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It’s Been 14 Years Since I Went to Culinary School—These Are the Lessons I’ll Never Forget

It’s been 14 years since I enrolled in a year-long culinary school program, and I’ve regrettably lost more knowledge than I’ve retained. Rich little memories will occasionally resurface, however: finding a spiny sea urchin on top of a locker in the cha…

It's been 14 years since I enrolled in a year-long culinary school program, and I’ve regrettably lost more knowledge than I’ve retained. Rich little memories will occasionally resurface, however: finding a spiny sea urchin on top of a locker in the changing room one night after class; holding a kelp-like piece of vinegar mother and fearing it might crawl across my hand like an inchworm; watching the two googly eyes of a flatfish stare back while I destroyed filleted my first fish.

As my career path veered away from the professional kitchen and to the writing table, many of the hard-won rewards from that year of practice fell by the wayside in favor of long-held cooking habits. But it took some time and distance to realize I’d retained a few fundamentals that forever changed the way I cook and see food, even if the dishes I prepare week to week remain mostly the same.

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The Carbonara Formula That Took a Decade to Perfect

I never fully appreciated the obsessiveness of recipe testing until I spent the better part of a decade perfecting the Roman classic, pasta carbonara. Turns out, even a dish with just six ingredients—al dente pasta, cured pork cubes, grated Parmesan an…

I never fully appreciated the obsessiveness of recipe testing until I spent the better part of a decade perfecting the Roman classic, pasta carbonara. Turns out, even a dish with just six ingredients—al dente pasta, cured pork cubes, grated Parmesan and pecorino Romano, and cracked black pepper bound with whisked-egg sauce—can take up a hundred variations if you’re relentless enough.

I tested countless pasta brands and shapes, fine-tuned egg and cheese ratios, and flirted with rare, overpriced versions of every ingredient (I see you, $40-per-pound guanciale.) In the end, though, it was mostly a matter of unriddling the egg sauce: tempering whisked whole eggs and yolks with grated cheese and just enough hot pasta water so they envelop the pasta strands in a shiny, custardy coating when combined frenziedly with tongs. Cutting the heat at the right moment helps prevent the dreaded scramble, as does pre-coating said pasta in the warm rendered pork fat before adding the egg mixture.

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The *Right* Way to Caramelize Onions

While following a weeknight pork ragú recipe from a celebrity chef who shall remain nameless, I came across the following, offending phrase in the method: “Cook onions until caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes.”

It doesn’t seem to matter how many articles, …

While following a weeknight pork ragú recipe from a celebrity chef who shall remain nameless, I came across the following, offending phrase in the method: “Cook onions until caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes.”

It doesn’t seem to matter how many articles, books, or cooking shows try to set the record straight. Even the experts among us cling to the hope that it’s possible to caramelize onions in 20 or 30 minutes, when in reality it takes about an hour to do it properly.

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Why Is Umami So Hard to Describe?

Chef Kevin Tien started cooking professionally 15-odd years ago, around the time umami, the pleasantly savory fifth taste, catapulted into the national conversation after scientists identified umami taste receptors on the human tongue. If you’d asked T…

Chef Kevin Tien started cooking professionally 15-odd years ago, around the time umami, the pleasantly savory fifth taste, catapulted into the national conversation after scientists identified umami taste receptors on the human tongue. If you’d asked Tien to describe what it tasted like back then, he would have probably replied, “like comfort.”

As a Vietnamese kid growing up in Louisiana, Tien’s umami took such savory, nostalgic forms as bun bo hue (spicy beef and pork noodle soup) and bo kho (slow braised beef stew with warm spices and lemongrass), and that of Southeast Asian home cooking brimming with fresh mushrooms and tomatoes, and seasoned with fish sauce and MSG.

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The Extremely ’90s History of the Flavored Latte

If, like me, you occasionally revisit Nora Ephron’s 1998 rom-com classic You’ve Got Mail, you may recall the iconic scene at a Starbucks in New York City’s West Village. Bookstore owner Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), in a masterfully layered pinafore and t…

If, like me, you occasionally revisit Nora Ephron’s 1998 rom-com classic You’ve Got Mail, you may recall the iconic scene at a Starbucks in New York City’s West Village. Bookstore owner Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), in a masterfully layered pinafore and turtleneck, smiles as she awaits her soon-to-be-viral ‘90s order of a tall, skim, caramel macchiato. She’s recalling an email from Joe Fox, her AOL crush and unwitting rival played by Tom Hanks.

“The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee,” Fox’s voiceover proclaims. “...So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are, can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall! Decaf! Cappuccino!”

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On Growing the Beautiful, Flavorful Curry Leaf Plant

You can Grow Your Own Way. All spring and summer, we’re playing in the vegetable garden; join us for step-by-step guides, highly recommended tools, backyard tours, juicy-ripe recipes, and then some. Let’s get our hands dirty.

It was an especially co…

You can Grow Your Own Way. All spring and summer, we’re playing in the vegetable garden; join us for step-by-step guides, highly recommended tools, backyard tours, juicy-ripe recipes, and then some. Let’s get our hands dirty.


It was an especially cold and sunless April in Chicago this year when Margaret Pak brought home her young curry leaf plant, so she decided to take it into the bathroom a few times when she showered to mimic the tropical air it’s used to (in India and Southern Asia), based on a tip from a local nursery.

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Bouillon Powder Is Your Pantry’s New Secret Weapon

Have you ever known the acute panic that comes from calling your favorite takeout place only to learn the line has been disconnected? Faced with the prospect of never tasting the world’s best—that’s right, best—chicken shawarma ever again, you may slip…

Have you ever known the acute panic that comes from calling your favorite takeout place only to learn the line has been disconnected? Faced with the prospect of never tasting the world’s best—that’s right, best—chicken shawarma ever again, you may slip into denial, as I did. Maybe you drive by the shuttered storefront a few times, desperate for signage indicating this is only temporary. Then you begin ordering shawarma after shawarma, hoping someone else miraculously makes it exactly the same—garlicky, redolent of lemon and warming turmeric, and unmistakably chickeny.

Eventually, you have to move on, or, in my case, get in the kitchen and tinker until your weekly shawarma injection is restored. After several unsuccessful trials and far too much time spent scouring the internet for shawarma variations, I stumbled across chef and cookbook author Molly Yeh’s recipe for chicken shawarma tacos, which called for a sprinkling of that vintage pantry denizen: bouillon powder.

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Dry Lambrusco Is Delicious—Why Is It Also So Hard To Find?

I can pinpoint the only moment I’ve ever felt cool in the presence of a bartender: It was early summer 2018 at a casual yet self-serious bar in my native Chicago, and I ordered a dry Lambrusco. “I love Lambrusco,” he said, affirming my early-adopter st…

I can pinpoint the only moment I’ve ever felt cool in the presence of a bartender: It was early summer 2018 at a casual yet self-serious bar in my native Chicago, and I ordered a dry Lambrusco. “I love Lambrusco,” he said, affirming my early-adopter status for the first and last time. “I want to get everyone drinking it.” 

A far cry from the cloying, bulk-produced juice that dominated the category in the 1970s and ’80s, the new guard of Lambrusco from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region represents everything I like in a wine: A chilled, low-ABV red with a gentle, prickly fizz, it’s equal parts no-brainer and deserving of deep contemplation. It’s low intervention and artisanally made, and almost always under $20 a bottle. It’s delicious with pizza, cured snacks, and richly sauced pastas—or all by itself at 5 in the afternoon. It’s also still irritatingly hard to find.

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Meet the Black Cannabis Innovators Revolutionizing Legal Weed

In The Green Scene, there’s no such thing as a silly question about cannabis. What’s the difference between THC and CBD? How the heck do I make edibles at home? What home design advice can dispensaries teach me? Kick back—we have the answers.

Drinks…

In The Green Scene, there's no such thing as a silly question about cannabis. What's the difference between THC and CBD? How the heck do I make edibles at home? What home design advice can dispensaries teach me? Kick back—we have the answers.


Drinks industry veteran Darnell Smith started making himself THC tinctures about 10 years ago, mostly out of necessity. Working in spirits innovation and commercialization with beverage giants like Pernod Ricard and Diageo meant his days often started with trying new liquid concoctions for trademarks and ended in happy hours with colleagues, followed by meetups with liquor distributors or dropping in on bar accounts.

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What Does a World-Famous Bartender Drink First Thing in the Morning?

First Things First is a series chronicling the morning beverage routines of some of our favorite people.

What can you learn about a person from their coffee mug collection? If that someone is Aaron Polsky, the Los Angeles–based founder of ready-to-d…

First Things First is a series chronicling the morning beverage routines of some of our favorite people.


What can you learn about a person from their coffee mug collection? If that someone is Aaron Polsky, the Los Angeles–based founder of ready-to-drink cocktail company LiveWire Drinks, you’d rightfully surmise that he’s a loving cat dad with an affinity for rock and roll, Larry David’s bristly sense of humor, and old-school Nintendo games. But then, as you make your way toward the back of the shelf, you may wonder about an outlier cup adorned with ballet slippers and more text than a Dr. Bronner’s soap bottle. Don't worry, there’s a story behind that one, too.

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