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Jacques Pepin on when not to follow the recipe

 caramelized pear custard

Have you ever followed a recipe to the letter only to have the dish turn out terribly? It might not be the recipe's fault, says veteran chef and television host Jacques Pépin. He recently spoke to Judy Woodruff of the PBS Newshour on why following a recipe exactly can lead to disaster.

Pépin notes the contradiction between writing a recipe and cooking from it. "When writing a recipe, one records a moment in time which can never be duplicated exactly again," he says. "The paradox is that the recipe tells the reader, this must be done this way, when, in fact, to get the result you're looking for, the recipe has to be modified each time."

The example he provides is a recipes for pears in caramel sauce that he has made many different times with different pears in varying stages of ripeness. "When I first created this recipe, the pears were done in 30 minutes. That amount of time only reflects the unique set of circumstances I faced, ripeness of the pear, type of roasting pan I used. This is what happened on that particular day," Pépin notes. But on subsequent occasions, the pears took different amounts of time to cook, and once actually needed a bit of water to help them along. Had he followed the 30 minute instruction to the letter, he would have had mushy pears or rock hard, scorched pears.

You might wonder what is the point of a recipe if it's always in flux. Pépin believes recipes are important, however. "A recipe is a teaching tool, a guide, a point of departure. You have to follow it exactly the first time you make the dish. But as you make it again and again, you will change it, you will massage it to fit your own taste, your own sense of aesthetic," he says.

Photo of Caramelized pear custard from from Jacques Pépin Heart & Soul in the Kitchen by Jacques Pépin

Sara Moulton's most personal cookbook yet

Sara Moulton's Home CookingSara Moulton has been involved in cooking shows for three decades. A protégé of Julia Child, she appeared on Food Network beginning in the 1990s and culminating with six years of the highly-rated "Cooking Live". She was also a regular on ABC's "Good Morning America" from 1997 through 2012, and now stars in the American Public Television series "Sara's Weeknight Meals." Despite this, a recent poll of millennials found that they didn't realize she was still on TV. That could be due to her nearly non-existent social media presence, all-important to that demographic. But even though she might not be trending on Twitter, she's still plugging away in the kitchen, and has recently released her most personal cookbook to date. 

"Cooking, to me, is about sharing and family dining - not competition," Moulton says, responding to losing a JBF award to the cooking program Chopped. "It's about nurturing, context. A life." That viewpoint is echoed throughout Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101, in which Moulton shares tips and techniques through 150 recipes. Breaking with tradition, for this book Moulton worked by herself for a year. She notes that it was especially difficult because with her previous cookbooks, she always had help to do all of the shopping, testing and editing.

The first chapter of Home Cooking 101 contains a list of Moulton's key home-cooking basics and reflects concepts she has learned over her long career. "Dispense with mise en place" ranks fifth on that list. "The rule is to prep and measure all your ingredients before you start cooking," she writes. "I don't bother with it anymore, except in a few rare cases. . . . I realized that I was spending a lot of time preparing all the ingredients in advance instead of taking advantage of lulls in the cooking time of one ingredient to prep the next ingredient."

Moulton will soon embark on a tour in support of Home Cooking 101 (watch the World Calendar of Cookbook Events for details), and season five of Sara's Weeknight Meals is now airing on public television stations across the country. Moulton is comfortable in her current, more relaxed television role. When asked if she would consider a reprise of "Cooking Live," she demurs. "I would never do it now," she says. "I've been replaced by Google. Everybody would call me and tell me what I was doing wrong."

Writing for the radio

Cookbooks

You may have heard Kathy Gunst on National Public Radio's Here and Now, a live news magazine show broadcast to over 500 public radio stations in the US. Recently Gunst spoke with Dianne Jacob to explain how writing for the popular radio program differs from writing for print

Gunst knows a thing or two about food writing: she's the author of over a dozen cookbooks, including the popular Stonewall Kitchen series. While writing for print or radio involves similar research, the output is quite different. Says Gunst, "I know that if I have to speak for 6-14 minutes I need enough info to speak for an hour, to feel safe and confident. Then we have a conversation. That's completely different from writing for magazines, because this is a 2-way often live conversation where one or two hosts interview me. I bring food in so they're always tasting and eating and we're always laughing." The goal for each pieces is to have the audience listening at home or in the car think "I could make that, I could cook that tonight."

When asked what the most challenging part of doing a radio show, Gunst replied: "Making food come alive through sound. It's the sense that's rarely discussed." She describes an interview she once conducted with Jacques Pepin where he was talking about training young chefs. Pepin remarked that "he could walk into the kitchen and tell if the meat was overcooked by the sound of the searing in the kitchen." Gunst strivies to use sound to make the other senses "come alive for people." 

Read the complete interview on Dianne Jacob's blog.

Top Chef winners: where are they now?

 Top Chef cookbooks

Top Chef is nearing the end of its 13th season on the Bravo network and shows no signs of slowing down. It's hard to believe that the first winner was crowned nearly a decade ago. If you've ever wondered what happened to the winners of each season, Yahoo! Food has the answers.

The first season saw Harold Dieterle best Tiffani (you love her or you hate her) Faison. Dieterle has stayed busy since 2006, opening three New York restaurants, but now he is "taking a break" from day-to-day restaurant operations. He has started a consulting firm which allows him to spend more time with his newborn son. Dieterle's fondest memory from Top Chef (other than winning, of course) was about the people he met while filming. "Some of the relationships I made on the show are pretty special and I still think fondly of a lot of the people that I met through that experience," he says.

It wasn't until Season 4 that the show had its first female winner, Stephanie Izard. I can still recall how nervous she was during the show's finale - her hands were literally shaking. Izard overcame her nervousness to win the competition, and afterward opened several highly acclaimed establishments in the Chicago area: Girl & the Goat, Little Goat, Goat Group Catering, and the soon-to-open Duck Duck Goat, her take on Chinese food. The author of The Girl in the Kitchen is working on a second cookbook, but no publication date has been announced. When asked what she learned from the show that she still uses today, Izard responded with a shoutout to one of her competitors: "Lisa made a Vietnamese salted caramel for one challenge. It inspired me to make a salted/spiced goat milk caramel cajeta when I got home, which we still use on our Goat menus."

Both Top Chef winners mentioned above have written cookbooks, as has fan favorite Kevin Gillespie and Season 6 winner Michael Voltaggio and his brother/runner-up Bryan Voltaggio. If the Yahoo! article isn't enough to satiate your curiosity, you can also watch a video on BravoTV.com to find out more about each season's winners.

A day in the life

 Wolfert books

In late 2015, Nathalie Christian was hired to work as a recipe tester and project assistant for Emily Kaiser Thelin, author of the forthcoming biographical cookbook about Paula Wolfert titled UNFORGETTABLE: Bold Flavors from Paula Wolfert's Renegade Life. [We previously discussed this project and its Kickstarter backing on the EYB blog.] In a recent blog post for the San Francisco Culinary School, Nathalie provided us a glimpse of what she did on the project in the form of a one-day diary

As you might expect, the day starts early and is chock full of activity. On this particular day the crew is doing a photo shoot for one of Paula's most iconic dishes. Says Nathalie, "Out of all of the dishes that have garnered Paula icon status, her Cassoulet in the Style of Toulouse, in my opinion, most reveals her penchant for exactitude. After a great deal of research, testing, rewriting, and tinkering, her cassoulet recipe is counted among the best ever committed to print. It required very little updating, but it's a doozy."

Paula Wolfert was on hand for the photo shoot, and Nathalie's description of her probably fits what you imagine she would be like. "Paula is a whirlwind of energy and excitement, and her positivity and optimism even following her diagnosis [of Alzheimers'] are incredibly inspiring. She greets us all with hugs and we kick into high gear, galvanized by her dynamism," writes Nathalie. 

A recent update from the Kickstarter project said that the book is still on track to be released in spring 2017. The cookbook is currently in final draft form and is "already deep into revises," according to the Unforgettable team.

Sam Beall of Blackberry Farm Restaurant dies at age 39

Blackberry Farm CookbookFarm-to-table promoting chef and author Sam Beall of Blackberry Farm located in Walland, Tennessee, has died at age 39 in a skiing accident in Colorado. Beall grew up in Tennesse, attended the California Culinary Academy, and apprenticed at the French Laundry, the Ritz-Carlton, Cowgirl Creamery, and Chateau Potelle.

After working at these prestigious restaurants, Beall returned to Blackberry Farm, which was founded by his parents, Kreis and Sandy Beall, where he revitalized the country inn into a national destination for fine dining and a leader in the farm-to-table movement.  In 2011, Travel and Leisure magazine readers voted Blackberry Farm as the top resort in the continental U.S. and Canada. Bon Appétit rated it the best food lover's hotel in the United States in 2013. 

Beall also authored two popular cookbooks, The Blackberry Farm Cookbook: Four Seasons of Great Food and the Good Life, and The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm: Recipes and Wisdom from Our Artisans, Chefs, and Smoky Mountain Ancestors.

New ATK hosts announced

America's Test Kitchen cookbook

Late last year we reported about the shakeup at America's Test Kitchen that included Christopher Kimball's surprise departure. Jack Bishop became the Chief Creative Officer, but until today we didn't know who would take over hosting duties for the popular ATK programs. In a message shared via email and on the ATK website, Bishop announced that the new hosts of America's test kitchen would be long-time ATK alumni Julia Collin Davison and Bridget Lancaster.

Bishop acknowledged the long service of both women, noting that the pair "have been fixtures on the show since that first episode aired back in 2001. You know their cooking skills (they have prepared hundreds of recipes on air) as well as their deep knowledge of food. They are both so funny, smart, and passionate about our mission, which is to help you become a better cook. I'm excited to see Bridget and Julia in their roles." 

The women take over hosting duties as of the 2017 season. We'll continue to see Chris  Kimball this season as all episodes have already been filmed and distributed. Kimball will also continue to host America's Test Kitchen Radio. As for Cook's Country program, no announcement has been made yet, but Bishop reminds us to "stay tuned for upcoming news" about the show.

Russ Parsons cleans out his cookbook collection

 boxes of books

Russ Parsons has collected a lot of cookbooks over his 30 year career as a food writer. As he begins a new chapter in his life, he has decided to pare down his extensive collection. "Getting rid of some of those cookbooks seemed like a good start to my transition. Like shedding an old habit," Parsons said. "And what a mighty habit it had been. I have always been powerless to resist the pull of a good cookbook," he continued (we feel your pain, Russ).

Parsons donated about 500 cookbooks to the Long Beach Public Library, which plans to establish a culinary collection in his name. He plans to donate more at a later date. So which books did he decide to keep? The first category included signed first editions of the first books of his favorite authors, including a slipcovered copy of Brillat-Savarin's "Physiology of Taste" signed by its translator, copies of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" signed by Julia Child, and Paula Wolfert's "Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco" among other.

Other books he kept were mainly American and European regional tomes. The books that didn't make the cut included several chef books, with the exception of those based on home cooking (such as the Chez Panisse books). "I probably have seen enough pretty pictures of food to last a lifetime, and my sous-vide machine is so far back in my pantry I can't reach it," says Parsons.

Ming Tsai dishes on the dishes that made his career

Ming Tsai

Ming Tsai has been a mainstay on the Food Network as the host of East Meets West, for which he won an Emmy. He is also producing and hosting a series, Simply Ming, on public television at WGBH in Boston. The chef recently spoke with First We Feast, discussing celebrity chefdom and the top 10 dishes that made his career

Ming talked about his colleagues at the Food Network, and about the changes that have come about since he first appeared on Sara Moulton's show Cooking Live back in 1998: "In the early days at Food Network, we all felt like we were doing true cooking shows," he said. "It's morphed into reality television now, which I have nothing against, but I'm at WGBH because I still get to teach."

When discussing the dishes that made his career, Ming went all the way back to his childhood days. Fried rice was one of the first things he made by himself. He says, "I'll never forget it - I was ten years old, home alone, and a couple, whom I called auntie and uncle, showed up at the door. In my family you never greeted someone with "how are you?"; it was always "chr le ma?" which means "have you eaten?" Every opportunity is an opportunity to eat."

Of course his cuisine has advanced since those early days, and Ming talks about more sophisticated foods as well, like sake- and miso-marinated butterfish with soba-noodle nushi, and Pekingducken: a deboned squab, stuffed into a deboned chicken, placed into the cavity of a deboned Peking duck.

JBF announces its 2016 chef and restaurant award semifinalists

collage of cookbooks and chefsThe Golden Globes are history and the Oscars are only days away, so it's officially award season. The first culinary awards aren't too far off, and the James Beard Foundation has announced its 2016 restaurant and chef award semifinalists. The rather lengthy list will be culled and finalists will be announced on March 15. If you want to score a reservation at any of the restaurants on the list, you best hurry, because it's likely they will see a spike in traffic following this announcement.

The categories for the awards include Best New Restaurant, 2016 Outstanding Baker, and Outstanding Bar Program, Outstanding Chef, Outstanding Pastry Chef, Outstanding Restaurant, and Outstanding Restaurateur, Outstanding Service, Outstanding Wine Program, Rising Star of the Year, and Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional (all US nationwide). There are also several regional awards for best chef across the United States.

Many of the names will be familiar to EYB Members as they have recently written well-received cookbooks. This list includes Corey Lee of Benu in San Francisco, Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, Travis Lett of Gjelina in Venica (CA), former Top Chef contestant Kevin Gillespie of Gunshow in Atlanta, in addition to a slew of New York City chefs.

Even though some of the names are familiar, the length of the lists means there are dozens of lesser-known chefs that you may want to investigate. Since the awards cover the entire United States, chances are if you live anywhere in the U.S. you're within reasonable driving distance of a listed restaurant. Do you see any of your favorite chefs on the list?

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