J. Kenji López-Alt

Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats & Author of The Food Lab

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON December 21, 2015

Discussion

J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
Hi, I'm Kenji López-Alt, author of The Food Lab, and Managing Culinary Director at Serious Eats. I write about the everyday science that goes on each time you cook and how learning about it can make your life more delicious. Ask me anything!
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
@thefoodlab thanks so much for joining us. Awesome to have you hear, would love to hear how you think tech will impact food and your thoughts on @soylent
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@harrystebbings I don't have many thoughts on Soylent other than that for people who only see food as fuel, I suppose it's a good thing. We're still a long way off from making it work. Currently the internet has had the biggest impact on food trends, both good and bad. Back when I was learning how to cook, if I wanted to make a Sichuan dish, I had to go find a book written by an author who writes in English. Now I can literally hop on any social media channel and see people cooking food in Sichuan RIGHT AS WE SPEAK. The exchange of ideas and techniques is amazing!
Margot Mazur@margotcodes · Partnership Co-ordinator, Wistia
@thefoodlab Hi Kenji! Thanks for being here. I'm working on writing my own vegan cookbook right now and it's proving to be quite the challenge! What advice would you give to a newbie cookbook author? What helped you during your first book?
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@margotcodes Oof. Don't give up, try and write every day even if you aren't feeling inspired. Also never stop reading. Whenever I had mental blocks, I'd pull some of my old favorite books off the shelf and just spend a couple days reading. It's amazing how it can inspire ideas!
Yoshi@dnxx28 · Freerance Engineer
Hi Kenji! I'm Japanese Yoshi! What kind of app or media do you watch about food and drink ?
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@dnxx28 I honestly don't watch too much new media these days. Too much reality TV! I love old school Pepin on Youtube, older Cook's Illustrated episodes, early seasons of Top Chef.
TD@tdwi2000
Hi Kenji! 2.5 questions: I'm making your reverse seer beef tenderloin for Xmas with a 5.5 lb roast. What's the approx. cooking time at 225 to get it to the 125-130 degree mark? Would I be better off using my sous vide? Also, I've been tasked with making slow cooker mashed potatoes. Any hints/suggestions? Love your book!
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@tdwi2000 It'll take around 3 hours or so, but always trust your thermometer, not your timer! I prefer reverse-sear to sous vide for roasts like that. Much easier to brown beef that's been roasted as opposed to cooked in a bag. Use a ricer and rinse those potatoes to keep them extra light and fluffy!
TD@tdwi2000
@thefoodlab @tdwi2000 thanks, Kenji! I don't have a ricer, but sounds like I should go get one.
Will Imholte@willimholte · Designer, Prime
Is your next book going to be a continuation of The Food Lab? If so, are you concerned with how to balance between a book that is approachable for people who haven't read TFL and a book that doesn't repeat the science you've already covered?
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@willimholte It is a continuation and will include lots of new material, lots of new science. Some of the basic lessons will obviously be referenced, but don't worry, there are plenty of rabbit holes to fall into :)
Alex Koch@kochalex
What's your favorite, single use kitchen gadget?
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@kochalex I can tell you that the item we use most in the kitchen is our Breville teamaker. It automates everything including temperature and steeping time. Push a button and it's good to go. We thought it sounded stupid at first, but man do we use it.
Daniel Lee@dleesta · Product Manager
What are the core culinary skills that you think people need to know?
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@dleesta Knife skills are the most important. I've seen people trying to tackle recipes out of the French Laundry cookbook before they even know how to slice an onion properly. You simply can't do it. Learn how to cut vegetables, learn how to hold a knife properly, learn how to slice things into regular shapes. After you get good at that you can REALLY start cooking.
Jason Jacobs@pbfreak422 · CEO
@thefoodlab What are the 3 most effective things I can do as a basic home cook to take my cooking to the next level?
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@pbfreak422 Three most effective things to become a better home cook: 1) buy a good thermometer and use it. 2) keep your kitchen organized (ESPECIALLY when cooking. No letting dirty bowls, boards, etc pile up in different corners. Clean up after each task.) 3) make sure that you're having fun in the kitchen. Best way to stay motivated to keep doing it is to enjoy the process!
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@thefoodlab how did you first getting into cooking?
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@ems_hodge Accidentally! I was actually looking to spend a summer away from academic work and poked around Boston looking for a job as a waiter. A restaurant I walked into said they had no waitstaff jobs but were in need of a cook who could start THAT DAY. I said OK, took the job, and that was it. I'd never really cooked before in my life, but I fell in love with kitchens the moment I stepped into one.
Chuck Liu@chuckjliu · Research Manager, KISSmetrics
@thefoodlab Hi Kenji, I'm a long time fan. Thanks for doing this! 2 questions: What's your go-to dish that you like to make when friends come over for dinner? What's your favorite store-bought product/products that works in a pinch when you can't make it yourself or are on a time crunch?
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@chuckjliu This Spanish chickpea and spinach stew is one of my favorite dishes of all time and EVERYBODY devours it. Simple, filling inexpensive, and delicious. It happens to be vegan too: http://www.seriouseats.com/recip... I use store-bought chicken broth (typically Swanson Organic low-sodium) when I don't want to make my own. Add a 2 tsp packet of powdered gelatin per cup of stock to give it a more home-made body.
Dennis Malone@dennismnyc · Beginner
Hi, has there been an update to your recent post about two equal batches of chocolate chip cookies been baked on two different baking sheets? Thanks!
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@dennismnyc I was trying to get that in before the holidays but it probably won't happen until at least January. Lots more testing to do. But yes: baking surface makes a huge difference for certain things, like sensitive drop cookies.
Richard Gingerich@richard_gingerich
Have you got your hands on the Chefsteps Joule yet and/or what is your initial reaction?
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@richard_gingerich I haven't had a chance to try it. It looks small and sleek and those guys are really smart. I have a meeting planned with Chefsteps founder Chris Young after the new year for a demo and will hopefully be getting a unit to test myself soon after that.
Artifex Prime@artifex_prime
Will Vegan Month 2016 feature a special focus? I wasn't able to faithfully follow your example last time, but I hope to next time. I'm interested to learn more about specialty ingredients like seitan and tempeh. How difficult is it to maintain vegan practice while developing omnivorous recipes? Or do you restrict yourself professionally as well?
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@artifex_prime During vegan month I am 100% fully vegan, both personally and professionally. I halt all development on non-vegan foods. It's a really fun month each year with lots of new challenges (and delicious food). This year I'm actually doing vegan month in March, and may shift it one month at a time in future years as well so that I get a chance to do it in the summer, fall, etc. I'm not sure what the focus will be this year, but I would like to explore some more everyday staples and figure out foods that I can make on the fly without really having to sit down and plan for it. I think that's one of the difficulties many new vegans face.
Angel@rzrbks76 · Home Chef
@thefoodlab need help with cooking scallops
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@rzrbks76 Help with scallops? Here are my tips: buy DRY scallops, not wet (wet scallops have been soaked in a chemical solution that helps them retain water... until you cook them and the water steams away). SALT them generously and let them sit on a paper towel-lined plate to draw out excess surface moisture. Sear them in a HOT pan and let them really brown properly. It's better to get one side very well browned than to have poor browning on both sides. More tips here: http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/...
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
If you could only give one tip for making every day cooking better, what would it be?
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@ems_hodge Make sure you taste for salt level AND acid level. Many soups, sautés, stews, etc can be brightened up with a little kick of acid (lemon juice or vinegar) just before serving.
Zef@zeftilldeath · Designerer
@thefoodlab Hey Kenji, firstly thanks so much for all the food lab recipes, I've had 100% success rate and love your stuff. CHRISTMAS. I have purchased a rolled beef brisket and want to cook it in an oven to go with gravy, roast potatoes and massive yorkshire puddings (look forward to the recipe on tuesday). Have you got any tips on the best way to cook it? Thanks.
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@zeftilldeath Try this braised brisket with apricots and cranberries. Super moist and delicious, super festive for the holidays: http://www.seriouseats.com/recip...
Lauren Zarzour@laurenzarzour
@thefoodlab Just got my first set of stainless steel pans - so excited to upgrade from the crappy Teflon I got 5+ years ago in college. Any tips for storage / maintenance?
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@laurenzarzour Get yourself some Barkeepers Friend. It is the finest cleaning product ever invented and is amazing on stainless steel. http://www.amazon.com/Bar-Keeper...
Lauren Zarzour@laurenzarzour
@thefoodlab Just did! It is magical!
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
If you could cook for any 5 people - dead or alive - who would it be and why? Bonus question - what would you cook them? :)
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@ems_hodge Aw, I'd pick all friends and family honestly. That's what food should be about. Bringing people together to share something. If you're asking me who I'd want to eat a meal with, well that's a different answer ;)
Penelope N Peter@peter_nz · Burger Consumer
@thefoodlab Hi Kenji, I'm a massive fan. when I got the food lab I read it from cover to cover and it's my christmas gift to my mother and mother in law. I can't wait till you publish more books. Anyway to the question, Our kitchen at work currently buys in butcher mince meat and I'm trying to get us to convert to grinding our own cuts. Chef is not quite convinced yet, but what cuts/blends would you use in a commercial setting? I think oxtail would be too much work for us to replicate your burger blend.
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@peter_nz Simplest is just using ground chuck or shoulder clod. If you want to do a blend, I'd recommend 50/25/25 sirloin/brisket/short rib.