5 Questions

Adam Roberts, Amateur Gourmet and Author of Secrets of the Best Chefs

December 11, 2012

We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.

Today: Adam Roberts catches up with us over a virtual cup of coffee.

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If you've ever opened an internet browser with a food blog as your destination, chances are you're well acquainted with Adam Roberts. He's been blogging as the Amateur Gourmet since 2004 -- he's a veteran at this point, a wise cook, toeing the line between amateur and full-on professional.

His recent publication of Secrets of the Best Chefs: Recipes, Techniques, and Tricks from America's Greatest Cooks is only further evidence of his skill, and of our inkling that Roberts has long since graduated from the kitchen fumblng his title might suggest. 

1. You visited 50 different kitchens, learning from some of the best chefs. Which kitchen was your favorite? 
As a kitchen, I think my favorite was Renee Erickson's home kitchen in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. It's sunny, there's a little booth to sit in, and it looks out on to her backyard where she grows all kinds of vegetables and herbs and cultivates her own honey with the help of the Ballard Bee Company.

As for experience, cooking with Jonathan Waxman at Barbuto was certainly the most instructional: he had me cook six dishes without lifting a finger himself. Having a Master Chef standing over my shoulder watching me slice tomatoes and fry gnocchi in a pan was both terrifying and empowering. By the end, I felt like a much better cook. (And my food was good enough to work as the staff meal!)

2. We have to ask: over the course of researching for your new book, have you tasted anything remotely as absurdly addictive since that asparagus you made with us way back when? 
Of course not! And nothing that I cooked for my book provided the same opportunities for phallic jokes. I'll never forget the image of Amanda holding a semi-erect asparagus to judge whether it was cooked properly. (Is this the first time "semi-erect" has appeared on Food52?)

3. What's one secret you learned that you've found yourself using time and time again? 
Pickling! For two reasons: first, it's so easy! (Linton Hopkins taught me a recipe that's so simple, it's almost shocking.) And second, it's so wonderful to use pickled ingredients in all your other food. Like Brandon Pettit's pickled red chiles are incredible in scrambled eggs, in Lidia Bastianich's ziti with sausage and broccoli rabe, on pizza, in sandwiches, on chicken. It's endless.

4. How has the book changed the way you cook at home? Do you wear chef's whites now?
I'm a much bolder cook than I was before I started. So in terms of seasoning (I'm more aggressive with salt), use of fat (I pour on the olive oil with a heavy hand), and getting my pans hot and my knife sharp, I'm not nearly as timid as I once was. But, no, I don't wear chef's whites when I cook. I wear an old Manny's Music T-shirt and my Homer Simpson apron!

5. You know we can't call you Amateur anymore, right? Do you still feel like you have a lot to learn?
Absolutely. To me, it's all about attitude. Many people get rich in the food world by saying, "I'm an expert." Laurie Anderson has a performance art piece you can watch on YouTube where she repeats the mantra, "Only an expert can deal with a problem." She's satirizing our culture's need for experts. I think our culture needs more amateurs, a deeper sense of humility. Saying I'm an amateur and not an expert allows me to say, "There's still so much that I don't know." That stance is the reason so many chefs opened their doors to me -- if my attitude were different, this book couldn't have happened. 

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Kenzi Wilbur

Written by: Kenzi Wilbur

I have a thing for most foods topped with a fried egg, a strange disdain for overly soupy tomato sauce, and I can never make it home without ripping off the end of a newly-bought baguette. I like spoons very much.