Food Truck in Forthcoming ‘Chef’ Movie Revealed
Director Jon Favreau once again shares news through Vine
'Chef' is about a chef who loses his kitchen job and starts a food truck — and the food truck has just been revealed.
Jon Favreau, director of the upcoming film Chef, has just given excited followers their first glimpse of the food truck that will be featured in the movie.
Chef tells the story of a down-on-his-luck chef who opens a food truck after losing his kitchen job in an attempt to reunite his family and regain favor with them.
Favreau, who will both direct and star in the film, revealed the truck in a Vine video, which pans a filming lot filled with the film’s crew and then shows us the side and front of the truck, which reads “El Jefe Cubanos” — the truck’s name. Other recent Vines show stars Sofia Vergara and Emjay Anthony filming in the truck and suggest that the truck will specialize in Cuban sandwiches.
Vine seems to be Favreau’s preferred medium for announcing news: he has also been breaking news about new cast members — including Dustin Hoffman and Amy Sedaris — with the social media app.
The Cooking Secrets Chefs Swear By
Pressed for time to cook after work? Tired of scrubbing pans? The James Beard award-winning chefs from America Cooks with Chefs, a movement that connects Americans to healthy, tasty, and practical food, gave us their restaurant secrets that you can use in your home kitchen.
1. Prep work is the key to a chef's success.
Getting food onto the plate isn't as easy as it looks. While your perfectly cooked dish came out of the restaurant's kitchen in 15 minutes, there was actually hours of prep work that went into the meal. Restaurants have brigades of chefs that work as a team to prep food in advance and break down protein portions, cook sauces, and chop produce.
Maria Hines, co-owner/head chef of Tilth, says you can use the same principle at home by prepping food in advance for the week, so on busy days when you don't have time to cook you have healthy items ready to go in the freezer or fridge like stews, soups, one pot meals, etc.
2. Seasoning brings your food to the next level.
Ever wonder how restaurant chefs make their food pop in your mouth? Jimmy Schmidt, executive chef at Morgan's in the desert, says that blended salts are the building blocks of his dishes, adding complexity to flavors and helping them complement one another. He makes these blends and infusions from simple pantry ingredients, and promises it doesn't take the expertise of a professional chef.
Salt blends are made by adding a ground spice or herb, such as coriander or rosemary, to a base salt. Michelle Bernstein, co-owner/head chef of Michy's and Crumb on Parchment, says that you can wake up stale spices by toasting them before adding to other dishes, either in a dry saucepan, on the stovetop, or a dry roasting pan in the oven. Just be careful not to burn them!
3. Tin foil is a great cooking aide and makes for easy cleanup.
Chef Schmidt says you should get creative with cooking with tin foil. You can prep vegetables in advance, store them, and cook them all in one tin foil pouch. The best part is that this method saves time on cleanup as well, because the tinfoil can be recycled and the pan won't need washing.
Try caramelizing Chef Jimmy's favorites including beets, parsnips, and fennel bulbs, but whatever root vegetables you have on hand &mdash carrots, potatoes, onions, etc. &mdash will work as well. Add olive oil and pinch the edges of the pouch shut, then place in the oven on a metal pan at 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. Homemade salad dressing is easier to make than you think.
Make your salads standout by making dressing from scratch. Mary Sue Milliken, co-chef/owner of Border Grill Restaurants & Truck, says you just need to remember the golden ratio: 3 parts oil to 2 parts acid. Your oil can be anything from olive to avocado to canola oil while your acid can be anything from lemon or lime juice to tangy sherry, rice or red wine vinegar.
Chef Schmidt says you can also make homemade infused oils and use them as dressing or marinades. Heat oil to 140 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit and add basil, garlic, chili, smoked paprika, or whatever other spice or herb suits your fancy (and your dish).
Rachel Reed works for America Cooks with Chefs, an entertaining health and wellness movement that connects Americans to resources that empower them to eat healthy, tasty and practical food.
Are your recipes protected by law?
Restaurants must obtain legal protection of recipes and products in order to claim them as their own.
Offering customers something they cannot find anywhere else is one of the best ways to entice consumers, but some restaurateurs and chefs may not realize that their "one-of-a-kind" recipes may not stay that way unless they have legal protection. That's where phrases like "trade secrets" or "our proprietary formula" come into play, said Michael James Duff of Duffy Law in Philadelphia. His firm often fields calls from restaurant owners asking how to protect their recipes after a head chef has departed, but by then, it's usually too late.
"It is commonly along the lines of 'My chef left my restaurant after gaining experience, stole all of my recipes and is now working for my competitor/starting their own restaurant. What can I do?'
The simple answer, without taking proper precautions, is usually 'Nothing,'" he said.
|"Bob the Tool," trademarked|
Restaurant owners, however, can be proactive when it comes to protecting their recipes and products by following the law. Although many restaurants may use the word "proprietary" when describing recipes and products, unless they have legally secured the rights, their recipes are not actually protected, Duffy said.
Specifically, some legal options may include:
- Claiming the use of of Trade Secrets.
- Having employees sign contracts.
- Applying for copyrights.
- Or trademarking a name.
Relying on trade secrets
Under U.S. law, a trade secret has to meet three criterion. 1. The "recipe" cannot be generally known to the public. 2. It must confer some sort of economic benefit by keeping it a secret, and 3. It is the subject of reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy.
"Trade secrets are a powerful tool," Duffy said. "That is how Coca-Cola has kept its recipe secret for more than 100 years. However, it is risky, and the recipes must be kept a secret or they lose that protection. It is a complicated issue that would need guidance from an attorney if trade secrets were to be relied upon."
Having employees sign contracts can be useful for keeping recipes confidential or preventing employees from competing within a certain time and geographic limits, but they only give recourse against the parties to the contract, Duffy said.
"If a competitor did not agree to the contract there generally is no recourse under the contract absent extenuating circumstances," he said.
Recipes can usually be copyrighted, but that generally only provides protection from copies of the exact written recipe. A competitor substantially changing a written recipe or just using it without writing down an exact copy may not be in violation of the copyright, Duffy said.
Duffy said the best course of action may be establishing trademark rights to the name of any popular dishes, which can protect restaurants from competitors using confusingly similar names for competing products.
|Smoothie King has 58 proprietary formulas, including Gladiator meal replacements.|
"Even if they do steal your recipe or copy your dish, you still have the titled dish that you made famous and customers will recognize the original," he said. "The potential benefits of establishing trademark rights also apply to the name of the restaurant, the menu, even the décor and other items may be eligible for the protection trademark rights provide. Consultation with an attorney is essential to establishing and protecting any trademark rights to which you may be entitled."
Pancheros Mexican Grill has trademarked "Bob the Tool," which it designed to allow customers to "taste every ingredient in every bite", said Rodney Anderson, the president of the chain, who believes trademarking Bob was important since it's part of the Pancheros logo and instrumental in how the chain delivers food.
"The only thing we were trying to protect was the integrity of the burrito," Anderson said. "All of our burritos are customized and mixed with Bob, and he has really evolved into a personality all his own that reflects our brand's humor and simplicity."
Smoothie Kingis another chain that protects its products. In fact, it has 58 proprietary formulas, said Rocky Gettys, VP of Product Development and Purchasing, who believes that having legal protection makes it more difficult for rivals to compete regarding flavor profile, nutritional content, functionality and consistency.
"Proprietary items also ensure consistency between our many franchisee operators as well as a competitive advantage since an exact match of our flavor, quality, functionality, and consistency is nearly impossible," Gettys said.
Although the process can be expensive, Gettys said it is worth it.
"We've invested in facilities, equipment, man power and expert assistance, but every dollar was worth the investment," he said. "The benefits far outweigh the costs and as we continue on an aggressive growth path you will see more innovations from the Smoothie King brand."
Amit Kleinberger, CEO of Menchie's, agreed, saying that 51 of its custom yogurt and sorbet flavors are exclusive to the brand. He has invested heavily in a Research & Development team and partnered with a large California Dairy company to produce all flavors to the chain's specifications.
"Once the dairy partnership was established, we built a flavor laboratory at our headquarters specifically designed for frozen yogurt innovation and formulation. Today, we have a team of in-house food scientists and a culinary chef on staff who are focused full-time on product development. The recipes that our Research and Development team create are unique," he said.
Building a full scale R & D department was costly, and the venture took a lot of time and effort to complete, said Kleinberger, who also admitted it requires constant investment in innovation and production but that it's necessary in order to be a category leader,
"We must take the needed steps and make a large investment in creating our own abilities to formulate food," he said. "The investment was substantial, yet has given us our return and much more. Our products today are at a level that sets the tone for our industry and we could not have done this without this specific investment."
Although Pancheros doesn't have 50 some proprietary recipes like Smoothie King and Menchie's, it does have proprietary rights to two of its salsas: Greenade and Flavolcano. Protecting those recipes was just as important as protecting "Bob the Tool" but for different reasons, Anderson said. The chain wanted to guarantee customers that its sauces were unique to competitors.
"When looking at the hot sauce market in general, demand has increased steadily over the last 10 years, although tastes have changed," Anderson said. "The consumers' palates have become more refined and they are more apt to try new and different things. This gave us the opportunity to offer some unique, gourmet flavors in this segment that turn up the heat. The objective with our new sauces was to provide some additional, delicious flavors to our food that can only be found at Pancheros."
Cover photo: Pancheros has developed two proprietary salsa recipes.
Cherryh Cansler is VP of Editorial for Networld Media Group and senior editor of FastCasual.com. She has been covering the restaurant industry since 2012. Her byline has appeared in Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine, among many others.
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Angela Dimayuga’s 10 Essential Filipino Recipes
The creative director for food and culture at the Standard hotels and former Mission Chinese Food chef chooses the dishes that define the cuisine for her.
Credit. Christopher Testani for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews. Prop Stylist: Carla Gonzalez-Hart.
When I was growing up in Northern California — where Filipino migrant farm workers started settling in the 1920s, and which today is home to one of the country’s largest populations of Filipino-Americans — the scent of rice, still steamy and warm in the rice cooker, was the steady backdrop to my days. It was so constant from one house to the next, so dependable, that’s how I knew: Wherever I found myself, I was home.
In a Filipino house, there is always food, more food than you could ever eat, stacked in the refrigerator, edge-to-edge on the counter and simmering on the stove. My brothers and sisters and I came home from school to giant pots of sinigang, a soup that’s sour enough only if you gasp a little at the first spoonful, and arroz caldo, an earthy rice porridge brightened by a squeeze of calamansi — a native citrus that looks like a mini orange but tastes closer to a lime — plucked from the tree in our backyard.
My mom cooked all of this at the start of each week, before she headed off to her day job at IBM. She has roots in Pampanga, which I found out later in life is rightly called the culinary capital of the Philippines people rave about the vividness of the ingredients there, and the imagination with which they’re deployed. Food is my mom’s birthright, and I’m lucky that she passed that on to me.
But when I moved to New York and started cooking professionally, the dishes I made were far removed from my childhood: Italian Bolognese, French terrines. I deveined countless lobes of foie gras with a jeweler’s tweezer. This was sophisticated food, I was taught this was cuisine.
I didn’t know then that the food I grew up with was also complex and layered, refined over centuries and demanding meticulous technique. Once I was on my own, I cooked it by feel, reaching for the distinctive notes of sour and salt, remembering how we kids used to help my mom make dinner when she got home from work, while my dad was pulling the night shift as a manager at McDonald’s.
Because there were so many of us — I’m the second youngest of six — when we were home, we rarely sat down at the dining table to eat. Instead, we ate where we talked, gathered around the counter or cross-legged at the coffee table, our plates anointed by the ever-ready bottle of sawsawan, a homemade tincture of spiced vinegar, with whole garlic cloves steeping. (Condiments are practically compulsory in Filipino food. You could even say that the diner plays as big a role as the chef, seasoning each dish to taste.)
Not until five years ago, when I was preparing to open the New York outpost of San Francisco’s Mission Chinese Food, did I finally get an official cooking lesson from my lola, my mom’s mom. And I mean official: She said firmly, “You’re an executive chef now,” meaning I was finally worthy of her secrets.
My lola, a former pharmacist who tended African violets in her retirement, was the one my mom and my aunts deferred to in the kitchen. Before a party, she cooked all week. It was part of her love language. At her funeral last spring — she died at age 100 — every eulogy was an incantation of the bounty she’d fed us all our lives, from bistek, steak exalted by soy sauce and a sunny kiss of calamansi, to Christmas ensaymadas, sweet butter-soaked rolls thatched with queso de bola, a red-skinned Edam cheese.
Her most prized dish was chicken relleno, reserved for the grandest festivities. She had never revealed the recipe to anyone, which strained some friendships.
The day I learned to make chicken relleno, my lola laid out two cutting boards and a set of battered but carefully sharpened knives. Wearing a shower cap over her head, she deboned the chicken with her tiny hands so fast, I had to double-check what parts were left. Her embutido — the pork and sausage stuffing to be sewn up inside the chicken — required the technical precision of a French farce (finely puréed meat) . Later, at a culinary conference, I watched a demonstration by the French chef Jacques Pépin and realized that my lola was making galantine .
That was the first time I took a real look at the mechanics behind the food of my childhood. My mom emailed me her recipe archive , a 40-page document that included multiple takes on single dishes, culled from her sisters and my lola. Not all of them were complete or correct as written — certain ingredients and methods simply went unmentioned, taken for granted, part of the heritage of life in the Philippines, where those details would’ve been communal knowledge.
When The Times asked me for 10 recipes that speak to the heart of Filipino cuisine, I went back through my mom’s collection and consulted old cookbooks drawing from other regions of the Philippines. Like generations of Filipino cooks before me, I’ve adapted these recipes to my taste, knowing that not everyone may approve. My lola looked slightly askance at the chicken relleno I made for Mission Chinese Food — but she was tickled that I called it Josefina’s House Special Chicken and sold it for $75.
There sadly isn’t room here to include some of my favorite comfort foods, like monggo, a mung-bean stew lush with melted pork fat, or the deep-fried meatballs called bola-bola that I used to make for my roommates when I was nostalgic for home. Truly, this list is just a beginning, for me as much as for you: The Philippines is an archipelago of more than 7,600 islands, and each region has a claim to culinary glory.
It might surprise you how familiar some of the ingredients are. Filipino food is a centuries-long tangle of Eastern and Western traditions, from early exchanges with Chinese traders to the reign of the Spanish conquistadors. Given our colonial past, we share as much culinary kinship with Latin America as with our Southeast Asian neighbors. Butter and cheese are happily and amply applied. So is ketchup, although we add our own twist: bananas. (It’s magic.)
My parents’ story, like that of many Filipino immigrants, also unites East and West. My dad is from Batangas, but my mom met him halfway across the world, in the Netherlands, where she was on tour with the Filipino national folk dance troupe . He’d hitchhiked across Europe and ended up a pageboy at the Philippine Embassy at The Hague .
They made a life together in California, where I was born, and where I would grow up eating lumpia alongside peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, crunchy hard-shell tacos and instant ramen. And always, at every meal, rice — lots of it, and warm.
You Can Power An Entire Mobile Restaurant with the 2021 Ford F-150's Onboard Generator
Let's cut to the chase here. That new 7.2-kilowatt generator in the new F-150 can offer up some serious power. 7,200 watts is no joke that's almost ten horsepower. In fact, that's enough—like Ford says—to run a whole suite of power tools.
Which, fine. That's a perfectly reasonable example for the target market. But power tools are probably the least creative thing you can breathe life into with 7,200 watts, though. There's gotta be better uses for that. I'm so convinced of this fact, I'm gonna sit here and run through one of my ideas with you. I think I've got at least five or six, but I don't have all day.
Emma’s red velvet French toast
Red Velvet Cake
• 300ml vegetable oil, plus extra for the tins
• 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
• 560g light brown soft sugar
• 30ml red food colouring gel or about ¼ tsp food colouring paste, (use a professional food colouring paste if you can, a natural liquid colouring will not work and may turn the sponge green)
Buy a ready-to-mix red velvet cake mix and follow the instructions on the box. Most supermarkets stock cake mix in the ‘home baking’ aisle.
• Nuts, sprinkles, fruit, chocolate chips, sweets, seeds – anything you want!
French Toast Mix
1. Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4.
2. Oil and line a loaf tin or deep square baking tray.
3. Put half each of the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarb, sugar and salt in a bowl and mix well.
4. Mix half each of the buttermilk, oil, vanilla extract, food colouring and 100ml water in a jug.
5. Add 2 eggs and whisk until smooth.
6. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk until well combined. The cake mixture should be bright red, it will get a little darker as it cooks. If it’s not as vivid as you’d like, add a touch more colouring.
7. Pour the cake mixture evenly into the tin, and bake for 25-30 mins, or until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
8. Cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack and leave to cool. (this can be done the night before).
9. Once cool cut into “toast” shape slices, or get creative with cutters.
10. Get cream cheese and beat with vanilla extract, cut any fruit you have.
11. Place a frying pan with a little oil on a medium heat.
12. Mix eggs and cream in a bowl. Dip your red velvet cake into the egg mix and place into a hot frying pan, flip over once golden brown.
13. Pop onto plate and scoop cream cheese on. Then go wild with toppings. Best served with flowers, coffee or tea to Mum in bed.
Head Chef Daniele Uditi’s sourdough starter is 65 years old. It might be the secret ingredient that earned his neo-Neapolitan pies at Pizzana a Michelin Bib Gourmand. He did, after all, bring it all the way from his Auntie’s bakery in Southern Italy to Los Angeles.
This week, the Neapolitan pizzaiolo and sourdough bread master published his first e-cookbook, divulging more secrets behind his delicious food. “Ricettario Vol-1 Sourdough” offers 8 essential sourdough recipes that will turn their fermented dough into balanced loaves, mouthwatering pizza and fluffy focaccia enjoyed by actress Sophia Loren. Chef Uditi has pledged to donate part of the sales to World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit founded by Chef José Andrés.
“I wanted to do my part for the restaurants in distress and their restaurant workers,” he said. “I don't have a lot of money, but I have knowledge.”
Chef Daniele began making pizza at 12 years old. In Caserta, Italy, he worked for Chef Rosanna Marziale, before arriving in Los Angeles. Since 2017, he's fired up pies at Pizzana and cooked for many movie stars. The sourdough bread recipes in this book have a more balanced flavor like those found in Southern Italy.
Neapolitan Chef Daniele Uditi shares his first cookbook, one of seven forthcoming volumes, on sourdough recipes for home cooks.
Instead of one cookbook with 70 recipes, Chef Daniele divided the recipes into seven quick volumes, which will be published soon. The first book on sourdough recipes was edited by writer Paul Feinstein, a frequent contributor and cooking lead for La Cucina Italiana. The next will focus on pasta and sauces. Chef Daniele said the remaining themes will be revealed in the future.
Chef Daniele Uditi bakes a “pillowy” focaccia inspired by his family recipe that he includes in the new cookbook. (Photography by Jesse Hsu.)
As a special feature of the e-cookbook, the recipes link to videos of Chef Daniele demonstrating baking techniques. He spent some of his childhood squishing air holes out of the loaves for fun at his family's bakery. Watching him in his element is a rare pleasure. He also hosts live Zoom cooking classes.
Due to popular demand, Chef Daniele plans to write an Italian version of the cookbook soon.
8 Things We Learned To Make In Quarantine
2020 has been the year of adjustments, making the best of what the predicament of a pandemic has given us. For many, the pivot to the kitchen has been significant, allowing us to explore our inner chefs and bakers, turning the sudden free time we have into a discovery of dishes we never knew we had the talent to make.
The results of this fervor of kitchen talents have manifested in viral trends, ranging from banana bread to whipped dalgona coffee. Sure, it’s been a tumultuous year for everyone, but at least here’s a reminder of the silver lining that these dishes have been in helping us pass these quarantine times.
5 ingredients every chef should use in vegetarian recipes
Certified Master Chef Daryl Shular, owner of Farmed Kitchen & Bar and the Shular Institute, reveals five things all vegetarian meals should have.
Certified Master Chef Daryl Shular, owner of Farmed Kitchen & Bar and the Shular Institute, is the first black American chef to pass an eight-day test to become one of 66 certified master chefs.
In this age of plant-based cooking, more and more restaurants and chefs are searching for that one ingredient that will help them connect with the fast-growing clean eating community. Throughout my career, creativity and innovation have been the keys to offering my vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian patrons an experience I can be proud of. The hardest part about being a high achieving chef is redefining what we as chefs do to constantly stay ahead of current trends and plant-based demands.
In 2004, I was National Champion in Nutritional Cooking, having to prepare a four-course meal in two hours for a team of universally recognized Certified Master Chefs, and it was a pivotal moment in my young career. What I learned as I prepared for this competition was that when fresh ingredients are brought together in a melody of taste, texture, and proper technique, the result is a great experience. Today as a CMC, I continue to uphold those core principles I learned many years ago as I partner with Meatless Farm to create new-age modern dishes for those who desire a healthier lifestyle through food.
Based on these experiences, I found that there are five key ingredients all food lovers and pro-chefs should use when creating plant-based meals. I have used these techniques throughout my career from young culinarian to Olympic Champion to Certified Master Chef. These key principles will take your next plant-based dish to that next level.
1. Go Umami
Umami is one of the five essential taste profiles found in foods. This unique savory compound is characterized as to have the flavor of broth and meats. Because of the uniqueness of this flavor profile, chefs should include ingredients like mushrooms, tomatoes, sea moss and corn in their creations. This brings a rich and robust depth of flavor plant-based diners crave when dinning at home or in top rated establishments. You can also avoid the MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) typically used to enhance umami in some Asian cuisines by experimenting with fermentation instead, which also plays well with layering those rich flavors of umami.
2. Use oils
While oils are a vital element with the vegan and plant-based community, knowing which oil to use is important to supporting a healthy lifestyle. One of the most used oils in American households and kitchens is olive oil. The calorie-rich and nutrient-light oil is a fan favorite for its taste, versatility, and high smoke point. However, chefs and home cooks should consider other nutrient-rich oils that are more beneficial for a healthier lifestyle. Oils such as avocado, coconut, corn, and grapeseed are wonderful choices for clean eating and plant-based diets.
3. Fresh citrus
Citrus fruits have been a part of my diet for many years. Having grown up in Florida, the use of citrus fruits like oranges, tangerines, kumquats, and limes was as common as drinking water. One of the first techniques that was taught to me by my mother was to utilize the three key elements of any citrus fruit. First is the zest, which contains the oils that provide the fresh aroma and enhances the flavor when used as a finisher for any dish, salad, sauce, or relish. Second is the fruit, which we segment into individual sections to separate the sweet, plump texture body of the fruit for various uses in the kitchen. Finally, there's the juice which provides important rich, sweet flavor that carries most of the essential vitamins and nutrients. They key to applying citrus to a dish, whether it's hot or cold, is to use it towards the end and to always use the zest.
4. Spice it up
Spices are a great way to elevate any plant-based dish. Whether it's a spin on an international classic or a family recipe, using spices will kick up the flavor of any dish. I recommend using whole spices that have been toasted in the oven at moderate heat for a few minutes to enhance the flavor. If ground spices are used, chose ones that are vibrant in color and with a rich aroma. While spices last for a long time, they do lose flavor as time goes on, so freshness is key. Spices such as allspice, cinnamon, cardamon, and cayenne pepper are an excellent way to make any plant-base dish pop with flavor, taste, and soul!
5. Essential herbs
For me, herbs are the best way to invigorate any dish whether it's plant-based or not. Nothing takes food to that ultimate level like fresh herbs. I highly recommend using herbs toward the end of the cooking process just before serving your dish, as heat will impact the final taste of herbs and weaken the flavor. If you are able, start your own in-house urban cultivator or garden. This way fresh herbs will always be readily available for the final serving. I love grinding herbs into a paste, such as a chimichurri or a pesto mixed with mustard greens and toasted pecans.
The goal is to be creative in all things plant based, but make sure to use ingredients at their peak to maximize the overall flavor profile. By using these techniques, plant-based cooking can be just as exciting and challenging as any other style of cooking. So, push yourself and your creativity by incorporating these five natural flavor enhancers and take your next Meatless meal to the ultimate level.
Timing Is (Yes, Actually) Everything in the Kitchen
In the kitchen, time passes mysteriously. Chefs who understand timing perform a kitchen ballet that those who struggle to mimic transform into offbeat steps, like the dance I do while begging my tomato sauce to thicken as the penne’s timer pings. What is that sixth sense, the one that whispers to expert cooks exactly when to crack the egg or start the pasta so that every element of a meal finishes in unison? To illuminate the dark depths of kitchen timing, we grilled the experts on how they honed their instincts.
Almost every chef we spoke with agreed: There is definitely mystery and fantasy involved. Visualizing yourself in an imaginary kitchen provides a way to practice timing before cooking. If you’ve watched a food show, read your recipe twice, or fantasized about tonight’s crispy chicken on your commute, you have clocked real hours towards expertise.
The idea is that, by the time you ignite the stove for your stir-fry, “you’ve done it in your head already,” says Michael Ruhlman, author of Ruhlman’s Twenty and other cookbook titles that philosophize about using your brain while cooking. “You’re Roger Federer doing a backhand shot. That trajectory, you’ve already created it, and all you need to do is fill it in.” Likewise, Cal Peternell—chef at Chez Panisse and author of last year’s Twelve Recipes, a book to help beginner cooks love the kitchen—always chops his ingredients in his head before dicing them on the cutting board. “I visualize the meal I’m cooking,” he says. Having a sense of how you’ll move through a recipe from prep to garnish prevents surprises and streamlines your cooking.
Are those skewers done yet? Photo: Austin Bush
At Oakland’s Camino, chef Russell Moore, author of forthcoming This Is Camino, eschews timers and temperature gauges, even though he cooks non-standard cuts of meat over a variable wood fire. Every time he cooks, he remembers details like the shape and size of the roast, or the look and feel of the flames, until timing the food is “like a daydream that starts going in the back of my mind.”
When a meal is complicated, fantasy may become reality long before meat and sides hit the plate. Tamara Reynolds, owner of catering company Van Alst Kitchen in New York, used to meter minutes in her head, “but now, on the day of a dinner party, while I’m having my first cup of coffee, I write out a prep list.” The lists help with the accuracy of her estimates because they’re so detailed. “Let’s say I’m going to pickle shrimp,” she says, “I write down: boiling liquid, pickling liquid, clean shrimp. If I only write down the big steps, I can forget that small steps can take two hours.” An after-dinner review of the prep list smashes expectations against reality, though the two will grow closer with experience.
Have you visualized chopping all these veggies? Photo: Matt Duckor
Once in the kitchen, the key for most cooks is to set alarms. At cooking school The Kitchen Studio in Frederick, MD, instructor Christine van Bloem keeps at least a dozen whimsical timers in the kitchen. Each monitors a single dish and beeps annoyingly when time’s up. “They all have different rings. It’s an absolute cacophony of sounds, because everything’s going off,” she says. But all her students’ dishes wind up flawless. Any timer you use has to be accurate, van Bloem says: “The first time a timer lets you down, throw it away.”
Timer ESP is getting up from the couch three seconds before the short ribs’ timer sounds. This is a victory—like waking up before your alarm. But ESP is just too rare to eliminate the use of timers, which is why Tom Hudgens, former Deep Springs College chef and author of The Commonsense Kitchen, now sets them, even though he used to scoff at countdowns. “I need a timer for nuts and bread crumbs,” he says. A pantry stash is finite—after you burn a quarter-cup of pignolis or scorch the last of your breadcrumbs, “you’re just crushed,” he says.
“It’s always those famous last words of ‘it just needs another minute,’” echoes Peternell. Even if you rely on your intuition for slow-cooking items, set a timer for anything delicate, especially when it's out of sight in the oven.
Don't let the soup burn! Photo: Sarah Anne Ward
Watching chef Jenn Louis—owner and executive chef at Portland’s Lincoln and Sunshine Tavern, and author of Pasta by Hand—with fresh pasta or Italian dumplings, you’d think she could see inside her pots of gnocchi, her timing looks so natural. But she says her quick reactions come from experience, not innate talent. “When you move into a new house, you don’t know where the light switches are,” she explains for comparison. “But you get comfortable, and, a month later, you reach exactly for the light switch.” Knowing your appliances—how long your stovetop takes to heat up, if your oven runs cold—can eventually make timing an instinct, not a calculation.
When he was cooking professionally every day, timing seemed intuitive for Hudgens, too. “It’s almost psychic,” he says. “I’d be involved with something else and suddenly what was baking in the oven came into my consciousness, like it was calling to me." In other words, practice alone will hone that sixth sense.
For some chefs, the world supplies the metronome they need. In Hudgens' kitchen, that rhythm comes from the length of a record. When the last song plays during prep time, he thinks to himself, “oh, I finished the album already.” That signals he's an hour or so closer to dinner than when he put the disk on it's time to set the table, write down the menu.
Like a pop star at a perfectly planned arena show, Nong Poonsukwattana, founder of Nong’s Khao Man Gai, a Portland, OR, chicken-and-rice food truck and restaurant, mastered the timing of her cooking by thinking of it as choreography. She knew her tempo would have to be exactly right when she decided, in 2009, to serve slow-cooked food to a time-crunched lunch crowd. In the morning, at the food truck lot, she’d prep and rehearse until opening. Then an automatic tick-tock took over her movements. “It’s like a performance,” she says. “It’s a rock show, it’s a concert. I open the curtain, and it’s…the chicken show.”
Martinis: the makeshift timer. Photo: Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott
Not a musician? Be a bartender. To grill sugar steak, a dish that culinary consultant Katy Keck used to watch her dad make, you turn the meat at seven-minute intervals to prevent its sugar rub from burning. “My dad and a salty local. timed their meat flips with the end of each martini,” she said. “It was the ’50s, and they either ate their meat really well done or they drank a helluva lot faster than I do.”
On the other hand, life’s distractions can foster the patience needed for rich tastes and correct reductions. Sauce may bubble for as long as the kids need help with homework or until the dishes are done. “I think, ‘I’m going to check my email for a second, which turns into getting lost in people’s Facebook lives, which turns into, where did that last hour go?’” says Reynolds. But that’s how she figured out her favorite method for grilling chicken: To be brave enough to let the skin crisp and caramelize, you have to “walk away, almost forget about it.”
Every kitchen task consumes some amount of time, of course. Mastery comes from knowing how much. Picking parsley, browning breadcrumbs, and simmering soup are series of seconds in the measured timetable of a kitchen dance, your concert, drinking game, or tennis match—or whatever metaphor bubbles up to you in the moment when your timing is right.