I'm the janitor. Next thing you know, I'm the prep cook, and the next thing you know, I'm on the line cooking food."
After college, Cailan went into construction management, but his heart remained in cooking, big time. "It was very tough, because every day I would look up recipes, and then every Friday, when I'd get my check...I would go to the gourmet grocery store, I would go to Costco. I would break down whole tenderloins, and I would buy pork butts, and I would smoke them all weekend, and that was the thing I wanted to do. I was like, this is what I'm supposed to do. And one day, after wrapping up an invoice for $40,000 for a reconstruction of a bathroom, I think that was probably the line in the sand. I was like, I've got to do something different."
Cailan moved to Portland, Oregon, where he worked in fine-dining kitchens and learned how to make charcuterie at Olympia Provisions. But, impatient to start his own project, he saved up some money and started Eggslut in 2010, serving a variety of gourmet egg sandwiches from a food truck. "I was approaching 30 years old, and I was like, man, I really need to step up my culinary game.... I wasn't really getting the opportunity to get the big-salary positions in these [fine-dining] restaurants, and so I was like, you know what? I'm going to take it up into my own hands."
When Cailan first started Eggslut, he had enough money to keep it going for just six months- which meant he had six months to "cause some type of ruckus," as he puts it, and get his business noticed. "[My generation] is like the gangster rap/punk rock era of chefs, where, in 2010, 2011, there were so many celebrity chefs. I mean, there was—like, every single person was getting a show on the Food Network. They were either going on Cutthroat Kitchen, or they're going on Chopped, or Top Chef, and they were becoming these mega-superstars, but then these dudes that are, like, line cooks that are hard-working, who've been doing it for years, were not getting any visibility whatsoever."
Cailan then moved back to Los Angeles and started another Eggslut food truck. There, a food critic forever altered the course of his career after trying his signature dish- the "Slut," a coddled egg set on what Cailan calls "[Joël] Robuchon buttery potatoes." Which food critic was it? All I'll say is that it's not who you'd think. Just listen to this week's episode of Special Sauce to find out.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/07/special-sauce-alvin-cailan-part-1.html
Welcome back for the second part of Special Sauce with Ed Levine, featuring Ed Levine!
This week we pick up where we left off, with Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group and Ed's longtime friend, serving as a special guest host, asking Ed about many of the events that are described in his memoir, Serious Eater: A Food Lover's Perilous Quest for Pizza and Redemption, which has been named one of the best cooking, food, and wine books of 2019 so far by Amazon.
Meyer and Ed begin with talking about how Ed decided to start a food blog, in 2005. Ed had gone to business school, had published two books about the best food to eat in New York (New York Eats and New York Eats (More)), and was writing regularly for The New York Times and Gourmet but the idea to start up Serious Eats only occurred to him after a deal to set up a food channel with MTV fell through.
As part of research for the project, Ed discovered food blogs, and he became enamored by the freedom the medium offered. As he says about blogging to Meyer, "It was an emancipation proclamation. You, in one fell swoop, you got rid of every gatekeeper in your life." Ed had the freedom to pitch himself on any and every idea that he came up with, and he would of course, get immediate approval. And thus, Ed Levine Eats was born.
Ed confesses that he didn't have much of a plan beyond doing what he loved. He didn't have much of an editorial strategy- "I convinced myself that I could make a business out of it," Ed says, "by aggregating a bunch of other bloggers."- and he just assumed that he'd easily be able to raise money to fund what would become Serious Eats. "I just had no idea what I was doing," Ed tells Meyer. "I had no idea how hard it was going to be. I had no idea how difficult it was to raise money."
And that, really, is the untold story of Serious Eats: Ed struggling to make his dream job a reality. Ed established Serious Eats, bought up a couple other blogs (A Hamburger Today and Slice, both founded by Adam Kuban), and hired an extremely talented staff, including Kuban, Alaina Browne, and J. Kenji López-Alt, despite offering very little in the way of compensation, and started to rack up page views, and while the site seemed like it was riotously successful to readers, Ed was constantly- for almost a decade!- trying to round up enough money from investors to keep the whole thing afloat.
Meyer and Ed go over that harrowing history, but there are some other moments during their conversation that listeners should look out for. For example, Meyer describes the ethos of Serious Eats better than anyone, and in one succinct sentence, no less. Listeners will also discover exactly what an "Eddie dollar" is. And the whole conversation ends on a poignant note, with Ed describing how the site wouldn't have been possible without the most important person in his life.
To find out who that is, and to see what creating a successful food blog almost cost him, you're just going to have to listen. (Or, of course, you can buy a copy of Serious Eater for yourself!)
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/07/special-sauce-ed-levine-live-part-2.html
At the end of every week, Ed Levine- a.k.a. Serious Eats founder, a.k.a. Serious Eats overlord, a.k.a. "missionary of the delicious," a.k.a. Ed "The Good Ones Eat Through the Pain" Levine- hosts intimate conversations with food lovers of all kinds, diving deep into the ways in which eating and sharing meals has shaped his guests' lives.
For this and next week's episodes of Special Sauce, we turned the tables on Ed and had Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group and Ed's longtime friend, grill Ed in front of a live audience at Rizzoli Bookstore in Manhattan. The event was held in part to celebrate the release of Ed's memoir, Serious Eater: A Food Lover's Perilous Quest for Pizza and Redemption, named one of the best cooking, food, and wine books of 2019 so far by Amazon.
The evening started off with a bang, as Meyer admitted at the outset that he was going to be a combative interviewer. He noted that he'd been hankering for a chance to interrogate Ed about his business decisions, in much the same way Ed questioned the integrity of Meyer's business when he wondered, quite publicly, about Union Square Hospitality Group's inability to make good French fries. Or, as Ed so diplomatically put it at the time, "Why Do the French Fries at Blue Smoke Suck?"
Despite saying that he should "have his head examined" for helping Ed sell his book, Meyer did a fine job filling in for Ed, asking him all the questions that Special Sauce listeners have come to expect, such as "What was it like at the Levine family table?" Ed revealed that his grandmother's cooking was what sparked his intense love of food, and he identified the source of his missionary zeal as his parents, who originally met at a Communist Party meeting and bequeathed their passionate intensity, if not their politics, to all their children.
Part one of the conversation begins with Ed's childhood and ends with his college years, when he discovered a love for music that rivaled his love for food, even as he dabbled in a life of petty crime with an associate who will forever be known only as "Jerry Garcia."
To find out what that means, and to hear the origin story of the man who would go on to create Serious Eats, you're just going to have to listen to part one of this Special Sauce interview with Ed Levine. (Or, of course, you can buy a copy of Serious Eater for yourself!)
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/06/special-sauce-ed-levine-live-part-1.html
This week, in part two of my conversation with chef and food writer Nik Sharma, we dug into the science-based approach to cooking that informs his terrific new cookbook, Seasons: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food.
Given Nik’s background in medical research, it made sense to learn that he thinks of his kitchen as just another lab. All of us, he pointed out, experiment in one way or another in the kitchen, even if we’re just tweaking a family recipe. In his case, though, Nik explains that he “had that training to do that…one of the things I really like about recipes, [is that] the way they're written is exactly the way I would prepare my buffers in biochemistry or in genetics… We call them recipes, we pretty much use the terminology, everything is arranged by volume or when it has to go in.” He even admits to using lab notebooks when he’s developing a recipe. It’s that analytical approach that he says allows him to make each iteration of a recipe better.
That said, Nik shied away from making <em>Seasons</em> read overly scientific. Instead, “I kind of wanted to introduce myself to people,” he said. “At the same time, I wanted to be really approachable, so someone who is intimated by being too science-y kind of understands that the simplest things that they're doing in the kitchen actually have a scientific basis to them.” He talked about something as simple as bruising an herb like mint to extract essential oils and introduce them to a cocktail. “You know, you're breaking those cells to release those essential oils so then they get solubilized in whatever solvent they're in, so like water.”
The moral of Nik’s story? Even if science intimidates you, “what you're doing in the kitchen is a form of science,” and even when it goes awry, learning from your mistakes is half the fun. Nik believes, like Bob Dylan once sang, "There's no success like failure and failure's no success at all.” When it comes to cooking, he told me "I want people to understand that when you walk in to the kitchen, you don't have to be compelled to succeed the first time, I think that's something very cultural where there is this impetus to push people for success, but I think we forget sometimes that it's okay to fail because it's your failures that you remember, you'll never remember what you succeeded at or why, but it's when you fail you start to remember what was wrong, how can you fix it, and it makes you much wiser."
I loved hearing what everyone's eating on Nik Sharma Day, but if I told you what it is, you might not listen to the whole episode. And that, serious eaters, would be a big mistake.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/preview?record=445672
Cookbook author (Seasons: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food), blogger (A Brown Table), and newspaper columnist (A Brown Kitchen) Nik Sharma made the perfect Special Sauce guest. Why? He has a great, dramatic story, and he isn't afraid to tell it like it is (or was).
Sharma grew up in India, and as a man who recognized that he was gay at a young age, he had a tough childhood. "At least back then, it wasn't talked about. I'm talking about in the late '80s, early '90s, when I kind of realized something was different about me. It was difficult, because I had nothing to compare anything to. The only stuff that I heard about in terms of gay life was about Indians who were either getting arrested, or bodily harm, or even being killed. So for me, that was quite terrifying. As a child, then you start- you think there's something wrong with you."
Sharma resolved to leave India, initially coming to the US to study to become a medical researcher. But his interest in food eventually drove him to the blogosphere. "I'm really passionate about flavor," he told me. "I’m really curious to see how people in different parts of the world approach the same ingredient or the same technique. I find it fascinating, because a lot of it is also a reflection of society, the socioeconomics of a country.... I find that fascinating, and I wanted to reflect that in my work. I started reading a lot, and also cooking and experimenting with flavor. That's what I started to do with the blog and bring that in."
Though Sharma's blog brought him enormous pleasure and a devoted following, it also brought him lots of uninvited blowback about his sexuality and the color of his skin. He found himself at a crossroads. "I think one of the things people forget [is] that when you write or you do something and you put it out there, you're making yourself vulnerable.... Fortunately, I took a step back, just to reevaluate my decisions in life at that point, whether I really wanted to do a blog. I said, ‘Well, you know, this is something that I'm actually enjoying more than I was before. I would be a fool to give it away just because of the opinions of a few. Let me stick to it, do it in my best way that I possibly could.’ So if they had to critique me, they could critique me on the quality of my work, but not on anything else."
When reading Sharma's book, I came across a passage that I found particularly beautiful, one that summed up both his relationship with food and what he's learned from his chosen career thus far. I loved it so much that I asked him to read it on the air, and he graciously obliged:
"Mine is the story of a gay immigrant told through food. It has been a journey of self-discovery I embarked on more than a decade ago. One that taught me to recognize the inherent tension between originality and tradition, and to opt for the former without rejecting the latter. It's been a journey of acclimatization, adaptation, and acceptance. During times of discomfort, food became my friend and teacher. It taught me to reinterpret conventional techniques and flavors, and apply these reinterpretations to my food that would become a part of my new life in America. Seasoning is more than just a way to achieve flavor in the food we eat. It represents our desire to connect with our past, present, and future. It tells our story."
To hear more from this eloquent writer, you're just going to have to listen to the whole episode.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/06/special-sauce-nik-sharma-part-1.html
In part two of my delightful conversation with Priya Krishna, she delves into her book Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family in so many unexpected and revealing ways.
"Indian-ish" is not just the name of the book; it also describes her mindset and worldview. "For my whole life I always felt Indian and American but not quite fitting into either of those molds," Krishna says. "It was like I was too American to be Indian and too Indian to be American. But I think that as time has gone by I have found ways to really feel proud of that tension. You know, in my book I talk about how we wear our kurtas with jeans and we listen to Bollywood music alongside our top 40 hits and...these are all equally important parts of what we do. I love Indian food, but I also love Italian food and I don't think that those things need to feel mutually exclusive."
Krishna admits that she is no expert on Indian food. "I don't want to pretend to be an authority on Indian food because I'm not," she says. "I didn't want this book to be like, 'This is your guide to Indian food.' This is a guide to the food that I grew up eating."
Krishna is very comfortable being a missionary for Indian food we can make every day: "I feel like food media just, there is still this mentality that American cooking encompasses Western cuisines and everything else is the other. I still think Indian food is treated as this sort of strange esoteric thing and I really want to change that. I admire people who are doing that for other cuisines. I absolutely adore Andrea Nguyen, who just authored Vietnamese Food Any Day. I hope to do what she's doing for Vietnamese food for Indian food."
As an example, one of the things Krishna hopes to educate people about is the importance of chhonk, which Priya rhapsodizes about in the book. As she describes it, chhonk is "this this really fundamental technique in South Asian cooking and basically the idea is that you're heating up some kind of fat, whether that's tahini or oil, tossing in spices and/or herbs and basically crisping them in the oil. You pour it on top of a dish and it adds this unbelievable texture and extra layer of richness and complexity."
Of course, I asked Krishna what she plans on doing next. "There will always be some kind of collaboration with my mom and me," she says. "I think that the best recipe developers are people who kind of just have this intuition about cooking and I don't think I have that intuition. I think my strengths lie elsewhere. I'd love to develop more recipes, with my mom. My mom the other day told me, 'I think I have enough recipes for three cookbooks.' And I was like, 'Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Mom.'"
There's so much more in my conversation with Krishna that will resonate with Serious Eaters everywhere. But don't take my word for it, listen to the whole episode. I guarantee you won't be disappointed- not even a little bit disappointed-ish.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/06/special-sauce-priya-krishna-2-2.html
I knew that Priya Krishna, author of Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics From a Modern American Family (I am predisposed to like any book with the word antics in the title), was smart and funny and focused, since I'd read her book. But I still wasn't prepared for the delightful, incisive, and revealing chat we had on this week's Special Sauce.
Perhaps the most obvious question to ask was what "Indian-ish" means. Krishna explains that the concept was inspired by her mother and the book's coauthor, Ritu Krishna, whose cooking Krishna describes as "rooted in Indian flavors, but [it] kind of pulls inspiration from all the foods she was encountering from her travels as a businessperson, to what she watched on PBS cooking shows, to just going out to restaurants."
The result was a balance between the practical and the creative. Krishna says her mother "had limitless ideas for how flavors went together. She had this amazing intuition, but she also didn't have time, so her recipes are this perfect marriage of 'I have all of these amazing ideas, but I've got 20 minutes to put dinner on the table, so what do I do?'" It was another editor, and not Krishna herself, who first recognized the potential for a cookbook on that theme- one that would, Krishna says, "dispel this notion that a lot of people have that Indian flavors and Indian food, that making that at home is hard or complicated."
Before she began her writing career, Krishna grew up the daughter of immigrants in Texas, who were intent on her having a classically "American" adolescence. "I feel like it's many immigrant parents' desire, by raising kids in the US, that they will lead different and hopefully better lives than they did. That's the reason why so many immigrants settle down in a new country. I think that my parents, even though they had these stringent rules, they fundamentally believed that and understood that, and they wanted us to go to prom and go to college, and to have a college experience. They turned a blind eye but knew that my sister and I went to parties, and they were okay with that because they were like, 'This is part of being an American kid.'"
We saved most of our discussion of Indian-ish for the second half of our interview, but to hear why Krishna calls the Richard Gere/Jennifer Lopez vehicle Shall We Dance? one of the most important movies of our time, and learn how she turned Cracklin' Oat Bran and baked sweet potato into dessert for a column she wrote on dining-hall hacks while at Dartmouth, you'll have to check out this week's- there's no other word for it- delightful episode of Special Sauce.
In part two of my far-ranging interview with Washington Post food editor Joe Yonan, we talked about his career in journalism and the ever-evolving world of food media.
Joe told me about his winding path to food journalism. After years of reporting local news, he eventually made his way to the Boston Globe. There, he became travel editor, but found himself yearning to write about food, instead. How did he manage to acquire one of the few coveted roles as staff food writer? He told his editor, “I’m going to leave… if anyone's listening and you're able to do this, make yourself indispensable and then threaten to leave."
At a certain point, it felt like his career at the Globe was stalling. So when the Washington Post came calling in 2006, Yonan listened. “I just said, ‘I really want to do it.’ I mean, it also was more resources, bigger staff. I thought naively at the time that the Post was in so much better shape than the Globe was.”
Little did he know, Joe was about to take on the monumental task of shepherding the Food section into the digital age, transferring thousands of recipes from the papers archive to the Post's online database. Since that was shortly after I launched Serious Eats, Joe and I would have long conversations about where food media was going. "You know, Ed,” he said, “I remember your advice having something to do with my mindset back then… I knew what you were up to with Serious Eats… I remember you told me about Twitter. I mean, you didn't tell me about it, but... I remember asking you. I was like, "You know, I don't know. Should I bother with this? Should I bother?" And you said, "You absolutely should bother."
Finally, we got around to talking about Serious Eater, which Joe had just finished reading on the train up from DC. "It's so much more dramatic than I had expected. I think for me what resonated was the passion and the drive to make something work in the face of all of these obstacles. I mean, just one obstacle after another. And just the commitment to keep going and making it work no matter what happened." After all, it’s not a story so dissimilar from his own.
I had a blast talking to Joe, and I think you’ll equally enjoy listening to this episode of Special Sauce.
It's always fun to have a longtime friend on Special Sauce because I always learn so much about the person sitting across from me, no matter how long I've known them. And that's just what happened when I sat down with Washington Post Food Editor Joe Yonan.
Yonan spent the first ten years of his career writing, reporting, and editing for suburban newspapers in the Boston area, during which time he learned a lot of valuable lessons about telling stories. "You know one of the things that reporting does," Yonan notes, "especially if you start out in a small place, is that you have to learn how to make a water-and-sewer board meeting interesting and relevant to people who have no interest in it."
Eventually, he got tired of hard news coverage, and so he did what many other people at the time did: He read What Color is Your Parachute?, the enormously popular self-help book. "You're supposed to sit in a quiet place and have a pen and a pad down and you're supposed to close your eyes and imagine yourself both working and happy, believe it or not," Yonan says, recalling one of the exercises in the book designed to help you find your calling. "And I got all set up to do it, I had the pen and paper and I closed my eyes and in five seconds I was like, 'Oh, it's food.' Food makes me happy, food has always made me happy."
I met Yonan when I went to Boston to promote my pizza book in 2005, and I took him on a Boston tour de pizza for the Globe's food section, and during our conversation he reminded me of a sage bit of wisdom I gave him way back then, which I'd completely forgotten. "I don't know how many places we went to," Yonan says, "I mean, it was ridiculous. I remember at one point we're on place eight or nine or something, and I am suffering physically...Do you remember what you said to me? I've repeated it hundreds of times since then. You said to me, 'Joe, the good ones learn to eat through the pain.'"
For anyone interested in writing about food, becoming any kind of journalist, or just coming to terms with who you really are, or even about learning how to eat twelve slices of pizza in a three-hour period, this episode of Special Sauce with Joe Yonan is required listening.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/05/special-sauce-joe-yonan-1-1.html
In part two of my conversation with Xi'an Famous Foods cofounder Jason Wang, he and I talked mostly about the struggles and challenges involved in first getting the business off the ground, and then expanding.
The restaurant's original location, in a subterranean food court in Flushing, Queens, had a napkin problem. Money there was so tight, Wang said, "We had to cut back on things.... Back in the days, I'll be honest with you, we didn't give out napkins. We didn't have a napkin dispenser.... People were like,'Oh, you guys are so cheap, you don't give napkins out.' Fights started out because of napkins in Flushing."
Wang knew it was important that both Chinese and non-Chinese customers enjoy the food. "It's important for our food to continue to appeal to Chinese eaters that are in the US directly from China....They know what the food is supposed to taste like. If we have their, sort of, following, that speaks to the authenticity of the food. If we have other folks that are in New York City, we're lucky to have a lot of guests who are more adventurous. They're willing to try different things, try something new every night."
The keys to the restaurant's success? "Our food is very approachable. It's very reasonably priced. People can try without feeling like it's a big risk. It looks, smells good, people talk about it, so they'll come. Now, when they do come, there's a positive feedback effect that goes on. The Chinese people will see the American eaters, and the American users will see the Chinese people there. They'll look at each other, and the Chinese people will be like, wow, Americans like this stuff? That must mean it's high-quality, it's well packaged, because that's what the perception, the stereotype of Western products is.... Then the Americans will see the Chinese people, they'll be like, there's, like, a Chinese grandma that's just sitting there eating. She doesn't speak any English.... Yeah, it's legit."
As Jason and his dad, who cofounded Xi'an Famous Foods with him, began to expand the company—which now has 15 locations across New York City—they took seriously the challenge of preserving the qualities that had made it successful in the first place. "For our part, as we expanded—there's always the whole stereotype of that C-word, 'chain.' When you become a chain, it becomes very washed down, you start losing the soul of the food. My day-to-day job is, these days, really is to maintain that soul.... It's something I'm obsessed about. I think that's what we do on our part. My father's equally obsessive."
But Wang isn't all business, and he brings lots of smile-inducing surprises to this episode—including where he was headed to lunch when we finished talking, and which outspoken rapper/singer he wants at his last-supper table. You'll learn all that and more when you tune in.
One of the many reasons I love doing Special Sauce is I get to interview people who shed light on various parts of the food culture I know very little about. People like Jason Wang. Wang and his father, David Shi, are the co-propietors of Xi'an Famous Foods, the fast-casual Chinese food concept that introduced New Yorkers to dishes like as lamb burgers, liang pi "cold skin" noodles, and the legendary lamb face salad that's unfortunately no longer on the menu.
Wang emigrated with his family from the city of Xi'an, China, when he was eight, and life was not easy for the Wang family. "My father's work life in the U.S. is kind of what you would imagine it to be [for] someone who is a middle-aged immigrant from China who doesn't speak any English," Wang says. "There's only a few things that he could really do in this country, and one of those would be working in a restaurant."
Wang's father would be away for weeks or even months at a time working at restaurants all along the Eastern seaboard. Meanwhile, the family lived in Queens, NY, in the basement of someone else's home. His dad "would take a bus somewhere, and someone would pick him up from the restaurant [he was employed by], and he would basically live in the boss's house with the other workers," Wang says. "So in middle school and high school, I wouldn't see him for at least one or two weeks [at a time]."
Wang's family really wanted him to get a college education, and his mom and dad ended up saving up enough, when combined with some scholarship money, to send him to Washington University in St. Louis. While he was away at school, his father finally was able to leave his itinerant restaurant work behind. Shi had saved up enough money to open a bubble tea franchise in one of the subterranean food courts that dot the Chinese-American enclave of Flushing, Queens. And that's where X'ian Famous Foods was born in 2005.
Besides selling bubble tea, Wang says his father also "sold some food on the side from our hometown, namely our cold skin noodles, our liangpi, the burgers, and a little bit of the noodles. It was just a side thing." And, after a brief stint at Target after graduation, Wang joined his father.
During our conversation, Wang offers up a concise description fo the defining elements of the food he and his father make and sell. "Traditionally," Wang says, "every region of China has a few words to sum up their food. Like, Sichuan is 'mala,' so it's spicy and tingly. That's their profile. Our profile is xiāng là and suān. So 'suān' means sour. 'Xiāng là' means fragrantly spicy. So that's kind of how our food is. If you've had our food before, you see a lot of use of the black vinegar, a lot of use of, of course, the red chilies."
Wang's story, his father's story, and the story of Xi'an Famous Food's beginnings, had me riveted. When you listen, I think you'll be mesmerized as well.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/05/special-sauce-jason-wang-on-the-origins-of-xian-famous-foods.html
When we last left chef and memoirist Kwame Onwuachi, he had dived back into his catering business in New York City. Business was decent, but he’d begun to see holes in his game. "The food tasted good, but was it completely hot when it hit the table? I would roast the meat perfectly, but by the time I got to the table it'd be a little overcooked. The sauce that I thought would be really good, when I reduced it down, it was a little bitter. It was like these little things I didn't know what was going wrong, and I needed to get to the bottom of it. I needed to scratch that itch, and education was the next step for me."
Onwuachi went to the CIA to hone his craft and then went on to extern and work at fine dining institutions like Per Se and Eleven Madison Park. But he ultimately found his own cooking identity through the now-defunct pop-up dinner company, Dinner Lab. "I cooked a dinner for it. It was a culmination of my life story. It was labeled Candy Bars to Michelin Stars. I cooked everything from the cheesecake [his sister's recipe] that I made to…the Butterfingers I sold on the subway (we did those as mignardise)…It was an anecdotal tale through the food of my life."
Eventually, Onwuachi opened the high-end restaurant Shaw Bijou in Washington, DC. His inexperienced restaurateur partners told him money was no object; that, in fact, they didn't care about making money. Onwuachi naively believed them. "Yeah, it was like adding gas to a locomotive. I mean, we were adding coal. It was just like, keep going, keep going, we're powering the engine. I was so deep in it, there was so much going on. It was the first time dealing with a lot of press, and I was really, really young. I came from the South Bronx and I'm catapulted into the stratosphere of the dining culture across the country, and I was trying to just do anything to stay afloat really."
The restaurant failed after less than six months, its demise hastened by a less-than-stellar review in The Washington Post. "It was soul-crushing to read that," Onwuachi said. "I remember reading it in the back alley, and it was not a good review, but it also pushed me, you know? It pushed me to change some things up, switch some things around, get everybody excited again, and keep going. It wasn't like, ‘Okay, now we need to close.’ I was like, ‘Okay, we're gonna fix this. This is the first bite.’" But they couldn't fix it in time, because, as he put it, "We ran out of capital. That's why businesses close. That's the short answer."
The last chapter of Onwuachi’s book, Notes From a Young Black Chef, is called "The Lesson." Why? "The lesson that I learned (from Shaw Bijou) is to keep going," he told me. "Just keep going. Not to stop, no matter what obstacles get in your way. If you have your mindset and you have goals in place, stick with those goals, figure out how to adapt, how to pivot, and continue moving."
Kwame Onwuachi’s tale is as inspirational as it is cautionary. Catch it all in this week’s episode of Special Sauce.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/04/special-sauce-kwame-onwuachi-part-2.html
This week's Special Sauce guest, chef-restaurateur (Kith/Kin in Washington, DC) and memoirist (Notes From a Young Black Chef) Kwame Onwuachi, has led an interesting life, to say the least. How interesting? By the time he was 21, the now-29-year-old had already started a catering business and cooked on a ship cleaning up oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico- all after discarding a previous life that included membership in a gang and selling "nutcrackers," or homemade alcoholic punch, on the streets in the Bronx.
Early on, Onwuachi discovered the satisfaction he could derive from cooking for other people, by helping his mom with her catering business: "Yes, serving food to actual paying customers...there's a certain high about it. You know, like being in the weeds, you know, prepping, putting stuff together, and then reaching that finish-line moment when you're serving it to the guests, and all is well. They're happy...and you can see the genuine joy that they get when eating the food. I love that moment, and I got addicted to it."
The entrepreneurial spirit he inherited from his mother had a way of colliding with some of his more destructive adolescent impulses. He would bounce back and forth between cooking gigs and less savory endeavors, including selling drugs, until he found himself at a crossroads around the time of Obama's first inauguration: "Obama is walking across the stage accepting his presidency. At that moment, for some reason, it clicked for me. Because...I went out and I voted for him, but I was like, 'There's no way we're gonna get a black president. There's no way this is gonna happen. No way.' And when he walked across the stage, I was like, 'What am I doing? This man defied the odds. Fifty-five years ago, we weren't even allowed to eat in restaurants; like, that was [when] the last restaurant was desegregated. Now this man is walking across the stage. That's huge. And I'm sitting here selling drugs?'"
After that realization, Onwuachi ended up starting a catering company called Coterie, for which he raised the start-up capital by selling candy in the subway- yes, you read that right. His most popular item: peanut M&Ms (take that, plain-M&M advocates).
All of this, of course, was before Onwuachi began his restaurant career-cooking at Per Se and Eleven Madison Park, moving on to a seriously upscale restaurant in DC (which closed within three months), and, this year, being named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine for his current restaurant, Kith/Kin. But his pre-fine dining life was so eventful, we had to save all that for the second part of our interview. Rest assured, there's plenty here to chew on and listen to.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/04/special-sauce-kwame-onwuachi-part-1.html
When we last left the irreverent Robicellis in the first part of their Special Sauce interview, they had decided to leave Brooklyn, their beloved hometown. I wondered why Allison and Matt decided on on Baltimore. "It feels like the New York I grew up in," Allison says. "It is an inherently broken city. Everything is broken and if you're a creative type like me, there's nothing more electric than that. Because everything is a possibility. Everything about your life has stakes. Everything is fun, you know?"
The move to Baltimore actually made the Robicellis' podcast, the Robicelli Argument Clinic, possible. Allison says, "When I was in New York, we talked about doing a podcast for a while, and everything was like, 'Well you need to pay this person all this money, and we need to monetize, and who are our sponsors?'" But that changed after the move. "In Baltimore," Alison says, "you meet other people who are like, 'Let's just do this stuff because we want to.' The art scene there is incredible. Everybody has something to say. Everything influences you."
But moving was important for their personal lives, too. "It was really important for us to bring our kids to a city that had problems," Allison says. "Brooklyn was so messed up when I was a kid. I mean, we had, like, 21 hundred murders when I was in fifth grade. We had riots and all these things. And I'm like, 'If I teach my kids just to sit on Facebook and ignore these problems, or just have ideas about these problems while they're in a gated community, that's bullshit. I want my kids to be better than us.'"
Baltimore has been great for the kids for many reasons. "The way that they think, their empathy level, their ideas of how to be people and how to be solutions to problems and how to think big. The school that they go to, we've got kids there who...We raised money for a washer/dryer, so kids would have a place to do laundry for those who couldn't afford it. You know? And in Brooklyn, people would raise money for lacrosse uniforms. But my kids need to know that. My kids need to understand that they're such a part of something bigger, and the world isn't always perfect, but just by existing, by doing the right things every day and being motivated, we make huge differences."
To hear more of the Robicellis' brand of manic, madcap genius, you're going to have to listen to part two of their Special Sauce interview.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/04/special-sauce-allison-matt-robicelli-part-2-2.html
Sometimes our Special Sauce guests are just so idiosyncratic, so entertaining, so thoughtful, and so zany, I find myself alternately laughing and near tears for an hour and a half straight. That's what happened when I had Matt and Allison Robicelli on the podcast.
Allison is a longtime baker, cook, and James Beard- nominated food writer; Matt is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute who has cooked at City Bakery and Lutèce. Together, they opened the acclaimed bakery Robicelli's in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn (which closed in 2015), and wrote a cookbook, Robicelli's: A Love Story, With Cupcakes. But before all of that- before they ever met, in fact- each of them faced life-changing events that indirectly led them to pursue their culinary interests professionally: Allison was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin's lymphoma, and Matt was a paramedic who suffered injuries while responding at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Neither had even reached their 21st birthday at the time, which helped them bond when they finally met. "I think one of the reasons we got along so well was because after I survived cancer, it's really hard to relate to somebody who's 22 and didn't go through that," Allison says.
Nowadays, Matt and Allison run a culinary consulting business, co-own a couple of New York food businesses, and host their own podcast, The Robicelli Argument Clinic, whose name is self-explanatory: "We just quibble a lot, and we argue," Allison says. "We've been together for 14 years, and somebody was like, that's entertaining. Cut to tape. That was it. So we decided to do a podcast of just- we have these ridiculous arguments, just any kind of food topic. We just want to have more fun."
I asked my standard question about what life was like at Matt and Allison's respective family tables when they were growing up. Allison dispelled the stereotype that everyone has warm and fuzzy memories of their childhood dinners: "I remember a lot of yelling [in my family], I remember putting a TV there because that would shut everybody up.... Food can bring up all the memories. It can bring up all of the feelings. It's complicated just like we are. I think that's the kind of beauty about it."
Family meals don't have to resemble a Norman Rockwell painting, Allison contends: "There's all these beautiful stories on the internet about the family table, and not everybody had it. You know what? That's okay. If your family dinner was eating McDonald's in the car alone- that's fine." The table that the Robicellis share nowadays includes their two preteen boys, Toby and Atticus, and that makes mealtimes predictably challenging. "The pickiest eaters I've ever met," Allison calls them. "They drive me insane."
In keeping with their own podcast style, my conversation with the Robicellis turned out to be a series of wacky and wise, well, arguments, and you'll have to listen to this episode and the one that follows to enjoy them. Matt and Allison are two wonderfully human interviewees, and great company. My guess is that they'll make you laugh as hard as I laughed, and they might make you cry as well.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/preview?record=443265
In part two of my wonderful conversation with Tommy Tomlinson, author of the impossible-to-put-down book The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man's Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America, we talk about how he decided he was going to have to do more than just diet to successfully deal with his weight issues.
Tomlinson describes asking his friends and family about what they thought about his eating habits. "I learned a lot from them about how they would watch what I was eating. And they would be surprised that I would eat the same as them, but I was the one getting bigger. They didn't know that I would stop again at the drive through on the way home and get a second dinner or something. But I also learned about their concerns about me, and their worry that I was going to be gone too soon, those sorts of things. And then I had longer conversation on the record that I taped with my wife, Alix Felsing, and my mom, who are two people who've been with me for most of this journey."
Tomlinson credits his wife in a major way for helping him confront what he calls "the one big problem" in his life. "Alix has been this incredible kind of guide for me," he says. "Without ever nagging or hectoring or browbeating me about it, she has gently and lovingly nudged me to become a better and more healthy person."
Tomlinson writes in his book about something Alix once said to him, which I asked him to repeat on ai because I found it so moving. "She looked at me and said, 'You made my life.'" he remembers. "That was probably the best moment I will ever have as a human being, to know that I made her life. She has certainly made mine."
I hope that exchange, which brought at least one Serious Eater to tears, gets you to check out the rest of our conversation. This episode is as moving, as wise, and as human as a Special Sauce episode gets.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/03/special-sauce-tommy-tomlinson-2-2.html
It's pretty rare for a Special Sauce interview to speak so directly to me that it feels like I've been hit in the gut. But that's exactly what happened when I talked with Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Tommy Tomlinson, whose book The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man's Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America is a moving memoir about struggling with eating and weight issues.
As someone who has grappled with a weight problem my whole life, I identified with every word Tomlinson wrote and every bite he took, and I often felt during our conversation that he was speaking about my own experiences with food.
For example, here is Tomlinson on how food makes him feel: "I've never done hard drugs, but the feeling that I've heard people describe when they shoot heroin, for example that incredible rush and that warm feeling that goes over their body, is very similar to what I believe I feel when I have like a double cheeseburger from Wendy's. It's just this burst of pleasure and good feeling."
Tomlinson is similarly eloquent about how he started to make the connection between obesity and food: "I didn't really connect being overweight with eating because I was eating what everybody else in my family was eating. I just wasn't working the way they were working to burn off calories. And as I got older, I started to realize even more deeply that I had these two lives. I had this one life where I was successful and doing well, had good friends, had people who loved and cared about me. And had this second life where I had this addiction that I could not control. And...up until basically this book and me trying to figure it out, I never could reconcile those two things. And so, sure, I knew from early on that I had some fundamental issue, I just never could figure out what it was."
And here he is on the fraught relationship between food and love: "And then there's stuff that's very common in food which is it's about love and affection. Your family has made this gift for you often still to this day it's your mom or your grandmother or somebody like that has made this thing. And they've sacrificed and they've sweated over it. And they've worked on this recipe for years. And it's a family tradition. And they always have it. And so for you just to not indulge in it carries a whole lot of symbolic weight. It's like rejecting the people who love you."
This episode of Special Sauce made me laugh, made me cry, and made me think, and any podcast that can make you do all three of those things is worth listening to, whether you struggle with your weight or not.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/03/special-sauce-tommy-tomlinson-1-2.html
The superb young food and culture writer Osayi Endolyn is back again for this week's episode of Special Sauce. This time our far-reaching conversation includes a discussion of a brilliant piece on fried chicken Endolyn wrote for You and I Eat the Same: On the Countless Ways Food and Cooking Connect Us to One Another, a fascinating anthology edited by former Lucky Peach editor Chris Ying and Noma's Rene Redzepi.
First, we talked about the fundamental premise of the book. "It's obviously not true that food always brings us together, and it's obviously not true that food necessitates a further reflection on a culture, right," Endolyn said. "A lot of us eat tacos or hummus without thinking anything more about where those dishes come from. But, if you took the premise that, we are more alike than we are different, and looked at food as the medium to do that, where could you go? And this book wanted to explore migration and immigration in ways that maybe we weren't always welcoming of having those conversations."
Endolyn picked fried chicken, one of my favorite foods on the planet, as her subject. She used the Australian Chef Morgan McGlone as a jumping off point: A classically trained chef, McGlone learned to make hot fried chicken while working for Southern uber-chef Sean Brock before returning to his native country to open Belles Hot Chicken, a mini-chain of hot fried chicken restaurants based in Melbourne. That cross-cultural recognition became the metaphor that shaped Endolyn's story. To quote briefly from her piece: "No matter where it’s cooked, American fried chicken carries the learning and effort and skill of a people who persevered against unfathomable odds. That Southern hue follows fried chicken all the way to Melbourne and Sydney, too. And therein lies an incredible opportunity. If everyone can agree to share fried chicken, then perhaps that’s a step toward sharing the weight of its complex legacy as well."
I asked Endolyn about fried chicken's legacy, and she said, "There's a lot of struggle, it doesn't always come from one direction, as I mentioned in the book. Because of so much of the hateful iconography, that was used to depict the African Americans stealing chicken and as kind of just gluttonous chicken eaters. During the post-enslavement period and into Jim Crow, you have a lot of people who still feel kind of unsure what it means to eat fried chicken. Whether or not to do so in public."
Where Endolyn nets out on fried chicken requires answering the two fundamental questions all of us must answer whenever we are eating something: "Is it delicious?" and "What does it mean?"
So if that's a question that interests you (and I hope it is) then you have to listen to what Osayi Endolyn has to say on this week's Special Sauce.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/03/special-sauce-osayi-endolyn-2-2.html
On this week's episode of Special Sauce, Ed speaks to Osayi Endolyn, a Florida-based food writer whose work regularly appears in major food publications across the country, and whose column in Gravy, the journal published by the Southern Foodways Alliance, earned a James Beard Award in 2018.
Ed and Endolyn's conversation starts off exactly where most Special Sauce conversations start off, namely with Endolyn talking about her family and the food they used to eat when she was growing up. But Ed wasn't prepared for just how fascinating Endolyn's family history is. For example, her grandmother, Ruth Harris Rushen, was something of a trailblazer, as she was the first woman and first African-American to sit on California's parole board.
Endolyn's family table had a mix of what she calls "California working mom cuisine" - tofu and noodles, roasted chicken and vegetables- and Nigerian dishes prepared by her father, who immigrated to the United States in his early 20s. Endolyn describes her father as somewhat mercurial, but a talented cook. "The food was glorious," she says. "Dinner was sometimes fraught and tense, but the food was really good." The quality of the food was somewhat surprising, particularly since her father, like many immigrants, had to figure out by himself how to prepare the familiar foods from home. And, of course, her father's cooking left its mark on her. "So," Endolyn says, "I think a lot about migration now and what people bring with them and what they leave behind."
Endolyn's current focus on the intersection of food and identity is something of a happy accident. She was living in Atlanta and looking into the roots of Southern cuisine, and saw parallels between food in the South and the food her father would make at home. The realization seemed to expose how writing about food could be about so much more than writing about what's on a plate. "Food can actually be this lens from which we can explore so many different things," Endolyn says. "Why certainly it can be something that I can use to talk about my experiences as a child of an immigrant, or as the descendant of someone who was in the Great Migration, or as a descendant of enslaved people or all of these other historic and personal experiences."
To hear more from Endolyn, tune into this both this week's and next week's episode. We guarantee it'll be well worth your time.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/03/special-sauce-osayi-endolyn-1-1.html
Welcome back to part 2 of Ed Levine's Special Sauce conversation about pizza in the wake of the revelation by pizza historian Peter Regas about the true origins of New York City pizza.
If you recall from last week, Regas has demonstrated that Lombardi's, which was long thought to have been the first pizzeria in New York, was in fact not the first. This week, Regas shares a little bit of what he's discovered about the origins of Chicago's iconic deep dish pizza. As is par for the course with any discussion about deep dish among pizza-heads, this bit of history is accompanied by a lot of talk about whether deep dish is or isn't a casserole. (It's a casserole, folks!)
Ed then gets Regas and Sasha to talk about their favorite pizza joints in Chicago and New York and beyond, which they do with only a little bit of reluctance. A few of the names you might recognize, as either a local or a pizza enthusiast: Coalfire, Spacca Napoli, Mama's Too, Speedy Romeo's...did I hear someone say the Illuminati?
In the second half of the episode, Ed has on J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, who needs no introduction, and they talk about Regas's revelations and the nature of history. Kenji also gives us a preview of some new menu items on the menu at Wursthall, his restaurant in San Mateo, Calif, where he's planning on doing flammkuchen, which is a kind of-not really German pizza, and he shares a little bit of why he enjoys making pizza and pizza-type things so much. "Because you're interacting with a live thing," Kenji says, "that certainly takes a lot more skill than working with something like sous vide...There's nothing precise at all in the pizza oven. So, when you get it right, it's pretty nice."
That's just a small taste of all the pizza talk packed in this episode, and we hope you give it a listen.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/03/special-sauce-peter-regas-pizza-origin-story-2-2.html
We rarely deal with breaking news on Special Sauce, but when said news concerns pizza's US origins, exceptions must be made. As soon as I learned that Peter Regas, a Chicago-based statistician by day and pizza obsessive by night, had discovered that there were pizzerias operating in Brooklyn and Manhattan years before Gennaro Lombardi opened what has long been thought to be the country's first pizzeria in 1905, I knew we had to have him on the podcast for an extended interview. I even brought in reinforcements: New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, and Serious Eats senior editor and veteran pizzaiolo, Sasha Marx.
Here's a taste of what Regas shared with us: “What we know there is a man named Filippo Milone who had probably come, it's not clear, but he'd probably come around 1892 to America from Italy...The first indication that we have hard evidence of him owning a business is at 47 Union Street, again in Red Hook…That would be then in the early part of 1898....Then what we have at Spring Street, 53 Spring Street [the site of Lombardi's original location], we have a permit that's applied for in the summer of 1898. That's for a bake oven. The man that appears in the next directory cycle, which would be the early part of 1899, is...Phil Malone, Filippo Milone, it's the same man.”
Pete Wells told Regas that when he heard the news, he tweeted that "it was like if we found out some other dude wrote The Federalist Papers and The Declaration of Independence and then, like, gave them to Madison and Jefferson and we never knew it. It was some guy named Tony all along.” Wells urged Regas to continue his research, telling him, “Follow the mozzarella, Peter.”
Pizza nerds (and even plain old pizza enthusiasts) will rejoice in the conversation that ensued. To get started on your own mozzarella journey, check out this week’s episode, and stay tuned for part two next week, when Regas expounds on his discovery and Kenji weighs in on all things pizza.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/preview?record=441852
On this week's Special Sauce, Doug Crowell and Ryan Angulo talk a lot about a lot of things, including their cookbook, the aptly titled Kindness and Salt: The Care and Feeding of Your Friends and Neighbors.
I asked them to dissect the unusual title, starting with "kindness." Doug explained, "It's a big part of what we do...We try to be kind in everything we do, in our relationships as a staff and also with our customers. So that would have to be a part of our book. That's our philosophy."
But what about the salt? Doug said, "The salt is sort of shorthand for just cooking...cooking with flavor and cooking with common sense and cooking with salt, literally...and salt has a double meaning, because sometimes we all get a little salty."
When I asked about the subtitle, Ryan noted, "That was our working title for the book pretty much since the beginning." And Doug pointed out, "That nicely encapsulates what we do."
I wondered whether that philosophy of caring for friends and neighbors extended to their kitchens, where in restaurant culture in general there has long been a traditional of verbal abuse. Does Ryan scream? "No," Ryan said. "Not at all. Well, it depends, but, I mean, you have to really be doing something like that's just really idiotic and just not respectful of the food or the restaurant to really make me mad. But on a day-to-day basis, no, I don't walk around yelling, and I know a lot of chefs do. That's kind of one of the biggest things I learned from working in kitchens is what I didn't want to do when I became a chef, and that was pretty much one of them."
Ryan and Doug also talked about the importance of the person greeting customers at their restaurants. "The person at the door has this dual responsibility. One is just friendliness, but the other one is this sort of mad air traffic control situation where you're trying to shuffle everything around and make it work and promise people they're gonna sit down in 15 minutes and they really will or an hour and a half and they really will. I think of that person as being second only to the chef as far as making the whole thing go."
According to them, one of their door people is from the South, and she has a magic word, a contraction in fact, that has disarmed many a peeved customer, but you're just going to have to listen to find out what it is.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/02/special-sauce-doug-crowell-ryan-angulo-2-2.html
On this week's Special Sauce, Chef Anita Lo talks about her new cookbook, Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One. To Anita, cooking for yourself is a journey of self-discovery. "I think cooking can be self re-affirming," she says. "I mean if food is culture and you're cooking what you like to eat, it's about you. It's about who you are...Food is identity."
She also says cooking for yourself is therapeutic and thought-provoking. "I've had a lot of people say to me that this book made them think about how far they'd go to cook for themselves and why they wouldn't do that," she notes. "That's interesting to me. I mean it, we need to take care of ourselves. If you don't take care of yourself, there's no way you can take care of other people."
Anita also obliged me by outlining for me in detail what exactly would happen on Anita Lo Day all over the world, including a long list of activities that starts with with, "People are eating. People are eating with abandon."
In other words, they're eating seriously.
To find out what else they're doing, you're going to have to listen to the always thoughtful Anita Lo on this week's Special Sauce.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/02/special-sauce-anita-lo-2-2.html
This week on Special Sauce with the terrific chef and fine writer Anita Lo. Anita had Annisa, a great restaurant in Greenwich Village, for 16 years before closing it in 2017. She was part of the first wave of women chef-restaurateurs in New York. Anita was also the first woman who cooked a State dinner for the Obamas at the White House. Finally, she is the author of the recently published elegant and pithy cookbook, Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One This week's episode focuses on Anita's cooking experiences at other people's restaurants, sexism in the restaurant biz, and cooking at the White House.
With politics being front and center these days I had to ask Anita about cooking a state dinner for the Obamas and President Xi of China. I asked if she got to hang with the President and First Lady. "Yeah it was awesome. We got a picture with them. I shook their hands. It was sort of like a wedding line. The Obamas and the Xis were there, and then we all walked through and shook their hands and took a pictures and went out the other door."
Anita really cut her teeth in the restaurant biz in New York in the nineties in the kitchen of the first incarnation of Bouley, chef David Bouley's influential Tribeca restaurant. I asked Anita if she felt that she was a victim of the rampant sexism there that pervaded so many fine dining establishments at that time. She calmly replied, "Certainly, on some level, but at the same time, my mother had been a doctor and there were very, very few female doctors at the time when she became a doctor. I think she was the only female doctor in her hospital, or at least in her hospital wing. That was my role model, so I knew you just had to endure..."I did get some sort of nasty banter that was meant to make you not feel welcome...Yeah, we still have a long way to go, certainly (in that regard)."
I asked Anita if being a women chef-restaurateur makes it harder to find investors. She nodded her head and said, "I just think we're wired culturally to support men and to see men as leaders and see men as the money makers, and that leaves a lot of smart, talented women behind...Well, at least we're talking about it, and just because we've had a me too moment doesn't mean that bad things still aren't happening. Look what's happening in our government."
Anita has a unique perspective on these kinds of issues born of both sweet and bitter experiences. And that is what makes her Special sauce episodes required listening.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/01/special-sauce-anita-lo-1-2.html
On this week’s Special Sauce I continue my delightful conversation with The White Moustache founder Homa Dashtaki.
I asked her how she makes her sinfully rich yogurt. Homa said, "There's nothing I'm doing different than the way I would teach you how to do it at home. And you can make White Moustache yogurt at home, and it's a very magical process, but it's so, so simple. It's just a matter of boiling the milk, letting the milk cool to a certain temperature, and then very mildly letting it incubate. And we are now making yogurt in a vat, in a 79-gallon vat, and we just mimic that process."
She paused before continuing: "And in that vat is the only time that machinery is ever used. It is entirely handled by human hands after that. We take it out of the vat in five-gallon batches, and then it goes into 2 1/2-gallon batches, and then it gets put into an eight-ounce jar, where we put the fruit in on the bottom by hand. And our seasonal flavors of like summer peaches and quince are so much fun to make, and we try to make them as authentically as possible. And this is where my dad and I are screaming at each other, 'Yeah, peel the peaches!' 'No, don't peel the peaches! Leave the skin on.'"
Homa and her father often argue about whether to automate their production, which led her to talk about what her ultimate goal was, which I found surprising. "White Moustache was such a miracle to begin with," Homa says. "Maybe we hold onto that, maybe we're not a food business, maybe we're an advocacy business. Maybe we kind of set an example for how you don't have to get really big and sell to PepsiCo. Maybe you can stay small and flourish."
Who or what determines what’s going to happen to White Moustache? Homa suggests it's not up to her or her dad. But for the full answer to that question, you’re going to have to listen.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/01/special-sauce-homa-dashtaki-2-2.html
I have a confession: Until Daniel Gritzer told me about The White Moustache a couple of months ago, I 'd never heard of it, much less its founder, Homa Dashtaki. Now, after interviewing Homa and trying her yogurt, I can tell you that Daniel was right when he said it would change my life. First of all, the yogurt is so tasty, so thick and creamy, that I can't think of a reason not to eat some every day (which I've done ever since first trying it). Secondly, Homa is a force of nature, someone whose point of view and story might be better than her ridiculously good yogurt, as you'll find out in her two episodes of Special Sauce.
Homa even arrived on this earth in dramatic fashion. "I was born the day of the Iranian Revolution," she tells me. "So the day that the Ayatollah arrived in Iran I was born, and my mom had to go to the hospital in a police escort because there was a curfew, and that's probably why I'm so wired to like chaos all around me."
After emigrating as a child to Orange County, she ended up going to law school and, yes, practicing corporate law for a while. Why? "Oh, I loved the whole idea of it. You would tell me what you wanted, you'd put down on paper, everything would be clear," she recalls. "And I remember when I first found out about prenups, I remember everyone was very negative about them. I'm like, 'How wonderful! When you're getting into this really intense relationship that everyone would just be above board, you either know how great it's gonna be, or how fucked you're gonna be. It's all laid out.'"
Her legal career was cut short after she was laid off from her firm. And, after a period of self-described drifting, she found herself drawn to one of the foods that was a staple of her childhood. "We picked making yogurt because to me it was easy, I was being lazy about it," she says. "I'm like, 'There's only one ingredient, milk, right? Now how hard can this be?'"
It turned out that Homa fell in love with making yogurt. "I don't know if you've ever made yogurt at home, but it's a very magical process," she observes. "It's almost like you step into a time portal, and you have to slow down time. In order for your yogurt to take, it has to be coddled. You have to boil the milk, and you have to get it to the right temperature. That's actually no easy task. You have to pay attention to the milk, you can't just set it and forget it."
She and her father started out making small batches- eight gallons to be exact- of yogurt overnight at a nearby Egyptian restaurant and selling it at a farmers market in Orange County. She was in heaven, until the state of California shut her down. "I had finally found something that was truly my own, and it felt so- I know it sounds cliché and it sounds cheesy- but it was so authentic, and I was so lost, that to have this thing ripped away from me felt so incredibly unfair," she recalls. "And I just fought back after weeping for days. I mean, it was like somebody had ripped something away from me."
To find out how she got her yogurt groove back, you're just going to have to listen to Homa tell the story herself on Special Sauce. It's definitely a story you won't want to miss.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/01/special-sauce-homa-dashtaki-1.html
In this week's Special Sauce interview with René Redzepi, he describes his journey from being a 15-year-old novice cook to culinary visionary, which started when he was an apprentice at Pierre André, a Michelin-starred, classic French restaurant in Copenhagen. "I spent four years with [chef-owner Philippe Houdet], and it was an incredible time," Redzepi says. "I mean, I basically went from being a child to being an adult like overnight. Just like that you're working 85 hour weeks and with responsibilities."
Those four years were incredibly important to Redzepi. "I still think of him so much, when I think back to these moments that make you, and that give you the courage and the power to believe in yourself further on."
But what really blew Redzepi's mind as a young cook was a meal at El Bulli. "I was with a friend and Ferran [Adria] was there, we ate and it was just mind blowing to me at the time," he recalls. "So different to anything. I thought everything was French food and suddenly you see yourself in Spain and it's like, I cannot believe what's going on here. What is this? It broke everything for me. So I went up to Ferran immediately after the meal and said, "I want to work here. Can I come and work here?" And, after writing Adria a letter, he did.
Following a stint at the French Laundry Redzepi returned to Copenhagen and opened the original Noma in 2003. He believes that Noma's location has played an important role in its development. "One of the reasons why I think Noma's become what we are is we were lucky to be in a small town where nothing was really happening," he says. "We were the last stop on the subway, culinary wise, and suddenly all this attention started happening and everybody sort of chipped in...the community sort of embraced it."
Redzepi is candid about the fact that the restaurant's original success was not due to his leadership skills. "I spent years being an outrageously bad leader," he confesses. "I was a screamer for many years, I was. I just didn't know how to handle things. You become so thin-skinned that the smallest problems become disasters and then at a certain point you're like, 'What am I doing? You go into work and you're not even happy...You go to work and you're angry. What's the point?'"
Redzepi says that finding a way to become happier in his work played a crucial role in both his and Noma's development, but to find out just how he managed to do that, I'm afraid you're going to have to listen to this week's episode of Special Sauce.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/01/special-sauce-rene-redzepi-part-2.html
Stella Parks and Daniel Gritzer are back for the second part of our Ask Special Sauce holiday edition, and we tackle some of the most pressing issues many of us face when cooking during the holidays.
For example, take the sticky subject of royal icing, which, according to Stella, is great for making a bunch of holiday-appropriate treats far in advance."You can make a bunch of frosted snowflakes, and they'll keep for weeks, without any kind of loss of quality, because there's nothing really perishable happening," Stella says. "The high sugar content of the frosting ensures that there's not really any bacterial activity coming from the egg whites."
Mr. Gritzer offers up some advice for prepping and storing fresh herbs, including the importance of using a salad spinner to wash and dry them. The key to storing tender herbs like cilantro and parsley? "Treat them like fresh-cut flowers," Daniel says. For further instructions, you're going to have to listen, but I will give you a hint that the next thing to do involves herb millinery.
Daniel also answers the vexing question of how to cook a beef tenderloin to satisfy both the people who like their meat rare and the folks who like their meat medium, which I will similarly leave for you to discover.
Finally, I asked both of them to tell me what they don't like about the holidays. Daniel's answer won't surprise you; his is a fairly common complaint. But Stella's, on the other hand, is most decidedly not commonplace. In fact, it's a hilarious, Grinchian shocker. But this is one gift I'm not giving away. You're going to have to find out for yourself by checking out the episode.
Happy Holidays, Serious Eaters, from all of us here at Serious Eats World HQ!
I had such a good time answering your Thanksgiving questions with Kenji and Stella on our recent installment of Call Special Sauce, we thought we'd do the same thing in a two-episode series leading up to the end-of-year holidays. This week and next, Daniel Gritzer joins Stella to answer your holiday cooking and baking questions, and I can tell you that I learned a lot. You'll want to listen to the episode or read the transcript to hear Stella's and Daniel's complete answers, but here's a preview:
If you're among the few Serious Eaters who haven't heard of roasted sugar, one of Stella's genius inventions, Stella offers a quick definition: "So toasted sugar is just plain, white, granulated sugar that has been tossed into an oven for some period of time, and that period of time, it's kind of like toasting bread crumbs or toasting almonds or something, where you can give it a little bit [of time] or a lot to pull out different flavor profiles, like a light toast or a dark toast.... The sugar starts to thermally decompose, which is to say, it starts to caramelize without ever melting, and so you end up getting this kind of dry, granular, lightly caramelized product."
What's in it for the baker, you might wonder? One advantage is that using roasted sugar in your holiday cookies makes them less sweet: "It's still mostly sucrose, so it behaves like sugar in any recipe that calls for white sugar. It's a total one-to-one swap, but because some caramelization has taken place, it doesn't taste as sweet, and it does bring a little bit more complexity, some toastiness, some nuttiness, and that sort of thing coming into a dough."
To improve on classic holiday sugar cookies- you know, the kind you roll out and cut into shapes and frost with colorful icing and pack into tins as gifts- Stella advocates a slight substitution: "Most cookies are all-butter cookies, but instead of using pure butter in this recipe, I substitute a little bit of it with refined coconut oil. And refined coconut oil is a style that has no aroma or flavor of coconut. So even if you're like, 'I hate coconut,' this is not something that's going to come into play in this recipe. It's just there for the added richness, because if you've ever made a rolled sugar cookie cutout, you may have noticed that they can be a little bit dry, especially over time, if you're trying to make a cookie that keeps well. So using a little bit of coconut oil in the dough helps it to stay more moist and rich, and it helps it seem more rich, because coconut oil is higher in fat per ounce when compared to butter."
Besides advising a reader on how to successfully cook a big (and pricey) standing rib roast, Daniel describes his method for making crispy Roman-Jewish fried artichokes, a traditional Hanukkah dish: "It's a two-stage cooking process, where first you cook the artichokes in olive oil at a lower temperature.... That's to make them tender. They come out. You kind of smash them flat a little bit and open them up so that they kind of look like flowers, and then you raise the heat on the oil to deep-frying temperatures, up to 350 or so, and then go back in, and you fry them until they're golden and crisp."
If you've heard that frying in olive oil can be dangerous, fear not: "There is no scientific evidence that I have been able to find to suggest that it is a bad thing to do. The Roman Jews have been doing it for millennia, literally, and it seems to be perfectly fine." The real risk might lie in that dry, out-of-season artichoke: "I have actually had an artichoke combust, spontaneously combust, while I was slicing it.... Sparks and char and tufts of smoke wafting up off the artichoke from nothing more than cutting it."
So don't sweat your holiday cooking and baking this year- we've got you covered, on both Special Sauce and the site. Next week, we'll answer even more of your questions in the second part of this holiday edition of Ask Special Sauce.
Happy holidays, Serious Eaters. I hope it's not too early to say that.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2018/12/special-sauce-holiday-cooking-part-1.html
It was a thrill to sit across the table from René Redzepi to record this episode of Special Sauce. The pioneering chef-restaurateur is the force behind Copenhagen's Noma, which has been declared the best restaurant in the world no fewer than four times. As you might easily imagine, our conversation was far-reaching and revealing.
Redzepi and I started off by talking about his new book The Noma Guide to Fermentation, co-authored by Noma's fermentation lab director David Zilber. Fermentation, he told me, is "basically adult Legos you play with. And then as we started fermenting, it was like two basketfuls of them and it's up to us as cooks to figure out how to build with them and what goes what, where, and how. And once you figure that out, cooking becomes easier and more delicious." René is a true believer in experimenting with fermentation, and recommends home cooks give it a shot. He told me that he thinks once people "discover and figure out how to use fermented products in their daily lives, [their experience] cooking will be better and easier."
Our conversation transitioned from fermentation to Redzepi's childhood, which was partially spent in Macedonia. "It was a very rural lifestyle," he explained. "If you wanted to visit a neighbor, you went on a horse....No refrigerators at home, every single meal was cooked. They were farmers, they worked the land. If you wanted a glass of milk, you milked the cow. If you wanted butter, you had to churn the cream." Redzepi said his extremely modest childhood helped fuel his passion, adding that "the reason why I have had the drive that I have is because when you grow up with nothing, and even going hungry to bed often as a child, this urge to make it was just a really, really powerful urge I had when we first started. I wanted to make it no matter what."
How did that drive propel him to open Noma 15 years ago, at the tender age of 25? And why did he close up shop at the height of the restaurant's acclaim? To get the answers to those two intriguing questions I'm afraid you'll have to tune into this week's Special Sauce. You'll be glad you did. I promise.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2018/12/special-sauce-rene-redzepi.html
In part two of my enlightening and heartfelt conversation with Chef Michael Solomonov and his partner Steven Cook, authors of Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious we took a deep dive into- what else?- the soul of Israeli food.
First of all, I became really envious when they told me about the kind of research they did for the book, which involved going to over 80 restaurants in eight days. That's my kind of trip!
And, apparently, when you eat at that many restaurants, you end up discovering a lot about a place. Cook noted that in the book they try to explain where many of the culinary traditions in the country came from, and what makes them Israeli, by documenting "the stories of all these cultures that have come together in the last 100 years, and evolved the cuisine that was already there, and brought in new traditions." As Solomonov notes, too, part of what's unique about the country is that "most Israelis are a few generations away from their family coming from a totally different part of the world," which makes for an interesting mix of food traditions.
But Cook also had one observation that stuck with me about what makes Israeli cuisine unique. He said, "Because of the way that so many different cultures have established themselves in Israel, within the last several generations, I think that there's an attachment to tradition that is really special, and something that we see probably less of in America. As food obsessed as we are now, it's about what's new and hot. It's not about doing something, perfecting something over generations, doing one thing, handing it off to your children. And that's really an inspiring way, I think, to think about food, and I think it comes through in how it tastes."
I learned so much from these passionate, smart advocates for Israeli food, and I have a feeling that many serious eaters will feel the same way after listening to this week's Special Sauce.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2018/11/special-sauce-michael-solomonov-steven-cook-part-two.html
3:23 Kenji addresses a question about make-ahead savory foods for the holidays.
6:27 Stella’s tips for make-ahead desserts.
8:28 Kenji explains how to get the most out of kitchen space when planning your Thanksgiving menu.
10:25 Debate: Should pies be reheated?
11:57 The team debates the differences between stuffing and dressing. Kenji is going to steal Stella’s dad’s idea for including brown butter in a stuffing recipe this year.
18:51 Is it possible to make gluten-free pies or other desserts that are actually delicious?
22:33 Are expensive turkeys better than ‘typical’ turkeys? Kenji, Stella and Ed discuss heritage vs. organic vs. free-range vs. commercial turkeys. Advice from Kenji: Use a thermometer and don’t overcook. Animal rights issues and farmers.
27:50 Kenji and Stella offer suggestions of what to do with leftover pumpkin purée.
30:18 Is sous-vide a useful technique for Thanksgiving? Kenji says yes, it’s great for turkey, leftovers, and heating make-ahead dishes.
For the last couple of Thanksgivings, we've done call-in episodes of Special Sauce with Stella and Kenji to answer the holiday-cooking questions stumping the Serious Eats community. We love producing these episodes, and our audience seems to love listening to (or reading) them, so we've decided to make it a Serious Eats holiday tradition.
This year, we were treated to a mini treatise from Kenji on gravy, which, I'm not ashamed to admit, has vexed me so much over the years that I've resorted to tubs of the store-bought stuff. Kenji broke down the basic process of making it, then described one of his favorite secret ingredients: "The other thing I like to do with my gravy, which some people consider cheating—whatever, I don't care—is that we add a little bit of soy sauce to it. This is actually something that my grandmother did, my mother did. This is an Alt family, a Nakanishi family tradition, actually.... When I do it, I actually put enough to make it taste a little bit like soy sauce, just because I like that flavor, but even if you don't want that flavor, even just a little splash of it, I find, it gives it a nicer color, and it also really deepens the flavor and brings out some of the other, more roasty flavors in the turkey."
Meanwhile, Stella had reassuring words for cooks who think the best-tasting pumpkin pie depends on fresh roasted pumpkin. If roasting your own sugar pumpkins and scooping out the flesh adds to the coziness of your Thanksgiving experience, she says, then go for it. But "if you don't enjoy that process, if you don't feel like, man, this is really improving my day and my dessert experience, there's not really any huge benefit, because the companies that make canned pumpkin are using the most delicious type of squash product, pumpkin product, that they can. They have scientists and engineers and farmers, all working together to produce this one glorious thing. It's like, let them do their job." The upshot of all of this being that "if you've got a recipe that calls for pumpkin purée, don't beat yourself up. Grab a can of pumpkin purée, and just take it easy."
Stella and Kenji's Thanksgiving troubleshooting ranged far and wide, tackling the most challenging questions with their customary aplomb and grace: How to time the many dishes that go into a Thanksgiving repast so that they all end up on the table together? What kinds of pies travel best? If you have to make your turkey in advance, what's the best way to reheat it? And many, many more that we're sure serious eaters will appreciate. If that isn't enough to entice you into listening, in the course of our conversation, both Kenji and Stella revealed themselves to be lovers of white-meat turkey and explained why. (I was skeptical, as you'll find out, but you'll no doubt render your own judgment about this controversial position.)
This special episode of Special Sauce is our way of thanking the millions of readers and listeners who have welcomed us into your kitchens and your stomachs over the years. Happy Thanksgiving, serious eaters.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/preview?record=439838
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2018/11/special-sauce-michael-solomonov-steven-cook-1-2.html
In part two of my repartee-filled interview with <em>New York Times</em> food editor Sam Sifton, we delved into the intersection of food and technology. When I asked Sam how he thinks the internet has impacted the food media landscape, he said "I think it has changed food for the better and for the worse. You know, there's something kind of delicious as a critic, at least in the first years of being able to go to the internet, to get the photographic notes that you would've taken if you weren't raised like a gentleman....You know, this is everybody obsessively photographing their food but, after a few years of that, now chefs are creating dishes that are meant to be photographed. That's a problem, right? The sort of Instagram-bait platings are a problem, so you've got to kind of be careful about it but, on the whole, I can go on my phone and get a reservation in two seconds and order a car and get there and take pictures of the food and then get a news alert or have the president send an alert to my phone, as he did today. That's amazing! That's cool! That's great!"
And, since Sam wrote a cookbook exclusively devoted to Thanksgiving, I also had to ask him for his top tips for the notoriously challenging holiday meal. "Okay, three things that you need to know about Thanksgiving that you don't really know already," he said. "Number one: everything is going to be fine. It really is. I promise you. It's going to be fine. Two: you need more butter than you think. You really do. Three: Thanksgiving is not the time to litigate that issue [Whatever the hot-button of the moment happens to be]. It really isn't. Let it go. Let it go for the meal."
For a whole lot more <em>New York Times</em> food wisdom, including the origins of the newspaper's cooking app, and a great deal of fun food-gabbing, check out this week's episode of Special Sauce.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2018/11/special-sauce-sam-sifton-part-2.html
Sometimes my Special Sauce conversations function as a reunion, and this week's episode represents one of those times. Almost 20 years ago, my guest, Sam Sifton, was my editor at the <em>New York Times</em> food section, and, as such, the person who encouraged me to take deep dives into iconic foods like burgers and pizza. Those deep dives have in fact become the hallmark of Serious Eats, sometimes taking the form of recipes and cooking-technique articles, and Sam is now in charge of just about all of the food coverage at the <em>Times</em>, including its cooking app.
I asked Sam about the genesis of his passion for food. "I'm a New Yorker, born and raised in New York, and my distinct memories of the Sifton family table as a kid involved exploring the city. I, like a lot of knucklehead kids of the '70s, was dragged off to music lessons, despite a distinct lack of aptitude in the musical arts, and did that on Saturday morning, after which we would drive around—my brothers and my father and I, sometimes with my mother along—we would drive around in the family station wagon, hitting various neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn to pick up ingredients for a sandwich feast, or a fried chicken feast, or whatever we were going to eat over the course of the weekend. I think that's when this mania of mine began, was during those trips."
Though he is now a serious home cook (and has in fact written a <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Thanksgiving-Cook-Well-Sam-Sifton/dp/1400069912/?tag=serieats-20">Thanksgiving cookbook</a>), Sam has always been a serious eater. "...I was a kid who liked to eat, and as a New York kid was able to eat widely and have wide-ranging opinions about the foods that I could afford, which were, what—slices of pizza, meat buns from the Chinese place, and the like. I was always up for a debate about <a href="https://www.seriouseats.com/2018/10/best-ny-pizza-slices-2018.html">where the best slice is</a>."
As you'll hear, despite the variety of important positions he's held at the <em>Times</em>, Sam has always been drawn toward participating in some kind of debate. "I think I gravitated toward opinion, for sure, and toward exploration, and as my career as a journalist developed, I realized that one of the great ways of exploring a culture, or a city, or a region, is through its food. As you mentioned, I spent time on the national desk, I spent time on the culture desk, and I can tell you, there are people who are not interested in dance coverage, and there are people who are not interested in coverage of Midwestern congressional races, but everybody is interested in food at some point."
Sam is as smart and opinionated and well informed as anyone I know in food journalism. If you don't believe me, just listen to his episodes of Special Sauce, and decide for yourself.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/preview?record=438952
On this episode of Special Sauce, I asked <a href="https://www.seriouseats.com/editors/daniel-gritzer">Daniel Gritzer</a>, our managing culinary director, to come on and talk about the work he's been doing recently, and about where he thinks the site is headed from a culinary point of view (I hope to have Daniel and other members of the culinary team on the podcast more regularly in the future). And just to spice it up a little, I had <a href="https://www.seriouseats.com/editors/j-kenji-lopez-alt">Kenji López-Alt</a>, on, too.
We spent a fair amount of time talking about a magical and ancient cooking implement: the mortar and pestle. Daniel has done a <a href="https://www.seriouseats.com/2018/08/best-mortars-and-pestles.html">lot of research into mortars and pestles</a>, and Kenji has frequently <a href="https://www.seriouseats.com/2016/07/quick-tip-faster-curry-paste-mortar-pestle-food-processor-test-best-flavor.html">extolled their virtues on the site</a>. (If you follow <a href="https://www.instagram.com/kenjilopezalt/?hl=en">Kenji on Instagram</a>, you'll have seen photos of Alicia, his adorable daughter, pounding away on her own mini mortar and pestle alongside her dad.)
The first thing I wanted to find out was what Daniel found so interesting about them. "It's a kitchen tool that we take for granted," Daniel said. "Mortars and pestles predate knives, right? Mortars and pestles go back to when we were still cutting things with chipped stone tools, they're that old."
Part of what Daniel was trying to figure out was whether his long-held suspicion that some of the mortars and pestles sold in kitchenware stores were just terrible at doing what they were supposed to. "I collected as many mortars and pestles as I could reasonably get my hands on," Daniel said, and he put them through their paces. "Making things like pesto, Thai chili pastes, grinding spices, mashing garlic to a paste." And he discovered, just as he suspected, that not all mortars and pestles are created equal. "This ceramic one that I picked up at a store that will not be named was just horrible, it didn't work for anything." Although Daniel did soften that criticism after noting that a reader had observed that it was a science lab mortar and pestle, one that's not intended for culinary purposes. "That thing is good if you're mashing up mouse brains to do some sort of experiment."
And a good mortar and pestle is necessary, according to both Daniel and Kenji, since it will lead to superior results. "If you taste a pesto mae in a mortar and pestle side by side with a pesto made in a food processor," Kenji observed, "it's a pretty significant difference." Kenji also noted that in his sequel to the Food Lab, which he's now writing, "there's an entire chapter on the mortar and pestle and what you can do with it." Kenji even claims he'd put it in his top five pieces of necessary kitchen equipment.
Once Kenji left the line I asked Daniel to reflect on the way he sees the culinary content on Serious Eats evolving in the future, and he had a typically thoughtful answer, but to hear him talk about that, you'll just have to listen. For now, suffice it to say that it was a pleasure to have Daniel Gritzer and Kenji López-Alt together again, if only on Special Sauce.
I decided to kick off the new season of Special Sauce by checking in with Kenji. It won't surprise the Serious Eats tribe that he's been a little busy lately. You probably know about <a href="http://www.wursthall.com/">Wursthall</a>, the restaurant he opened with two other partners in his adopted hometown of San Mateo, California. But you may not know that he's also working on his very first children's book <em>and</em> the sequel to his best-selling book, <dorado id="the-food-lab-better-home-cooking-through-science" class="text">The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science</dorado>, all while juggling the demands of being a relatively new father.
One of the first things I asked Kenji about is whether his absolutely adorable 18-month-old daughter is as into cooking as his Instagram feed would indicate. "Oh, yeah. I mean, we cook every day together," he said. "I made her a little helper stool so she can climb up and get at counter height, and she has a little wooden knife... She loves it. She likes to whisk things, she makes pancake batter. She pounds things in the mortar and pestle. She dances along when you chop quickly." I have no doubt Alicia will be reverse-searing steaks any day now.
I also asked him to talk about his children's book and why he wanted to write it. "I want to have a good legacy and I want to add joy to the world," Kenji said. "This seemed like a way that I could do [that], in a way that was both very personal to me but also could be shared." But, of course, because this is Kenji, part of it was also because it presented a challenge. "This is something I've never done before. I can tell you, writing a kids' book is not easy. In a way, it's even more difficult than writing <em>The Food Lab</em>."
And then we talked about his other book project, the sequel to <em>The Food Lab</em>, which he descibed as being more focused on how he cooks at home. "It'll be a much less American-centric book," he said. "Techniques from all around the world, ingredients from all around the world, and essentially breaking down those techniques and ingredients and showing everyday home cooks how they can use the knowledge that everybody from around the world has collected over millennia to make their everyday cooking easier and more flavorful and more efficient."
Finally, Kenji and I talked about challenges and rewards of opening Wursthall. "The most rewarding part of the restaurant," Kenji said, "is knowing that you're helping these 50 employees earn a living and all of your guests have a good time...Anybody who doesn't feel that way, shouldn't be in hospitality."
We covered an awful lot of ground in this episode, and I think Serious Eaters everywhere will enjoy every second of Kenji's return to Special Sauce.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2018/09/special-sauce-wheres-kenji-here-hes-here.html
In part three of my pizza nerd-cast with Adam Kuban and Scott Wiener, we go seriously deep into New York pizza, specifically the state of the NYC slice in 2018.
Scott observed that some of the best pizza in town is being made by a new generation of pizza makers, ones that have no connection with older pizzerias. As he puts it, "They're not someone who learned their recipe from somebody else. They're people who are taking it upon themselves to figure out how to do it and do it right."
When I mentioned that the quality of some of the old-school slice joints had become markedly worse, Adam reluctantly agreed.
"That's tough 'cause I came here from Oregon...and we had no slice culture. The first six months I was here, I probably ate a slice everyday, 'cause I could," Adam said. "But eventually I burned out on it, and then...the next time I ate a slice again, I was like 'What did I think was so good about this? This is like rubbery cheese.'"
Of course, I had to ask both of them for their definition of the New York slice.
Adam said, "Thin crust, it's crisp, yet flexible, it's got tomato sauce and cheese, but they're balanced and they're balanced with the crust. Like, you don't have too much sauce, you don't have too much cheese."
Scott's was slightly different: "A New York slice is low-moisture mozzarella, gas oven, served on a paper plate, but the slice is bigger than the plate."
Since we were talking slices, Scott also had some thoughts about getting a slice reheated, which was accompanied by a bit of hard-won wisdom about pizza in general. "It's not going to be the same after the reheat," Scott said, "but that's sometimes part of the game. It's like toasting; sometimes you want a slice of bread, and sometimes you want toast. They're different. It's not just like breadier bread. You know what I mean? So, you gotta know your pizzeria. If their fresh pies come out the way that you like it, great, but some places you will want the reheat. You just gotta know your place."
We talk about a whole lot more in this week's episode, including our favorite slices in all the five boroughs and the pleasures and perils associated with the metal pizza stands you find at some of the city's great pizza places. But to hear our picks and our collective pie wisdom, you're just going to have to listen.
And when you've done that, know that there's still more geeking out about pizza to come in the near future on Serious Eats. Adam, Scott, and I have collaborated on a multi-dimensional post on the State of the New York Slice in 2018, so stay tuned.
One final note: We're taking a break from Special Sauce next week, but we'll be back with a new episode on September 14th.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats:https://www.seriouseats.com/2018/08/special-pizza-sauce-adam-kuban-and-scott-wiener-talk-pie-part-3-pie-hard-with-a-vengeance.html.
The self-described pizza nerds Adam Kuban and Scott Wiener are back with me on this week's Special Sauce to continue our deep dive into our favorite food.
Scott took great umbrage at the widely disseminated origin story of the Margherita pizza, in which a pizzaiolo created a pizza with the colors of the Italian flag–red (tomato sauce), white (mozzarella), and green (basil)–to impress Queen Margherita of Italy. "Well, number one, tomato and cheese were both on pizza at least 45 years before that Margherita pizza is said to have happened...So, [it's a] complete myth that the pizza Margherita was the first time that the cheese pizza was invented. I'm responsible, in part, for spreading [it]," Scott conceded. "Every year on the date that's thought of as the anniversary, I always, starting probably nine or ten years ago, would put up a blog post...If you track them, the post changes and every year I got more skeptical about that story."
We also explored why the myth of the superiority of pizza in Naples continues to this day. Scott pointed out that it probably has to do with the fact that Naples is seen as the origin point of all pizza. But he also made the interesting observation about how Neapolitan pizza is distinct from a lot of other styles. "It's such a defined product that the margin for error is so small," Scott said. "When it's done well, when it's done correctly, I should say, it's all the same."
Adam agreed. "I never thought about that, but that makes a lot of sense and that's why I find [Neapolitan pizza] a little bit more boring. I like toppings on pizza, I'm sorry...When I first moved [to New York] I was a big proponent of, 'You gotta try a plain pizza, a plain slice first to really get a feel of what it is,' but I got so bored eating plain slices and Neapolitan Margheritas that I almost can't do it again."
We also tackled some less controversial topics, such as what Adam and Scott think is responsible for the heightened interest in pizza all over the world. Adam thinks it's the internet and the way it brings people who share a similar passion for a subject together: "We're just nerds about pizza, other people are nerds about sports or movies. It just wasn't until the internet came that people who were nerds about pizza could get together and talk about it and then do it in such a way that everyone else on the internet could see it."
So if you want to geek out about pizza with these funny, smart pizza geeks, give a listen to this week's episode of Special Sauce. I hope it has you salivating for next week's final deep dive in pizza.
The full transcript for this episode can be found here at Serious Eats.
For the next three weeks on Special Sauce I will be geeking out about pizza with Adam Kuban and Scott Wiener, two of the smartest, most passionate, and most knowledgeable pizza nerds on the planet. Adam Kuban is the founding editor of the seminal food blog Slice.com, which Serious Eats acquired right before we launched in December of 2006, and as part of the deal, Adam became our first managing editor. Adam currently runs Margot's Pizza, a mostly monthly pizza popup in Brooklyn.
Scott Wiener is the founder of Scott's Pizza Tours, the author of Viva la Pizza!: The Art of the Pizza Box, and is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the largest collection of pizza boxes on the planet.
Of course, I asked the two about their love for pizza. Scott said part of its appeal is that it has a wide reach. "It's the food eaten everywhere, and everybody understands it, and it's just sort of an open invitation for conversation...When somebody says, 'Oh, such and such place is hands down the best ever,' nobody ever says, 'Oh. Okay, cool. Thanks. You want to go play some hockey?' No, it's never like that. It's always a conversation, and nobody's ever right, and nobody's ever wrong. It's like this friendly thing you can talk about."
Scott's love of pizza led to him creating Scott's Pizza Tours, which in turn set him on the path to collecting pizza boxes, and he now has 1,400 and counting. "I just figured, I have to understand every aspect of [pizza]," Scott said. "I was driving out to Long Island to see pizza oven factories, and tomato farms. I needed to know as much as could about everything. When I started noticing beautiful-looking pizza boxes, I had all these questions...Why go through all the trouble of putting this sometimes beautiful art, and sometimes absolutely atrocious art, onto a box that's just gonna get thrown in the garbage?"
Adam's love for pizza has found its expression at Margot's, which is so popular that all the seats sell out in a matter of seconds when tickets go on sale. The pizza is a little difficult to pin down, but it's all Adam. "It's basically an amalgam of many different styles throughout the country that I fell in love with," Adam said. "My first love was basically the Midwestern thin crust pies. It's got that thinness. I love New York pizza. I love how it's crisp and you can fold it still. When I went about making my crust, I made sure that it was crisp but you could fold it." How do people get tickets for Margot's? Go to the website linked above and follow the instructions. The next one is on September 10th at Emily in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, and tickets will go on sale September 3rd at exactly 10 p.m. Pro tip: You have to be on the Margot's Pizza mailing list to receive the link to buy tickets.
I promise that this special three-part Special Sauce series on pizza will have you craving your favorite slice, no matter where you live. That is, of course, if you love pizza. And who doesn't love pizza?
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats.
All right, I admit it: I've always fantasized about having one of the Obamas as a guest on Special Sauce. And while I haven't given up hope entirely, I realize that Sam Kass, my guest on Special Sauce this week, might be as close as I get to that particular dream.
Sam is an author and food policy activist, and I first heard about him when he was tapped by Michelle Obama in 2013 to be the executive director of her Let's Move campaign, which focused on changing attitudes about food and nutrition in America. By that point in time, Sam had already been working at the White House for about four years, both as a chef and as an advisor.
Sam has since taken some of the lessons he tried to impart there and written the cookbook Eat A Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World, which is also something of a gentle food manifesto.
We started the conversation off with what it was like for Sam growing up, and he said that he started cooking for his family when he was nine; part of his allowance was even budgeted for the shopping. But he didn't really use recipes. "I would just make it up," Sam said, "I remember I cooked chicken thighs with a bunch of dried herbs and some onions, and maybe some mushrooms that I just sort of threw together. It came out actually really well...I got lucky, I think. Because then I tried to do it the next time, and put so many dried herbs into it that it was basically inedible."
Such is life as a nine-year-old chef.
As we talked, it seemed like Sam and I were bonding quite nicely. Well, at least until I brought up Chicago's deep dish pizzas, which turned out to be a sore subject. Here's a bit of the transcript:
Ed Levine: How did you feel about Chicago pizza? Were you a lover of deep dish pizza?
Sam Kass: Of course. Are you kidding me?
Ed Levine: I ask that because when I, I wrote a pizza book. A book all about pizza. In it I uttered some blasphemous statements about Chicago pizza.
Sam Kass: I'm amazed you're still alive.
I hope you'll check out both this week and next week's podcast to listen to how the talented and thoughtful Sam Kass became an invaluable member of the Obamas' White House team.
The full transcript for this episode can be found here at Serious Eats.
On this week's episode of Special Sauce, the Pulitzer Prize–winning but ridiculously down-to-earth Rick Bragg digs deep into his mom, the subject of his latest book, The Best Cook in the World.For one thing, Bragg's mother was not in the least interested in trendsetting: "Well, the first time she ever heard the term 'farm-to-table,' the puzzled look on her face—like, 'Well, how else are they gonna do it?...' They had it back in her day, too. They called it a flatbed truck."
Bragg's mother wasn't initially keen on the idea of a book about her cooking.
"Well, it wasn't that she didn't so much like the idea of telling the stories of her food. She didn't like the ego it would require to call it The Best Cook in the World.... When I told her she said, 'What would you even call it?' And I told her the title, and she said, 'I wasn't even the best cook that lived on our road.' And I said, 'Well, that may be true, but calling it The Third Best Cook on Roy Webb Road don't sing.' So here we are."
But a diagnosis of cancer and the ensuing years of treatment helped break down his mother's reluctance, and strengthened Bragg's own resolve:"I began to think about what would be lost, but I did not want to imagine a world without my momma in it.... I would not do this when my momma was gone, I just couldn't bear to do it. I had to do it while she was looking me in the face."
Did Bragg's mother, who spent many years working in kitchens of all kinds, including restaurant kitchens, consider herself a chef? "She did but she.... The word 'chef,' and believe me, I understand the culture, and I understand the hierarchy. I mean, they insist on being called 'Chef' if they're a chef, and I get it, and I understand the importance. But to her, she went about it with the same blue-collar notion that she went about everything else, and she saw it as the best thing that she could do...with the limited resources she had, for the people she loved. Some people sew, some people kill themselves in a factory. My momma cooked."
And, he said, it was both the only thing she thought she could do well and a marker of prestige. "I never will forget her telling me, 'Your Aunt Jo can dance, and your Aunt Juanita can climb a tree like a man. But all I could ever do was cook.' And she said that not with any...in any kind of self-pitying way, but with a great deal of fierce pride. A cook holds an almost...and it's not just my culture, it holds an almost magical place in the eyes of, especially, working folks, and I've seen it in the Dominican Republic, seen it in Cuba, seen it in Miami and the Cuban community there, seen it in places all over the world. The cook is kinda like a high priest of good living."
There's truth and magic at work when Bragg talks about his mother and her cooking. Listen to this week's episode of Special Sauce, and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.
Barbecue pitmasters are amongst our nation's greatest storytellers—they learn that all-important skill tending to their 'cue all night. But Rodney Scott, South Carolina pitmaster and James Beard Award winner, might just have the best story of all to tell, as you'll hear on this week's Special Sauce.
You won't be disappointed, only inspired.
On this week's Special Sauce, seminal food blogger, pastry chef, and author David Lebovitz and I took a trip back into the past. And we had a blast.
David worked in the Chez Panisse kitchen for 13 years before he realized it was time to leave. "I left because I was getting older, and when your body hits a certain age," David explained. "It's hard to stand up for eight and a half hours. It's like, I need to listen to my body, I need to go to the bathroom when I have to go to the bathroom without someone knocking on the door asking where the desserts are."
How was his first cookbook Room for Dessert conceived? "I was kind of burnt out, and I'd had all these dessert recipes in my repertoire, and I had spoken to Alice Waters [about writing a book]. Lindsey Shere wrote the first Chez Panisse dessert book, and I said, 'Well, maybe I should write the second one. Would that be interesting?' And, she said, 'Write your own.'" And so David's first book was born.
That book was the reason why David started his eponymous food blog in 1999; David wanted to give readers an opportunity to ask him about his recipes, which made him one of the first food blogging pioneers. "I had thought my first book's coming out, and I should use this internet thing, and if people have problems with recipes they can contact me. Because, often you make something from a book and you think, 'Oh, well, this recipe, I don't understand what the author means,' or something."
Around the same time, David decided to leave the Bay Area for Paris. He explained that in part it was because his life partner died, which, combined with his leaving Chez Panisse, left him feeling unmoored. Or, as he said, "It gave me the moment to say, 'You know what? I don't have anything here left.' I pretty much lost everything, and it was like, 'What do I do now?'" David continued, "I just realized this recently, that the reason I moved to France was because it was sort of a horizontal move, it is very similar to Northern California, the climate, the food was similar—goat cheese, garlic, wine—and it seemed like a horizontal move to go to Paris."
From Chez Panisse to early food blogger to best-selling author, David's story is full of twists and turns. Which of course makes for an excellent episode of Special Sauce.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over at Serious Eats.
My guest on this week's Special Sauce is the extraordinary blogger, author, and pastry chef David Lebovitz, whose latest book is L'Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home. David and I started off our conversation with the early days of blogging, and I asked him about whether he had ever intended to make money from his path-breaking blog. It is a question he frequently fielded at blogging conferences, where attendees would ask how they, too, could make a profit, to which he'd respond, "Do it for free for eight years."
"The whole idea of monetization didn't occur [to me]," David said. "I remember the first there were Google Ads, and you might make like $9 and you were so excited." For some people, it started becoming a business over the years, but that was never the focus of my blog."
David has had a number of interesting jobs in Paris. He was, for a very short time, a fishmonger. "I did that because I wanted to learn how to cut up fish, and because the guys who worked at this fish shop were unusually handsome. Even my straight male friends were like, 'Yes, those guys are really, really handsome.'"
Though L'Appart is ostensibly about his misadventures renovating a Paris apartment, David said it's also about something else. "It's how to live like a local, and be careful what you wish for. Everyone's like, 'I want to live like a local.' I'm like, 'No, be a tourist. Come visit, have a great trip, go home with your sanity intact.'"
As to what he learned renovating his apartment, David says, "Well, I learned if you want to be comfortable, stay home. You know, if you want life to be...you know, you want to watch TV, watch your favorite shows, not have to worry about returning things, stay home and that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. You know, you take a chance and that's when...you took a chance creating Serious Eats. It might have not worked out, and it...you know, it happened to have worked out, but you took a chance. If you didn't take a chance, it wouldn't have happened. So taking a chance is usually an okay thing, and it's also okay to fail at things."
I will say, finally, that David Lebovitz is quietly one of the bravest souls I know. Why do I say that? Listen to this episode of Special Sauce to find out.
The full transcript for this week's episode can be found here on Serious Eats.
Listening to Roads and Kingdom co-founder Matt Goulding talk about the food culture in Italy on this week's Special Sauce was a real treat for me. Matt spent months eating his way through the country for his extraordinary new book, Pasta, Pane, Vino: Deep Travels Through Italy's Food Culture, and he explains that what he found in his travels was a vibrant and evolving food culture, not one that is frozen in time. Or, as he so eloquently says, "I wanted to toss off this idea of this calcified cuisine that's encased in amber, that Italian food is a museum piece...So what this book is really about is, yes, the traditions are beautiful and they shouldn't be screwed with half-heartedly. They need to be taken very seriously, but to say that Italian food is the same as it has always been...overlooks the fact that there are incredible chefs, young and old, and artisans and innovators that are doing amazing things with pizza in Naples or ragu in Emilia-Romagna."
Matt illustrated the tensions between staying true to time-honored traditions even as younger generations are looking to do something new with an anecdote about a burrata-making family in Puglia. "I realized very quickly that within their own family the entire complexity of this push and pull between past and present and future was contained between mother and father and then their three young sons...The mother and father thought the idea of putting matcha powder into burrata was fucking nuts and grandma's rolling over in her grave...These guys were like, 'Well we just came back from Japan. We brought burrata to them and now we want to bring Japan to burrata. Why can't we do that?'"
I do hope you'll tune in to this episode, as I expect you'll find Matt to be as entertaining as he is insightful.
The full transcript for this episode of Special Sauce can be found here at Serious Eats.
Having chef and memoirist Edward Lee on Special Sauce was the happiest of accidents. Sitting on top of a pile of books on Special Sauce associate producer Marissa Chen's desk was Lee's evocative and moving memoir, Buttermilk Graffiti. I read a chapter, was knocked out by it, and emailed his publicist asking if Lee–chef/owner at three restaurants in Louisville, Kentucky, and culinary director at another in Washington, DC, and Maryland–was going to be in NYC any time soon. By some miracle, he was, and you can hear the results of all this serendipity on this week's episode of Special Sauce (and next's).
Growing up in the then-polyglot neighborhood of Canarsie, Brooklyn, Lee was exposed to all kinds of food, and he and his friends ate anything and everything: "We're going to get a beef patty, and then we're going to eat some Pakistani food, and then get a slice of pizza." But, he says, the household he was raised in didn't exactly encourage his interest in cooking from a young age. "It was interesting back then, coming from a traditional, patriarchal Korean family. I was not going to be the one to cook. I had an older sister, and it's the girl that the recipes get passed down to, not the boy in the family. I'm supposed to go off and do whatever boys do. I literally had to fight my way into the kitchen. I was very persistent, even as a little kid.... I basically said, 'Listen, I'm not leaving.' [My grandmother] would let me hang out in the kitchen. She wouldn't tell me what she was doing, but she would just let me hang out in the kitchen, and she would just be like, 'Well, if you're going to be here, be here, but I'm not going to tell you anything about this.'"
When he told his parents he was going to become a chef, they were not pleased: "For my parents, they said to me, they said, 'You're being a servant. You're choosing a life of servitude.' Of course, my rebuttal was, 'Hey, you become an accountant, you're still serving someone.' They didn't want to hear that. I was kind of a smart aleck. They didn't like those answers. There were no celebrity chefs back then. There was no ownership of your destiny, ownership of your career."
Before Lee truly embarked on that career, however, he fell in love with graffiti, an outlet that, to him, represented art at its most democratic and most ephemeral. For many of the young people he grew up around, it was a "futile attempt at leaving some permanence on the world, knowing that this thing was going to get covered up in a week or two, or month. There was something both tragic and beautiful about it.... Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but I make the comparison now that food is so much the same way. Food is so much about.... It's just a moment."
Lee eventually found his way to Louisville, where he encountered his first bowl of collard greens at a local soul food restaurant and was drawn in by the multiethnic nature of Southern food culture. You'll hear more about how his exposure to Southern culture transformed his approach to food, plus the important life lessons he learned during his stint as a short-order cook in college, when you tune in.
The transcript for this episode of Special Sauce can be found over at Serious Eats.
In part 2 of the Special Sauce interview with artist and author Maira Kalman, we were joined by <a href="http://www.barbarascottgoodman.net/Cookbooks.html">Barbara Scott-Goodman</a>, who co-authored <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Cake-Maira-Kalman/dp/1101981547/?tag=serieats-20">Cake</a></em>, and, of course, we talked cake. What else would we talk about?
The first question I asked was how the book came to be. Scott-Goodman said that she had always wanted to write a book about cake, but not one that dipped into the realm of baking bibles or took itself too seriously. She wanted a book "about moments of cake." And so she approached Kalman (they have known each other for years) and simply said "I want to do a book about cake." And that was that.
Of course, the way the collaboration worked was slightly unorthodox. "That process took a little while to figure out," Scott-Goodman said. "I work as a cookbook writer and think in terms of, 'First we'll do this and that' and when I said something about the yellow pound cake Maira said 'Well, then that would be the picture of Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein.'"
But an unorthodox process was totally appropriate, in light of what they produced. "'Is it a cake book? Is it a memoir?'" Kalman said. "It's both of these things beautifully tied together."
One of my favorite moments of the interview (admittedly one I engineered) was when Kalman read one of my favorite passages from the book:
<blockquote>The Cakes of People I Do Not Know
All over the world, all the time, people are eating cake.
They always have and they always will.
A group of children have stopped playing to have cake.
A man taking a nap on a comfortable sofa will wake up to a lovely cake.
Together, or alone, celebrating or sitting quietly and thinking, someone is savoring a moment of cake.</blockquote>
The words on a page don't do this cake poem justice. To really feel the power contained in them you'll just have to listen to the podcast.
I don't know how many serious eaters have heard of the brilliant, food-loving, and thought-provoking artist and writer Maira Kalman, but I've been a huge fan of hers for a long time now. So when I heard that she had recently co-written (with Barbara Scott-Goodman) and illustrated a cookbook, Cake, I knew I had to have her on Special Sauce.
As an artist, Kalman seeks to represent joyful, meaningful moments: "All comfort is temporary. We know that to be a fact. But when you understand that, then you can really allow yourself to look at those moments during the day, and they become very important, and they're very shining moments.... And I think those are the happiest moments that people have, when you're alone and a fleeting something happens, and you feel a sense of joy. So, I'm looking for those."
"Room service breakfast in bed. Let's start with the basics. Usually, I've spent time traveling a lot, and I order breakfast in bed because I want to see how they serve it and what the dishes are and what's the tray in, what's the napkin, and I photograph it, and I do drawings, and I've done pieces for magazines. So, it's professional on my part. It's professional research. But I adore all the trappings of table settings and what goes around it. I would like to work in a hotel. I worked as a maid in an Irish castle for a few weeks, and that was heaven. I can see doing that. I'd like to get a job in a hotel, serving somebody else breakfast.
In this episode, you'll hear about what she'd serve for that hotel breakfast (in great detail), plus why she dislikes dinner parties and her special love for chairs that have been abandoned on the street.
Next week, we'll get into Kalman's new book, Cake, but this week's conversation will provide plenty of sustenance in the meantime.
The full transcript for this week's podcast episode can be found at Serious Eats.
In part two of my terrific interview with Smitten Kitchen's Deb Perelman, we move from the creation of her blog into book writing (her second book Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites was just published in October 2017), and how social media has (or hasn't) changed what she does.
The first thing I learned was that writing books was never part of Deb's grand master plan: "From 2003, I had been hearing from agents and editors. No, I did not think I needed to write a book. I thought it was like...'Why would I need a book? The web is all I'll ever need.' And that was really very much my mindset. It's so ridiculous to say this, and it's so insulting to somebody who really wants to write a cookbook, that I was so flippant about it, but I had to be talked into it."
Deb admitted that she was more "terrified" than anything else when her first book was published, particularly about how it might be received: "It was actually going to ruin...take the blog down with it when the book was panned. These were live and real things that were in my head, until the first day that it maybe hit the bestseller list, and then I was like, "Okay, one week of not thinking this way. Let me see if I can make it to next week."
I guess it isn't surprising that it did so well, in light of the fact that 85% of the recipes were new and couldn't be found on her blog: "I wanted it to be of value. I was really concerned about long-term readers feeling like this was not a book for them. It had to be of value to them. I wasn't going to ask you to buy stuff I'd been giving you for free, like you didn't know how money worked, you know?"
Deb's concern for her readers getting the most out of the work she does also plays into the way she uses social media: "You have to know what you're selling, I guess. For me, it's the stories, it's the recipes. So, I always felt social media has to meet people where they are. If you want to find out about my site on Facebook, let me show up on Facebook and be there. If you want to get your news on Twitter, I will be in all those places. I will meet you there. But I'm still going to tell you what I'm doing, where I'm doing it, if that makes sense."
Perhaps what's so surprising about Deb's success, in the end, is that she has kept Smitten Kitchen a one-woman show. "It's not the smartest thing I've ever done...It's not making me feel younger. I do my own everything. And part of it is that I...You could say I'm a control freak, but it's more that who else...How are you going to answer email for me? How are you going to write for me? How are you going to edit photos? It's all my vision."
To hear more about that vision and what makes the person behind Smitten Kitchen tick, you're just going to have to tune into the show.
The full transcript for this week's podcast can be found over at Serious Eats.
A week after sitting down with Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes, I got to reminisce with another seminal food blogger: Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. Deb started Smitten Kitchen in 2006, the same year that Serious Eats launched. Twelve years later, Smitten Kitchen has millions of readers who come to the site for both her fine recipes and her realistic portrayal of her insanely busy city life, testing recipes and posting on her blog with two young children underfoot. Somehow she's managed to also write two best-selling cookbooks, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and her recently published Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites.
When I posited that one of the reasons Smitten Kitchen resonated with so many people is Deb's ability to laugh at herself and readily admit to failure, she responded, "Yeah, I thought that was so strange, that we were supposed to pretend we were perfect. How hard would that be to maintain? I'd last maybe a day, like a week perhaps...That's not life."
What explains the success of Smitten Kitchen? Deb isn't sure, but she said, "I'm hoping that I'm speaking about things in real language. I hope that I'm not pretending to be something I'm not, pretending cooking is something that it's not. I just think, 'Okay, so this is super hard to try to cook this with like a kid underfoot.' Why would I lie about that? Because this is real and we're all dealing with this. I kind of do it [the blog] to share the burden a little bit, like, 'Why should I feel like I'm carrying all this myself when we're all dealing with this?'"
Perelman is ever hopeful, whether it comes to the latest recipe she's testing or the future of food blogs. "I really do like the fact that that you can have a long, crappy day, and make a recipe that's new and fun, and it can be the highlight of your day." As for food blogging, Deb said, "You know, it didn't begin and end with me, and...I know that blogs sound like a very dated thing, but I always feel like if you're trying to get yourself out there, put yourself out there. So what if you have ten people reading? When somebody wants a link to your clips, there it is."
For more pearls of wisdom from Deb Perelman, check out part 1 of her Special Sauce interview.
The full transcript for this week's episode can be found over at Serious Eats.
At the end of part 1 of my Special Sauce interview with Elise Bauer, she had just described starting Simply Recipes in 2004 after coming home to live with her parents in Sacramento to recover from a serious case of chronic fatigue syndrome, and in this week's episode we pick up where we left off. At the outset, Elise says she was making enough money to splurge on movie tickets, but then things started to change. "The more content I added...the more we got picked up in search and the more traffic we got." And back then, as I can personally attest, more traffic meant more revenue.
But then, just as Simply Recipes was starting to take off, Elise suffered a relapse. Was it because she attempted the swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco again? "I didn't go back to Alcatraz but...I actually think it was hot yoga that got me into trouble...I spent the entire summer of 2005 in bed." It would take her another five years to fully recover. "I didn't go on a date for seven years," Elise says.
In addition to talking about her getting Simply Recipes off the ground, Elise and I got into a very lively discussion about the evolution of digital food media, particularly about the impact social media has had on the industry. "It used to be that if you had a blog, a good quality blog, people would then come visit your blog. Now you're expected to have your content show up where those people are, not the other way around," Elise says. "Social media's become a lot more important in terms of having a presence in the marketplace. It used to be it was 80% content, 20% marketing. Now I think it's 20% content, 80% marketing and marketing from social media."
Elise also offers up three important pieces of advice for anyone embarking on a digital food media adventure. But to hear what one of food blogging's true pioneers has to say about that, you're just going to have to listen to this week's episode of Special Sauce.
The full transcript of this week's episode can be found over here at Serious Eats.
The full transcript for this week's episode can be found here at Serious Eats.
In part 2 of my Special Sauce interview with Sara Moulton, she plunges headfirst into the issues women face as chefs. "When I first moved to New York...I couldn't get a job. But not only that, about every five years there'd be an article in the New York Times saying, "Where are all the women chefs?" It pissed me off, because I'd be like, "I know where they are. Being kept down or going to California where it's far easier to get a job, because nobody will give them a job here."
Here she is on why she thinks she lost her long-running show on the Food Network: "The way I see it is, competition and cleavage took over. I had cleavage, but they didn't want to see mine. But that's all right. And that's not what I was there for. I'll be honest, I was devastated."
Sara also talks about checking in with women in the industry periodically: "I always talk to them and try to find out what's the deal, how we're doing, how are we moving forward? I mean, I'm no longer doing that. But, how are women chefs doing? What they say consistently is they're still not getting the same publicity, and they're still not getting the same real estate deals and backing for new restaurants. They're still being treated like second-class citizens."
As for what she would tell a young woman chef about how to proceed: "The advice I would give to them is pretty much the same as what I used to [say]: 'Head West, young lady. California is so much better a place.'"
As a mother of two children who has been married for a long time, I asked her what she tells women chefs about having it all: "That is still a really difficult question and answer. I have no idea. You either have to have a partner who is willing to stay home...I mean, Jody Adams, you know, from Rialto*, her husband stayed home...If you can set that up, yes, you can make it work. But...it's striking when you think that this is not an issue for a man to be working 80 hours a week and [have] a family. But it is for most women. That is where I always hit a wall. I have no answers except the one I just gave you. It's rare to find the person who's willing to just stay home."
*Editor's note: Rialto shuttered in 2016. Adams is now chef and owner of the restaurants Porto, Saloniki, and TRADE.
Sara Moulton is smart, savvy, talented and pulls no punches. Listen in and I'm sure you'll agree.
The transcript for this week's episode can be found over at Serious Eats.
This week's guest on Special Sauce is food television personality and pioneering chef Sara Moulton, who is as unpretentious as she is accomplished. And when I say accomplished I mean accomplished. Sara is currently the host of the PBS series Sara's Weeknight Meals and the co-host of Milk Street Radio. She previously was the host of the live television show Cooking Live on the Food Network for almost ten years. Suffice it to say, Sara should be familiar to anyone who has watched cooking shows on television.
Want an example of her lack of pretense? Here is her take on leftovers: "I'd rather open up a refrigerator filled with leftovers than start with a blank canvas. Leftovers talk to me." Or how about this detail from one of her many food-related jobs in college: "I was a waitress at an all-night diner where we had to wear a DayGlo orange uniform and white nurse's shoes." It may have been the uniform, and it may just have been the job itself, but whatever it was, Sara's mother was horrified by her situation, and tried to help her in a way that would only make sense to a parent: "My mother wrote to Craig Claiborne and Julia Child, did not ask me, and asked them what her daughter should do if she wanted to become a chef."
After her many years on television, I was surprised when I found out that Sara was a reluctant TV host. "I thought that was vulgar," she explains. "Being a good WASP, it's like, "Oh, then you're looking for attention." I also loved hearing the advice she'd give to guests on Cooking Live: "Smile constantly for no particular reason."
As for her pioneering days as a young woman chef, Sara has some harrowing stories, but for those you're just going to have to tune into part 1 of her Special Sauce interview.
*Ed note: For those of you wondering where part 2 of my Special Sauce interview with Matt Goulding is, we'll be publishing it in a couple of months.
The transcript for this episode can be found over at Serious Eats.
As you can probably tell, I love interviewing people for Special Sauce. That's because we book guests who have compelling food-related stories to share with us. But Roads & Kingdoms co-founder and author Matt Goulding had so many interesting things to say about food and life that I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I probably enjoyed the time I spent gabbing with Matt more than any other interview I've done for the podcast.
Here's Matt on his dad: "My dad, I should say, as many men are, was a great griller and was great with eggs. It seems to be two things that men generally feel comfortable cooking, even in a relatively limited culinary household."
And here he is how he views his debilitating Crohn's Disease diagnosis: "The two ironies of my food life is, one, that I come from a family that didn't really value food, and the other is that I ended up being deeply in love with this world of food but nevertheless have a digestive illness that presents all these interesting challenges."
Matt is just as good about how he got into writing as he is about his personal life. His first editorial job was at Student Traveler Magazine, an experience he describes as definitive: "That was my entryway into actually being paid for writing, at ten cents a word, but it was a check, and it was a drug. Immediately there was this high of seeing your name in print, being able to tell your story. Anyone who's deranged and narcissistic enough to become a writer knows what that high feels like, and I was hooked pretty quickly."
He went on to become the food editor at Men's Health magazine, where he finally got his fellow editors to understand where he was coming from: "Finally at an editorial meeting I think I said something like, "The kitchen is the new garage."
Matt ended up co-writing 18 volumes of the Eat This, Not That series, which grew out of a column he wrote at Men's Health and ended up selling millions of copies. Why were those books so successful? "It was a brilliant four words. The convergence of syllables was extraordinary," he says.
What does he find so compelling about writing about food? "I can't stop moving. So one thing I realized is it's going to be a really lonely life unless I find a way to connect with people as quickly as possible. It's always, every single instance, food, no matter where you are, was just an instant entry point into a culture, into someone's home, into their lives. It happened over and over again, so to be able to share those stories in some way, it would be stupid not to."
And, finally, here's Matt's description of how Roads & Kingdoms, the James Beard award-winning website he co-founded with Nathan Thornburgh, transformed from being something only their mothers would read to the must-read site for anyone who has an interest in the intersection between travel, culture, and food, all because of the power of a single tweet: "We just kept writing these 5,000-word narrative pieces about the most random convergence of culture and politics that we could find. But we woke up at one in the morning on this houseboat after a long night out at Noma, and it was clear looking at my phone, something was happening. The phone was literally pulsating or something. Open up the phone, and it turns out that Anthony Bourdain had just sent out a tweet. It was very simple, but it said, 'These guys do consistently fine work.' It was just a link to the Roads & Kingdoms home page, and that was it."
If you want to find out how that tweet led to Bourdain being the one and only outside investor in Roads & Kingdoms</em> you're just going to have to listen to Part 1 of my extraordinary conversation with the equally extraordinary Matt Goulding.
In part two of my interview with Andrew Friedman, the author of <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Chefs-Drugs-Rock-Roll-Profession/dp/0062225855/?tag=serieats-20">Chefs, Drugs, and Rock & Roll</a></em>, he and I take a really deep dive into the book. Here's Friedman talking about the origins of the American chef culture:
"If you were an American kid [in the 1970s]...it was all but unheard of to come from a "good home" and turn to your parents one day and say, 'Hey, you know what, guys? I think I might want to be a cook'...The reaction of their parents was concern, fear, anger, horror, they thought their kids were throwing their lives away, they thought they were basically entering basically a blue-collar profession, very often having paid for college, or in many cases law school, or something like that." One prominent chef told him, "Cooking was not respected. It was the first thing you did after the Army, and the last thing you did before you went to prison." In fact, Friedman pointed out that in the 1950s the US Labor Department still designated chefs as "domestic" or service workers.
Although the book names lots of famous names and it's full of revealing details about the many power struggles that went on between restaurateurs and chefs (chefs were supposed to be neither seen nor heard right up to the late '60s), there isn't much salacious gossip in the book. While sex in the walk-in is referred to as a commonplace occurrence, Friedman made a conscious effort not to overdo it with the details. "I didn't feel the need to be specific about who was having sex in the walk-in. Now if more people had offered that up, or answered my questions very directly, I would have put it in." He points out, "This book opens up with [seminal LA chef] Bruce Marder, who I never met in my life, telling me about dropping acid in this van in Morocco. I'm very grateful to Bruce. There's a lot of people who wouldn't have even told me that story."
Though Friedman conducted hundreds of interviews with fancy-pants chefs for the book, he admitted to me that even he can't resist the siren call of some of the not-so-finer things in life: "I mean I eat all kinds of garbage. There are nights when presented with the choice between a Big Mac, fries, and one of those disgusting sundaes at McDonald's, I would pick that over anything else on planet Earth."
For more revelations and trenchant observations about the chef culture in America, take a listen to this episode of Special Sauce.
No writer has spent more time working and hanging out with great chefs than Andrew Friedman. So when I heard that his long-awaited book chronicling chef culture in the US—Chefs, Drugs, and Rock & Roll—had finally been published, how could I not invite him on Special Sauce?
It's been several days since the Oscars, and I'll admit it: I was keenly disappointed when Knife Skills didn't win for Best Documentary Short. But now that I've had a few days to reflect on the Oscars as a whole (go, Frances McDormand, go!), and now that I've listened to part two of my interview with Knife Skills filmmaker Tom Lennon and Cleveland chef-restaurateur Brandon Chrostowski, I've realized that it was a winner regardless of Sunday's outcome.
We don't usually make a big deal about the Oscars on Special Sauce, but when I saw the brilliant Oscar-nominated documentary short Knife Skills, I knew I wanted to talk about it. The film shows what happens when Cleveland chef/restaurateur Brandon Chrostowski opens Edwins, a white-tablecloth French restaurant staffed almost entirely by recently released convicts who are reentering the workforce. As I previously
Back in the day, we used to say that Serious Eats was a website focused on celebrating and sharing our enthusiasm for food with the online community. In Part 2 of my interview with fellow food enthusiast Phil Rosenthal, he reveals that Somebody Feed Phil, his new Netflix show, is really about the same thing, if you just added "travel" to food and substituted "family" for the online community.
Food, travel, and family are at the heart of the show; in each episode, we see Phil interacting with a family he's met in whatever city he's exploring. And, for good measure, Phil's elderly and utterly hilarious parents make appearances in each episode via Skype.
Phil tells me, "What I learned from [Everybody Loves Raymond] is that every show is about a family, and what I mean is, your news broadcast that you tune into every night, that's a family of people that you enjoy being with. Right? That's another reason why my parents are in the show...because that's what makes a television show."
Phil explains that one of the reasons he loves travel is that it forces him out of his comfort zone. Like the time he found himself in Thailand, sandwiched between two elephants as he was trying to leave their habitat. After a few tense moments he was able to leave unharmed, though not before one of the elephants swatted him with his tail. Phil explains, "Once you're through that moment, it's the best experience of your life. It's one of the highlights of your life that you will never forget, and you are so happy that you took that step outside your comfort zone. It's the only way we get anything in life. When you see the pretty girl across the room, will I ask her to dance? If you didn't, you wouldn't have the dance. Maybe you wouldn't have the girlfriend. Maybe you wouldn't have the wife. Maybe you wouldn't have the family...we all have to go outside our comfort zone sometimes."
Then there's the vicarious thrill viewers get when Phil makes a food discovery. Like the crab omelet made by Jay Fai he ate in Thailand. "This is somebody, she's been venerated as one of the best street food vendors in the whole world. She makes a crab omelet, there's a pound, pound and a half of fresh crab meat in this omelet, which she's cooking over a hot wok. It's just again, street food, on the side of the street. She has a few tables beside the stove, but [the] fire is going, real fire. The wok is on the fire. She pours the crab into the eggs that are in the wok, with butter, then as she starts turning it, and the omelet starts to form around the crab, she starts ladling fresh egg over it and turning that. So, it's tender, layers and layers of egg, until you have, really, a football filled with crab....This lady, right after we filmed...she got a Michelin star. For a shack...and just this week, she wants to give the star back. There's too many people now. She's 73 years old."
To hear Phil elaborate on the crab omelet lady, to hear more about the elephant walk and other hilarious situations in which Phil found himself way outside of his comfort zone, check out part 2 of his Special Sauce interview and the full transcript on Serious Eats.
My friend Phil Rosenthal, the creator and host of the new Netflix show Somebody Feed Phil is as much fun to talk to as he is to eat with. When I asked him how the show ended up on Netflix, he replied, "The way I sold the show...I said, 'I'm exactly like Anthony Bourdain if he was afraid of everything....I mean, I'm the guy watching him, not really wanting to go to Borneo and have a tattoo pounded into my chest with nails.'"
When I sit down with Phil no subject is off limits. We revisited (admittedly at my behest) the moment in 2006 when I asked him to invest in Serious Eats. I just thought that the food-obsessed creator of Everybody Loves Raymond would leap at the opportunity to get in on the ground floor. "By the way," he said, laughing, "my business manager told me not to give you money then. I was ready. I was like, 'This sounds good.' But he said, 'No, no, no, no, don't, don't.'" That's four "nos" and two "don'ts" for those of you counting at home.
If you listen, you'll find that the Phil Rosenthal you hear on Special Sauce is the same guy you see on Somebody Feed Phil. He's funny–really funny–smart, and generously spirited (he always picks up the check, on the show and in real life). And, oh yeah, Phil's also a great storyteller who has somehow managed to maintain an optimistic but realistic outlook on life. Why? Because as his friend Ed. Weinberger, the legendary sitcom director and creator, told him when he was shooting the Everybody Loves Raymond pilot, "Phil, you might as well make the show you want to make because at the end, they're going to cancel you anyway." As Phil pointed out, "Isn't that a great philosophy of life? We all get cancelled one day. Live your life."
So enliven your life, Serious Eaters, by listening to Part 1 of the Special Sauce interview with Phil Rosenthal. You'll be laughing in the first minute. (And for those of you who prefer their interviews in written form, we've included an edited transcript of the conversation on our website.)
My guest this week on Special Sauce is chef and cookbook author Joseph "JJ" Johnson. When I say he gravitated to kitchen work at an early age, I mean really early. He started cooking with his grandmother when he was four: "I didn't really watch cartoons...I'd step on like a milk crate. She would give me a peeler, which was probably like a phony play peeler, like Fisher-Price, and I would peel vegetables or I would scoop things out." Five years later, when he was nine, he saw an ad on television that sealed the deal: "So I saw a commercial back then for [The] Culinary Institute of America, when they used to run commercials, and I just said one day...I'm going to go to that school." Now that's what I call a really, really early decision application.
After graduating from the CIA and doing a few stints in serious New York kitchens, JJ appeared on an episode of Rocco's Dinner Party, which led to an unlikely introduction to Alexander Smalls, the seminal African-American chef/restaurateur and Tony Award-winning opera singer (that's quite a combo, isn't it?). Smalls invited JJ on a trip to Ghana, and gave him an education on the food of the African diaspora, which was both foreign and familiar: "It also was a lightbulb moment for me because I grew up in the diaspora...So there was these things that would happen and I would say, I remember that flavor or I remember that scent. It really helped me develop who I was."
JJ would go on to open The Cecil with Smalls, and although it is now, sadly, closed, it was named America's best new restaurant by Esquire Magazine in 2014. Since then, J. J. and Smalls have co-authored the cookbook Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day, and he's done a whole lot more, including cooking for Beyoncé. To find out just what those things are, you'll have to check out both this week's and next week's episodes of Special Sauce.
Here's how the delightful and brave Jenny Allen describes the food at her family table in Part 2 of her Special Sauce interview: "Such bad food...and so little of it."
As that quote can attest, you can be sure there's no shortage of pithy insights or jokes as Jenny and I talk about everything from the food at gallery openings ("Please, don't invite me to an art opening with the only food being peanuts....I resent that. Terrible. How hard is it to get a little cheese and crackers there?") and our shared love of Mounds bars to the topic of eating alone as a woman, which she writes about in her new book Would Everybody Please Stop: Reflections on Life and Other Bad Ideas: "A lot of women are shy about going out to eat alone. They think they look needy or sad, or they just feel unprotected or something. I don't feel that way."
We also managed to talk about subjects other than food, such as the way Jenny has watched in amazement as her actor-playright-television writer daughter Halley Feiffer has fearlessly blazed her own creative path with no hesitation. For those unfamiliar with her work, by the time Halley turned 21 she had already starred in The Squid and the Whale and won the National Young Playwrights' Contest. Since then, Halley has had her plays produced in leading theaters all over the country, has starred on Broadway, and has written for Mozart in the Jungle. Jenny wants someone to write a book about mothers and daughters in terms of the work they do in large part because she thinks that the fearlessness she sees in her daughter is echoed among her peers. "I feel like, among my friends, more than several of our daughters are doing the things that we do, only sooner, better, braver," Jenny says. "It's just wonderful to watch."
Just as it is wonderful to listen to Jenny Allen talk about anything at all–it's a treat that Serious Eaters won't want to miss.
Jenny Allen, the humorist and author of the guffaw-inducing new book <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Would-Everybody-Please-Stop-Reflections/dp/0374118329/?tag=serieats-20">Would Everybody Please Stop: Reflections on Life and Other Bad Ideas</a></em>, derives as much pleasure from eating as anyone I know. Consider this anecdote she shared with me about her food-loving stepmother: "One day she said, 'I made you something. I thought you'd like it.' It was an entire mixing bowl full of chocolate mousse...It was a huge bowl, and I just took it up to my room and just read and ate it all afternoon. I'm sure I felt sick afterwards, but it was...oh, my God, the best present ever."
The <em>New Yorker</em>'s Andy Borowitz, who is no slouch in the humor department has called Jenny one of the funniest writers alive, and so I had to ask her for the one piece of advice she would give to aspiring humor writers: "Something I say sometimes, which is I think even true for me is, when you think the piece is so eccentric or so idiosyncratic or so neurotic or so weird and so personally your own peccadilloes and anxieties, just when I think, boy, I'm gonna send this in, and my editor's gonna think, this woman is really nuts. That's when it's ready to send. And not before that."
Jenny also happens to be one of the bravest souls I've ever met; her hilarious and moving one-woman play <em>I Got Sick Then I Got Better</em>, which describes her experience as a cancer survivor, is a testament to that. And I think anyone who listens to her in Part 1 of her Special Sauce interview will come away with more than a little inkling of her humor and her wonderful character, and will be left wanting more.
(But that's what Part 2 is for.)
When Resy's Ben Leventhal, who has been involved in at least five food-related start-ups, speaks about entrepreneurship, I am all ears. Here are just a couple of the pearls of wisdom that came out of our in-depth conversation:
"What I do try to say to people that haven't been through a couple of cycles is you got to understand how hard this is about to be. People say, 'Oh, I want to start a company. I want to do that. I want to go out on my own.' I say, 'That's great, but it's really fucking hard.'"
"It's gruesome. Every day of a startup is gruesome. If it's not gruesome, something is wrong. Something is off...Every day is a battle."
And here's Ben on putting together a team: "Well, look, I mean, you got to understand that you have to have the long view. You're building something from scratch. The people that you're lucky enough to have working with you, the people that take a risk with you, the first ten employees, they're taking almost as big a risk as you are, and in some cases, they're taking a bigger risk because they got to trust [you]...That's really important, and you have to make sure that those people feel almost minute to minute like they made the right choice."
Ben talks about how he's applied these hard-earned lessons to Resy, a two year-old start-up that so far seems to have successfully taken on OpenTable, the granddaddy of online reservation systems. How exactly did he and his partners do that? You're just going to have to listen to find out.
The members list of the non-existent Digital Food Entrepreneur's Club would be quite small, but it would have to include Ben Leventhal, who is both this and next week's guest on Special Sauce. Ben cofounded Eater in 2005 and is now one of the cofounders of Resy, the popular restaurant reservations app. On this week's episode, he and I reminisce about the good and bad and definitely crazy old days of both Eater and Serious Eats. And even though we really weren't direct competitors then (or even now), it was fun to talk about the battle scars we both suffered in the early days of what was called the Web 2.0 era.
I love what Ben has to say about risk: "I think risk tolerance has got to be one of the three most important things you need as an entrepreneur. I think you have to be willing to take risks. You have to have a real understanding of what you're good at and you should take risks on the basis of what you're good at, and you need enough self-awareness to know what's not going to work. And, as Ben and I discuss, you have to have a real optimistic streak. As he puts it, "You've got to have a strategy to get through those days where it looks like it's the last day."
If you love to go to restaurants (and who doesn't?) or you've ever thought about taking the entrepreneurial leap into a food-related digital business, this episode of Special Sauce is made especially for you.
As we came to the end of the first part of our conversation, Andrew Rea had just started producing and hosting Binging with Babish, which I think is the most exciting, engaging, and just plain fun short-form cooking video series out there. Andrew still had his day job, and his obsessive, perfectionist nature meant that sleep was at a premium. (How obsessive is Andrew? He irons his apron at least three times for each episode.)
On today's episode of Special Sauce, we find out just how Binging with Babish became a true viral sensation, and how it became both his meal ticket and his vehicle for realizing all his creative dreams. In addition to Binging with Babish, Andrew now hosts a more interactive show called Basics with Babish (which, thanks to Switcher, allows viewers to cook along with Andrew in real time and even comment) and he's published his first book Eat What You Watch: A Cookbook for Movie Lovers. The way Andrew tells it, it involved a lot of hard work, luck, vision, and more than a little craft.
As to his what he thinks his special sauce is, Andrew says, "I try to do everything I can do to push myself out of my comfort zone. It's rewarded me the whole way. There have been stumbles of course but...The point of the story is that, yes, it's scary, but sometimes you've got to see if you can swim. You've got to jump in the deep end."
So if you've ever been tempted to jump into the deep end with a creative project, or if you just want to hear a unique digital media success story, you'll want to dive into the second part of my conversation with Andrew Rea.
I have to say that most YouTube cooking shows leave me cold. There's a little too much shaky cam footage and a few too many unfunny asides, and not enough serious, engaged cooking for my taste. So when Kenji told me about Binging with Babish, I watched one episode and got hooked. And I'm not alone: More than two million people now subscribe to the show.
I got so hooked that I had to have its creator, Andrew Rea, on Special Sauce. And I'm glad I managed to track him down: During our chat, Andrew revealed himself to be as smart and interesting and focused and idiosyncratic as the show itself. Which makes sense if you listen to how he puts the show together: "Every episode takes a bare minimum of 30 hours, sometimes up to 60 or 70 because I'm a one man band. I shoot it myself, I edit it myself, I color correct, I do the voiceover, all in my apartment, just me."
Here's the kicker: Up until a few months ago he also had a demanding full-time job, forcing him to work on Binging with Babish in the spare time he didn't really have. So if you've ever wondered what it takes to both produce a YouTube cooking series worth watching and develop a huge audience for it, check out this week's Special Sauce, which is just part one of my chat with Andrew (or should I say Mr. Babish?). When you do, I'm sure you will check out Binging with Babish yourself, and maybe his new series, Basics with Babish, too.
3:23 Kenji addresses a question about make-ahead savory foods for the holidays.
6:27 Stella’s tips for make-ahead desserts.
8:28 Kenji explains how to get the most out of kitchen space when planning your Thanksgiving menu.
10:25 Debate: Should pies be reheated?
11:57 The team debates the differences between stuffing and dressing. Kenji is going to steal Stella’s dad’s idea for including brown butter in a stuffing recipe this year.
18:51 Is it possible to make gluten-free pies or other desserts that are actually delicious?
22:33 Are expensive turkeys better than ‘typical’ turkeys? Kenji, Stella and Ed discuss heritage vs. organic vs. free-range vs. commercial turkeys. Advice from Kenji: Use a thermometer and don’t overcook. Animal rights issues and farmers.
27:50 Kenji and Stella offer suggestions of what to do with leftover pumpkin purée.
30:18 Is sous-vide a useful technique for Thanksgiving? Kenji says yes, it’s great for turkey, leftovers, and heating make-ahead dishes.
This week's guest on Special Sauce is Bill Yosses, who was the White House pastry chef from 2007 to 2014 and is the author of the just-published The Sweet Spot: Dialing Back Sugar and Amping Up Flavor.
Bill isn't your (White House) garden variety pastry chef: He's a James Beard Foundation Who's Who inductee, and he's given lectures on science and cooking at Harvard. He's also the founder of the Kitchen Garden Laboratory, which uses science to teach children about healthy cooking.
Even though Bill is extremely discreet, I did get him to spill the beans about former President Barack Obama reprimanding him for making such delicious pie. "The first thing that President Obama ever said to me... We had all gone to meet him in the East Room, and so we were all circled around the outside of the room. He's going around, shaking hands with everybody. We had already served some desserts, so I was sort of standing there, ready for his accolades. He comes around and says, 'Oh, the pastry chef. You make the pies.' 'Yes, sir.' 'Stop making so damn many pies.' "
Bill's a born Serious Eater and a worthy guest on Special Sauce, and I'm sure you all will agree. Be sure to catch him in a couple of weeks, too, in part two of our conversation.
One of the many reasons I love doing Special Sauce is I get to talk to many people I have long admired from afar and never met. This week's guest is one of those people: David Tanis, one of the best and most thoughtful chefs and cookbook writers working today. I first heard his name when he was the chef at Chez Panisse. He wrote his first book, A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, while working there, and for the past seven years he's been the City Kitchen columnist for the New York Times.
Now he's just published his fourth cookbook, David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes and Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient. David explains that, for him, shopping for food at open-air markets is about much more than gathering the freshest possible ingredients. It's therapy. "I live not very far from Chinatown [in Manhattan] and when I'm sort of feeling a little blue, I go down to Chinatown, it takes me ten minutes to walk there and walk around the market stands, and oh, I feel better in a minute. Seriously." That's my kind of therapy.
David also takes his ingredients seriously. How seriously? This is how much he loves his garlic soup recipe: "There are some great dishes [in the book], for instance, the garlic soup, which is made with just garlic and water and sage leaves. People need to know about that. I don't mind putting that in every book. It takes 15 minutes to make."
And here's what's happening on David Tanis Day all over the world: "Everyone is eating beans."
When you listen to this episode of Special Sauce, you'll realize that David Tanis is full of beans and so much more.
Serious Eaters who are as curious about all things chocolate as I am are going to love the second part of my Special Sauce interview with Jacques Torres, a.k.a. Mr. Chocolate.
Jacques gives a simple, succinct, and comprehensive explanation of the bean-to-bar chocolate process, and explains how his chocolate obsession has led him to buy 5,000 trees on a coffee plantation in Central America. He also clearly articulates the difference between dark, milk, white, and pink chocolate, which is relatively new. Which type of chocolate does Jacques prefer? All I can tell you is that he told me that good "dark chocolate is magical." I couldn't agree more.
As for the attendees to Jacques's last supper? Leonardo da Vinci is the first person he named without hesitation. His next choice was a shocker, and it's someone whose chocolate products are consumed by the ton every day around the world. To find out his name you're just going to have to listen to this chocolate-coated episode of Special Sauce.
As the holiday season approaches, we're planning a brand-new episode of Ask Special Sauce, starring our team of superstar recipe developers and all of your most pressing holiday-cooking questions! Need tips on Thanksgiving menu planning? Make-ahead dishes you can throw in the backseat for the drive to Aunt Becky's house? Guidance on safely deep-frying a turkey? E-mail us the whole story at email@example.com, and your cooking conundrum just might get featured on Special Sauce.
My guest on this week's Special Sauce is Chris Bianco, the man who makes my favorite pizza in the world. The pies he puts out at Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, AZ, would definitely be on the table at my last supper. And while Chris is also the author of the new book Bianco: Pizza, Pasta, and Other Food I Like, which every aspiring pizzaiolo should pick up, I invited Chris onto the podcast because he's the poet laureate of pizza, someone who truly connects the dots of food and life in unique fashion.
The centrality of food and cooking to his identity is evident in everything he talks about, from the lesson he learned as a child at the Bianco family table ("Food was really as important as your breath, basically.") to the reason why he thinks he has gravitated toward cooking: "I think that I've been very insecure just in my existence, like where I fit in. I wanted to make you happy...I wanted you to like me, whoever you were."
And while he's passionate about food, he still has a sense of humor. Consider his description of the way he got started making money cooking in Phoenix: "I was making pasta and mozzarella in my apartment, and I was selling to a couple Italian restaurants at the time. They paid me cash. And I was like, if I got busted, how much time can you do for mozzarella?"
Chris also has some sage advice for young chefs: "What I challenge them to do is take everything out of their apartment, their spiritual apartment, and put it on their front lawn, and to see what they have they want to bring back in, and redecorate their life with or their inspirations with." And as for his poetic bent, Chris once told me, "I'm on a mission. I have a responsibility to do something with integrity and dignity. My menu might be small, but to me, it's the biggest thing in the world. Pizza inspires me, fascinates me, and gives me hope."
To hear more of Chris's wise words you're just going to have to listen to both this and next week's episodes of Special Sauce.
In part two of my illuminating interview with French-American super chef Daniel Boulud, he and I talk about—believe it or not—airline food. Daniel has designed some business class meals for Air France, and the airline flew me over to Paris to experience his food in the air. While the food was tasty, it wasn't perfect. (Having worked on airline food as a consultant, believe me when I say that "tasty but not perfect" is about as good airline food is going to get.) I asked Daniel how it felt to work within the constraints of airline food preparation, particularly as a self-confessed obsessive perfectionist. "I enjoy the challenge," he replied. "And I hope people appreciate the fact that I'm just trying to elevate the offering."
Daniel also talks about a remarkable older book of his, Letters to a Young Chef, which he has updated and is being reissued in October. I asked him about the qualities a young cook has to possess to become a successful chef-restaurateur. "You have to have the passion for hospitality, the passion for making people happy," he said, adding that that passion has to come through in a "respectful, intelligent way."
Daniel has a whole lot more to say about his career and his success in the restaurant business, and he also lets me in on how he'd like the world to celebrate a hypothetical Daniel Boulud Day, and on which band he'd like to perform at his last supper. You'll just have to listen to the episode to find out.
My guest on this week's Special Sauce is Daniel Boulud, whom I have known for more than 25 years. We first met when Alex Lee, his longtime chef de cuisine and my regular squash partner, asked me to take Daniel on a New York Eats food adventure (Alex now works for über restaurateur Stephen Starr). Over the course of that afternoon, Daniel tasted everything from Nova Scotia smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel at Russ & Daughters to superb Polish ham made by Kurowycky and Sons in the East Village (which, sadly, is no longer with us). I found myself in awe of Daniel's insatiable intellectual curiosity about everything and everybody in the food culture, his devotion to his craft, and his passion for deliciousness. And I think you'll immediately notice all those characteristics on full display in this week's episode.
How devoted is Daniel to his craft? He started cooking professionally at the tender age of fourteen—at a Michelin three-star restaurant, no less. A month later he was plucking pheasants and other game birds in a restaurant basement for 14 or 15 hours at a stretch. Did it phase him? Nah, he'd already been doing similar work at his family's farm outside Lyon for many years.
If you listen to him rhapsodize about learning to make a dish like ecrevisses à la nage (crayfish in a vegetable broth), I promise it will make you hungry. You'll also hear how well his curiosity served him when he ate a breakfast of tête de veau (calf's head) washed down with Beaujolais, with many of France's leading chefs, at the big market at Lyon. That's quite a breakfast, but, then again, Daniel's quite a chef.
I hope all you Serious Eaters will listen to, learn from, and enjoy this week's Special Sauce episode, which is entirely devoted to the culinary education of one of the greatest chefs in the world.
On this week's episode of the Special Sauce podcast, host Ed Levine talks to David Rockwell, the architect and designer behind every Nobu around the globe, as well as multiple airline terminals and the theater in which the Academy Awards are held.
In part two of my Special Sauce interview with Chinese-food and -culture writer Fuchsia Dunlop, we tackle common misconceptions about cooking Chinese food at home. Fuchsia addresses those intimidated about diving in, explaining that "people often think that Chinese cooking is very complicated–that you're gonna need all kinds of weird ingredients–and also there's this idea often that Chinese food's not very healthy; there's a lot of deep-frying and that kind of thing." But, she says, "I think the important thing to remember is that Chinese food is what most people in China just cook at home every night. People there, they don't have a lot of time. They want to rustle something up that's tasty and healthy and within their budget for their family."
The Land of Fish and Rice author also shares how to stock our kitchens with just a few Chinese items, including what she calls "magic ingredients." But she doesn't stop at pantry essentials–you'll hear all about why mud snails are "absolutely divine." They are, I learned, "eaten raw and pickled in rice wine ice cold. You crunch it, complete with its shell."
Even if you're not quite ready to take the mud-snail plunge, though, she has plenty of recommendations for inquisitive minds and palates. She recommends the five-volume Chinese novel that should be required reading for everyone interested in China, and dishes on what famous distant ancestor would be at her last supper–someone I just had to allow, even though I usually bar family from the list. To hear what everyone would be doing on Fuchsia Dunlop Day, you'll just have to listen. I will say that Kenji will be very happy when he hears it.
What a story: A young, food-obsessed British student at Cambridge University named Fuchsia (God, I love that name) heads to China in the '90s to study, and manages to become the first Westerner to attend the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. After that, she zigzags between China and London and, in the process, becomes one of today's best English-language writers on Chinese cuisine.
That's Fuchsia Dunlop's story, as you'll hear on this extraordinary episode of Special Sauce (part one of a riveting two-parter). Why has she devoted so much of her working life to writing about China and Chinese food, culminating in her latest cookbook, Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes from the Culinary Heart of China? Fuchsia explains: "I really do think that Chinese gastronomy and Chinese cuisine is both an amazing creation as culture and as expression of human creativity and inventiveness and so on. It also has many important lessons for everyone in terms of health. There's no other cuisine, perhaps, that combines pleasure and notions of health and balance like Chinese.... That's something that, in the West, in the whole world, we're struggling with. How do you eat well in a way that's both pleasurable and also good for health and environmentally sustainable? I think we can find many of the answers and solutions in traditional Chinese cuisine."
When you listen, you'll learn, as I did, some Chinese cooking terms that defy easy English translation: zhi jia pian, ma er duo, gu pai pian, niu shi pian. What do they mean? I'm not going to tell you. You'll have to listen to find out.
Welcome back for part two of my Special Sauce interview with Southie street urchin-turned-chef-restaurateur Barbara Lynch. This week we talk a little bit more about her memoir, Out of Line: A Life of Playing With Fire, but Barbara also manages to surprise me with a few additional tidbits of information, like the distinguished company she keeps (one of her "great friends" is an acclaimed presidential historian whose initials are DKG).
Barbara and I discuss what spurred her to continue to open up restaurants ("I get bored easily," she says. "I always have to challenge myself.") And we also touch upon why, despite her expansive success, she's resisted the siren song of opening up a restaurant in Vegas, and the impression she was left with after meeting with mega-hotelier, Steve Wynn.
We also reflect on the pleasures of setting up your employees for future success (for those Serious Eaters who don't know, Kenji first learned how to cook in one of Barbara's kitchens), and on the necessity of keeping a big box of original Cheez-Its in your car at all times.
But if you want to hear about the inspired guest list at her last meal, or about its simple yet entirely appropriate menu, you'll just have to listen.
This week on Special Sauce my guest is the great Southern food chronicler John T. Edge. I've been discussing food as seen through the lenses of race, class, and ethnicity with John T. for almost 20 years now (no one, not even his wife, calls him just "John"). So when I heard that his magnum opus, The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, had been published, I knew it was the perfect excuse to continue our discussion, but with both of us miked up.
As usual, John T. has plenty to say regarding the issues he has devoted his life to writing about. He describes his work as a kind of settling of debts, particularly with those who have given so much to him, even as they remained nameless. As he says, "The South is a place to parse out racism and its impact. I grew up not knowing the name of the BBQ pit masters who worked the pits at my favorite place just down the road. I loved Miss Colter, the owner, I can tell you what her face looks right now, I can picture that kind of serious gray curls on top of her head. But I don't know the names of the men who actually cooked the BBQ I grew up loving. And that recognition has driven me throughout my career as a writer."
Check out this episode of Special Sauce, which is, in the best Southern tradition, drenched in both redeye gravy and provocative notions, thanks to my friend John T. And tune in next week when he and I take a deep dive into The Potlikker Papers, which is a must-read for all Serious Eaters.
Last week's episode of Special Sauce ended with Michel Nischan and I discussing his groundbreaking restaurant, Heartbeat, and his efforts to serve food that was healthy and actually delicious.
This week we pick up where we left off and talk about how leaving Heartbeat led to Michel becoming a trailblazing sustainable food consultant for major airlines, hotel groups, and corporations looking to develop healthier menus by sourcing better, organic ingredients. It was this consulting work that led him to develop a friendship and partnership with the late actor, entrepreneur, and activist, Paul Newman, with whom he operated the former farm-to-table Dressing Room Restaurant in Westport, CT. Michel and Newman hit it off, in part, because Michel hadn't seen any of his movies. "One day he finally said, 'Have you seen any of my movies?' I said, 'I've seen <em>Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid</em>.'" Newman looked at him a moment and then replied, "I knew I liked you for a reason."
Newman also served as the catalyst for Michel to found his remarkable nonprofit, <a href="http://www.wholesomewave.org/">Wholesome Wave</a>, the goal of which is to increase access to healthy, locally and regionally grown food in underserved communities. Michel discusses the nonprofit's remarkable growth, and describes—with much-deserved pride—its accomplishments, like influencing the 2014 Farm Bill for the better.
There's a whole lot more to our discussion, including Michel's thoughts on ways to get involved in fighting for iamportant food policy issues, and of course the usual grab-bag of Special Sauce questions. I do hope you listen; Michel is doing admirable work.
This week on Special Sauce, I have as my guest my old friend, Michel Nischan, the three-time James Beard award-winning chef, author, and food equity advocate. Michel's a busy guy. Between his work as the founder and CEO of Wholesome Wave, which aims to increase affordable, healthy food access for underserved consumers, and his work with the Chef's Action Network, which he co-founded, he doesn't have a lot of free time, so I'm delighted that he had the time to join me.
Michel has had a long and storied career, so we've broken up the interview into two parts. This week we focus on his origins, and how he went from being a broke, teenager playing music with some legendary names–think The Edgar Winter Band and Rick Derringer–to becoming a kind of savant line cook, due to ample exposure to good cooking at home. At his first job at a truck stop diner, he took one look at the griddle and all the breakfast meats and proposed to the owner that they make biscuits and gravy from scratch. "The guy thought I was stoned or something."
From there, he worked his way through a number of kitchens in the late 1970s and the '80s, moving every time he was given an incremental wage increase. "Two bucks more an hour in 1979 is like, wow. Sold."
But it wasn't until he started cooking at Heartbeat in New York City that he connected all the disparate elements of his life and career and began producing food that was way ahead of its time; healthy, yet still tasty. I do hope you take the time to listen to Michel's incredible story–particularly since he embodies the ideal of chefs who care about the people they cook for. And this week is just about his restaurant career; next week we'll get into how he's trying change the world.
This week on Special Sauce features the second part of my far-reaching conversation with Dan Barber, and he and I cover a lot of ground. He defines each of the three plates that are the subject of his groundbreaking book, The Third Plate. I'll let you in on what the first plate is here: it's meat and potatoes, "the classic American dinner," according to Dan. But to find out what the other two plates are, you're just going to have to listen (you can, of course, read his book, too).
Dan and I also discuss his relationship with the late environmentalist and philanthropist David Rockefeller, who built the restaurant that is part of Blue Hill at Stone Barns. And Dan makes it clear he has some strong feelings about corn cultivation in the country. He calls it "the most inefficient use of land resources in the history of the world."
Finally, Dan reflects on how having two young daughters has changed the way he feels about spending so much time in his restaurant kitchens. "It's very hard to be inspired in the kitchen," Dan says, "I just generally feel a bit angry."
I hope you have the time to listen in on our conversation–it's really Dan Barber as you've never heard him.
I think it's safe to say that Dan Barber, the visionary chef of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, has led an interesting life. I'm sure you'll agree after listening to this week's episode of Special Sauce.
Barber's dad loved good restaurants, so he was exposed to some pretty great places at a very young age. But, on the other hand, his father was also a practitioner of tough love. He used to say, "You're a humble son, Daniel, but you have a lot to be humble about."
His kitchen career got off to a rocky start at Nancy Silverton's La Brea Bakery, where he got fired for forgetting to add salt to 1,200 pounds of rosemary bread dough, ruining the entire batch. Barber overheard Silverton say, "I can't let this kid ruin me." He was 22 years old at the time.
Barber includes the legendary French chef Michel Rostang among his mentors, noting that Rostang has suffered four heart attacks in the kitchen as he's tried to secure a third Michelin star, an achievement that has eluded the Rostang family for three generations. Barber says that Rostang's commitment and drive affected him deeply, even as it made him wonder, "What is it about this whole restaurant, cooking, chef-ing thing that drives people half-mad?"
And Barber admits that he has his own regrettable moments in the kitchen, which is something he's trying to address. "I had one last night that I regret... I let it loose," he says. "And I'm a little bit cruel... I really am trying very hard."
Barber had so much interesting stuff to say about his early career and becoming an award-winning chef that you're going to have to wait until next week's episode of Special Sauce to get the scoop on his groundbreaking book, <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Third-Plate-Field-Notes-Future/dp/0143127152/?tag=serieats-20">The Third Plate</a></em>, and wastED, his pop-up restaurant concept, which just finished a five-week run in London. Until then, I hope you enjoy the first part of our fascinating conversation.
Last week, I promised that you'd get to hear why Mark Ladner decided to walk away from Del Posto, which was awarded four stars by the New York Times, to open a fast-casual pasta joint, and this week I make good on that promise. In this week's episode, Ladner and I discuss how he came up with the idea for his start-up, Pasta Flyer, and the challenges specific to figuring out how to make a good pasta that cooks up fast. He also reflects on how the experience is a kind of culmination of all the work he's done and everything he's been through in his life to date, from his first cooking jobs in the 1980s to working for Mario Batali, and how he considers his long and successful career in fine dining "a detour." As Ladner says, "I don't know how I necessarily got here, but this is what I was supposed to do."
But there's more (as there always is on Special Sauce): Ladner lets us in on the answers to some last-supper questions–who'd be invited, what they'd have–and the surprising dish he cooks up for himself after a long day slinging pasta.
In the first of my two-part interview with chef Mark Ladner, we focus on his indirect yet hard-earned path to helming Del Posto, the New York Times four-starred restaurant he ran for twelve years. And why did the only chef to earn those four stars by cooking Italian food leave that palatial restaurant kitchen to open up a fast-casual joint where the pasta cooks in ten seconds? Framed against this cosmic question, he speaks volumes about where food is headed in America in his typically low-key and thoughtful way. You'll have to wait until next week's episode to hear the answer in its entirety, but it's worth the wait.
You probably won't be able to hear it, but I was moved to tears by my interview with dumpling queen Helen You on this week's Special Sauce. Helen is the owner of Dumpling Galaxy, the finest dumpling shop in NYC, and the coauthor of The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook, written alongside former Serious Eats editor Max Falkowitz. Her dumplings, as good as they are, weren't what got to me, though—it was her remarkable personal story. I won't reveal any more of it here, but my guess is you'll be reduced to tears as well. It's okay. We all need a good cry, especially when it comes with a happy ending.
I have been dying to get Mario Batali, whom I have known for more than a quarter century, on Special Sauce since I first dreamed up the idea for our podcast, more than a year ago. And, when all you serious eaters listen to Mario on this week's episode, you'll know why. The man is funny, smart, hyper-articulate, and both thoughtful and thought-provoking. Mario has so many interesting things to say—enough that we had to make this interview a two-parter. Next week, we'll delve into his accidental television career and chef-restaurateur stardom.
Many serious eaters know the pleasures associated with ordering something delicious from the online food retailer Mouth.com. But not many people know the fascinating backstory of Mouth's cofounder Craig Kanarick. That's where this week's episode of Special Sauce comes in. How Craig went from telling Fortune 500 companies what to do at Razorfish to finding the next great jam-maker at Mouth is a terrific story of risk and reinvention, and you can hear every detail on this episode of Special Sauce.
On this week's Special Sauce I chat with Missy Robbins, the chef and owner of Lilia in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Missy describes her 20-year journey to opening her own place with such sharp clarity that after we finished recording, I was unable to think about anything else for hours. And when we tried to edit our conversation down to one episode we found that we couldn't, so this week's episode is just part one.
In this first of a two-part interview with The New York Times Op-Ed Columnist and former restaurant critic, Frank Bruni, we delve into everything from his earlier days as Rome bureau chief for that same paper, why it feels as if readers of his memoir, Born Round: A Story of Family, Food, and a Ferocious Appetite, have "essentially been in bed" with him, and what he feels are the true qualifications for a restaurant critic.
On this week's Special Sauce, I continue my far-reaching conversation with great cook and ramen master, Ivan Orkin, aka Ivan Ramen. What is his recommendation on the best way to eat ramen, how did he make it as an American ramen chef in Tokyo, why did he return to the U.S. after so much success in Japan, and what non-noodle project does he have in the works in New York City? You'll just have to tune in to find out.
In this first part of a Special Sauce double-header, Ivan Orkin, of Ivan Ramen and Slurp Shop in NYC, talks about life before he became a celebrity in Japan as a gaijin (foreigner) ramen chef: the Orkin family table growing up on Long Island, NY, how a high school job working as a dishwasher in a local Japanese restaurant helped first develop his palate, his early years teaching English in Tokyo, the restaurant cooking experiences in the U.S. that shaped his philosophy on hospitality, and how he was able to overcome tremendous loss.
This week's guest on Special Sauce is chef and school food activist Bill Telepan, who is now at the helm of New York's Oceana Restaurant. Bill shares some particularly insightful observations about why chef-driven neighborhood restaurants across the country are struggling, his mother's reaction to his decision to drop out of college and attend cooking school ("You're kidding, right?"), and why young cooks at a restaurant should think twice before suggesting new dishes for the menu.
This week's Special Sauce features Chef Marcus Samuelsson, whose restaurant, The Red Rooster, is arguably ground zero of the Harlem food and drink renaissance. I found Marcus's story so inspiring and moving that I decided it merited two episodes. In fact, this is the first interview I've done for the show that has brought me to tears. There's so much to Marcus's remarkable story, so tune in to part one of this extraordinary interview.
Chef Daniel Rose of Le Coucou, the best new restaurant in New York City, reflects on his career and kitchen philosophy.
Let's face it: One of the main reasons we look forward to the holiday season is the copious amount of baked goods we get to make and eat. So, with that in mind, I invited our pastry wizard, Stella Parks (aka BraveTart), to take calls on a special holiday baking episode of Call Special Sauce. And I strongly urge serious eaters everywhere to take a listen. Why? Mostly because Stella is so knowledgable and unpretentious. But it's also because no matter what she's talking about–whether it's on the difference between a French tart and a pie ("To me, it comes down to a ratio issue.") or on why she quit making brownies in Kentucky to move to Japan, without knowing a single word of Japanese ("That was when I had my quarter-life crisis.")–listening to her wax down-home poetic on baking and life is as much fun as eating an entire baking sheet of perfect chocolate chip cookies.
In a million years, I would never have guessed Ruth Reichl's guilty pleasure: "Onion rings," she told me during part two of our conversation on Special Sauce. "I can't resist a good onion ring."
That's not the only surprising answer you'll hear on this week's episode from the woman I call the first rock star food journalist. Take a listen to hear her take on the digital revolution in food journalism or her unique choice of guests at her last dinner on earth–you won't regret it.
In this week's episode of Special Sauce, Kenji and I field our listeners' call-in questions, and tackle the pressing concerns that plague Thanksgiving cooks (and their guests) around the country.
We trust that our listeners and questioners will be thankful for the thoughtful (and hopefully amusing) answers we provide. We know we're thankful that millions of people trust Serious Eats to make their food lives better. Happy Turkey Day, everyone.
I like to call this week's Special Sauce guest, Rob Kaufelt, the cheese whisperer. Finding and selling great cheese seems to be what Rob was put on this earth to do. Over the years, the Murray's Cheese Shop owner has brought serious cheese to millions of Americans–his current empire includes two New York storefronts; an eponymous, cheese-centric restaurant; a fast-growing mail-order business; and a whopping 350 Murray's Cheese counters stationed in Kroger's supermarkets around the the country.
But how did he go from the tiny, lone cheese shop that he'd purchased in Greenwich Village to leading the country's artisanal cheese revolution? You'll have to take a listen to this week's episode to find out.
The background of this week's guest on Special Sauce—chef, restaurateur, and aspiring falafel magnate Einat Admony—isn't that of your typical chef. She grew up in Israel, learning how to make couscous from her Moroccan neighbor, and, while in the army, quickly switched from driving a jeep to cooking for officers in the air force. Einat then spent four years bumming around Germany, living in an RV and cooking for all her neighbors in the RV park. (I kidded her about being the first and only executive chef at an RV park I had ever interviewed.) Her path to culinary success was hardly bump-free: Shortly after opening the original Taïm on a Greenwich Village side street, with $70,000 she and her husband,Stefan, had saved working in restaurants—she as a chef, he as a waiter—Stefan told her that they should close. The business was failing, and, oh yes, Einat was also pregnant with their first child.
How did they keep it open? And how are they introducing their uniquely delicious falafel to the rest of the country? You'll just have to listen to find out.
Considering her many restaurants, books, and television shows, plus her involvement in the gourmet Italian marketplace Eataly, Lidia Bastianich might seem like a known quantity to serious eaters all over America. But take a listen to this week's Special Sauce and you'll realize just how extraordinary a woman she is, and what an incredible life she's led.
Daniel Gritzer, Serious Eats' culinary director, is in many ways our not-so-secret weapon. To learn more about the surprisingly nonlinear career path that landed him at Serious Eats (which involved two stints herding sheep in Europe), and about the martial art he practices (one he describes as physical, real-time chess), you're just going to have to listen.
This week's guest on Special Sauce, Alex Guarnaschelli, is constantly juggling the roles of TV chef (she's a regular judge on Chopped), working chef (at the two Butter locations in Manhattan), and mom (to one beautiful daughter). When you're faced with all those demands, it probably doesn't hurt to be whip-smart and funny as hell, which Alex most definitely is. What more could a podcast host ask for?
Serious eaters who have been around awhile, like me, know that the idea of driving across America in search of the best regional food originated with Roadfood authors Jane and Michael Stern, not Guy Fieri: They published their first edition of the guide in 1977–one of 30 books they've written to date, including 10 editions of Roadfood–decades before Guy started tooling around in his convertible on TV. Along with Calvin Trillin, the Sterns have been my greatest inspirations, so I jumped at the chance to interview them on Special Sauce.
Pizza lovers know Paulie Gee, a.k.a. Paul Giannone, this week's Special Sauce guest, as the owner of the eponymous pizzeria founded in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. But as good as his pies are, and they're damn good, his unlikely path to pizza entrepreneur–there are now Paulie Gee's outposts in Columbus, Ohio; Baltimore; Chicago; and Miami, each opened with the help of pizza-obsessed locals–is even more impressive.
In our latest call-in episode of Special Sauce, Kenji and Ed address listener concerns over how to rebuild a pantry and how a food’s appearance affects taste. And, of course, we make some time for good-natured ribbing, too.
In this third episode of Call Special Sauce, Kenji and Ed wrestle with tricky questions from Serious Eaters on food allergies, electric stovetops, and authenticity.
The arts of making French charcuterie and its Italian cousin, <em>salumi</em>, are two of the highest forms of the craft of cooking. So when I heard that chef and cooking teacher Brian Polcyn and journalist Michael Ruhlman, the authors of the two definitive books on those subjects, had come out with an app for lovers of charcuterie and salumi everywhere - and there are a lot of them; their book Charcuterie has sold more than 200,000 copies - I knew they had to join me on Special Sauce.
On this week's Special Sauce, John Stage, founder of the insanely popular barbecue mini-chain Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, reveals the unusual way he discovered his calling. Growing up, Stage had a soft spot for his mother's Italian-American cooking, especially her lasagna; his father, Stage tells us with a chuckle, was the one who taught him to drink. But he didn't take an interest in cooking for a living until he ran afoul of the law at age 18.
Serious Eats' pastry expert, Stella Parks, a.k.a. BraveTart, is so disarmingly charming as our guest on Special Sauce, you'll undoubtedly fall in love with her the way all of us have. After attending the Culinary Institute of America, working in restaurants in Lexington, Kentucky, and living in Japan, Stella now has her hands full with testing and writing Serious Eats' dessert recipes while she finishes her upcoming cookbook, titled BraveTart after her online moniker.
In the middle of part 2 of Danny Meyer's interview on Special Sauce comes a shocking admission. In 2001 the first incarnation of the enterprise that became the global phenomenon Shake Shack was a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park that was part of an art project featuring two taxi cabs. Did Meyer have any idea that that hot dog cart would eventually become a publicly traded global phenomenon? On this episode you'll also hear about the origins of Blue Smoke, and how he has managed to forgive me for the post I wrote titled, "Why do the French fries at Blue Smoke Suck?"
In this week's episode of Special Sauce-the first of two parts-we talk about how Meyer came to see the pursuit of restaurant-experience perfection as anathema to his own business, and take a look at his five founding principles of hospitality. I could tell you what they are here, but then you might not listen to this extraordinary episode.
On this week's Special Sauce, Roy Choi told me that his new California-based fast food concept, LocoL, is merely trying to change the world, one mostly-meat burger at a time.
This week's especial Special Sauce episode (I know that's redundant, but it rolls off the tongue) again features my runnin' and eatin' partner, Kenji López-Alt, Serious Eats' managing culinary director and the author of the New York Times best seller The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science.
Together, we answered some great questions from curious callers. Can someone learn to love calf's liver? (Maybe with a little liver therapy, administered by phone.) How can you get your homemade pizza sauce to be as good as the stuff at the best pizzerias? And how can you slow-cook ground beef without making it tough? Between Kenji's cooking (and punning) expertise and my eating (and kibbitzing) experience, we managed to come up with answers that we think you'll find both helpful and amusing.
This week's episode of Special Sauce is, well, special. Inspired by <em>Car Talk</em>, one of our all-time favorite radio shows, we did a call-in session featuring Kenji López-Alt, Serious Eats' managing culinary director and the best-selling author of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science.
We tried to answer the thoughtful questions of three passionate, discerning cooks with humor (you'll hear how Kenji once made me duck testicles in one of his many cast iron pans), humility, and grace (the hallmarks of Car Talk), and I hope we succeeded. The subjects we tackled included the care and use of cast iron pans (we'll call it cast iron pan therapy), as well as what kind of hot dogs a Minneapolis-based chef should serve for his hot dog cart passion project. Finally, Kenji and I coached a Boston-based barbecue aficionado on how to get the best possible results when cooking brisket in a convection oven.
I used to think of Le Bernardin chef-restaurateur Eric Ripert as a smart, impossibly charming and handsome chef's chef. But between interviewing him for Special Sauce and reading his moving and evocative memoir 32 Yolks, I've since realized that there's a lot more to the man than what we see on Top Chef and his own Emmy Award-winning show, Avec Eric.
The multiple-Beard-Award-winner and proprietor of 19 Seattle restaurants is whip-smart, even though his mother has never forgiven him for being the only one of her eight children not to go to college. Tom's also funny, opinionated, and generously spirited. What more could a podcast host ask for in a guest? In this episode, Tom explains why he's never opened a restaurant outside Seattle (it's not for lack of opportunities), why he opted to pay his employees a living wage long before it became the law there, and why he named one of his newest restaurants after singer Brandi Carlile.
Family businesses are hard. Family food businesses that have lasted four generations, like the New York appetizing emporium Russ & Daughters, are practically unicorns. So, when I had a chance to have Niki Russ Federman and Joshua Russ Tupper on Special Sauce, I jumped at it.
Ed Levine first met Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez eight years ago, when he happened upon her and her mother selling handmade tortillas at a tiny farmers market in West Harlem. Even back then, he could tell that Jessamyn was a force to be reckoned with. She embraces her life's work with equal parts humanity, passion, and focus.
In recent years, Jessamyn's nonprofit and bakery, Hot Bread Kitchen, has been preserving baking traditions from around the world by hiring immigrant women to make the breads of their home countries in the organization's headquarters in Manhattan. Along the way, Hot Bread Kitchen has essentially become a wildly successful job-training program for the thousands of women who have passed through its doors. It's an awe-inspiring operation, and when you listen to this episode of Special Sauce, you'll understand that it takes a force of nature like Jessamyn Rodriguez to undertake this kind of initiative.
This week's Special Sauce guest, bread baker extraordinaire Jim Lahey, is a man of strong opinions, provocative ideas, and many talents. He's not on the fence about anything. So I figured that if we just gave Jim a mike and let him rip, serious eaters would be in for a treat. It turned out I was right.
You'll hear about how Jim came to bread baking after suffering through 37 bad jobs; how he started his baking business by setting up a folding table in New York's Greenwich Village after baking all night in his barely habitable apartment; and how he happened upon his revolutionary no-knead bread recipe by accident. This year, he was inducted into the JBF's Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America. So take a listen to this no-holds-barred episode of Special Sauce—at the very least, you shouldn't miss the great baker's Bernie Sanders impression.
Roy Blount Jr. is one of the funniest writers on the planet. And he loves to eat, and talk about what he's eaten, so he's a made-to-order guest on Special Sauce. On this week's episode, you'll hear Roy wax poetic about the dangers of eating foam (he's "anti-abstract and pro-substantial" when it comes to food) and why we should all save room for pie, which, not so coincidentally, is the name of his new book.
Who knew, in an age of huge magazine companies being sold off like rusty used cars, that you could create a quarterly, delightfully idiosyncratic food magazine and get more than a hundred thousand people to pony up $28 a year to subscribe? On this week's Special Sauce, editor in chief of Lucky Peach, Chris Ying, joins us to discuss food, life, and his remarkable career success.
In this episode, we discuss how Dominique Ansel went from army KP duty to the kitchens of Fauchon in Paris (where he arrived in a clunker he bought for $400), to being the pastry chef at New York gastronomic palace Daniel. We also talk about what inspires him to do the impossible in the face of doubt, and why his gut is the only thing he trusts when it comes to running his business. The dessert master also tells us why he considers great vanilla ice cream one thing you're hard-pressed to find.
The Sweetgreen team has watched their business grow over the past nine years from a single 500-square-foot storefront location in DC's Georgetown, which they opened when they were still college students, to what will be 60 restaurants nationwide by the end of 2016. How did they pull it off? Jammet tells us that and more in this episode of our podcast.
In this episode, we get into some Sporkful-inspired debates about the purpose of hot dog buns and the ideal shape of pie. We discuss the divide in the podcasting world, as well as what makes his often contrarian—and always funny—show great.
In this episode of Special Sauce, Lam and I discuss how he tends to "go for the cheeks" and why his parents are proud of him for doing so. He also talks about how normal it is for writers to hate writing—but why he still encourages aspiring authors to explore their passion for the craft. Finally, Francis and I have a spirited discussion about cultural appropriation and sensitivity in the American food culture.
Brooks Headley, the punk-rocking, vegetable-whispering owner of Superiority Burger in NYC, says he's "almost insistent upon only being in bands with extremely volatile characters, myself included." In this week's episode of Special Sauce, I talk with Headley, the author of Fancy Desserts, about food and music—the connection between the two obsessions goes way back for him, though he doesn't allow any music in his restaurant kitchen.
"Don't start with your sister's wedding cake," suggests baker and author Dorie Greenspan on this week's episode of Special Sauce. Greenspan has come far from the self-described "sweet little home baker" that she once was, and has a lot of advice for aspiring bakers who want to get their hands in the dough.
Colicchio is a passionate guitar player and music aficionado, as you'll hear when he sings one of the riffs in the Stevie Ray Vaughan song that we want to use as the Special Sauce theme song in the near future. We also chatted about his seminal book, Think Like Chef, Colicchio explains that the book took shape only when the recipe testing for it failed in a major way.
This week, Colicchio discusses three key things he's learned over the course of his career — the things he thinks every aspiring chef should keep in mind. You'll learn about how a prison library book pushed Colicchio into the kitchen, and how the judges on Top Chef really determine a winner. Next week, you'll learn even more about his work to improve food policy, so stay tuned for part two.
This week, Canora discusses what he thinks restaurateurs and diners misunderstand about the service industry. You'll learn about how he deals with those issues, his guilty pleasures, and why sometimes it's good to have someone remind you to just calm down.
In this episode of Special Sauce - which, I must warn you, is a bit NSFW, unless you're surrounded by some really adventurous eaters with good senses of humor - Gold, Gabbert, and I discuss our shared passion for music and why there might be a connection between music lovers and serious eaters.
On this week's Special Sauce, journalist, author, professor, and activist Michael Pollan - author of In Defense of Food, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and The Botany of Desire - discusses what's kept him in the garden, in the kitchen, and writing over the past 30 years.
In this second half of my interview with The New Yorker staff writer, Calvin Trillin, you'll learn what major roux-related mistake would keep him from revisiting a restaurant, some of his secrets for speechwriting (or not writing, rather), and why he's envious of Cole Porter.
In this episode of our podcast, you'll find out how Calvin Trillin came to be a staff writer at The New Yorker and author of 30 books, including American Fried; Alice, Let's Eat; and Third Helpings, which are now collectively known as The Tummy Trilogy. These books inspired succeeding generations of serious eaters (including yours truly) to devote themselves to writing about the pleasures of indigenous regional food.
While enjoying our own lunch around the corner from his home, Trillin and I discuss how sliced bread got him into Yale and the reason he's never cared about covering fine dining. The best part? This interview is a two-parter. Stay tuned for more conversation with Trillin next week.
Pete Wells of the New York Times is perhaps the nation's most influential and powerful restaurant critic, but, as you'll hear on this week's Special Sauce podcast, he's soft-spoken, funny, and thoughtful-and eminently fair-minded.
"Cooking is the way I can give a piece of my heart to someone," says The Chew's Carla Hall. On this week's Special Sauce, I chat with Hall about how she hopped around on her career journey, going from being an accountant at Price Waterhouse ("Accounting was my safety job, but I hated it," she recalls) to modeling in Europe (she often paid for her lodging there by cooking for her hosts) to running a lunch delivery service in Washington, DC, to becoming a contestant on Top Chef.
"In America, you don't get what you don't ask for," says chef-restaurateur, Top Chef contestant, and cookbook author Dale Talde. "You have to punch and kick and scream to get what you want." On this week's episode of Special Sauce, I talk to Talde-one of the truly original, provocative thinkers in the food world today-about the foods he was raised on and the struggles he's faced.
On this week's episode of Special Sauce, Ed talks to Brian about his undying-and sometimes heretical-love for pizza, how gluttony ties into his upcoming Showtime series, Billions, and the moment when Wonderama broadened his culinary horizons. You'll laugh, you'll think, and you'll probably want to be a whole lot more productive-this is a guy who puts pen to paper every morning without fail and spends years researching each project he takes on. As for his desert-island fridge? You'll just have to listen to find out.
On this week's Special Sauce, I talk to David Simon—one of the smartest, funniest, and most thoughtful serious eaters I have ever broken bread with—about how his years as a beat reporter made their way into his television work. He shares how homicide detectives use a McDonald's order to get info out of suspects. And he reveals his secret to losing weight: "I got out of New Orleans," he says, "where batter is a food group."
"I'm a very average cook, but I'm a very happy cook," crime novelist Laura Lippman explained to me on this week's podcast. Lippman is far from your average writer, though. The Washington Post has called her "one of the best novelists around, period." And the Chicago Sun-Times went a bit further, saying, "Lippman has enriched literature as a whole."
Why did I want her on Special Sauce? Because, besides being a terrific writer, Lippman is thoughtful, funny, and, in her own quiet way, quite obsessed with food.
As you'll find out on this week's podcast, Lippman went from 20 years of newspaper journalism to becoming an award-winning novelist after a chance meeting at a 70s theme party where Malcolm Gladwell was dancing to "Kung Fu Fighting" in the other room.
I've known the great comedian and actress Susie Essman for nearly 20 years, and I've always been disappointed that she'd never cursed me out the way she did her TV husband, Jeff Garlin, on Curb Your Enthusiasm. So I asked her to let me have it right away on this week's episode of Special Sauce. As you'll hear, she happily obliged.
Rich Torrisi's name hits headlines all the time, but the renowned chef—and managing partner of one of New York City's hottest restaurant groups—admits that he doesn't much care for all the media attention. "I don't have a taste for it, I don't really enjoy that part of it," he explains. In fact, of the trio behind Major Food Group, which owns icons like Parm, Carbone, and ZZ's Clam Bar, Torrisi is far and away the shiest. But I've also found that, given the chance to open up, he's one of the most articulate and thoughtful chefs I've had the pleasure of speaking with.
When I first met her more than a decade ago, Gail Simmons was no television personality. She was the not-at-all-lowly assistant to Jeffrey Steingarten, the feared and revered Vogue food critic. (And she had to survive a ridiculously arduous interview process to get there, which included wine tasting, a pop quiz about sushi, and translating a Ferran Adria text from Spanish and a Pierre Hermé recipe from French.)
There's so much more to Gail than just the charming Top Chef star, but it's fun to hear about how she became a reluctant—but grateful—television personality. On this week's episode of Special Sauce, she also reveals the contents of her desert island fridge and the menu for her last supper (which I desperately want to be invited to). I can promise that both will make your mouth water.
Even if you've read every one of his columns on Serious Eats and every page of his weighty tome "The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science", you'll still find out some surprising—and funny—stuff about Kenji López-Alt when you listen to Episode 2 of Special Sauce. I promise. In fact, I bet even his mom will learn some things.
The first episode features my good friend Phil Rosenthal, who's a successful restaurant investor and the creator of Emmy Award-winning TV show Everybody Loves Raymond. PBS is now airing his latest creative endeavor, I'll Have What Phil's Having, a funny, big-hearted, intelligent food and travel show that gives me hope for the medium. Phil is smart, hilarious, and as generously spirited a human being as I know.
On our podcast, you'll learn about Phil's adventures as an out-of-work actor, a successful sitcom creator, and yes, you'll have to listen to find out Phil's secret sauce: the advice that he got from legendary sitcom writer-director-creator Ed Weinberger (Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi) that I often use as a guidepost in my own creative endeavors. He'll also share some travel discoveries, restaurant pet peeves, and what we'd find in his desert island fridge.