J. Kenji López-Alt

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
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
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
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
Margot Mazur@margotcodes · Sr. Marketing Manager, HubSpot
@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
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
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
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
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
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
TD@tdwi2000
@thefoodlab @tdwi2000 thanks, Kenji! I don't have a ricer, but sounds like I should go get one.
Will Imholte
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
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
Alex Koch@kochalex
What's your favorite, single use kitchen gadget?
J. Kenji López-Alt
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
Daniel Lee@dleesta · Product Manager
What are the core culinary skills that you think people need to know?
J. Kenji López-Alt
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
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
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 Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
@thefoodlab how did you first getting into cooking?
J. Kenji López-Alt
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
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
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
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
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@richard_gingerich
Have you got your hands on the Chefsteps Joule yet and/or what is your initial reaction?
J. Kenji López-Alt
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@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
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
Angel@rzrbks76 · Home Chef
@thefoodlab need help with cooking scallops
J. Kenji López-Alt
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 Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
If you could only give one tip for making every day cooking better, what would it be?
J. Kenji López-Alt
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
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
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
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
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
Lauren Zarzour@laurenzarzour
@thefoodlab Just did! It is magical!
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · 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
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
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
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.
Zack Bloom
Zack Bloom@zackbloom · Product, Cloudflare
@thefoodlab Hi Kenji, huge Serious Eats and Cooks Illustrated fan! What do you think the best method of turning home cooks who rely on recipes into 'chefs' who can cook without needing a recipe is?
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@zackbloom Teach them the science in a way that's fun and entertaining!
Angel
Angel@rzrbks76 · Home Chef
I have to make scallops for an executive chef... What would you use as sides ? I was thinking of cauliflower purée and arugula salad ? Also must use fresh scallops ... Ideas?
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@rzrbks76 Cauliflower and scallops are a very classic combination and they go deliciously together. An arugula salad would be a nice way to round it out. For fresh scallops, make sure to look for DRY scallops (they should be labeled). You're better off getting frozen dry scallops than "fresh" scallops that have been treated with chemicals to artificially keep them plump. Legal Seafoods out of Boston has mail-order dry scallops.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
What's one of hte biggest misconception people have about the science of food?
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@eriktorenberg That science = molecular gastronomy. It doesn't. Science is just a method of understanding the world around us. We can use it for high-tech ultra-modern food, or we can use it to understand what's going on in a lasagna or a meatloaf. There's no real agenda for science other than what you bring to it. I like to think of science as a map. You can use the map to get from point A to point B with turn-by-turn directions, or you can zoom in on that map and plot your course yourself and take control of your journey. Science is what allows you to zoom in on that map.
Angel
Angel@rzrbks76 · Home Chef
Cooking the perfect you'd New York strip what would you recommend
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@rzrbks76 Here's my complete guide to pan-seared steaks! http://www.seriouseats.com/2012/...
Russ Frushtick
Russ Frushtick@russfrushtick
What's the easiest and most delicious thing you make?
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@russfrushtick A perfect omelet. But that takes practice. Watch the master at work:
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
Who are some people who have influenced you at work? Are there other chefs that have inspired or mentored you?
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@ems_hodge I've learned things from everyone I've ever worked for. My biggest chef influences have been Barbara Lynch and Ken Oringer in Boston, both of whom I worked for for many years. I also learned a great deal about recipe testing and writing in my time at Cook's Illustrated. People like Chris Kimball, Erin McMurrer, Keith Dresser, and others all helped me develop those skills.
Victoria O'Shee
Victoria O'Shee@vickyoshee · Entrepreneur & tech startups enthusiast
Hi Kenji, I submitted my cooking app today, Skillet, which got featured today on Product Hunt, and I would love your feedback please! Also, I've been trying to connect with you personally, and sent an e-mail to an address in your website and on SeriousEats, but had no luck. I'd love it if you could give me the chance to tell you more about it. Thanks!!
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@vickyoshee Hey Victoria - I get TONS of emails about new products all the time so I apologize if I didn't respond to yours. I try my best to! Shoot me another email with something about us talking on the Product Hunt chat and I'll make sure to take a look and get back to you. The holidays are a busy time for me!
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
What is you favourite thing to cook? Favourite thing to eat?
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@ems_hodge I love cooking eggs. I also love eating eggs. My cooking and eating habits thus have a pretty mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship in that regard.
Cherian Thomas
Cherian Thomas@cherianthomas · VP, Think and Learn (Byjus)
Hi Kenji, Fan of your work. I noticed that affiliates on seriouseats takes up a lot of space on your blog posts. Does this generate enough money for a livelihood?
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@cherianthomas What affiliates are you talking about? We have ads on Serious Eats and sponsored content that is marked "sponsored," but I don't personally write any sponsored content or allow sponsored content in my posts. Are you referring to the affiliate sales links that we place in certain posts to direct people towards Amazon or thermoworks, or another site where they can buy products we recommend? If so, yes, we receive a small amount of revenue from that, though not really enough to keep a blog up and running. The primary reason we include those links is as a reader service. We used to recommend certain products and we'd get emails all the time from folks asking where they can get them. We created custom widgets in our articles to direct people to places where they can get the products we recommend. As always, our recommendations are completely unbiased and with rare exception, any revenue raised through sales is from third party retailers, not directly from the manufacturers.
Cherian Thomas
Cherian Thomas@cherianthomas · VP, Think and Learn (Byjus)
@thefoodlab @cherianthomas Thanks Kenji, that answers. I was referring to products like the http://thermoworks.com/products/.... I remember reading a blog post where you were specifically promoting the product.
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@cherianthomas I don' think I've written posts specifically promoting just the product. I've written a post here and there when the manufacturers offer special deals for Serious Eats readers. We've done that with Thermoworks, Anova, and Baking Steel, for instance. Again, the point is to do it as a service for our readers: I wrote that post because it allowed readers to get my favorite thermometer at a price that they can't find anywhere else!
Cherian Thomas
Cherian Thomas@cherianthomas · VP, Think and Learn (Byjus)
Cherian Thomas
Cherian Thomas@cherianthomas · VP, Think and Learn (Byjus)
@thefoodlab @cherianthomas Totally good there. Just trying to learn if affiliates are a valuable livelihood model.
Penelope N Peter
Penelope N Peter@peter_nz · Burger Consumer
@thefoodlab Are there any other cookbooks/bloggers that you could recommend with a similar approach to recipe testing that you have?
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@peter_nz I'd recommend looking at all the Cook's Illustrated books/sites/magazines/shows if you haven't already!
the 100.
the 100.@the_100
Who do you think sucks? You look at their recipes or shows and just grimace. Guy Fieri and Paula Deen don't count.
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@the_100 Haha, no comment on that. If I think somebody sucks I just change the channel. That said, even folks like Paula Deen and Guy Fieri have their place. Guy has done a lot to bring attention to small mom & pops around the country and Paula Deen has inspired many people to cook more, even if her stuff isn't particularly healthy or tasty looking. Anybody who gets people eating less fast food and more real food/cooking more is good in my book.
Penelope N Peter
Penelope N Peter@peter_nz · Burger Consumer
@thefoodlab What do you do to recharge your batteries? Do you have a favorite get away or hobby?
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@peter_nz I cook :)
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@peter_nz Just kidding. I like to ski and fish (though I don't do enough of either). I really like taking long baths (though not during the CA drought). I enjoy walking around and hiking or camping with the dogs. I love going to the movies, even by myself (mostly for the popcorn). I like playing music (guitar mostly, violin when I can find other people to play with me, I recently picked up the banjo). I like video games. I'm really into woodworking these days which is good because we're doing all the carpentry in our new home by ourselves. That keeps me occupied pretty much every weekend.
Matt Cockerill
Matt Cockerill@matthew_cockerill · Food and tech geek
Kenji, Are there any culinary challenges which have (thus far) frustrated you? Things which are somehow (for sound scientific reasons) never quite the same when recreated in a domestic kitchen, and where your considered advice would "leave to the professionals"? e.g. I'm wondering if bagels fall into that category? http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/...
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@matthew_cockerill I haven't made a great bagel at home, but I haven't tried all that hard. I think it can be done. I've never made ramen as good as Sun Noodles does. And a store-bought burger bun (Martin's potato rolls, please) is still the best.
Andrew Tang
Andrew Tang@andrew_tang1
What are your favourite fast and easy dinner foods to cook? Would love some tasty but lower effort inspiration!
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@andrew_tang1 Mapo tofu is fast, easy, and delicious. I like making soups that require only a bit of effort up front then a long un-attended cook. This escarole and barley soup is great for the winer: http://www.seriouseats.com/recip...
Artifex Prime
Artifex Prime@artifex_prime
You've been posting a lot of your home carpentry lately. Is that a completely new skill, or do you have background in woodworking?
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@artifex_prime I have no background in woodworking but I have a degree in architecture (specifically structures) which included lots of time in the model shop, so I know how to use all the tools, I know generally how things are built, how to stick things together so they stay. My mom always made fun of me by saying I majored in arts & crafts which is... sort of true. But I love doing it, and having a shed and an excuse to buy power tools is pretty rad.
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
Hey guys, thanks so much for joining me today, I had fun chatting with all of you. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter or Facebook whenever you'd like, I do my best to respond to everyone!
the 100.
the 100.@the_100
I've been experimenting with spaghetti carbonara recipes (Anne Burrell, Antonio Carluccio, Gennaro Contaldo, some dude named Nino on Youtube). No cream, right. The eggs don't get scrambled and the texture seems fine, but but it generally ends up tasting too eggy. When I go to local restaurants, they add heavy cream and I feel like it tastes more balanced. Any idea what I might be doing wrong? Also, any good videogame recommendations?
J. Kenji López-Alt
J. Kenji López-Alt@thefoodlab · Managing Culinary Director, SeriousEats
@the_100 Daniel Gritzer's carbonara technique will change the way you make it: http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/... If it tastes too eggy, use more pasta water. You shouldn't need heavy cream in carbonara! Video games: recently played through the three Uncharted games. They were pretty fun. I wish there was a little more stealth element to them though.
Cherian Thomas
Cherian Thomas@cherianthomas · VP, Think and Learn (Byjus)
Hi Kenji, What’s your photography setup? Kind of lens, camera, lighting etc.?