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THE MIND OF A CHEF SEASON 3 – POSSIBLY MY SINGLE FAVOURITE SHOW

I love The Mind of a Chef. When the first season came back in November 2012 I was instantly hooked. The way the creators tap into the creative process, way of thinking and philosophy of a chef is unlike anything else I’ve seen on TV.

The first season covered David Chang across 16 episodes, whilst season two showcased Sean Brock for the first 8 episodes and April Bloomfield for the remainder.

My favourite season so far is probably the first, as I learnt so much about Asian food culture and more importantly umami (Chang is also a somewhat goofy, but very knowledgeable character). The episodes about ramen, soy and miso are a must. I loved them. I’ve lost count on the amount of times I’ve re-watched them.

I had high hopes about Sean Brock’s episodes as he featured a couple of times during the first season, but they felt a little bit monochromatic to me. Great food, just didn’t make great TV. Just left me feeling a bit cold (I loved seeing him cook with his mum and help with cooking a whole hog though).

April Bloomfield on the other hand showed a warm character, who’s got an interesting background from several legendary UK restaurants like St. John and The River Cafe. Her ‘Farmer’ episode actually made me visit Pitt Cue Co in London and the food was just as amazing I thought it would be, based on that episode. Pig fans, eat there at first opportunity.

The third season will cover Edward Lee and Magnus Nilsson. Edward I recognise from Top Chef Season 9 and Magnus from a particularly awesome episode of No Reservations covering Cook It Raw in Japan. Magnus is also the chef owner of the revered restaurant Fäviken in Sweden. Below are a couple of videos.

DEBUGGING CARBONARA

Carbonara is easily one of my favourite pasta preparations. It’s a close call between it and ragu. I was first introduced to it many moons ago, through Knorr packet sauces at home. While this tasted good at the time, I eventually gathered that it probably wasn’t terribly authentic, containing what I remember as pieces of freeze-dried peppers.

A few years later – in 2007 to be precise – I was watching a TV show called Rick Stein’s Mediterranean Escapes and saw a carbonara recipe. This was not the first time I had encountered a recipe for real carbonara, but it was the trigger for me to attempt making it myself, the “authentic” way — whatever authentic means these days.

The first time I made it, it was a disaster. It ended up as garlicky, scrambled egg spaghetti, sprinkled with parsley to hide my screw-up. It took a while for me to recover. I had to defeat that damned eggy sauce.

Many, many journeys into the golden gates of carbonara heaven later, I’ve figured it out. Family and friends have often asked me how I do it, so let me try to break it down.

Firstly, the ingredients. If you are in Rome, the carbonara nazis will tell you that the ingredients are guanciale, eggs, pecorino cheese, cracked black pepper and of course spaghetti.

While I would highly recommend everyone to follow the carbonara rulebook, I always replace the guanciale with smoked bacon or pancetta, and pecorino (while talking about pecorino, you should try the other famous Roman pasta, Cacio e Pepe) with parmesan, as it always lives in my fridge. It’s mostly a matter of convenience and availability for me.

I also like to add garlic, parsley and the occasional vegetable; thinly sliced brussel sprouts during winter and leeks or asparagus in spring. Another thing I never do, is to use whole eggs. Egg whites won’t cook at such a low temperature, so I just use yolks. Sacrilege, I know.

What can go wrong? Following are the issues I’ve encountered.

Problem: The eggs curdle.

Solution: Make sure that the heat of the pan has been reduced sufficiently after frying the bacon. I always add the eggs last, after the cheese. It’s better to add the eggs to a pan that’s too cold, than ripping hot. Increase the temperature slowly. In most cases the temperature of the pasta should be sufficient to cook the eggs.

Problem: All the cheese gathers into a big white ball in the bottom of the pan after it’s been added.

Solution: I’ve found that adding a handful of cheese at a time works best. Incorporate the cheese well between each handful. You will see some who make a paste out of eggs and cheese, but I feel that you have more control this way.

Problem: The end result isn’t creamy, like when chefs do it.

Solution: This is simply down to the amount of eggs or egg yolks you use. I like to use 2 when cooking for myself. Remember that the key to all pasta cooking is adding the starchy pasta water to the pan in the final stages. The starchy water and egg yolks will give you the creaminess.

You’ll note that I haven’t included a recipe. I personally almost never cook from recipes (aside from baking or pastry), preferring to do things by intuition. There are millions of recipes out there anyway, like the one above or from the Italian culinary Jedi Master, Antonio Carluccio.

Repetition is the key to improving technique in any discipline. The carbonara is the perfect culinary example.

MY LATEST OBSESSION: ALAIN PASSARD

I think it was Rene Redzepi who first introduced me to Alain Passard. Through his undoubted status as one of the current great culinary minds, it took me little convincing to press the Follow button when Rene suggested that everyone should follow @ArpegeLive, back in spring.

While this clearly makes me late to the party of mildly obsessed Alain Passard followers, the moment I first saw his weekly picture plethora of painfully awesome food porn, I was hooked. This later made me want his first book In The Kitchen With Alain Passard, which gives readers a whimsical view into the mind of Alain through cartoon-like illustrations.

When the woman behind the counter at Books for Cooks in London first handed it to me however, I became sceptical. It seemed short and I didn’t want to believe that a graphic novel could satisfactory detail the creative workings of a chef. It seemed like a gimmick. I flicked through it and thought it looked somewhat interesting.

How wrong I was. After having read it, I can only say that rarely does a culinary book encapsulate me as much as this one did. The drawings are fantastic and the story line nearly makes you day-dream that you are in the kitchen with the author (Christophe Blain) and Alain. The book really made me question why there isn’t a complete series of books like this to cover more chefs. I reckon they would be a gigantic hit. Get on it, publishers! If you don’t already own it, buy it. Just like Sat Bains recently did. It is a matter of urgency.

As I tend to quickly establish a large appetite for a chef when I am in my obsessive state, the next step was to fire up Google to see if I could find any more material on Alain Passard. At first, I thought I hit the jackpot with this YouTube playlist, but it turns out that there is an even greater video selection available at Dailymotion. I have gathered that these videos have root in a collaborative effort with Le Point and Alain himself. Apparently they ended their first collaboration in 2013, but just a month or so ago it was revealed that they would rekindle the relationship. A brand new video would be released every Saturday from August 2014 and onwards. It is fair to say that I have been watching them quite a bit since I first discovered these in July.

While I unfortunately don’t speak or write a single word of French, I am establishing a basic understanding of general terms and ingredients which helps a bit. However, I would go as far as saying that you don’t need to understand French to appreciate these videos, as the huge passion of Alain sucks you in (or maybe I am alone?). Food really is a global language.

My greatest revelation from these videos, and by reading the book, is the appreciation of combining ingredients based on the harmony of their colours, either through assembling a bouquet or by laying it all out in front of you. Think of it as culinary painting or flower decoration. Why should the vegetables you cook always be decided by the protein you are using? Maybe some non-obvious ingredients go together, simply by sharing the same colour palette?

Alain treats vegetables with the respect one would usually only give to the finest piece of 30 day matured Scottish steak. Granted, he now has 3 farms producing his very own boutique vegetables of pornographic quality, but his philosophy can still be applied to the standard vegetables you buy in the supermarket or at the farmers market. Never before have I lusted for a salad this much, or realised that my casserole could be used for so many gentle vegetable preparations in addition to the stews or ragus I always cook. I also recently purchased a Japanese mandolin (I got mine at Japanese Knife Company in London), which has come to great use for creating delicious raw summer salads of courgette and fennel.

If you want even more vegetative inspiration, you should get hold of The Art of Cooking with Vegetables. Stand Up Asparagus, you’re next.

I salute you, Alain.

AN INTRODUCTION

It took a simple question from what is now an old friend of mine for me to find courage to begin this. “Why don’t you start a food website or something?” I was told a few years ago. Maybe I am doing this in memory of this individual.

My name is Alex and my greatest (obsessive) interest is food and cooking. Through this site I hope to reach like-minded individuals. Being born in Norway I have always thought that finding people with similar interests is very hard, as I far too often end up gloating about the quality of general food knowledge in Norway and the various poor cookery shows.

From time to time I discover beacons of hope like Hobbykokken, however, the vast majority of food information that I digest or discover is either through American or British forums, websites, chefs or TV shows.

Regardless of where you are from, I hope that there is someone out there who will find what I write here somewhat interesting, even if I don’t have a set agenda. The only plan I have for this site is to provide content that I would otherwise try to seek and read in my own time. Should I achieve that, I will be very happy.