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The Great British Bake Off returns

Great British Bakeoff

It might be hard to believe, but the Great British Bake Off returns on 1 August for another season. The show has spawned several new stars and at least 20 cookbooks, some by contestants and some from hosts Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. The Guardian caught up with the show's presenters, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, to discuss the show as it approaches the premiere of its sixth season.

When asked how they retain their "famous normalness" when working on the biggest show on TV, Sue replies "We're the same people we were when we met as teenagers. We've had lots of ups and downs, so we don't link our career success to our personal happiness. You learn how to do that when you lose everything and become very badly unemployed, as we did." Mel chimes in, saying "It helps having extremely grounded families."

The pair discuss what they think the future holds and reply in their trademark off-the-cuff manner. They get a bit more serious when discussing the contestants, however. Says Sue ""A lot of people, women particularly, have come to this programme to find out who they are. They've spent a life doing things for other people, they're mothers, daughters, and now it's time for them. To see that spark of independence and self-worth is really something. I don't want to be too meta about it, because it is just a show about cakes, but..." and this is where Mel chimes in, "...it means a lot to people."

When talking with Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, the focus of the conversation changes a bit. They discuss their relationship, which is described as "most similar to that of a stubborn son and his long suffering mother." Mainly, though, they talk about the contestants. When asked why he thinks they want to be on the show, Paul states "It's about the challenge. To push themselves. Where's your benchmark? You want to be the best. It takes a certain type of person. A strong person. Confident. You have to be a pretty good baker as well." Mary notes that over the seasons, "the bakers have really changed. Now they're savvy, and they know what's expected of them. The standard has gone up. Paul and I are trying to get it back to basics."

Are you planning to watch the sixth season of the show? Which of the show's many cookbooks is your favourite?

The ultimate kitchen swap

cookbook collage

Last week, 37 of the world's top chefs did something a little bit crazy: they all switched restaurants for one day. Sponsored by S. Pellegrino, the Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle featured top chefs ranging from Noma's René Redzepi to McCrady's Sean Brock, who "not only cooked in an entirely new restaurant (and in some cases an entirely new country), but...also lived in their host chef's home while preparing an eight-course dinner that would show off their culinary skills."

GELINAZ! is an acronym created by a collective of international chefs and the Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle a project wherein the chefs try to continually challenge themselves to stay at the top of their game. Each chef had but four days to scope out the new kitchen, create a menu, and get the hosting team in tune so ticket-holding diners would be wowed by the food. 

Diners purchased tickets in advance of the event without knowing who was going to cook in their chosen restaurant. Naturally people tried to discover which chef was going where (even analyzing airline schedules), but for the most part, the surprises held and diners didn't know who was cooking until the day of the event.

Once the swap took place, the chefs shared their experiences with various news outlets and websites, often participating in Q&A sessions. Grub Street spoke with Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana (ranked No.2 in the World's 50 Best Restaurants) after his stint at David Chang's Momofuku Ko restaurant in New York City. Bottura told Grub Street what it was like to step into another chef's kitchen, how he felt about Sean Brock taking over his kitchen in Modena, Italy, and about the evening's menu.

Meanwhile, diners at Blanca in Brooklyn dined on a meal created by Alex Atala of D.O.M. in São Paulo, No. 9 on the World's Best Restaurants list. Bon Appetit interviewed Atala after his stint in Blanca's kitchen. Atala brought many ingredients with him, but "after hanging out in the Blanca kitchen for a couple of days, he incorporated house-made ingredients, like beef lardo and 'nduja (and that crazy dry-aged steak)" into the menu.

You can read how Paul Cunningham, formerly from the UK but now located in Denmark, loosened up the formality usually found in Sean Brock's McCrady's in Charleston, South Carolina, by turning up the lights, swapping out the music, and serving bread without any plates.

Switching to the West Coast, you can discover what Australian chef Jock Zonfrillo, who foraged in forests and on beaches in California, served to guests at David Kinch's Manresa, located in Los Gatos. Meanwhile, Kinch had hopped over the Pacific to Narisawa in Tokyo and Narisawa owner Yoshihiro Narisawa was cooking at Attica in Melbourne, Australia. You can see a full list of swaps here.

What inspires a pastry chef?

celery sorbet

Do you ever look at a recipe and wonder how the chef came up with the idea for it? An article from indexed magazine Bon Appetit answers that question, at least for Brooks Headley, James Beard Award-winning chef, formerly of New York's Del Posto. Headley, whose recent cookbook received excellent reviews, spoke with BA about how - and when - he gets inspired.  

First, he dispels the notion that he has a glamorous space in which to endlessly tinker with exotic ingredients. Headley notes that very few restaurants have their own experimental "laboratories." One that did was El Bulli, which had something called a taller, or workshop. Headley proposed that concept to Del Posto owners (Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali) several years ago. The reaction wasn't exactly what he wanted. Says Headley, "Have you ever seen one of those YOU WANT IT WHEN? desk tchotchkes with a series of characters clutching their guts, paralyzed with laughter? Really didn't take."

Instead, Headley has to wait to be inspired, which often occurs at the most inopportune times. He notes that inspiration "usually strikes in the middle of dinner service, when we are getting bludgeoned with orders. So I forget a lot of my ideas. I try writing them down on scraps of printer paper, which get tacked to an adjacent bulletin board in the finest serial-killer style. The tinier the chance of my having time to grab a Sharpie, the huger the awesomeness of the lightbulb moment."

Headley also gets ideas from inspirational books which he keeps near his workstation. They're not all dessert books nor even all cookbooks. He explains, "There is something magical and humbling about skimming a Sherry Yard book during a lull and getting reminded that you know absolutely nothing about meringues, and you should switch careers ASAP."

Photo of Sfera di caprino, celery and fig agrodolce and celery sorbet from The New York Times by Brooks Headley

"Project Smoke" aims to elevate your barbecue


Are you just getting into barbecue or do you consider yourself a seasoned pitmaster? Either way, grilling guru Steven Raichlen's new PBS series called "Project Smoke," which debuted last weekend, aims to boost your barbecue IQ. Thirteen 30-minute episodes feature "recipes, ingredients, tools, tricks and techniques that aim to lead the audience on a smoke-filled journey to new flavors."

"I call smoke the umami of BBQ," Raichlen told Yahoo! Food. "It enhances the intrinsic flavor of beef, pork, fish and vegetables the way umami does. Smoke has the ability to give food such a depth of flavor without denaturizing the original product." The show is aimed at both novices and experts. "If you're a beginner, you'll learn how to smoke on every smoker and how to use every ingredient. If you're more advanced, you'll learn some tricks and dishes that aren't part of your repertoire," he said.

In addition to behind-the-scenes footage of how food programs are put together, Raichlen will emphasize ethical eating by encouraging cooks to use grass-fed beef, heritage pork, organic poultry, and wild seafood, as well as locally sourced produce. The show will cover many different techniques, such as cold smoking (salmon), smoke roasting, rotisserie smoking,  and hay smoking. He'll also offer advice on the best smokers to buy - and for the dedicated, instructions on how to build your own.

Photo of Coffee-rubbed Texas-style brisket  from  Cooking Light Magazine by Steven Raichlen


Martha Stewart Living has a new owner

Martha StewartMartha Stewart, who pioneered lifestyle branding in the late 1990s, has sold her empire to Sequential Brands, Inc. in a deal announced yesterday. When Stewart took her company public in 1999, it was valued at $1.8 billion USD. The recent sale indicates how much more crowded the fields of cooking and decorating have become, as the Sequential Brands deal is valued at only $353 million, a fraction of the brand's former worth.

Once the most dominant name in cooking and decorating, in recent years Stewart has faced stiff competition from new "domestic divas like Rachael Ray and everyday bloggers who write about home decorating, cake baking and the like." The internet has contributed to this shift, as people have embraced getting advice, recipes, and ideas from multiple sources instead of one dominant brand.

Whether this transaction will revive the flagging company is unclear. Despite making major changes, Martha Stewart Living has reported annual losses every year since 2003 with only one exception (2007). But Sequential Brands thinks the brand still has life in it. Yehuda Shmidman, CEO of Sequential, points to "research that shows the Martha Stewart name has 96 percent awareness among women in the U.S." He also notes that 70% of women say that Stewart has or continues to influence them. The company also has a wide base, reaching about 100 million people. 

Do you think this sale can revive the brand or is it destined to continue its decline? Is Martha Stewart Living still a go-to source for you?

Kickstarter for new book about Paula Wolfert

Wolfert collageFans of Paula Wolfert take note: an all-star cast of authors has launched a Kickstarter for a new book about Wolfert, known as the Queen of Mediterranean cooking. As Michael Rulhman reports, the Kickstarter achieved its initial modest goal, but is now expanding to a stretch goal of $80,000.

In the introductory video to the Kickstarter, Wolfert says "I live in the now. I live for today and I make it work for me." She is referring to adjustments she's made since her Alzheimer's diagnosis several years ago. Andrea Nguyen, who is leading the project, says part of the upcoming book's goal is to help Wolfert "bust the stigma against Alzheimer's by exploring the relationship between memory and food."

Nguyen is collaborating with Emily Thelin (formerly an editor at Food & Wine) on the new book. Says Nguyen, "By presenting Paula's incredible story along with a collection of her brilliant recipes, we aim to honor her legacy." Since the initial Kickstarter goal was met in just a few days, they are expanding the project and hope to double the print run to 3,000 books. There is still time to back the Unforgettable Kickstarter project if you are interested.  

Christina Tosi on bringing Milk Bar to the masses

crack pie

Home baking has surged in popularity recently, and some of surge can be attributed to James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Christina Tosi of Momufuku Milk Bar fame. Her cookbook of the same name was a huge success, and she's followed up with a second book that is part cookbook and part memoir. She recently spoke with Emma Bazilian about Masterchef, endorsement deals, and her famous crack pie.

Tosi discusses why, after pursuing a degree in mathematics, she chose to be a pastry chef. One her hobbies during college was baking. Says Tosi, "I started baking two or three recipes a night, every night-that was my happy place. And when I was nearing the end of college, I knew that I didn't want a real job - I didn't want to really be a grown-up - so I decided to move to New York and go to culinary school."

The article delves into how Tosi came to work for David Chang, and how she's been growing her bakery empire - in addition to her bestselling cookbooks, she has several bakeries in the U.S. and Canada, plus a line of mixes at Target. Tosi also talks about her excitement for being a judge on MasterChef and now on MasterChef Junior. Speaking about the latter program, she says: "… It was one of those things where the next day I went into work and said, 'Every single person needs to go home and watch this show.' It completely restores your faith in humanity."

Photo of Crack pie from Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi

Culinary icon Roger Vergé passes away

cookbooks of Roger VergeLegendary French chef Roger Vergé died on June 5 at age 85. Verge led the culinary movement that became known as nouvelle cuisine, where lighter and fresher fare replaced the heavy, fat- and cream-based sauces of traditional French cooking. Vergé's particular brand of nouvelle cuisine came to be called cuisine du soleil, or cuisine of the sun, which consisted of mainly Mediterranean foods enhanced with vegetable essences and fruit reductions.

Vergé opened several restaurants, and in the 1970s he held the most number of Michelin stars of any single chef in France. Chefs that trained in his kitchens include giants like Daniel Boulud, Alain Ducasse, and Hubert Keller. In the following decades, Vergé opened or consulted on many restaurants and wrote dozens of cookbooks in both French and in English.

Unlike many chefs of his era, who were reluctant to share recipes with others, Vergé freely shared his skill set as he felt it would benefit other cooks. Vergé once said [translated], "The more knowledge we share, the more the cuisine is enriched; we succeed if we make what we love popular."

Inside Ottolenghi's test kitchen


Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbooks are among the most popular books in the EYB Library. The recipes are vibrant, fresh, and visually stunning. If you've ever wondered what it takes to come up with these wonderful recipes, you can now satiate your curiosity, as NPR's The Salt gives you a backstage pass into the Ottolenghi test kitchen.

You might think the kitchen would be a large, gleaming space stuffed to the rafters with the newest equipment, but the truth is that the kitchen is quite humble. "This is completely a replication of a home kitchen," recipe developer Esme Robinson tells NPR. It even has an average electric range, much to the staff's chagrin. 

The produce used to create those stunning photographs that adorn the cookbooks is likewise ordinary. The staff purchases ingredients at supermarkets on their way to work. Ottolenghi explains: "We really try to emulate what people would do at home," he says. "We could use restaurant suppliers easily, but the whole idea is not to." Instead, he says, he wants to "try to get it tasting and looking like it would if people are using normal ingredients. Because I know 80 percent of people would not go to specialty shops. They'll shop in their local supermarket."

There are many more interesting tidbits to learn about the Ottolenghi test kitchen in the article, including an explanation of why some recipes are very exacting about equipment features like pan size.

Photo of Kisir from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Highlights of the 2015 Ballymaloe LitFest

Ballymaloe grounds

For the second year running we spent a most glorious weekend at Ballymaloe (pronounced Bally-mal-loo), which hosted the third Kerrygold Cooking Literary Festival of Food & Wine (LitFest for short). The venue for the festival is split between the Ballymaloe House grounds and the nearby Ballymaloe Cookery School, which is helmed by Darina Allen and numerous members of the Allen family. Both the house and school are located in County Cork, Ireland.

The literary festival grew out of a suggestion by Geoffrey Dobbs, founder of Galle Literary Festival, that Ballymaloe celebrate its literary tradition, which includes publishing three generations of cookery books. The festival celebrates food and wine writing and draws authors, chefs, educators, wine experts, gardeners, publishers, and others for a weekend filled with stories, discussions,  music, dancing and of course, delicious food and drinks.

Allegra McEvedyFaced with a difficult decision about which cooking demonstration to attend - talented presenters included April Bloomfield and Fuchsia Dunlop - we ended up seeing the wonderful Allegra McEvedy, who amused us for three hours. Her demonstration concluded with a wonderful feast of seven dishes. The weekend also included talks, tours, interviews, discussions and even foraging - the hard part is choosing which events to attend. As if there weren't enough to keep you busy from morning 'til night, between events you can visit the Big Shed, which transforms every year into a stunning mecca of entertainment and food stalls featuring delicious local food and beverages.

Other highlights of the weekend were:                                                      

April BloomfieldAn interview with April Bloomfield, who told us her girlhood dream was to join the police force, and that she only went into cooking because she missed the police application deadline. Her goal in culinary school was to come out knowing how to cook a lamb chop - she never thought cooking would be a serious career. April has worked in some of the most famous London restaurants including Rowley Leigh's Kensington Place, Bibendum (where she worked with Simon Hopkinson), Roscoff, the Brackenbury, and 4 years at the River Café. It was there that she realised cooking was her life, and she credits two dishes from River Café as being life changers: Walnut sauce and Kale puree. She thinks she'd still be at River Café if she hadn't received an amazing offer to open a restaurant in New York. In addition to that restaurant, The Spotted Pig, she has also helped revamp Tosca Cafe in San Francisco, and has opened three other NYC locations: The John Dory Oyster Bar, The Breslin Bar & Dining Room, and Salvation Taco. April's discussion was an amazing story of someone who started from humble beginnings and whose passion for food and cooking grew slowly. In recognition of her persistent hard work, intelligence, and drive to continue to learn and improve, the Beard Foundation named her the top chef in New York in 2014.

David LebovitzDavid Lebovitz's entertaining talk, where we learned that he was turned down in his first attempt to get a job at Chez Panisse. But in a later interview with Alice Waters, when she discovered he shared her love of eating lettuce out of the bowl with his fingers, he got the job - although I suspect there was more to it than that! He loved his 14 years at Chez Panisse, where he worked mainly as the pastry chef. But it was his discussion of his time in Paris that was the most interesting. It tells a lot about him that he relocated to a country which he knew little about and where he didn't speak the language - he has little sympathy for people who tell him he's lucky and they wish they could do what he did! Fourteen years later, he's the author of a highly successful food blog (indexed on EYB), which is used by thousands of Americans and others as their personal guide to Paris (and a few great cookbooks, too!). Despite the frustrations of living in a culture that is so obviously different to his own, Lebovitz doesn't see himself leaving in the short or long term. It's obvious that he's incredibly hard working and his success is as much a result of his work ethic as it is his talent as a writer.

Sam ClarkA discussion by Sam Clark: It is always interesting to hear how successful chefs arrived at cooking as a career and we heard very diverse stories over the weekend. Sam Clark claims his inspiration was being the child of a single working mother which meant he spent time in the kitchen as a means of survival! Unlike other kids who might not have ventured beyond pot noodles, he explored different cuisines and often his cupboards were bulging with ethnic foods. Sam feels that because there is no distinct food culture in England, chefs aren't constrained by tradition. You can definitely see that in his two hugely successful restaurants, Moro and Morito.

Chez Panisse reunion: Since several Chez Panisse alumni were present at Ballymaloe it seems only fitting that they got together to reminisce. Alice Waters - restaurateur, Chez Panisse alumnifood activist, and pioneer of the American organic and local food movements - was a delight. David Lebovitz reflected on his time at Chez Panisse where he became a perfectionist, particularly concerning dressings and flavours. This now means he can rarely go out to eat without being disappointed. David Tanis spent many years as the Chez Panisse chef, and his appreciation of what a great green salad is means he always has to make his own! April Bloomfield was only there for a short time before she went off to create her successful restaurants, but the restaurant made a lasting impression on her and took her to a new level of appreciation for the fresh, simple cooking championed there.

Alice was asked if Chez Panisse could have started anywhere else besides Berkeley, California. She noted that a combination of the rich and fertile soil, people who were open to trying new things, and the area's winemaking industry that was just beginning to take off, together created the perfect storm that allowed Chez Panisse to thrive. She told us that the open kitchen at the restaurant was created because she wanted to see the sunsets from the windows. Another interesting tidbit we learned was that most of the restaurant's staff at the time hadn't gone to cooking school  and operated under the philosophy of "fake it until you make it."

BallycottonAfter reading about our wonderful weekend, I'm sure you feel tempted to attend next year (the dates are May 20-22).  If you need any further encouragement, this was the view from our hotel window in the morning.  

Seen anything interesting? Let us know & we'll share it!