11 January 2012

J. Kenji López-Alt Interview

J. Kenji López-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he pens the popular "Food Lab" column, dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of home cooking with science. After graduating from MIT, he learned the craft of cooking the traditional way - as a line cook and chef at some of the best restaurants in Boston including No. 9 Park, Clio, Uni, and Toro.

He spent the next three years as a Senior Editor and in-house science adviser at Cook's Illustrated Magazine in Brookline, MA. During this time, he produced the popular Cook's Live! Video series, as well as cohosted several episodes of the public television show America's Test Kitchen.

In 2010, he was named one of "40 Great Thinkers under 40" by Food & Wine Magazine. His work has appeared in many publications including the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Gourmet, Cooking Light, Details, Wired, and the 2010 edition of Best Food Writing. He is the author of "The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science", to be published by W. W. Norton in 2012.

1.What is the first cocktail you ever tasted?

I'm not sure that my first cocktails actually qualified as "real" cocktails because they were--as I'm sure is the case for many folks out there--nasty colored concoctions we came up with in college. Probably something invloving a mixture of blue curaçao and peach schnapps, or perhaps an attempted martini made at room temperature without ice and consumed as a shot. The first real cocktail I tasted that made me go, "holy cow, that's what a cocktail should taste like?" was a Sazerac made by John Gertsen at Boston's No. 9 Park.

2.What was the first flavour you really fell in love with and why?

Scotch. There's just such an amazing depth to it and a wide range of flavors produced in such a small area of the world. It's amazing to me the variety you get and the huge differences just from slight changes in geography or process.

3. Tell us about a new flavor you have discovered recently?

My father just gave me a bottle of really nice Chinese rice wine. Totally different from the acidic, tart, cheap stuff I've been used to in the past. Smooth and complex.

4. If you could pass just one thing, on to someone starting out in the
industry what would it be?

There are no shortcuts to the top. You have willing to slave away unrecognized and underpaid for as long as it takes to break through, often many years or even decades.

5. What does the future hold for yourself and what do you see happening in the
future in the food and drink?

With the drastic and unforseen changes my life has taken in the last five years, there's absolutely no way of knowing what the future holds. All I know is that I hope I can continue to have as much fun as I'm having working at something that I'm passionate about. As for the future of food and drink, I think over the next few years people will continue getting back to the basics, eschewing fancy ingredients and tools, and hopefully this will translate into more ad more folks coming up with techniques and recipes that can be recreated at home.

6. What has been your biggest satisfaction from working with food?

I get immense pleasure whenever someone writes in to tell me that my work has encouraged them to step into the kitchen and cook more. The packaged food industry probably won't like me for saying this, but the more people who cook at home, the better!

7. If you were to have a conversation with a cocktail or dish, (and presuming
it could talk back to you and tell you its past). Which would it be and why?

The Sazerac. The king of the cocktails, and one of the oldest to boot. I'd like to hear all about its early history and changes its seen in both itself and its drinkers in its lifetime.

8. What influences your food from outside the industry (i.e. art, fashion)?

Science has always been a huge part of my life and my work.

9. If you where to break a kitchen golden rule what would it be?

I drink straight from the milk carton and eat food I've dropped all the time (don't worry, I wouldn't serve it to guests).

10. Outside of flavor and the craft of the cuisine what in your opinion
effects the appreciation of taste the most?

Perception affects taste almost as much as actual flavor and craft. Tell someone that a food is something they want it to be, and it'll taste better. Countless studies have shown that identical foods presented under different guises will taste completely different to people, even when tasted side-by-side.

11. If you where to champion a dish which would it be?

Fresh made tofu! I love meat, but tofu is one of my favorite foods in the world when it's well made and very fresh.

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