Have vanilla, will travel

affogatoPichet Ong has carved out a reputation as a world-class pastry chef known for combining French technique with Asian ingredients. He's written a cookbook, The Sweet Spot: Asian-Inspired Desserts, and has appeared on Top Chef. In the last several years, Ong has transitioned from holding a traditional chef position into being a jet-setting pastry consultant

Although Ong likes to incorporate local flavors into his desserts, he has a few items that he brings with him wherever he goes. One of those things is vanilla beans, which he refers to as his "secret weapon". He also frequently travels with a digital scale, some of his favorite cake rings, and a citrus zester.

So what does a pastry consultant do? It involves working out problems in consistency for a chain, developing new recipes, and making new flavors for existing products. Even though traveling to exotic locations and working with renowned chefs is exciting, there a few downsides to his new gig. "I miss going to a place that's consistent and familiar," he admits. 

Photo of Vietnamese coffee tapioca "affogato" from The Sweet Spot  by Pichet Ong and Genevieve Ko

Is Prue Leith coming to the GBBO?

Leith's Cookery SchoolRumors are swirling that restaurateur, and cookery-school founder Prue Leith may be in the running to replace Mary Berry on the new GBBO. No one has confirmed this rumor, but many people agree that she is amply qualified for the hosting spot. Leith opened her Michelin-starred restaurant, Leith's, in the late 1960s and founded Leiths School of Food and Wine a few years later. She's written many cookbooks plus a handful of novels.


Leith says that she has had two auditions and several meetings with GBBO producers and thinks the job is down to two contenders (there's no word on who the other contender may be). Hosting the show would be a dream job, according to Leith. "Of course I'd love to do it. Who wouldn't want to do it?" she said in an interview. Both Love Productions, who purchased the rights to the show, and Channel 4 have declined to confirm whether Leith is being considered for the job.


The 76-year-old Leith is the same age as Berry, who chose to stay with BBC after GBBO was sold. The show is set to return later this year, as the BBC decided not to exercise a "hold-back" clause that would have precluded Channel 4 from airing the show in 2017. 

Ottolenghi comes to the New York Times

 strawberry and rose petal mess

Yotam Ottolenghi is best known for his savory, vegetable-centric recipes in cookbooks like Plenty and Plenty More, for his restaurant-inspired recipes in Nopi and Ottolenghi, and for the foods of his homeland in Jerusalem. Despite this savory focus, Ottolenghi likes sweets, telling The New York Times that he rarely goes a full day without eating something sweet. In fact, he likes sweets so much that he is going to write an occasional column for the Times that he says will be "filled with all things baked and sweet."

Not everyone knows it, but the celebrity chef is trained in patisserie and  got his start as a pastry chef. His philosophy likely mirrors that of many home bakers. While Ottolenghi gets some satisfaction cooking for people, he notes that "there is something particularly - and instantly - rewarding about that moment of bliss that you see when someone bites into something sweet and delicious for the first time."

The name of Ottolenghi's new column is "Eat Your Sugar," but he's quick to say it isn't all about sugar. Just as in his savory foods, the chef likes to pair bold flavor combinations. "It's the pinch of golden saffron threads used to poach pears, the cubes of tangy feta whipped through some cream, the use of kataifi pastry (long strands of shredded phyllo) in the place of a more obvious shortbread base," he explains. 

Ottolenghi's latest cookbook, appropriately titled Sweet, will be out later this year. 

Photo of  Strawberry, pomegranate, and rose petal mess from  Bon Appétit Magazine by Yotam Ottolenghi

The Splendid Table gets a new host

 The Splendid Table

For over 20 years, Lynne Rossetto Kasper has enchanted fans of the radio program The Splendid Table. Recently, she announced her retirement from the show at the end of this year, and a replacement has been named. Starting in March, award-winning food writer Francis Lam will take over hosting duties.

While no one will be able to replicate the retiring host's silky voice, Lam appears to be an excellent addition to program. Rossetto Kasper takled about the decision: "In the first five minutes of talking with Francis, I was a fan." She added, "Besides being a gifted cook and storyteller, he has a delicious sense of humor about food and himself. He instinctively connects with people. Francis is a gem for the next stage of The Splendid Table."

Lam has been a contributor to the program for several years and boasts an impressive culinary history. He is an award-winning food writer, writing for the now-defunct Gourmet Magazine and for The New York Times Sunday magazine. In addition, he's been a judge on Top Chef Masters, and he is currently a cookbook editor at Clarkson Potter. His cooking chops are not in question either; Francis graduated first in his class at the Culinary Institute of America.

The first new episode of The Splendid Table featuring Lam at the helm will be the weekend of Friday, March 10. You can read the official press release about this announcement here.

USA tops the Bocuse d'Or

trophyA little over a week ago the Bocuse d'Or, the most prestigious worldwide culinary competition, was held in Lyon, France. For the first time in the competition's 30-year history, a team from the United States - helmed by Chef Mathew Peters - won the event. You can read a diary that Peters kept for The Daily Beast that tracked the final days leading up to the competition.

As you might expect, it takes a lot of training to become the world's top chef. Peters and his teammates prepared for over a year, staying in Napa Valley, California, near the practice kitchen set up by the Ment'or BKB Foundation, which sponsored the team and provided mentoring in addition to a stipend and a well-equipped kitchen.

Most countries sponsor a national team, but the United States team does not receive any governmental support, which is why celebrated chefs Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Jérôme Bocuse founded The Ment'or BKB Foundation in 2008.  In the past few years, the foundation's work has really paid off. In 2015, the USA team took second place - the first medal won by Americans in the competition, and now they can claim the ultimate prize as well. 

The competition is as much as test of endurance as it is of cooking prowess. Over the course of about 5 1/2 hours, Peters and Harrison Turone had to create to create two elaborate platters of food. As if the food preparation itself weren't stressful enough, the event arena is filled with noisy spectators who make as much noise as they can. 

Ruby Tandoh takes on the clean eating phenomenon

CookbooksIt seems that every food website you see has a feature or two on 'clean eating'. Bloggers who promote the tenets of the movement (few or no carbs- especially sugar, few processed foods, and a focus on vegetables) have become nearly overnight sensations. GBBO contestant and bestselling cookbook author Ruby Tandoh recently contributed an opinion piece to The Guardian in which she discusses the problems she sees with the 'clean eating' phenomenon. In the article, Tandoh calls out several popular bloggers-turned-authors who were in the forefront of the movement but who have recently distanced themselves from the label of 'clean eating'.

She notes that although bloggers like Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley, Amelia Freer, and Ella Woodward scrupulously avoided "the restrictive and judgement-laden overtones of the dreaded D-word" (diet), the "lifestyle" they advocated promoted pseudo-scientific health claims that had little or no backing from researchers. Now that the proclamations of physicians and others who these bloggers had once touted have come under intense scrutiny, the bloggers are quick to claim that they never promoted themselves as part of the 'clean eating' movement.

Tandoh believes that the recent distancing from the 'clean eating' label is a rebranding effort to put "a bright new face on the diet industry. When a fad wears thin, you give it a new name." She also calls to task the cookbook publishing industry, who she feels are too eager to offer a book deal to a successful blogger regardless of how dubious her health claims may be. What do you think of the phenomenon? Is it a fad diet in a new package, or merely a rejection of overly-processed food?

Famous chefs criticize competition cooking shows

 Jacques Pepin and Alice Waters books

For many years, chef competition programs like Bravo TV's 'Top Chef' and the Food Network's 'Chopped' have been highly popular with food lovers. Some food media experts credit this show and others like it for reinvigorating interest in home cooking. But a few people don't think that the program is doing cooking any favors. Culinary icons Alice Waters and Jacques Pépin recently critized some of these shows at a Television Critics Association press tour stop.

The chefs feels that the shows promote the worst of the U.S. "fast food culture". Says Pépin, "It's a disservice very often because this is not what's cooking is all about. That kind of confrontation that you have there is not really how you learn to cook. Or how you understand food." Waters agrees, saying that cooking is "never about competition. It's about the pleasure of dealing with real food."

Waters admits, however, that the country is in the midst of a food revolution, and the public is ready to "start learning how to cook." One could argue that part of this readiness is due to the popularity of cooking shows like Top Chef and Chopped. But on the flip side, some studies show that people who watch reality cooking programs actually cook less, and are less healthy.

What's your take on these competition shows? Do they encourage interest in cooking, make us hungry and therefore eat too much, or a little of both? 

Update: Pepin clarified his remarks in a Facebook post to Tom Colicchio:

"A couple of articles that came out recently that were not quite accurate. Below is the note I wrote to Tom Colicchio and I trust this settles the matter. -JP

Dear Tom
I was at a PBS convention in Pasadena over the weekend and was quoted as criticizing the reality food shows and they mentioned Top Chef. I criticized shows where the chef insults and yells at the cooks and the cooks are fighting between themselves as not being conducive to learning and good cooking and I still stand by that. That certainly did not include Top Chef. I have been privileged to be part of it several times, I enjoyed it and I have great respect for you as a chef. I am writing a clarification on my Facebook Page.
Hope all is well with you and your family. See you soon.


Dan Barber to bring experimental food waste restaurant to London

The Third Plate

Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill Farms in New York didn't always plan to be a chef. Originally, he wanted to be a novelist, enrolling in English Literature at Tufts University in Massachusetts. He turned to food service in an attempt to earn money for college, working in Los Angeles' fabled La Brea Bakery. Food soon became his main passion, and he has been a driving force in the industry for years. He did find a way to work in his writing, publishing The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food in 2014.

Even though he is an award-winning chef, Barber isn't content with just making delicious meals. He has long promoted sustainability, and to emphasize the amount of food that is wasted in the US each year, in 2015 he created a popup restaurant called wastED (the capitalization referred to "education"). There he served food made exclusively from what would be considered waste products: burgers made from beetroot pulp, fries repurposed from corn for cattle, and novelties like "carrot top marmalade".

Now Barber is bringing that sensibility to London. He's creating a popup at the rooftop restaurant at Selfridges on Oxford Street beginning in February. The popup will be open for about a month, and will feature items with a "uniquely British flavour". He is busy sourcing products like the rich "bloodline" flesh from salmon that gets discarded, and he's talking with local chicken and dairy farms about their waste products as well. "A project like the one I am trying to do at Selfridges couldn't have existed even 100 years ago," says Barber. "Because there was no waste from agriculture, everything was utilised."

The rags to riches story of Marie-Antoine Carême

Careme cookbook

Exactly 184 years ago today, the world lost its first celebrity chef, Marie-Antoine Carême. The story of how Carême rose from impoverished beginnings in France to become the foremost culinary authority of his time is chronicled in an article from NPR's The Salt

It's difficult to overstate Carême's influence on Western culinary traditions. He brought to life the "mother sauces" - béchamel, velouté, espagnole and allemande - the foundation of French cuisine, which was copied throughout Europe and North America. We also owe Careme a debt for perfected the soufflé, and introducing the idea of piping through a pastry bag. He's even responsible for the iconic white, double-breasted, chef's jacket still worn by most chefs today.   

Carême wrote cookbooks that would be used in European kitchens for decades beyond his untimely death at age 50. These works, including Le Pâtissier royal parisien and the five part series L'Art de la cuisine française au dix-neuvième siècle were among the first cookbooks that systematized basic cookery principles including drawings and step-by-step directions. Over 100 years before televised cooking shows, "Carême walked readers through common kitchen tasks, instructing them to "try this for yourself, at home" as celebrity American Chef Julia Child might do."

Julia Child's kitchen design advice

 Julia Child

As you may know, the kitchen that Julia Child used in her Massachusetts home (and which was featured in some of her shows) can be found in the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. Visitors can view all corners of Julia's kitchen through viewposts set into the doorways that existed in the house. If you have seen the kitchen, or any photographs of it, you realize that Julia her own unique style of organization, learned from a lifetime of cooking. 

If you are interested in the thinking behind this kitchen design, you will find it, plus advice that Julia provided to award-winning architect Pamela Heyne, in a book that was released last year. Heyne, along with co-author Jim Scherer (Julia's staff photographer), wrote In Julia's Kitchen:  Practical and Convivial Kitchen Design Inspired by Julia Child

You can read an excerpt from the book on the website Literary Hub. The excerpt includes quotes from Julia, along with a in-depth description of different areas of the kitchen, from the iconic pegboard that held tools and cookware, to the three pantries, and even the flooring. 

Not surprisingly, Julia was a kitchen gadget aficionado. Heyne notes that "As far as Julia was concerned, you couldn't have too many. She adored her food processor, but also had almost every kitchen tool ever invented-in every size, shape and color!"  When Heyne commented to Julia that she found the countertops to be cluttered with all of these gadgets, Julia brushed off the comment, stating "Others might need more. I only need this much." It's just one more reason to love Julia. 

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