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.