Describe an early food experience that has influenced the way you think about food and/or cooking. I can't pinpoint an early experience that has influenced how I think about food, but I am often teased by family members about how I have always loved food. My mother still brings up how she begged my babysitter to stop feeding me donuts when I was two and how she found me at the raw bar eating Cherrystone clams and oysters at her brother's wedding when I was five.
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I have always loved cooking, too, but I attribute my time at Fork restaurant in Philadelphia to changing the way I cook forever. Fork focused on using seasonal ingredients from local farms, and back in 2005, that was a novel concept (for me at least). The chef (Thien Ngo) made food I had never seen before -- romaine salads with sauce gribiche topped with ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms, for example -- and he made it all seem so effortless. If we were out to eat, he criticized food that looked like "legos" in arrangement, favoring substance and flavor and more of a chaotic approach to plating. Every plate of food Thien created looked natural, beautiful, and delicious.
What is your idea of comfort food? Greek food, or anything my mother makes. Whenever I go home, I can count on eating something like braised lamb shanks or moussaka or chicken kapama with egg noodles for dinner, and having homemade soup and spanakopita on hand for lunch. For breakfast, too, my mother always freezes loaves of homemade honey-whole wheat bread, which makes the best toast. Homemade bread is comfort food for me.
What's your least favorite kitchen task? Unloading the dishwasher and putting away dishes. This is why I love my pegboard so much.
Your favorite kitchen tool? My bench scraper. I use it to clean scraps off my cutting board and to scoop vegetables into prep bowls. I use it to cut dough for cinnamon rolls and to portion dough for pizza. I use it almost as often as my chef's knife.
What is your greatest kitchen disaster? I still do not know how to make pancakes. Every time I am served a good one, I relish the moment because I cannot make them well at home. They are always either burnt on the edges or raw in the middle.
Also, whole roasted duck. I made one for Christmas this year, and I took it out of the oven three hours before the recipe suggested because I thought it looked done. The legs were tough and the breast was pinkish but it tasted disgusting. I roasted another one a week later, cooking it for the suggested five hours. This time, the leg meat fell off the bone and tasted great but the breast was inedible, tasting dry and livery. I love duck legs, and I love duck breasts, but it's going to be a while before I roast them together again.