Rank #1: [Rerun] Ask Special Sauce: Kenji and Stella Troubleshoot Your Thanksgiving (2017)
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.
Rank #2: Special Sauce: Uncovering Pizza's US Origins [1/2]
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
Rank #3: Chris Kimball on the Grateful Dead and Life After America's Test Kitchen [2/2]
Rank #4: Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perelman on Not Pretending to Be Perfect [1/2]
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.
Rank #5: Phil Rosenthal Is Anthony Bourdain, Except Afraid of Everything [1/2]
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.)
Rank #6: Adam Driver on Marines, MREs, and Postprandial Cereal [1/2]
Rank #7: Chris Kimball on the Joy of Arguments and the Future of Food Media [1/2]
Rank #8: Special (Pizza) Sauce: Adam Kuban and Scott Wiener Talk Pie [1/3]
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.
Rank #9: Adam Driver on Choosing Roles and Eating a Chicken a Day [2/2]
Rank #10: Andrew Rea on the Wild Success of Binging With Babish [1/2]
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.
Rank #11: Sam Kass on Cooking for the Obamas [1/2]
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.
Rank #12: Sara Moulton on Leftovers, College Gig, and Not Looking for Attention [1/2]
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.
Rank #13: Special Sauce: Alvin Cailan on What “American Food” Means in 2019 [2/2]
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
Rank #14: Special Sauce: Chef Anita Lo on Cooking for Michelle Obama [1/2]
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
Rank #15: Special Sauce: Matt Rodbard and Max Falkowitz on Becoming Food Writers [1/2]
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
Rank #16: Where’s Kenji?!? (Here. He’s Here.) [1/1]
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 Wursthall, 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 and the sequel to his best-selling book, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, 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 The Food Lab." And then we talked about his other book project, the sequel to The Food Lab, 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
Rank #17: Priya Krishna on Special Sauce: How Indian-ish Came to Be [1/2]
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.
Rank #18: Special Sauce: Jason Wang on the Origins of Xi’an Famous Foods [1/2]
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
Rank #19: Special Sauce: Priya Krishna on Cooking and Being "Indian-ish" [2/2]
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
Rank #20: Sara Moulton on Why Female Chefs Should Head West [2/2]
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.