Describe an early food experience that has influenced the way you think about food and/or cooking. Before I actually had even the vaguest notion of what I was doing in a kitchen, I somehow talked the manager of the now-defunct (coincidence?) D.C. dive the Toledo Lounge into hiring me as the Saturday cook. Prior to that, I’d spent several years making basic stuff in the kitchen of a Washington concert venue -- sandwiches, hummus, things like that, as well as doing slightly more involved but still-manageable hospitality spreads: pizza (using pre-made crust), soup (using a big can of Campbell’s condensed tomato as a base), salad, and so on.
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So I figured I more or less knew what I was doing. Long story short: I completely underestimated the extent to which I would be in over my head. The only things I didn’t regularly screw up in my mercifully short stint there were the grilled cheese and the nachos. It remains the one and only “real” food job I ever had, but it also taught me a great deal about organization and composure under pressure, both of which would prove to be major assets when I started bartending a little while later.
What's your least favorite kitchen task? Any number of mundane but vital tasks come to mind, but two stick out as especially onerous: cleaning mushrooms; and washing, drying, and prepping leafy greens or fresh herbs such as parsley or cilantro for storage. To use an air-travel analogy, they’re the agonizing layover stop between the farmers market and the frying pan. So to speak.
Your favorite kitchen tool? An immersion blender with mini-processor and whisk attachments. I like to purée things. The particular model I have is the bee’s knees, but, sadly, is no longer on the market in the States. I would seriously have to consider saving it first in a fire. Sorry, family and/or housemates.
What is your idea of comfort food? This is a tough one. Do I tick off a list of favorites, like mac ‘n cheese, Hungarian Goulash, or Puttanesca? Do I talk about the first meal I ever ate as a student in Italy more than a decade ago? (For the record, it was called Penne San Tropez -- it’s basically Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, but with cream and Swiss cheese tossed in along with the pasta, and it is easily one of the best things I have ever eaten.) Do I mention tiny D.C. noodle shop Toki Underground and the fever-dream-inducing nature of the Taipei curry ramen with chicken karaage? Or do I say my mom’s spaghetti sauce, which was the first thing I consciously tried to emulate in my earliest kitchen forays? Yep, let's go with that.
What is your greatest kitchen disaster? The one that comes immediately to mind happened recently: I was deglazing a pyrex dish on the stovetop after roasting veggies, and it got so super-heated that it exploded. Somehow I avoided sustaining any shrapnel wounds, but there was glass literally everywhere -- it even got in the cat’s food bowl all the way across the room. It took forever to clean up, and I was still finding little bits of glass on the floor and stovetop for days afterward.