What better way to learn about gourmet cooking than with actual interviews with chefs? They have an abundance of knowledge to pass along with their many years of experience.

The interviews showcase each chefs different background and cuisine along with helpful tips, techniques and online sources they use to make their delicious foods.

I have written newsletters on all of them and recently wanted to get back in touch with them to do a follow-up interview which they agreed to do. My thanks to you all!


Pam Anderson | Jeni Britton-Bauer | Michelle Bernstein | Marcelle Bienvenu | Peter Davis | Aglaia Kremezi | Alice Medrich | Reata, Mike Micallef | Peter Reinhart | Marie Simmons | Carla Snyder

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Pam Anderson interviewPAM ANDERSON: Pam is the author of several “Perfect Recipe” books and has a blog Three Many Cooks. She is the former executive editor for Cook’s Illustrated, a columnist for USA weekend and a contributing editor to Fine Cooking. I have done several newsletters about her Perfect One-Dish Dinners and Perfect Recipes for Having People Over books. She shared many delicious recipes. I contacted her recently, and she agreed to a follow-up interview.

1. Do you use brines, rubs and marinades when cooking meats? I use brines and rubs. Brines penetrate and season beautifully and rubs really flavor the surface. Although I do marinate, I usually use thick marinades that cling to the surface for quick flavor.

2. How would you cook a pork tenderloin or pork loin to make it the most flavorful and tender? If there were time to brine, I’d start there. For pork loin, I slow cook it to keep it moist. When the internal temperature reaches 120 to 125, I brush on a sweet glaze and increase the oven temperature to 425 to brown the meat quickly. With grilling a pork tenderloin, I have a method called 7,6,5. I grill on high, covered, for 7 minutes. I turn the meat over and grill for another 6 minutes. I turn off the grill and let the tenderloin sit in the turned off but hot grill for 5 minutes. That’s it!

3. Developing flavor is very important in cooking. How do you define flavor and how do you develop it in your dishes? Good flavor is when a dish is well seasoned and balanced, but I don’t think there is one clear way to develop it. One thing I always say, if there is something wrong with a dish – it’s flat, one-dimensional, off – I can usually correct it with salt or acid.

4. What are a few of your favorite hors d’oeuvres that you serve at every get together that are quick and easy? I always keep a big container of my rosemary mixed nuts. With a glass of good wine, that’s all you really need to start.

5. Can you give the readers a few tips on plating and garnishing their dishes to give them a “wow” factor? I rarely garnish with anything more than what’s in the dish – fresh herbs, zests, grated or shaved Parm, coarsely ground pepper. To me it’s about creating beautiful food that speaks for itself and serving in a simple, authentic way.

6. In your many years of cooking, what tool, equipment and/or lesson do you feel is essential and most important in cooking? When people ask my favorite kitchen tool, I always respond that it’s my (clean) hands. Spring-action tongs
– one of my favorite kitchen tools – are simply an extension of my hands. I love a microplane as well as a good sharp knife. Pretty basic stuff!

7. What else would you serve with your “one dish” dinners? To me, a one-dish dinner is complete. All you need is a salad and/or bread to round it out.

Jeni Britton Bauer interviewJENI BRITTON-BAUER: At 22, Jeni began making ice cream, experimenting with flavors not usually found in grocery stores. Not long after, she opened her own ice cream shop, Scream, in downtown Columbus, Ohio. Now after several years her business has expanded to seven shops and a menu that includes baked Alaska pies and ice cream sandwiches. My newsletter Splendid Ice-Cream features many of her favorites. Here is my recent interview with her.

1. You state in your book that too much water or milk (90% water) unbound in the mix is what causes icy or soggy ice cream. How do you get rid of the water? The problem of excess water is solved two main ways with my recipe.

First: It is important to boil the milk and cream mixture (which will eventually become your ice cream base) for four full minutes. This allows for an appropriate amount of water to evaporate from the mixture.

Second: Some of the water will bind with several other ingredients through the heating process: sugars, protein, and fat in the milk and cream and eventually, starch. I think of corn starch as the insurance policy to my recipe because corn starch soaks up excess water, preventing ice crystals from forming as your base freezes. In the end, most of the water is still there, but bound to other ingredients on a molecular level which prevents the water molecules from becoming ice crystals.

2. If someone wanted to develop a new ice cream flavor, what tips could you give them on how to go about doing it? Become very familiar with the base recipe in the book. After that, you will be able to follow your own inspirations and flavor curiosities as far as you can dream them. You can also mix and match from the book to create almost anything you can dream up. The “Basics” section in the book is packed with recipes for pralines, sugar-plumped dried fruits, sauces, marshmallows, cakes, and other items to add to ice cream. All can be tweaked almost infinitely.

3. Can you use herbs in ice cream? And if so, do you use fresh or dried and when would you add them? To add dried bark-y or leathery spices such as cinnamon bark or vanilla beans, I recommend adding them during the “Cook” stage of the recipe. That allows the oils in such ingredients to cook out of their sources and attach to the butterfat molecules in the milk and cream mixture.

To add fresh, green, leafy herbs to your ice cream, I recommend always using as-fresh-as-you-can-find herbs. You will have to tear or crush them and steep them in the cooling cream during the “Chill” stage of the recipe, at which point all of their oils will be attaching to butterfat molecules. As the mixture freezes, their scents are locked into the butterfat and the flavor will be released into your mouth and nose as the ice cream warms on your tongue.

4. Your Salty Caramel ice cream is filled with flavor from the dry-burn technique (not adding water to the sugar before putting it on the heat). What other techniques do you use to develop flavors in your ice creams? The base ice cream recipe that I invented is one of the most innovative techniques in the book. The standard ice cream recipe used in the U.S. has gone largely unchanged from the traditional custard base used for as long as people have been making ice cream. The problem is that we can get better ice cream almost anywhere. I had to create a recipe for home machines that was as good as the wonderful texture from the finest ice cream shops in the world. The recipe is distinctly unique from any other recipe out there. Texture is really the most important because you can create any flavor on top of that and the book encourages creativity!

5. How do you make the delicious bombe shell sauce that you serve with some of your ice creams? Our Chocolate Bombe Shell recipe includes both coconut oil and chocolate. The coconut oil allows the chocolate mixture to melt at a lower temperature and to very delicately melt on your palate as you enjoy it. Adding coconut oil actually makes the chocolate taste stronger because it warms faster on your tongue. You can’t taste frozen foods; it has to warm and volatilize into your nose. By adding coconut oil (not the kind that tastes coconut-y), you make the chocolate softer when frozen.

6. What tools and/or equipment, other than an ice cream maker, are essential to making your ice creams at home? My recipe is very easy to follow and uses easily-accessible home equipment. Aside from the ice cream machine, measuring cups, a 4-quart saucepan, and three bowls, all you really need is a bit of imagination to create and innovate your own recipes using the base formula.

7. What kind of ice cream maker do you recommend to make your ice creams? I have tested my recipe using many different ice cream models but continue to find success with Cuisinart’s 1-and 1/2-quart model.

8. Can you share with the readers some unique plating and garnishing ideas that you use to give your ice creams a “wow” factor? I think it’s best to enjoy ice cream when it begins to melt and fall to pieces. Whenever I plate sundaes for friends and family, I love for them to look delicious, a little messy, and not too composed. The clash of colors and flavors in melting ice cream really provides a full sensory experience. I also love to plate scoops of ice cream in a big centerpiece platter with crushed meringues or cookies, fruit sauces and lots of whipped cream and fresh mint and let guests serve themselves from it into pretty bowls.

9. Since your new book came out, have you come up with and/or working on any new flavors? Both our ice cream scoop shops and our online store offer limited edition flavors that change every three months. I am always in the process of revising flavors and dreaming up new ones in my test kitchen. Most recently we did some Sublime Holiday flavors and next up we will are doing bright and colorful flavors that will be available February 3, 2012. They are crazy cool!

10. Can you order your ice creams online? Yes. Our company site, www.jenisicecreams.com, features our entire line of Signature and Limited Edition flavors available for delivery to anywhere in the U.S.A. We are constantly updating the site and our Limited Edition flavors change every three months. Having ice cream delivered directly to your door makes for either a really exciting gift or the perfect way to treat yourself to a well-deserved indulgence.

Interviews With ChefsMICHELLE BERNSTEIN: Michelle was raised in a Jewish-Latino household in Miami and is a culinary dynamo. She was the co-host of the Food Network’s Melting Pot for two years and was a competitor on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America series beating out Bobby Flay! She opened her first restaurant Michy’s on Miami’s upper east side and wrote a book Cuisine a Latina: Fresh Tastes and a World of Flavors from Michy’s Fast forward to 2012, and she now has a 4-month-old baby that keeps her BUSY at home, a 5-month-old restaurant Crumb and a 3-year-old restaurant Sra. Martinez. She was kind enough to do this interview.

1. How would you define flavor and how do you go about developing it in your dishes? I use as many senses as possible to taste food in its best and purest form. I try to find ingredients that boost the flavor of the main ingredients in my dishes; whether it be acid for seafood, intense flavored fish broths for fish dishes, or heavy roast bone flavors for meat dishes and so on.

2. When using pork, can you describe how you would cook a pork tenderloin or pork loin to achieve the maximum flavor and tenderness. Sometimes I make a mojo marinade for thanksgiving turkeys or pork shoulders and such. I use sour orange, cumin, lots of garlic, onions, olive oil; I marinate the meat for at least 48 hours before roasting.

3. Can you share a few plating and/or garnishing tips that you use in your restaurant to give your dishes a “wow” factor? I’m more into letting things fall naturally and never, ever garnish with something I wouldn’t eat with my dish. We rely heavily on micro lettuces and herbs from locally grown farms, fresh shavings of vegetables and just try to be natural.

4. What one cooking technique do you believe is the most important for producing the perfect dish? I can’t live without my plancha.

5. If you had to choose the most important tool or equipment that you just couldn’t do without in your kitchen, what would it be and why? A spoon, you can do anything with it.

6. In January, 2009, I did a newsletter featuring your new book and you shared some of your delicious recipes. Your oxtail and papardelle is still a favorite of mine today! How did you come up with this recipe and what other ways do you serve oxtail? Thank you! I grew up on oxtail, but we eat it whole on the bone at home with sides of mash. It’s delicious to eat with your hands. I also love it picked and put back into its juices over creamy polenta, gnocchi or even in a grilled cheese sandwich.

7. What piece of advice would you give to anyone who wants to learn how to take their dishes to a higher level and accomplish a “chef type” meal? Read good basic books about stocks and sauces. Also, learn about buying the best products available, and ALWAYS start local.

Marcelle Bienvenu interviewMARCELLE BIENVENU: Veteran cookbook writer Marcelle Bienvenu-author of “Who’s Your Mama”, “Are You Catholic”, and “Can You Make a Roux”, and co-author of four cookbooks with Chef Emeril Lagasse, was asked to take on the task of building a cookbook from the many requests of people who lost classic New Orleans dishes along with requested restaurant recipes from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I did a newsletter in August, 2010 featuring her book Cooking Up a Storm and she shared several delicious lost classic recipes. Check out Marcelle’s website. She was kind enough to do this recent interview.

1. What is the difference of red jambalaya and brown jambalaya? And which kind does Louisianas prefer? A red jambalaya is made so by the addition of tomatoes. Brown jambalayas are made by caramelizing onions, chicken and sausage, which produces a rich brown color. Jambalaya is probably the quintessential dish of Louisiana.

Food historian Evan Jones has called it one of America’s greatest dishes, and some Cajuns say it’s the only great American dish. Why else would they serve it at such important occasions as weddings and family gatherings, and to guests after a funeral?

Some will argue that jambalaya should be brown, while others will tell you no, it should be red, made so by the addition of tomatoes.

In Gonzales, for example, the locals will tell you that you will never find a good jambalaya in New Orleans because they made the red version. It is an article of faith that jambalaya should be, must be, brown. Gonzales must know what it’s talking about, after all, it was named by the Louisiana legislature to be the jambalaya capitol of the world, and for over 30 years has hosted an annual cook-off whose winner is named World Jambalaya Cooking Champion.

But then again, there are zealous cooks who claim that the addition of tomatoes make a richer tasting jambalaya. Who’s right, who’s wrong? The thing to do is to try both kinds for yourself and let your taste buds decide.

2. How would you define flavor, and how do you develop it in your New Orleans dishes? Flavor is what makes your taste buds sing! Most dishes in and around New Orleans have layers of flavor. Many dishes begin with a roux, then chopped onions, bell peppers, celery and sometimes garlic are added. These are cooked in the roux (and there are a lot of dishes that use these vegetables without the use of a roux) until the flavors all come together. Then there might be the addition of stock/broth to provide more richness and layers of flavor. And of course, there is the protein (seafood, pork, beef) that also brings more flavor. And don’t forget the seasonings of salt and cayenne pepper. Many people believe that our Louisiana dishes are spicy HOT, but that’s not so. Salt and pepper are added in just enough proportion to bring out the flavors.

3. Can you tell us how classic New Orleans beignets came about and what new embellishments are served with them today? There are several stories about how the beignets arrived in New Orleans. Some culinary historians claim that they came by way of the early French settlers from the Mediterranean area of France (which may have also included some Spanish influence). Others will tell you that the Ursuline nuns from France may have brought the recipe with them when they arrived in 1727. The beignets, popular in New Orleans, are fried doughnuts (with no leavening or holes) and are more like a fritter than anything else. Traditionally, they are served sprinkled generously with powdered sugar and accompanied by cafe au lait (chicory coffee and hot milk). Some embellishments may include fig or strawberry preserves or local pure cane syrup. I sometimes make eggplant and shrimp beignets dabbed with a bit of tartar or remoulade sauce for a savory option.

4. Do you use pork in many of your dishes and how do you cook it to obtain the most flavor and tenderness? Pork in very popular in south Louisiana simply because hogs were raised on farms throughout the rural areas from the 1700s to 1800s, and pork continues to be a mainstay on the Louisiana table. Of course, it’s used for making boudin, andouille sausage and tasso. Pork chops or other cuts are smothered with onions and served with rice. Pork roasts are stuffed with a combination of onions, bell peppers and garlic, salt and cayenne, then slow-roasted. As you probably know, pork purchased commercially today is 60% leaner than it was 30-40 years ago. Probably the best way to retain flavor and tenderness/moistness is to braise it. In recent years, brining pork has become very popular.

5. What would you say is the key to making the most delicious gumbo ever? To make a good gumbo, the roux is very important. Also, simmering the gumbo for a couple of hours is also very important. Gumbo is not a dish one can make quickly and it must have just the right amount of seasoning – salt and cayenne, and bay leaves. We have so many types of gumbo–seafood, chicken and sausage, some are made with okra. All are different?

6. Plating and garnishing can be difficult for some cooks. What tips can you give to achieve a “wow” factor in their presentations? Garnishing can be tricky – the plate must be appealing and attractive, but I always say “simple is best” and I don’t like fussy garnishes. I’m a big fan of using local, fresh herbs, as well as a splash of color – confetti cuts of bell peppers, small diced tomatoes (when in season), and I love using twists of lemons and limes when appropriate.

7. In your many years of cooking, what tool, equipment and/or lesson do you feel is essential and most important in cooking? In south Louisiana, we use well-seasoned cast iron pots in every shape and size for even cooking at all temperatures. Of course, good sharp knives are essential. AND I always tell people to taste their dishes throughout the cooking process to achieve just the right seasoning. Cook with love and patience and every dish will be fine. And, I always say to trust your instincts – experienced cooks develop a sense of what tastes good.

Peter Davis interviewPeter Davis: Peter is the chef at Henrietta’s Table at The Charles Hotel, Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has been driving the bandwagon of chefs and diners interested in sustainable agriculture, organic eating, and “slow food” for decades. His cookbook Fresh & Honest: Food From the Farms of New England and the Kitchen of Henrietta’s Table is a monument to his love of delicious, fresh foods and the New England farmers and producers who supply them. In April, 2009, I did a newsletter featuring his book and he shared some of his delicious recipes. I recently contacted him again and he agreed to a follow-up interview.

1. You have expressed how important it is to use only the finest ingredients in your cooking. As the chef at Henrietta’s Table, how do you go about getting the freshest ingredients possible, and what suggestions would you give to other cooks on how they may get the very freshest ingredients in their area? Finding fresh ingredients gets easier every year. For the consumer there are more and more choices in obtaining fresh ingredients through year round CSAs and Winter Farmer’s Markets. The abundance and variety of fresh produce at farmer’s markets through the growing months is always increasing. This trend has put more pressure on supermarkets to increase their offerings of good fresh produce and proteins.

2. How would you define flavor, and how do you go about developing flavor in your dishes? I define flavor as the natural taste of food. I don’t believe in masking the natural tastes or the raw product but try to slightly enhance the flavors.

3. What are some tips to ensure purchasing the freshest seafood from the market? The key to getting the freshest ingredients is knowing your supplier. Whether it’s a farmer, fisherman, butcher in a supermarket or fish market you need to trust the person you are buying from.

4. What is your most favorite way to cook a pork tenderloin or pork loin to get it the most tender and juicy? Do you use brines with all your pork dishes? Brine and long and slow cooking.

5. What tips can you give the readers on plating and garnishing their dishes so they can accomplish “chef quality” plates? Keep it simple and let the natural colors and freshness of the food do the work.

6. In your opinion, what are the essential cooking tools or equipment needed to produce the finest dishes? Sharp knives, good pots and pans and a controllable heat source.

7. In my newsletter, you demonstrated how to make preserved lemons. Off the top of your head, what all can you make with preserved lemons? They are so versatile. Vinaigrettes, butter sauces, add them to stews or on top of fresh oysters with a little vodka.

8. How long have you been the chef at Henrietta’s Table? 16 years. How did the restaurant get its name, and what new exciting dishes are on the menu? The restaurant is named after a pig owned by the hotel’s owner and Henrietta resided on Martha’s Vineyard . The menu changes daily but the true Henrietta’s Classics are what we are known for.

Aglaia Kremezi interviewAglaia Kremezi: Ever since chiles made their way from the New World to Europe centuries ago, cooks throughout the Mediterranean region have used a wide variety of fresh dried, and ground peppers to add bold hints of flavor to their cuisines. Aglaia Kremezi, inspired by her years of research and travel throughout the Mediterranean region – in Italy, Spain, Turkey, North Africa, and elsewhere-as well as her own Greek heritage and upbringing, has collected and refined the best of these dishes for American home cooks. In August, 2009, I did a newsletter on her book Mediterranean Hot and Spicy
where she shared several delicious recipes. Visit her new website and watch her wonderful slide shows. She was kind enough to do this recent interview.

1. What are a couple of quick and easy Mediterranean appetizers that you always serve your guests? Tyrokafteri, a spread made by combining crumbled feta cheese with olive-oil-sauteed bell peppers, and rengosalata-smoked herring mashed in the blender with scallions, lemon juice, mashed potatoes and olive oil – are two of my most popular appetizers. I love making bread, so whenever I have guests I whip up a bread dough the night before and let it rise slowly overnight in the refrigerator to develop a wonderful flavor. Sometimes, instead of water, I make my dough with mashed greens, or squash. I often use orange juice and yogurt to make my bread special. The next morning, I shape the flattish loaves adding whatever I have in my fridge: a handful of diced cheese – the more kinds the better – fresh or marinated anchovies, leftover pork, and chicken or lamb ragu. Sometimes I combine spicy cheeses with dried figs or other fruits, and I always sprinkle the breads with Aleppo pepper and herbs from the garden.

2. What are the main ingredients used in Mediterranean cuisine and how do you go about developing flavor with them? Olive oil, seasonal vegetables and greens, pulses (beans, chickpeas, lentils, fava, etc.), and fish or meat in small quantities, often just as flavoring. The seasonal produce are delicious on their own, so they hardly need anything other than olive oil, salt and maybe herbs to become the base for a stew, or used to make rice and pasta dishes. Lemon juice, garlic and onion are the ubiquitous seasonings, together with tomatoes-fresh or canned in the winter.

3. Tapas are becoming quite popular in the U.S. Can you describe what tapas are in Mediterranean cuisine and what are some of your favorites to serve? “Meze” is the Greek and Eastern Mediterranean word for what the Spanish call ‘tapas’. They are the bites – smaller or larger – served together with wine or other stronger drinks, like ouzo or raki. A piece of cheese, some olives, marinated fish or leftover stew– with or without meat-are served on bread slices or on small plates, together fresh or with pickled vegetables, and spreads like the ones I described before. Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), meatballs, and vegetable fritters are some of the more elaborate classic meze.

4. How would you go about cooking lamb to obtain the most flavor and the juiciest meat? Greek lamb is usually very small, less than 40 pounds, and it is extremely tender and succulent. We just rub it with oregano, thyme, chopped garlic, lemon and olive oil and roast it in the wood-fired oven. I marinate for 24 hours the larger lamb shanks available in Europe and the US with herbs, garlic, lemon and some cumin and mustard, making incisions and inserting the herb-garlic mixture. I roast the lamb starting with a very hot oven and after 15 minutes I lower the temperature and roast until it is almost cooked through, but somewhat pink inside (about 160F on the meat thermometer).

5. What is a tagine and how do you use one? Tagine in the Moroccan word for a clay pot with a conical cover. It is also the word for the Moroccan stews that are cooked in this clay pot. The Greek equivalent is called “tsoukali” and it looks more like a large clay casserole. In it we slow-cook in the oven meat, beans and vegetables, or a combination of all of them. Clay casseroles were used since antiquity and they help us make particularly delicious dishes.

6. Preserved lemons are used a lot in Mediterranean cuisine. Can you name some ways to use them in American dishes? Another Moroccan invention, preserved lemons are now used all over the world. I make lots of them because my two lemon trees are particularly productive, and at times, I am flooded with fragrant fruit. I use chopped, rinsed pieces of preserved lemon to flavor meat and poultry marinades and rubs; I add them to vegetable, bean, meat or fish stews and because they are salty, even after rinsing, no additional salt is needed. Pulsed in the blender with olive oil and herbs or spices they make wonderful dressings for all kinds of salads, imparting memorable flavor and aroma to steamed or raw vegetables and greens.

7. Where is the best source to find Mediterranean spices? Greek Oregano, bursting with aroma is a far cry from the herb one finds in supermarkets. It can be ordered at Titan Foods (Astoria NY). Whenever I visit New York I always go to Kalustyan’s an unbelievable shop that carries spices from all over the world, especially from the Eastern Mediterranean.

8. Other than the traditional baklava, what other desserts are popular in Mediterranean cuisine? Various Spoon Sweets – fruit preserves – are prepared by home cooks with the fruits of each season. A few teaspoons of quince preserves, sour cherry, rolled orange peel or fig in syrup flavor thick yogurt or ice cream, or can be served with fresh myzithra (the Greek ricotta-like cheese) for a delicious fast dessert.

Alice Medrich interviewAlice Medrich: Alice’s culinary career was first lauded as the founder of Cocolat, the groundbreaking San Francisco Bay Area chocolate and dessert company launched in 1977, and expanded to seven stores before the company was sold in 1990. Today, she is best known in culinary circles as the author of award-winning dessert cookbooks. In December, 2008 I wrote a newsletter featuring her book Pure Dessert. I recently contacted her to see what new projects she has been working on. She was kind enough to do this interview.

1. Flavor is so important in cooking and baking. How would you define flavor and how do you go about developing it in your baking? Food is a source of pleasure as well as nourishment. Aside from nutrients, which are necessary for survival, what else is there other than flavor and texture? I can’t define it. It’s like music, flavor makes tiny explosions in our brains. We love it, we need it…

2. Why is using the best ingredients so important in baking? Good ingredients have good flavors. Good ingredients make cooking something special worth our time and energy.

3. What type of chocolate do you recommend baking with and can you purchase it online? You don’t have to use the most rare and expensive chocolate in desserts but I feel strongly that people should use chocolate that tastes good to them. Like wine when you cook with it, it should be good enough to sip (or nibble, in this case). Don’t think that something that is cheap and low quality is “good enough” just because you are cooking with it. Myself, I use a lot of Scharffen Berger Chocolate www.scharffenberger.com in my desserts.

4. What is rose water? Where do you buy it and how would you use it in baking? Rose water is a distillation of rose buds used as a perfume and/or to add flavor and fragrance to Middle Eastern foods, including all kinds of desserts including cookies. Orange blossom water is similar but made from oranges instead of roses of course. Both are intense and should be used with a light hand. Buy them in Middle Eastern shops, shops that sell gourmet or international ingredients, and some better supermarkets. I like the Lebanese brand called Cortas. The type sold in the liquor department for making mixed drinks is not as good as Middle Eastern or French brands. Most recently I’ve used rose water in Sesame Kisses which are meringue cookies laced with Tahini. The results are truly melt-in-your-mouth, fragrant, sweet, and exotic; truly a western recipe with Eastern flavors. Such fun!

5. What are some essential tools needed for baking and what would you say is the most important tool and why? Bakers need 8 and 9 inch layer cake pans as well as spring forms (or better yet Magic Line cheesecake pans with removable bottoms instead of spring forms), square metal brownie pans, cookie sheets, rubber or silicon spatulas, wire whisks, bowls (definitely including stainless steel bowls), measuring cups and spoons and a good scale (because soon all recipes published will be given in weights as well as cups and this will help home bakers a lot) and an instant read digital thermometer.

Baking sheets and layer cake pans do not need to be fancy. I like plain aluminum, medium to heavy weight so they don’t twist or warp when heated. I prefer that they don’t have any non stick coating. Good quality tools last forever, don’t buy dime store “toys” instead of decent equipment. An electric mixer, even just a good hand held mixer, is a must as well.

6. Do you use herbs and spices in your baking and do you use fresh or dried? I use both. I use dried spices in things like spice cakes and spice cookies, although I like to add fresh ginger as well as dried in recipes that call for ginger. I use fresh herbs for infusing in cream for ganaches or panna cotta or infusing in butter for making flavored tuiles.

7. If you were to invent a new cookies, what steps would you take to do it? I might not set out thinking I was inventing a new cookie in the first place. I would more likely be thinking or day dreaming about a great way to express the flavor and other characteristics of a particular ingredient and that line of thinking might lead me to a cookie…

8. Do you have a website and/or blog and what have you been working on lately? Any new books coming out in the near future? At the moment I have a blog and a soon to be launched website. Since we talked last, I have written Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies and I have a new book Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts coming out in May, 2012.

Reata - Mike Micallef interviewMike Micallef, President: The Reata serves legendary Texas cuisine and is located in Sundance Square. Everybody who’s ever visited Fort Worth, Texas knows about Sundance Square, named after a man, the Sundance Kid, who rode with the equally infamous Butch Cassidy. It’s the city’s chief dining and entertainment district, a stylish swirl of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and music venues in a remarkable historic setting. In June, 2011, I did a newsletter featuring their new book Reata: Legendary Texas Cooking and their chef shared a
few delicious recipes. Recently, I contacted Mike Micallef, President of the Reata, and he agreed to this interview.

1. You have a wonderful blackened buffalo rib eye at your restaurant. What does buffalo meat taste like and can you order it online? It tastes like a steak with a slight flavor to it but I definitely would not refer to it as gamey. We no longer serve a regular hamburger during lunch and have gone exclusively to a buffalo burger that changes weekly. We buy our Buffalo Rib Eye from Comanche Buffalo and they do sell direct to consumers at comanchebuffalo.com

2. Your Golden Chicken-Fried Steaks, Pepper-Crusted Tenderloin and Jalapeno Cheddar Grits are just a few of your many delicious comfort foods on your menu. Do you personally test these recipes, and how do you determine whether or not they will go on the menu? When we roll the menu we look at which items are the best sellers and which items are slow sellers. We then give the chefs at Reata some feedback on what we’d like to see changed. We then have 3 to 4 rounds of tasting in which all of Reata’s Chefs submit items to the tasting panel. This is important because at Reata you don’t just have one chef creating all the menu items, you have a team of chefs all working together to create unique menu items that our guests enjoy. We can also test these items because for lunch we have a featured salad and a buffalo burger that change weekly. We also have a chop feature, a seafood feature and on the weekends we will also have a game feature.

3. Is your Jalapeno Cheddar Grits your most requested dish and how do you get them so creamy? Women love our grits over any other item we have on the menu. They’re creamy because of the use of butter, cream and cheddar cheese.

4. How do you cook your pork? Do you use brines, rubs and/or marinades? We currently serve a coffee crusted pork loin with a mango chutney. We do not use a brine or marinade. We coat the pork in oil, roll it in the coffee crust & spices, sear it in a pan and finish it in the oven.

5. How would you define flavor, and how do you go about developing it in your dishes at the restaurant? Reata really is a melting pot for all the flavors Texans enjoy. First off we’re a steakhouse but pull different flavors from different cuisines and blend Cajun, Southwestern and Mexican. We use a lot of bold flavors.

6. What are some tips you can give to the readers about plating and garnishing that you use at the restaurant that will give them the “wow” factor with their own dishes? Plate your protein leaned on top of your starch if it’s grits or potatoes. Always garnish with something that is edible and that you’ve used in the dish. When adding sauces, don’t cover all the protein with the sauce after you’ve worked hard at getting the good sear/grill marks. Always keep your plate nice and tight.

7. Have you recently added any new dishes to your menu? We added a Sliced Bison, Fried Egg and Swiss Cheese Sandwich which I really enjoy but more importantly, has become one of our guest’s favorite items.

Peter Reinhart interviewPeter Reinhart: Peter is a baking instructor and faculty member at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was the co-founder of Brother Juniper’s Bakery in Santa Rosa, California, and is the author of seven books on bread baking, including Crust and Crumb, the 2002 James Beard Cookbook of the Year and IACP Cookbook of the Year, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, and the 2008 James Beard Award-winning Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads.

I wrote a newsletter in February, 2010 featuring his new book Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day. He begins with the simplest French bread, then moves on to familiar classics such as ciabatta, pizza dough, and soft sandwich loaves and concludes with fresh specialty items like pretzels, crackers, croissants, and bagels. I just recently got back in touch with Peter and he agreed to this follow-up interview.

1. What is the definition of artisan bread and what is the proper pronunciation? The true meaning of artisan is “made by hand or in a crafted manner” but the term has become co-opted by marketing so now it sort of means “high quality” but who knows how long before it just becomes so diluted that it loses all meaning. Art’-i-son with the emphasis on the first syllable.

2. In your opinion, what is the best way to develop the most flavor in bread? By understanding the fermentation process and the various transformations that take place in the ingredients as they go from “wheat to eat.” Long, slow fermentation is generally better than fast fermentation, but that can vary from bread to bread.

3. How long can you leave dough in the refrigerator? It totally depends on the type of bread but usually high yeast breads have a shorter life than low yeast breads like lean hearth bread doughs. In theory, a dough could still be viable after a week or longer but most usually degenerate after about three days.

4. What is proofing your dough and how do you know when your dough is fully proofed? Proofing is another word for fermentation — it means “To prove that the yeast is alive”. Every bread formula has its own rules but usually a dough is ready to move to the next stage when it nearly doubles in size. However, you should follow the instructions in the recipe because no general rule applies to every bread.

5. If you over-proof your dough and it deflates, is there any coming back or do you need to start over? If it is truly over-fermented it may still be bake-able but will probably have a yeasty aftertaste from the excessive alcohol, and a pale crust color because too much of the sugar in the dough has been fermented by the yeast, leaving too little for caramelization for the crust. But it’s always worth it to try to bake it — you never know what might happen and people may still like it.

6. Can you use beer in yeast dough to increase flavor? Yes, but it will not take the place of the yeast; just use it for flavor.

7. Can you add herbs to your dough? Do you use dried or fresh? Either is fine but dried herbs are very intense — about 8 times more intense than fresh herbs, so use a light touch. A little goes a long way.

8. Since writing your book Artisan Breads Every Day and discussing how bakers are finding faster and easier ways to bake artisan breads, have you discovered any new techniques? All the time — the learning never stops but, in the end, it’s all about the balancing act of time, temperature, and ingredients. If you change one it affects the other two.

9. In all of your years baking and teaching, what is the one lesson you have learned that is essential to baking delicious bread? The dough will dictate what it needs, whether more water, more flour, or other ingredient adjustments. The most helpful thing is to understand proper ratios between the flour and the other ingredients to achieve the type of bread you want (this info is now available in most of the recent serious bread books). Allow yourself room to fail and give yourself at least three tries (or more) on new recipes/formulas. There is always a learning curve and bread will teach you to be patient — with the dough and also with yourself.

Marie Simmons interview Marie Simmons: Marie is an award-winning cookbook author, Bon Appetit magazine columnist, and contributor to many magazines and newspapers. She has written the first ever cookbook devoted to figs. Figs come fresh or dry, in yellow or purple, from California and Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries. They are in restaurants, supermarkets, fruit stands, backyards, and inside some very famous cookies and are one of America’s favorite fruits. In September, 2009 I did a newsletter featuring her book Fig Heaven and she shared several delicious recipes. She has a new book out Fresh & Fast Vegetarian: Recipes That Make a Meal
and on her website she gives information on two upcoming books she is working on. I recently contacted her to do a follow-up interview which she so graciously agreed.

1. What are some quick appetizers you can make with figs? My favorite winter (dried fig) quick appetizer is simple to make. Make a little slit in the fat part of the fig, press in a piece of toasted walnut and a little square of good Parmigiano Reggiano. I also do something similar with a piece of almond and square of French Comte or some aged Swiss Gruyere. For a cheese stuffing without a nut, I use a bit of Stilton and wrap the fig loosely in a strip of prosciutto di Parma.

For summer when figs are juicy off the tree I halve the fig, push a torn piece of basil into the soft flesh and then top with a thumb of good fresh goat cheese. Drizzle with a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar.

2. What is the best method for plumping dried figs? Place the figs in a bowl and cover with boiling water or boiling apple juice and let stand about 1 hour. For a quick plump I put the figs in a saucepan, cover with the liquid of choice and simmer until the figs have absorbed the liquid. You can add a cinnamon stick, a strip of orange zest, a bit of vanilla, any flavorings you might like. Once the figs are plumped I slowly simmer so any liquid in the pan can be absorbed. Watch carefully so the juices don’t scorch.

3. What is the easiest way to cut a dried fig? Lightly oil (I use olive oil) the blade of scissors and snip them into pieces. For a finer chop I snip off the tough stem, cut into big chunks, oil the blade of the food processor and the inside of the bowl and chop that way.

4. In your book you have several recipes pairing figs with pork. What is your favorite way to cook pork tenderloin and pork loin so that the pork ends up tender and juicy? Not in the book, but a new favorite way is to plump the dried figs in some Marsala or Madiera wine (see #2 above), snip off the tough stems and cut the figs in half if they’re big. Save the wine along with the figs. Cut a pork tenderloin (these are small so you’ll need at least 2 for 6-8 servings) into 1-1/2 inch medallions, place between layers of plastic wrap and pound gently with meat pounder to make a cutlet. Then I season with salt and pepper, a light coating of flour, and maybe a little fresh thyme and saute in butter just until lightly colored, but not cooked through. Place on a platter and cover with foil. Then I saute some shallots in butter until golden. Add the figs with the soaking liquid and cook down slightly, adding a bit more wine, if desired. Then add the pork back to the pan with all the juices on the platter and cook gently stirring to cook down the liquid until it makes a nice light sauce.

5. If anyone wanted to buy fresh figs, what kind should they buy, and can you recommend a good online source to buy from? The best place to buy fresh figs is from your local market. Figs are highly perishable and don’t ship well so look for them in season at produce markets. The season is usually late summer and into the early fall. Buy any variety of figs available. I like to mix all the different varieties. The Brown Turkey are large and sturdy. When you have them they have a “hole” or opening in the center perfect for stuffing with cheese. Black Mission are the black ones that are smaller and are slightly sweeter. There are now some green figs around that are nice, too. Sierra, Kodota, Calimyrna, etc. All are filled with sweetness. Remember figs will not ripen once they are picked. So when buying them don’t think they will ripen as they stand. They won’t.

The best way to store figs is to take them out of the box very carefully (try not to scrape the skins with your finger nail) and arrange them on a plate without touching. Cover loosely with a paper towel, not with plastic wrap. They need air. And wrapping them airtight will cause them to mold. Use within one or two days. Ripe fresh figs don’t keep well.

6. Can you freeze figs? And if so, what is the best way to freeze them and how long do they keep in the freezer? There is a recipe in Fig Heaven for freezing figs in a light sugar syrup. More like a preserved fig, they are delicious in the deep of winter, but they are not the same as a fresh fig. I have a friend who uses these frozen figs to make a delicious fig sorbet in the winter. She simply purees the fig with its syrup and processes it in her ice cream/sorbet maker.

7. In all of your cooking years, what is the one thing that you have learned over the years that would be valuable to other cooks? Have fun with food. Don’t worry about it. It is only food and is a process of trial and error. Always begin with the freshest possible ingredients. And last of all: Simple is best!

8. Can you give some plating and garnishing ideas to our readers that will help give their plates the “wow” factor? I’m a pretty casual cook so I’m not so into WOW. But I like simple. A shower of freshly chopped (very small chop) herbs like parsley, dill and mint is always delicious. A few wedges of citrus (nice neat wedges with the pith and the seeds all removed). For a fig dish, a few fresh wedges of fresh fig always looks pretty. Maybe with a sprig of thyme or other herb set across the slice, or have.

Carla Snyder interviewCarla Snyder along with Meredith Deeds have co-written five cookbooks with each other. In November, 2009 I wrote a newsletter featuring their book 300 Sensational Soups. where Meredith shared several delicious recipes. Recently, Carla and Meredith have finished their newest book Everyday to Entertaining: 200 Sensational Recipes That Transform from Casual to Elegant. I recently contacted them to do a follow-up interview and Carla was kind enough to get back with me. Visit Carla’s website ravenouskitchen.com and follow her on twitter @ carlacooks.

1. In your book 300 Sensational Soups
, flavor is key. How would you describe flavor, and how do you go about developing it in your soups?
Lots of times a soup will begin with the sauteing of onion, carrot, celery and sometimes garlic. I think that is the beginning of flavor for a soup and so I like to give the vegetables time to soften and develop their flavor. That’s a good time to add dried herbs as well since they spread their fragrance and flavor better in hot fat than in hot liquid. The next step is simple…just get the salt and pepper right. When finishing a soup we like to add a touch of acid in the form of lemon or vinegar. It brightens soups and stews more than you could ever imagine. Lastly, a touch of cream when appropriate elevates some soups to heavenly status.

2. Have you ever made soup with venison, buffalo or boar? What are some tips you would give with these types of meats to making soup? Game meats are notoriously lean so be sure to use the right cuts for soup such as shoulders and shanks. They take a while to tenderize but cooking them low and slow makes them delicious. Be sure to brown them well in fat before you add the stock. Lots of brown stuff on the bottom of the pan is a good start to great flavor.

3. There are so many different ingredients that you can put in soup. Can you name some ingredients that are not good in soups and why? Hmmm. Lean parts like chicken breasts just get tough and dry. I usually use thighs. I wouldn’t use meats like filet or strip steaks or pork loin either. Those meats need to be cooked fast and over high heat. Soup is low and slow. I think you can make soup out of almost anything in the produce aisle. We included lots of fruit based dessert soups in the book so even bananas make good soup.

4. Do you recommend using home-made stocks in your soups or is store-bought acceptable? Everyone should have a soup made with homemade stock at least once in their lives. It is so rich and satisfying, but most of the time even Meredith and I make soup with store bought stock. We like Swanson’s or anything low sodium.

5. What is the best way to freeze soups? I’ve frozen a lot of soup in zip-lock freezer bags. It saves space and works really well. When we were testing the book, my adult kids would stop by and just raid the freezer for dinner. That way they didn’t have any storage bowls to return (yea, like that happens).

6. When you are coming up with a new soup recipe, what are the steps you follow to develop it? The first thing we do is come up with the flavor profile and title of the soup. When coming up with 300 recipes you have to be creative so we started thinking of things we like to eat, like steak and potatoes, stuffed cabbage or lasagne. Then we created soup from those ideas.

7. Can you share with the readers some unique and beautiful ways to garnish and plate soup to give it the “wow” factor? Meredith and I included garnishes for almost every soup because we think it’s really important. It’s a one dish meal, so that one thing needs to have a wow factor. Sometimes it’s as simple as chopped parsley , chives or cilantro, maybe a little lemon zest. It could be grilled cheese fingers in tomato soup or garlic croutons, a squeeze of lime juice, cheese, pesto, sour cream, Parmesan curls, crispy bacon or a glug of olive oil. It all depends on the soup.

I hope you will read each and every one of these interviews with chefs. There is so much good information from their many years of experience that I know, without a doubt, it will make you a better cook!