Archive for the ‘Food Writing’ Category

If you ever had grand ideas about working in a kitchen or becoming a chef you should probably abandon them. Though many books have exposed the arduous process of becoming a chef, rarely have we seen the sheer weight of the obligations, routine and pressure to perform laid so bare before us.

Such is the accomplishment of Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line, the first book by Michael Gibney. Gibney is the former executive chef at Tavern on the Green. He’s worked for a who’s who of prestigeous restaurants including: Per Se, Le Bernardin, Bouley, Ducasse, wd~50, and Momofuku.

That accumulated wealth of top level culinary experience lends itself to the exacting tone and beat of his walk through a day in the life of a sous chef. Events others might simply omit or gloss over are meticulously retold, and at times you almost assume that he had videotaped his time in the kitchen with his near perfect recall. This book will probably leave you  to conclude – as I did – the following: the job of being a chef is impossible. It can’t be done and to harbor any dreams or delusions about becoming a rockstar chef is a fool’s errand. And yet, people do it.

It is that exacting detail that is the true brilliance of this book. The intricate, painstaking, sensual anecdotes that Gibney gives us to place us firmly in the “you” role of the sous chef. The book is written in 2nd person, forcing the reader to inhabit the character of a sous chef working the line on a 300 hundred cover (300 guest) night at a 90 seat Manhattan restaurant.

The book begins with a map displaying the layout of the restaurant kitchen. Though Gibney later explains that each restaurant kitchen is unique in terms of size, shape, and overall design; that many factors and stations are universal. From studying the map we learn about “the pass” – the area all food travels through between cooking and plating for service, the various food stations and prep areas, as well as walk ins, loading docks, offices and locker rooms.

The crucial factor is that we learn more than just that these places exist. We learn both their importance and their physical location, how one relates to the other to create the unique eco-system that allows a kitchen staff to thrive. Gibney isn’t satisfied to simply give us an annotated map. The book begins with “you”, the sous chef, arriving at an empty restaurant and walking his way through the entire kitchen, preparing for the day: checking the inventory, cleanliness, and state of his world; while pondering the physical and mental strain that is to come. This kind of exposition might seem…odd…boring even, but Gibney’s lively prose and description makes the journey through a deserted restaurant absolutely sing. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s the holiday season, the time of year when families come together, for better or worse, to celebrate the bounties that we as a people are generally afforded, promote the well appointed perception about our love for food and commercialism and to begrudgingly give thanks for one another. I say begrudgingly because for every heartfelt Reddit post about a miracle connection or the hidden kindness of a sympathetic TSA agent there’s a BuzzFeed list on just surviving the holiday. For example:

Holiday Survival 

Liz Lemon’s Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving

While sitting next to your strange aunt or uppity cousin who not so subtlety reminds you how much better he’s doing in life is excruciating so too is having to consume tired casseroles or soggy overcooked vegetables between courses of decadent desserts and awesome slow cooked meats. Would you believe then, that holiday salvation can be found in the form of the most maligned vegetable in the garden.

Yes Virginia, I’m talking about the Brussels sprout. The unassuming and oft neglected little cabbage can teach us everything we need to know about rounding out a holiday meal and dealing with those odd house guests we call relatives. Read the rest of this entry »

I was so pleasantly surprised and hooked by Lucy Knisley’s food memoir graphic novel Relish: My Life in Food, that I jumped at the chance to sit down and chat with her at New York Comic Con. There was so much to talk about and Lucy did not disappoint.

Sitting in the back of the First Second Books booth on the floor of NYCC, Lucy and I discussed everything from how she draws food so well, great NY food establishments, why her mom is a wizard and what super power she’d love to have (it’s freakin’ awesome). As it turns out, Lucy might actually have a super power already, at least when it comes to her favorite cupcakes.

Castles & Cooks: Did you ever consider a culinary career?

Lucy Knisley: I love working in the food industry and I did my whole time growing up, but there’s a sort of temperament that you need for that and I always made art as well and I think that something I always think of when people ask me that question like why I didn’t follow in my mom’s footsteps and be a chef, which I did think about, is that I grew up watching that, you know?

Sitting there watching that and digesting that, drawing pictures while I watched it. And I think that made an artist out of me more than a chef because it gave me this perspective where I could watch people and process that and turn it into art. And I love food and I love the food industry and I worked in it for years, but making art was always what I really wanted to do. Read the rest of this entry »

Food Network doesn’t really care if you can cook. I don’t mean to be overly cynical, but that shouldn’t come as any great revelation. This has been the case for some time, but the network doesn’t seem to be hiding it as much anymore. The network which used to almost expertly balance its talent between personality and ability seems to have tipped the scales in favor of the former, with little regard for the latter.

I should begin by saying that yes, I recognize that there is a Cooking Channel, and that the balance of programming has shifted to make Food Network more about food and entertainment. Both are owned by the Scripps Network and it is certainly a smart programming move, similar to the TBS/TNT split between comedy and drama. I get it, but here’s the problem. TBS and TNT are in roughly 85% of homes, and Food Network is available in 87%. The Cooking Channel is available in just over 53%. Kind of hard to create a brand split if most people aren’t able to watch regardless of the programming plans. (If you’re curious about the stats, check out this article from late Aug 2013)

Until the Cooking Channel becomes more available one would think that the Food Network would at least try and keep things balanced, but no. The imbalance has cropped up in several places though many will probably – and rightly – point to the ubiquitous Next Food Network Star as exhibit A. The use of “star” in the title suggests that the show is more concerned with cultivating pure celebrity than it is establishing the next great tv chef. But this isn’t a lesson in language intentionality so we’ll let that go. The more damning evidence comes in how that show has evolved over the years with the ways it measures and tests “talent”. Read the rest of this entry »

There are many ways to make BBQ and even more opinions on sauces and side dishes. Yet, regardless of geographic allegiance the one key to making good barbecue that everyone agrees on is “don’t mess with it.” Dress the meat however you want, put it on the smoker and then leave it alone.

That mantra hasn’t been part of the production of BBQ Pitmasters – a show that began on TLC in late 2009. Now in it’s 4th season, the show has undergone significant changes each year. What started as a reality show following some of America’s best BBQ chefs to competitions around the country has morphed into a more familiar competitive cooking show in the vein of Chopped. While constant changes and tinkering with the format might signal a show that has lost its way, BBQ Pitmasters has emerged from its growing pains with quite possibly the best format in competition cooking. So how did this happen? Read the rest of this entry »

We can find recipes anywhere. In fact, given the unbelievable access to information that we share, a book might be the last place any of us going looking nowadays. With that being the case, a cookbook really needs to have something special to grab my attention – like lightsaber Popsicle molds. Let’s just say “[they] had me at hello.”

Chronicle Books and author Lara Starr return to a kitchen far far away with Ice Sabers, the latest entry in their Star Wars cookbook series. Like Wookie Pies, Clone Scones, and other Galactic Goodies which focused on pastries and baked treats,  Ice Sabers narrows its focus to frozen desserts and refreshing beverages.

Ice Sabers continues the series goal of trying to encourage more young people to participate in the kitchen and the entire construction of the book emphasizes that. The introduction is directed at young Force users and explains all sorts of tips about being safe in the kitchen, handling equipment with care, and having fun. Read the rest of this entry »

Summer unofficially kicks off with the celebration of Memorial Day. Beaches and pools are open, the weather (generally speaking) starts to cooperate, and grilling related commercials dominate television. For the first time, we can actually say that “winter is NOT coming.” No celebration would be complete without ample food and drink, but sometimes we’d rather just skip the menu planning and move onto the part where we devour delicious food in between the clinking of glasses.

This year, we’re going to try and make your party planning easier, by designing a feast suitable for any party celebrating the beginning of the summer season. And when planning a feast, where else would we take inspiration from than Game of Thrones?  What does George RR Martin’s epic have to do with Memorial Day? Nothing, but who says  we can’t celebrate both? Also, considering what is on the horizon for that show, we may all need a bit of a pick me up afterward.

Read the rest of this entry »

I absolutely love green chiles. I don’t know what it is, I don’t remember when it started, but anytime I can have green chiles added to a dish, I jump at the chance. I’m particularly fond of them as a cheeseburger topping, and I’ll never understand why more establishments don’t offer them as a standard burger topping. Green chiles are a fantastic delivery for heat and spice, as well as a variety of textures depending on how they are prepared and served.

Yet, green chiles are one of those ingredients that we often use pre-prepared, when making them at home is actually unbelievably simple. Scratch cooking in general often can seem like a daunting task. The thought of creating an ingredient just to be used in a dish can often feel like you’re over-complicating things, but when the opportunity presents itself it should be embraced, not avoided. Read the rest of this entry »

I decided I was finally an adult the day I realized that I could eat cupcakes for dinner. And not just any cupcakes, but the best red velvet cupcakes in New York City, or anywhere else as far as I’m concerned, from Two Little Red Hens.

Working long hours and late nights in financial services meant that meals were pushed off entirely, or relegated to a quick snack to be shoveled in mercilessly between spreadsheet updates. On one especially arduous evening, I forewent dinner, in hopes of getting home earlier. Weary, but back uptown I passed Two Little Red Hens and decided that tonight, I would sup on cupcakes.

After all, I had a job, two degrees, and I paid my rent on time. One bite into a sumptuous red velvet cupcake, and the day’s events washed away. For a brief moment, all was right with the world. I knew, in that moment, that a cupcake can indeed be therapy. A cupcake can indeed make the world a better place. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m a big fan of trying to find the original versions of popular foods. Not necessarily because the original will always be better, but because it provides great perspective on how a dish has evolved over time. Some dishes have been around so long, and gone through so many permutations that chasing down the “original” would be difficult for anyone who isn’t a food historian.  Also, it’s just cool to be able to say that you’ve had the original hamburger, or visited the original Nathan’s hot dog stand, or that you ate pizza from the country’s oldest pizza oven.

So you can imagine my excitement, this past Christmas, when my sister showed up with the original Boston Cream Pie in tow. One of my favorite desserts it was certainly a staple of my college years in Boston, but somehow I had never actually gotten around to eating it at the place it was invented – The Parker House in Boston. I have no excuse, but luckily that mistake has now been rectified. I’ll get into whether or not it was worth all the fuss, but first a tiny history lesson. Read the rest of this entry »

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