On The Street, The FN Library & An Offal Dinner

This week’s FN Dish is my favorite so far. It has three segments and feels like an actual episode of something–I think we’re getting better and better as we go. Let me know if you agree:

As for the offal dinner in the third part, Michael Ruhlman (who appears in the above video) has a nice write-up about it on his site. As Ruhlman says, he did shame me into eating three whole pieces of raw venison liver and now that I reflect on it I’m not really quite sure why that liver had to be served raw. I’m not grossed out by liver, I’m not grossed out by steak tartare, but, call me crazy, the texture of raw liver is not very appetizing. It feels exactly like you’d expect it to feel like chomping through a raw liver: wet, slimy, tough. Blech. I’m getting sick just writing about it….

But focusing on the liver doesn’t do the dinner justice. Chef Cosentino did make a compelling case for offal, both in his food and his speech-making at the end. He told a moving story about goats that he raised and killed himself and how, when the killing was over, he saw all the “guts” that were going to be wasted and didn’t want the goats to have died in vain. Eating offal is a way to honor the life of the animal as well as a way to stretch that animal economically. The best dishes of the night–braised lamb neck, candied cockscombs–were creative, inventive ways to take the bits many butchers might discard (because no one will buy them) and make them lip-smackingly delicious. Hats off to you, Chef Cosentino, for feeding us as well as edifying us.

As for the rest of the video, what do you think, readers, about the questions I asked people on the street? What’s your take on the Robert Irvine scandal? Who’s your favorite Food Network star? And what are your desert island cookbooks?

Let us know and get ready for next week’s episode, featuring Anthony Bourdain. Yes, after fighting long and hard we’re really going to let him rant. Stay tuned…

Michael Symon

Perhaps it’s injudicious to say so (especially if Rachael Ray is reading this–sorry Rachael!), but of all the Food Network stars I’ve met so far, my favorite, hands down, has to be Michael Symon. I think Food Network stars come in two types: those with light-switch personalities (on one second, off the next) and those who are the same onscreen as they are offscreen. Michael Symon, most certainly, is in the latter camp. He’s the real deal: a great chef (the perogies I ate at his restaurant Lola, after shooting the video you’ll see below, were truly unforgettable–worth a trip to Cleveland) who is also kind, charismatic, and, most of all, authentic. Check out this video and see if you don’t agree:

Perhaps my affection for him is also due to this interview (click here) which was the first thing I did for Food Network. Needless to say, I was terrified. I never told you about that day–it happened in mid-December–when, after rounds of interviews, I showed up to shoot an actual pilot, there at 7:30 am, where an entire crew was waiting. They put me in hair and make-up and then they whisked me on to a very real set, with about 20 people in the room, and said, “OK–go!” The format of the pilot was much different from the shows you’ve seen: they had me working from a script I wrote myself–a little like “The Daily Show” meets “Talk Soup”–and there was one impassioned essay I wrote, a mock diatribe about dieting, that I could not get right for the life of me. Take 20, Take 21… it was humiliating and draining and by the end of that segment, I figured my career as a Food Network web host was officially over.

But then came Michael Symon, who was flown in explicitly for this interview. And he was so affable, such a good sport, that I suddenly felt calm again and when we sat down to talk, even though all the cameras were there and the same crew that’d seen me mess up with such flair, I was completely at ease. And the same was true, months later, when I flew to Cleveland to shoot the segment you saw in the first video. Even though I was in a real restaurant kitchen with that wall of heat (I’m not sure many of you realize how hot it is in a restaurant kitchen, especially behind the grill station) and a bunch of sweaty, suspicious sous chefs and sauciers, I may as well have been in my own kitchen cooking. Michael Symon casts a spell around him–it’s the spell of a supremely talented chef completely at ease with himself and others.

A few weeks later, I was in Miami, walking with a friend, and I heard a voice calling. “Hey Adam!” The voice was familiar but difficult to place. Then I identified the source: it was Michael Symon standing outside his hotel with his wife. If you would’ve told me last year that an Iron Chef / chef cult hero would be calling out my name at a Wine & Food Festival, I would’ve called you mad. “MAD!” I would’ve said and that would’ve been it. But now I’ve met Michael Symon and I feel like I’ve made a new friend. If nothing else comes from this gig, that’s enough for me. And an even better reason to return to Cleveland, a city we barely saw–we flew in, shot at Lola, slept in a hotel, and flew out the next morning. I say: Spring Break Clevleand 2008. Who’s with me? Party at Symon’s place. I promise, I won’t do the cooking.

P.S. Michael Symon has his own blog, Symon Says, which you should go read by clicking the words “Symon Says.”

P.P.S. Michael Ruhlman, another Cleveland cult hero, was there the night I was cooking, mocking me and my food. (Actually, I think he said I did a decent job.) Unfortunately, the footage didn’t find its way into the end video (it’s hard to edit this stuff down to 3 minutes!) So apologies to Ruhlman and a promise that when I do return to Cleveland, I’ll bring him a gift bag of raw venison liver to show my remorse. (Click here for explanation.)

P.P.S. I’m going to post the recipe for that ziti with fennel and sausage later tonight. Stay tuned!

Cassoulet in 10 Easy Steps


When Anthony Bourdain cooks with Michael Ruhlman on the Cleveland episode of “No Reservations,” he layers meat and beans together in a giant drum, tops the whole thing off with breadcrumbs and produces a dish most of us aren’t used to seeing on Food TV (and I say that as someone who now works for Food TV): a classic French cassoulet that’d put Julia Child to shame.

Cassoulet is a dish that just makes sense. Why does it make sense? You take fatty, flavorful meat, put it in a big pot with moisture-hungry beans and bake the whole thing until the beans are infused with all that fat and flavor and the meat is cooked. It’s not meant to be a fancy dish–this is the kind of food French people make at home–and it’s infinitely variable, as evidenced by the infinite cassoulet recipes you will find in my infinite cookbook collection, recipes that vary the type of meat, the type of bean, even the amount of time it takes to make the dish (Bourdain’s recipe, in his “Les Halles Cookbook,” calls for three days). I didn’t have three days to spare on Friday night when I set out to make my very first cassoulet. So I turned to an under-praised, underused book in my collection: Daniel Boulud’s “Daniel’s Dish: Entertaining at Home with a Four-Star Chef”.

It’s a great recipe for its simplicity (it’s called “Casual Cassoulet”) and yet the recipe has a serious flaw: it’s meant to be cooked in a 15-Qt Dutch Oven. I completely missed that part when I shopped for my ingredients, so I prepped enough food for a pot 3X bigger than the one I had. Therefore, the recipe that follows is my adaptation of Daniel’s recipe for Dutch Ovens of a more realistic size. Daniel’s recipe calls for lamb shoulder, but I left that out too: sausage + duck + bacon = plenty of meat for one dish, thank you very much.

Since winter’s almost over, this is the perfect dish to make on one of our last cold winter’s nights. I promise it’s easy and I promise the pay-off is big. And so, without further ado, Cassoulet in 10 Easy Steps.

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A Q&A with Michael Ruhlman on “The Elements of Cooking”


Of all the things that’ve happened to me since starting my blog, perhaps the most surprising and flattering and ennobling (if that’s the right word) has been the very vocal support I’ve received from one of my food writing heroes, Michael Ruhlman. Before he and I ever made contact, I was a huge fan of his book “The Soul of a Chef” which is a thrilling, page-turning account of his time at the master chef program at the C.I.A., as well as a probing portrait of Chef Michael Symon (who he’d eventually judge on “Next Iron Chef”) and the incomparable Thomas Keller. What makes the book great is Ruhlman’s lack of pretense: he does what a good storyteller must, dissolves himself into the background and allows the story to develop naturally. His clarity, his precision, his deftness have caused critics to label him an “elegant” writer and I think that word is incredibly fitting. He’s got real class–the effortless sort, not the forced kind you see with someone like that sommelier Stephen on Season One of “Top Chef.” He’s also incredibly generous (my grandmother would call him a “mensch”): he’s given me great advice over the past year, treating me more like a colleague than a protege and even turning to me for advice with his own career. All of this has meant a great deal to me in my journey from food writing hobbyist to food writing professional–I couldn’t ask for a better mentor.

Now I’m in the excellent position of getting to share with you my enthusiasm for Michael’s newest book, “The Elements of Cooking.” This book is almost written precisely for me (and probably you): after all the home cooking I’ve done, the cookbook reading and Food TV watching, this is the proverbial “next step.” It’s a cooking school you can put in your pocket and at 242 pages (49 pages of which are essays/instruction, the rest being a glossary) it’s a wildly efficient breakdown of what “real chefs” do and how you can put these classic techniques to use at home. The essentials boil down to six basic categories: stock, sauce, salt, the egg, heat and tools. Master these categories and you’re well on your way to producing restaurant-quality food at home; they’re building blocks that, once put to use, can be (and should be) used over and over again forever.

Michael Ruhlman was kind enough to let me e-mail interview him for the book and what follows is our exchange. I hope it inspires you to buy his book which will, I believe, become a mandatory staple for any passionate home cook.

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