July 29, 2016

From Yelp reviewers to Instagram, it’s starting to feel like foodie culture is everywhere. But how is that translating to America’s home kitchens?

We visited James Beard Award-Winning Chef Tony Maws and scientist-turned-chef Kenji Lopez-Alt at Tony’s restaurant - Craigie on Main - for a conversation about cooking in America, and an unexpected lesson in chicken anatomy.

We knew they’d be teaching us how to roast a chicken. What we didn’t know was that these chefs usually start with a whole chicken. Head, feet, and all. You can watch Kara try to dismember the bird, here.

When We Got Down to Brass Tacks

Everything you know about making a steak is wrong.

“Everyone wants a good crust on their steak because [they think] it seals in the juices, which just isn’t true,” says Tony.

“I think that all comes down to understanding how things really work instead of believing what’s been passed down forever,” Kenji says. And the key to that understanding starts with the scientific method.

Kenji tested out the theory with two identical steaks, searing one first and warming the other. His results were unequivocal: “The steak that starts in the low oven and finish with high heat retains more juices.”

When We Waxed Poetic About Food

“There’s this risk, both in food and science, of slipping into snobbishness,” Kenji says, while Tony nods in agreement.

“I own two restaurants and I’m thrilled to have them,” Tony adds. “But I cook for a very small part of the population. As much as I think I’m doing good work and making people happy, I’m leaving out a huge population of people who might benefit from understanding about food.”

Tony, who volunteers with Cooking Matters, a program that teaches cooking in low-income neighborhoods, thinks that something needs to be done about unequal access to nutritious food. “I think that conversation has to become louder, and I’d love to raise the volume.”

“Cooking is a luxury these days. It takes time to do it,” Kenji agrees. And though he doesn’t have the solution to food inequality, he does think it starts with encouraging more people to cook at home.

Innovation Hub Gets Cooking

All this talk about food and cooking got our creative juices flowing. As we started sharing favorite recipes, it became clear that we have a bunch of hopeful Food Network stars hiding among our staff. Instead of hording all the delicious knowledge for ourselves, we thought we’d share some of the recipes.

Our favorite? The Christmas Cookies from our engineer, Doug Shugarts.

“It’s a molasses cookie that my grandmother made during the war when sugar and other baking ingredients were rationed,” Doug says. “My family enjoys them at Christmas as a reminder of scarcity and sacrifice. I suppose they’d be considered ‘healthy’ in today’s food scene because of the low sugar. Amusing.”

2 C dark molasses (Brer Rabbit)
1 C warm water
1 C margarine
1 T baking soda
2 -2 1/2 tsps ground ginger
Approximately 7-1/2 C flour

Blend 1 C molasses and margarine. Then add second C of molasses and mix well. Add soda and ground ginger, mixing well. Add flour alternately with warm water, working to a soft dough. Work additional flour into dough, rolling out dough to about 1/4" thickness.

Lightly sugar the rolled out dough if desired, then run a rolling pin over the sugared dough to embed sugar in dough or press lightly with hands. Cut into shapes and bake for 7-8 minutes at 350 degrees.

Makes about 7-10 dozen cookies, depending on the size of the cookie cutters.

Looking for more go-to recipes? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered, below.

Caroline's Go-To Snack

Kara's Indulgent Treat

Matt's Family Take on a Cookbook Classic

Marc's Easy Weeknight Dinner

Ben's Fancy Meal

Reena's Tried-and-True Mac'n Cheese

Tony Maws, Kenji Lopez-Altz, innovation hub, Kara Miller, WGBH, pri

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