Best of the Forum: Sausage-Making, Chicken Wings, and the Organic Food Fight

Prolific forum member Cheryl—spent the week making sausages, as well as these lovely Valentine's candies.

Prolific forum member Cheryl spent the week making sausages, as well as these lovely Valentine’s candies.

Watching the sausage getting made, and liking it.

Debunking a popular expression, Cheryl takes us inside her process for making homemade sausage. Dig that foot-long on a bun, meat lovers.

Whatever the question, the right answer is “wings.”

We are unabashed fried chicken lovers at ChefSteps, so if you’re going to put a picture of really pretty wings on the forum, we’re going to pay attention. Check out these Buffalo-style beauties from James—then quell the inevitable craving with our recipe for crispy-tender wings. Ugh, so hungry now.

Uh-oh, someone mentioned the “O” word.

Ever notice how the word “organic” tends to bring out the fight among foodies? Our community kept it civil this week when a Question of the Day focused on the issue. Care to weigh in? The forum would love to have you.

Join ChefSteps today for access to hundreds of recipes, techniques, and comprehensive classes.

Cooking and Recipe Ideas: 5 Ways to Get Inspired

 

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Not spending a lot of time in the kitchen? Don’t beat yourself up there buddy; it happens to the best of us. The antidote to that epicurean ennui? Re-inspire yourself with novel techniques and tools, a chatty community of fellow food enthusiasts, or a new look at old classics. Here, we’ve got a bunch of ideas that involve all those things. Let’s get cooking.

Treat yo’self to a new tool

Sous vide can help you create the tenderest meats and vegetables, sure, but did you know it’s also an awesome way to make no-fail Crème Brûlée? You can get started with sous vide using nothing more than a pot and a thermometer, but investing in an immersion circulator is the fastest way to master this convenient, highly predictable method. The good news is, they’re pretty cheap now. And once you’ve got yours, you can embark on an epic journey into the surprisingly wide world of this remarkable cooking technique.

Creme-Brulee

Remember a forgotten tool

You know that pressure cooker gathering dust in your pantry? Bust that out, clean it off, and start exploring amazing recipes and techniques like our Kung Pao Carnitas. And if you’ve got an immersion blender in need of work, put it to use making Green Pea Mash to go with Sous Vide Salmon—a complete dish that’s delicious, healthy, and ridiculously easy to prepare.

KungPao

Play with powders

Go modern with these five powders—all integral to creating novel textures and flavors in the kitchen. A good start: our Mayo No.4.

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Make some friends

Getting to know an online community of enthusiastic cooks is a great way to stay inspired. The ChefSteps forum, for instance, is full of recipe ideas—like the Breakfast Pizza pictured below, from Erin Z—beautiful images, and hard-to-find advice for ambitious food folk who want to take their skills to the next level.

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Rethink a classic

Maybe you’ve made many soufflés, maybe you’ve never attempted that airy, always-impressive dessert. Either way, follow in the footsteps of all the happy cooks who’ve found success with our foolproof Molten Chocolate Soufflé recipe.

Not into sugar? Then learn the art of restaurant-level meatwiches with our house specialty, the Au Jus Burger.

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Feeling fired up? Join ChefSteps today for hundreds of recipes, techniques, tips, and tricks. 

 

Best of the Forum: Ramen, Food TV, Two Pretty Plates

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Salmon wrapped in prosciutto, with lentils—a beautiful dish from ChefSteps member Davo.

Welcome to Best of the Forum (BotF), a series in which we highlight fascinating bits from the ongoing conversation happening among our awesome community of cooks. Let’s get to it.

Painting with food

Wow, behold this work of art from user Stevie Provencio! In lieu of paints, Stevie worked with ChefSteps-inspired creations like Beet Fluid Gel and Reconstructed Roast (using Teres Major steak). Inspiring, right? Check out those recipes to start creating your own masterpiece tonight.

Good taste in TV

Hungry for Netflix fodder? Our forum has plenty of advice on food shows with which to fill up your queue. Heston Blumenthal proved a favorite—if you need a snack while you watch, whip up Heston-inspired Thick-Cut French Fries or Sous Vide Pork Belly.

Rad-looking ramen

David Henley presented us with a pretty killer photo of his Caramelized Pork Ramen with Roasted Curry Acorn Squash. Doesn’t look like the work of a newbie ramen-maker, but we’ll take him at his word.

Join the ChefSteps forum today to meet our entire community of super-cool cooks.

Getting Started with Modernist Powders

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You’ve likely heard tell of the fairy dusts employed by modernist chefs to create novel textures, amp up flavor, and just generally have a lot of fun with food. In fact, these powders aren’t storybook fodder at all—they’re developed in the service of food science. (And despite their high-tech origins, most are derived from natural ingredients). The stuff that makes Velveeta melt so winningly? You can use that to transform any cheese into something equally gooey and delectable. The bonding powder developed to make artificial crab, meanwhile, can help you create an uncommonly well-textured beef roast.

To begin playing with powders, check out these five ingredients—all available online and all essential to the modernist kitchen. Use them in our recipes and techniques, and you’ll see how they got their magical reputations.

Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is a food-thickening agent that’s common to bottled salad dressings and other condiments, including ketchup and the ever-so-popular Sriracha sauce made by Huy Fong Foods. To create our Blini-topping Beet Fluid Gel, we used xanthan along with a hydrocolloid called low acyl gellan, which helps create a smooth, shiny product that envelops your tongue in bright beet flavor. (Psst: If you want to learn (a lot) more about hydrocolloids, enroll in our Fluid Gels class). 

Beet-Fluid-Gel-Blini-ChefSteps

Sodium Citrate and friends

You say you love baseball; we suspect you’re partly in it for the stadium nachos dipped in spicy, technicolor cheese sauce. The secret to the superior melty-ness you get with the processed stuff? Melting salts. A cornerstone of the commercial cheese world, salts such as sodium citrate, sodium hexametaphosphate, and sodium caseinate allow manufacturers to create sterile products that don’t “oil off”—an industry term that refers to the tendency of the fats in melting cheese to separate from the proteins.

Tinker-prone chefs have taken advantage of melting salts to alter the texture of great cheeses, creating slices that have all the melty, creamy quality of the plastic-wrapped stuff you’ll find on supermarket shelves, but also the wonderful complex flavors of the best fromages. If you want to try the technique at home, make Nacho Cheese, Cheddar Cheese Sauce, or Melty Cheese Slices.

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Activa

Ah, meat glue—an unfortunate nickname that undersells the game-changing possibilities of Activa, also known as transglutaminase and capable of bonding proteins together to create glorious frankenfoods. First developed to make imitation crab, Activa can improve texture and flavor in everything from fish to fried chicken. But one of our favorite applications is this Reconstructed Roast—a killer technique for taking home-cooked beef to the next level.

Reconstructed-Roast-Activa

MSG

Everyone loves throwing shade on MSG—the sodium salt of glutamic acid that’s used as a flavor enhancer, primarily in Asian food. For the moment, we’ll leave it to Smithsonian magazine to dissect the veracity of MSG’s unseemly reputation, and just tell you that it can seriously up the umami factor in all sorts of stuff, offering a pop of flavor that can really level up a dish. If you’re dubious, definitely don’t try it in our Potato Chips, a simple example of how MSG can be used to make a good food great.

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Citric Acid

Love sour candies? Then you’re already a fan of citric acid, which lends a tart contrast to all sorts of sweet foods. We sprinkle it into our bright Lemon Curd, a tasty topper to dishes both sweet and savory.

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Want to learn more about modernist cooking? Join the ChefSteps community today. 

Best of the Forum: Risotto, Foie Gras, and Fried Rice

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Inspiring dishes, like Hot Curry Shrimp Fried Rice from ChefSteps member Henry Wicker, abound on the forum.

Welcome to Best of the Forum (BotF), a new series in which we highlight fascinating bits from the ongoing conversation happening among our awesome community of cooks. Let’s get to it.

A Strong Start

Forum newbie Evan describes himself as a “young cook” just starting to prepare food for dinner parties. Dang, though, those dishes look pretty killer to us. Among Evan’s offerings? A foolproof Crème Brûlée, part of our Cooking Sous Vide: Beyond the Basics class. 

Foie for All!

The award for snarkiest subject line of the week goes to the ever-clever Brendan Lee, who celebrates happy news in California. Care to throw your own foie gras celebration? This pretty parfait is the best argument against the ban that we know of.

Pressure Points

How do you like your risotto? Community member Matthew Wilson has been experimenting with rice textures in his pressure cooker. Yup, you can make risotto in a pressure cooker, and a lot of other delicious things too. Want to learn more? Right this way.

Join the conversation. Head to our forum to get chatty with other enthusiastic cooks!

You’ve Got New Year’s Resolutions. We Can Help.

Jess Voelker Preparing Staff Meal

Feeling a little doughy and broke? You’re not alone. After a long, indulgent holiday, a lot of us are inspired to tighten up a bit in the New Year—exercise more, drink and spend less, step away from those leftover Christmas cookies. But don’t close down the kitchen just yet. Preparing your own food is one of the best ways to ensure you stick to a healthy eating plan, the sort of plan that you can maintain all year until next holiday season, when—don’t worry—you can resume the nog chugging and snickerdoodle snarfing once more. Whatever your food goals are, we want to inspire you to keep cooking (and learning!) in 2015. Check out our suggestions for delicious ideas on how to do just that.

Resolution 1: Follow the Paleo Diet

Devotees of this massively popular eating plan eschew dairy products, grains, legumes, processed oils, and refined sugar. The premise is that these foods weren’t readily available during the Paleolithic era, when the human body evolved nutritional needs in line with the foods they could access. By following a diet closer to what our prehistoric ancestors ate, Paleo people eat in a manner befitting the way their bodies developed, or so the logic goes. Whether or not you swallow all that is your business, but sticking to this protein-and-vegetable focused regime is one way to cut down on those empty calories that come from (glorious) carbs and (delectable) sweets. How to do it: Investing in a sous vide water bath or circulator can prove crucial in sticking to a protein-centric diet, as it allows you to cook delicious meats with little fuss. To test the method without having to invest in any equipment, consult our Sous Vide 101 class, which includes recipes for amazing salmon, pork chops, and steak, along with instructions on how to create a water bath with a pot on the stove and a digital thermometer.

Coffee Butter Steak with Spinach

Resolution 2: Eat more vegetables

We all know we need them. With vital nutrients that help keep away chronic diseases, vegetables are a crucial part of any healthy diet. Focusing on eating more plant foods—rather than trying to stay away from stuff you love (we’re looking at you, Paleo)—can be a great recipe for success. The key to sticking with it is to make those vegetables taste delicious, and that’s where we come in. How to do it: Easy to make and surprisingly satisfying, our Microwaved Radicchio Salad is anchored by warm, slightly wilted chicory leaves; an awesome source of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. We dress them with rich buttermilk, verdant chive oil, funky blue cheese, and toasted hazelnuts. Speaking of the microwave, you can also use it to quickly cook up some mixed vegetables, then top those healthy fellas with some Bagna Càuda Foam.

Microwaved Radicchio  Salad

And at the risk of sounding repetitive, we should also point out the benefits of preparing veggies sous vide. You can achieve optimal chickpea texture (firmer for salads, softer for hummus) and maintain the vibrant crunch of kale. Carrots keep their color and signature sweetness, and tart red cabbage can be converted into a super-smooth purée that makes a great accompaniment to our pastrami.

Sous Vide Kale

Resolution 3: Eat breakfast everyday

Good one. Skipping breakfast is an easy way to wind up ravenous by the time that 11 AM meeting rolls around. Also, a morning meal sets a civilized tone for the day. How to do it: Learning to make awesome soft-poached eggs should inspire you to keep up the breakfast habit. Use our egg calculator to determine, then create, your perfect egg. And if you’re resolved to up your coffee game in 2015, be sure to consult our extensive Espresso class.

Egg White Hollandaise

Resolution 4: Spend less on food (but still eat well)

Look, we know how it is. Just like you, we’re constantly enticed by new restaurants, craft cocktail bars, and specialty shops stocked with the best ingredients. Trouble is, that stuff gets expensive. Is there a way to maintain your delicious-food lifestyle while spending a little less? Indeed. The trick is to find little ways to cut back so you can splurge on truly epic meals, tools, and culinary classes. How to do it: Pretty little microgreens are a super-impressive garnish for dinner-party dishes, and growing your own means you can afford to work them into weekday-morning smoothies or a salad to bring to work for lunch. Allow us to show you how—for free.

Microgreens

When you’re short on time, it’s tempting to order takeout for dinner—which adds up fast, and frankly often sucks. This is why we love having a pressure cooker handy. Flavor-packed braises and stews come out great in a fraction of the time they would take with other methods, and taste far better than most things that arrive at your door in a clamshell. Plus, you can use the cheapest cuts to create these comfort foods, as nothing transforms the tough stuff into succulent, velvety deliciousness as fast as a pressure cooker.

Chocolate and Mustard Stew

Ready to get cooking? Join ChefSteps today for one-of-a-kind recipes, tested techniques, and access to our lively forum.

5 Holiday Baking Recipes

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There’s baking, and then there’s holiday baking. It’s one thing to busily whip up a batch of brownies for the neighborhood block party, quite another to roll up your sleeves on a lazy winter morning—dog curled up next to a garland-strewn fireplace, ornaments twinkling in the pale sunlight, and no obligations in sight. See yourself there, a steaming cup of coffee in your hands, a dream of flaky crust or crumbly cake dancing in your head. The only thing left is to pick your project. And oh, friend, have we got projects.

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This slow, cozy season is the best time to learn new techniques as you craft a scrumptious snack for your pajama-clad loved ones to savor while watching It’s A Wonderful Life or grappling with a Game of Thrones jigsaw puzzle. It’s kitchen work on your terms—creations made solely for the joy of making something, then sharing it with your nearest and dearest. Below, you’ll find some of the baking recipes that have most delighted our community of cooks—and we’re sharing the gorgeous results they’ve shared with us. That’s right, the small images you’ll find throughout this post are the work of ChefSteps users. Inspired? Great! Let’s get started.

Olive Oil Cake

olive oil cake

We sometimes slice this chiffon cake riff into cubes for various deconstructed desserts, but it’s equally delicious served by the slice with a cup of tea or some festive bubbly. As you can see, ChefSteps users have found plenty of ways to showcase a straightforward cake that’s bound to become a favorite in your family.

Canelés

Caneles

Pastry enthusiasts who evangelize canelés will tell you that the real things are only available in some fairy tale town tucked away in Bordeaux—where canelés originate—to which you most certainly cannot travel. Ignore those enthusiasts. With this recipe and the proper copper molds, you can make canelés in your own kitchen, in less than an hour, that are worthy of selling at any patisserie in France. Nestle into your breakfast nook with a cup of espresso and a handful of canelés, and create your own little slice of Bordeaux. Don’t believe us? Just look at the image above to see what our community of cooks have created.

Macarons

macaroon

This is the only recipe on this list that comes at a price—our macaron technique is part of a comprehensive class—but you can get it half off until January 9th, 2015, and you will not find a better way to master this most festive of French cookies.

Kouign-Amann

Kouign-Amann

When you learn to make Kouign-amann (say: QUEEN-ah-mahn), you’re really learning to make croissant dough—also known as laminated dough. No way around it, this technique takes time and effort, and can be a bit of a bear to master. But once you do, you’ll reap the rewards usually reserved for artisans at top-shelf pastry shops. So settle in—you’re gonna make this Brittany-born treat your baking-project bitch.

Banana Bread

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You’ve already got a delicious banana bread recipe, we know. But this one goes beyond delicious to seriously blow some minds. The secret? Caramelized bananas along with freeze-dried ones. Serve it with Honey Butter for an unforgettable holiday treat you’ll return to every year. As you can see, however, Banana Bread doesn’t have quite as many photos as the previous recipes do. We strongly encourage you to remedy that by posting your results in the comments section of that recipe. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Want to find more great cooking projects for the holidays? Head on over to ChefSteps and join our community of cooks today!

ChefSteps community members who shared photos used in this post include: e. oliva, Michael Fiske, Douglas Hallett (Olive Oil Cake); Isabel Cabrita, David, Luciana, Martin, Rory (Canelés); Darragh O’Flaherty, Josh Deri, Jeff, Harry, Jyoti, Luiz Quintanilha (Macarons); Zach, Summer, Joshua Wanger, Matt, Ombibulous (Kouign-amann).

From Big-Tech to Startup By Way of the Kitchen

Developers often get pigeonholed, not just into technologies but into the types of companies they work for. If you start out working on financial back-ends for banks or join Microsoft fresh out of college, it is all too easy look up from your cubicle a decade later and realize that you haven’t seen the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in several radically interesting and different environments, from special effects studios, to traditional software companies, to professional kitchens. At each stop I’ve learned how to be a better engineer, how to contribute to different types of teams, and, maybe most importantly, about myself. My hope is that by describing my own trajectory and experiences, I can help you figure out whether you should consider giving up your comfortable career at a big company for something as mad as a startup.

I started programming back in the 1970s at the age of 12. My dad brought home a model-33 teletype that was connected to the Louisville Board of Education’s Honeywell mainframe, where I could write code in BASIC. Yeah, it was a freaking printer, with a 110-baud modem, and a paper-tape reader. And I was in love. Since the statute of limitations has long since expired, I don’t mind telling you it wasn’t long before I was hacking into computers all over the country — for the pure love of the puzzle. Next came DecSystem-10 assembly programming, and over the next few years I would hang out at Radio Shack stores and the University of Louisville Apple labs — anything to get my hands on computer time. By the time I was 16, my friend Dave and I had a contract to develop accounting software (with a surprisingly sweet user interface) that ended up being used for decades.

ASR-33_2

When I went off to Brown, I hoped that the years of coding under my belt would give me a leg up in the Computer Science department, and it did. I joined Andy Van Dam’s computer graphics group as a freshman, and through that, plus a short stint at UC Berkeley, I made friends that led to 20 years of awesome jobs. If I could tell a young developer one thing, it is that pouring your heart into your work and building great relationships in your career will always open doors for you. I don’t mean that you need to be calculating in how you make friends, simply that if you devote yourself to be a first-rate programmer and a reliable teammate, your friends will want to work with you again wherever they land.

My first stop after college was Industrial Light & Magic. I showed up for the interview in a suit, but they hired me anyhow. My friend Eric was the first full-time programmer there and I was the second; prior to that, they had technical directors writing code, which was a scary thing indeed. On my first day at ILM, I got to be on set when the practical effects team blew up the giant warehouse model for Backdraft. During my stay, I worked on Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park, and loved collaborating with artists and directors. It was high pressure fun: “We need a way to make the T-1000 morph up out of the floor, but if you can’t figure it out by tomorrow morning, I guess we’ll just animate it by hand”.

Moving on from ILM to Silicon Graphics was a big decision, but in spite of the excitement of the movie business, I was tired of 80-hour workweeks and ready to move on. SGI machines were the workhorses of computer graphics in those days, and once again, I had close friends working there. I joined a team building a set-top box with a ridiculous 3D interface. I had just moved to Milwaukee so I was doing an early experiment in telecommuting and thought it was pretty glamorous to be in my mid 20’s and taking fancy business trips all the time — including the first of several trips to Tokyo because our initial deployment was with NTT. When the set-top box went down in flames, I joined the VRML/CosmoWorlds team that made an early, valiant, and hopeless attempt to bring a 3D graphics standard to the web.

It turns out I had joined SGI when both the stock price and hubris were at an all time high. When competitors like NVidia started making graphics boards that were an order of magnitude cheaper, we thought they were toys. While SGI was busy sponsoring Hollywood premiers and its executives were holding company meetings with increasingly dubious levels of fanfare, those competitors ate our lunch and hired away most of the best engineers. I don’t regret my years there at all, but I learned a few important lessons: (1) having the best technology doesn’t mean you will win — and your technology probably isn’t as far ahead as you think it is (2) if what the execs are saying sounds like BS, it probably is and (3) don’t be the one left behind to turn the lights out.

Adobe was an entirely different situation. I spent 12 years there as one of the lead engineers (and, briefly, engineering manager) on the After Effects team. After Effects started out as its own small company (CoSA), founded by a group of engineers that I knew from Brown, and then it was acquired by Aldus and in turn snapped up by Adobe. In fact, funny story, when they first started building After Effects and I was at ILM, the team came by to show it to me and my first reaction was “this will never work.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. It grew into a professional tool that hundreds of thousands of people around the world love and use to make their living.

My time at Adobe reflected pretty much everything that could be great about working for a big company. I doubt that 1% of engineers have a situation that good. Especially in the early years, we had the best of both worlds. The After Effects team was pretty much autonomous. We knew our customers and built what they needed. We had ownership of our product and control of our destiny. We were a tightly knit bunch that spent lots of time with each other (and later, each other’s families) outside of work. My teammates were brilliant, and we knew each other so well that I think we could communicate whole designs with the raise of an eyebrow. At the same time, the larger company added tons of value. We had job security and stability, great benefits, and work-life balance. And because Adobe makes Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere, we got to build best-of-breed integration with those products, using the same core libraries they were built on.

And yet….

There were still things that gnawed at me. Big companies can’t help it. There are boring corporate meetings, and increasingly irritating product requirements that come down from on high. Executive whims and people scrambling to figure out which way the wind is blowing and align with it. Corporate buildings are still corporate buildings even when they have really well-stocked candy jars. HR processes so tedious you can actually feel your hair turning gray. Reorgs that left you needing a frequently revised cheat sheet to remember the path from you to the CEO.

When you are building desktop, shrink-wrap software, builds and QA and deployment is generally a pretty painful process. We got used to shipping every year or 18 months; even with agile processes there would still be months of excruciating bug fixing at the end of each cycle. And worse, build times could often be 10 or 20 minutes. It is pretty hard to get in the flow as a programmer when you are interrupted for that long on a regular basis.

And then there is innovation. Adding a cool new feature to After Effects? No problem at all, I could make that call myself, or over lunch with the team. But starting a new product? You’d better have some serious fortitude because you’ll need to go through N levels of executive review, and you’ll need to prove that it could generate tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Because anything less than that isn’t going to move the needle. Worse, you’ll need to keep proving the same thing every quarter, because incubating a team and a product takes a long time and corporate memory is short. All big companies talk a great game about innovation, but it mostly goes against their inherently conservative DNA.

Let me be clear, this has nothing to do with Adobe. The same is true at Amazon or Apple or Microsoft or Google (or Boeing or Ford or Bank of America). But there came a point when I knew it was no longer the best fit for me.

I had always had a great love for the creativity and physicality and human connection of cooking, but it never seemed like the right time to take the professional leap from the keyboard to the kitchen. So in 2007 I started a blog as an outlet for that passion. While I was still at Adobe, I took time off to stage at a few restaurants, and the blog led to an opportunity to write a cookbook, which became a finalist for a James Beard award.

When the book was published, I took that as an impetus to leave Adobe, do a book tour, and begin planning my own restaurant. I was excited (and, obviously, terrified) by the unknown in front of me. And still, leaving was painful, primarily because I knew I would no longer see some of my closest friends on a daily basis.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to that hypothetical restaurant.

It was November 2012, and I was in hot pursuit of the perfect space to set up my $35-per-plate, lunch-only modern vegetarian concept. Sure, the numbers weren’t exactly penciling out but I was determined to make it work. In my morning spin through the web, I saw a note about a startup called ChefSteps that was going to teach the world about cooking sous vide, with alumni of the Modernist Cuisine team as founders. I had read Modernist Cuisine cover-to-cover and was fond of filling my kitchen with the comforting smells of locust bean gum and sodium hexametaphosphate, so naturally I reached out. My first pitch was “Hey, I’m a food blogger, want me to come write a piece about you?” Answer, in translation, “Meh.” My second pitch was “Oh, by the way, I also write code.” Answer, “Can you be here tomorrow at 10?” No translation needed.

The courtship was short and intense. The first week I was hanging out, I built a feature that their contract development house had claimed was more or less impossible. The next week we fired the contract developers and I signed on as CTO.

This was a pretty big gamble on everyone’s part. My knowledge of web programming was indistinguishable from zero. I spent a few days with the contract devs before we let them go, and they would say things like “to configure SSO we need to add a route and a controller method and then disable CSRF and return the right headers, but I think there is a gem for that.” It sounded to me like the teacher in Charlie Brown cartoons: “Wahhh wah. Wah wahh dumbledore wahh wah.”

Still, programming is programming. Well-factored code is well-factored code. A function call is a function call, whether it executes locally or hits a web API. Any solid developer could make the switch. It took a few months before I felt mostly up to speed, but I’ve come to love modern web programming. For one thing, there are no build times. You can generally see the results of your work as fast as you can reload a web page. Since I’m incredibly impatient, that is only slightly too slow for me. Automated testing is much easier to achieve than it ever was in C++ land. And because web development is so closely associated with open source, there is a worldwide community solving problems together. I was so accustomed to needing a mental map of a proprietary million-line code base and spending hours in a debugger; it is an amazing feeling to jump on StackOverflow and be able to find a solution in minutes.

There is a part of me that feels a twinge of loss when I picture my restaurant; it is a romantic vision, expressing that creativity daily and feeding a small group of passionate customers. But, I know all too well the reality of restaurants. Ninety percent perspiration is a lowball figure. I traded that in for a situation where I can work with some of the best, most knowledgeable chefs in the world.

At ChefSteps we believe in working with “T-shaped” people. For me, the depth of the T is coding and working with a software team, and the breadth is food and writing and experience growing my own website and book. Although I usually don’t do much more than kibbitz on the actual food here, or try an occasional goofy experiment (iceberg lettuce cocktail, anyone?), my culinary experience is a huge advantage in building applications that work for both the team here and for our users.

Beyond the mechanics of code, working at a startup brings a whole different set of joys and challenges than I ever experienced in the corporate world. The entire risk/reward equation is completely different. At a big company, you mostly work on low risk, incremental improvements to grow or maintain your market and keep your customers happy. At a startup, if you aren’t betting the company, you probably aren’t taking enough risk. Because what you’ve built so far simply isn’t valuable enough to be worth protecting. It requires a very different mindset. In the early days that can cause a scary degree of pivoting, but over time you begin to converge and develop momentum as a team towards big, hairy, valuable goals.

You quickly realize that every decision you make has tremendous impact. There is no room for red tape, no room for laying back and saying “not my problem.” You are all in this together. You get mad at each other. You make up. You push each other, and find strengths you didn’t know you had. You have each other’s backs. And sometimes you all stop what you are doing and move all the furniture, because there isn’t a facilities department to call.

Working at a startup in Seattle has put me in touch with startup culture in general though, and I’ve realized it isn’t homogenous. There is a Silicon Valley-style startup culture (not limited to California) that is almost entirely focused on the “quick kill” mentality. They want to figure out something that no one else has done, market it virally, and make a quick exit. That mindset lends itself to using people. I’ve seen companies that have hired 50 programmers almost as if they hope that one of them will accidentally type Shakespeare, rather than trying to nucleate a team of a few very high-functioning engineers. The hope is those 50 engineers will get them through to the next round of VC and they can lay off the bad ones. This kind of startup isn’t built around any kind of core love for a particular product, just the thrill of money and/or power. I can’t imagine anything more boring.

At ChefSteps, we are trying to do something very different. You can see it in where we come from. Just as I came from After Effects, which has been building value since 1993, our founders, Chris and Grant, last worked on Modernist Cuisine where a team of 30+ people spent five years writing one cookbook. And you can see it in how we are funded. Gabe Newell didn’t build Valve to be a one-hit wonder, and he didn’t bet on our team to make a quick profit. ChefSteps isn’t just a business plan or a loose dream of failing fast and iterating our way to an acqui-hire; it is a philosophical experiment in allowing a group of smart, motivated people to self-organize and solve giant problems. We aren’t just a group of programmers, we are a team of cooks, writers, videographers, musicians, business people, designers, scientists, mathematicians, mechanical and electrical engineers, and maybe a stray aerodynamicist, all focused on helping every cook to cook smarter. This isn’t going to be achieved in one year or with one product, but what truly worthwhile goal is?

Check Out Our New Collection of Japanese Knives

Japanese knives at ChefSteps

When it comes to creating amazing experiences in the kitchen, there’s perhaps nothing more important than a great knife. And yet, so many people feel frustrated with their slicing and dicing tools, even after throwing down major cash for a block of blades that come in every shape, size, and purported purpose. Trouble is, these knife collections so often include tools that are uncomfortable, ineffective, and impractical. What’s the point of having 15 knives if you only use two of them?

Ryusen Sujihiki knife at ChefSteps

In our experience, it’s far better to invest in a few favorite knives—those multipurpose workhorses that fit perfectly in our hands and help us create cleanly sliced meats and lovely, even dices. We’ve tried knives from all over the world, and our favorites always seem to hail from Japan, where blade-making is a centuries old, highly respected tradition. These days, European makers have pretty much abandoned hand-forging traditions, but in Japan these traditions live on. Some makers are still hand-making the whole tool, while other innovators have combined hand-forged blades with factory-crafted handles, resulting in a less-expensive piece of equipment that still yields stellar results. (And looks dang sexy, too.)

Japanese Gyuto knives at ChefSteps

One of the best sources for Japanese knives we know is a small shop in Kirkland, Washington—not far from ChefSteps HQ—called The Epicurean Edge. Founded by Daniel O’Malley, a bladesmith himself, the store stocks a smart selection of sharp-ass blades at a variety of prices. We’ve worked closely with O’Malley to curate a selection of our own favorite knives available through his company, and recently updated this selection to offer a range of prices. Depending on your needs, you can opt for a practically priced utility knife, a show-stopping stainless steel chef’s knife, or a lovely santoku for perfectly sliced veggies—check out the descriptions for details about each style. Got questions? Feel free to ask away in the comments section or post on the ChefSteps forum.
Join ChefSteps now for access to recipes—including everything from a simple-yet-spectacular chocolate soufflé, to the world’s best romesco, and a savory ice cream salad with microgreens—that will help you become the badass cook you always knew you could be.

The ChefSteps 2014 Gift Guide

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Finding great gifts for the culinary enthusiasts in your life can be daunting. What, for instance, do you buy the modernist gadget-hound who seems to own every kitchen tool imaginable? The culinary school hopeful looking to refine her skills? Or your bachelor brother who’s all about his Paleo diet?

If you watch ChefSteps videos, you’ve seen our development kitchen in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. This window-lined culinary lab is stocked with great stuff that our chefs have discovered over years working in the best restaurant kitchens around the world. Here, we’re sharing the tools and accessories that help us create signature recipes like our Molten Chocolate Soufflé and Sous Vide Pastrami. This curated collection is designed to offer something for a range of cooks—from newbies to pros, old-school to majorly modern. Read on to discover a gift to delight your favorite kitchen tinkerers, then hit up the site for all sorts of one-of-a-kind recipes you can share with them. Happy holidays—let’s start shopping.

FUN NEW GADGETS

A Whipping Siphon (plus accessories) and Companion Class

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You know those fancy whipped cream canisters you see at good coffee shops? Well, those so-called siphons—we recommend the Isi Gourmet Whip—can do all sorts of stuff beyond just creating a fluffy topping for your caffè mocha. You can garnish dishes with colorful foams; serve fizzy cocktails at your next dinner party; make your own bitters, liqueurs, sodas, or cold-brew coffee; and much more. If you have a cocktailian or mad experimenter on your list, help her advance her skills with this truly unique gift.

An Immersion Circulator and Helpful Sous Vide Classes

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Sous vide is a cooking technique in which food is cooked slowly and gently in a water bath. In restaurants, chefs use it all the time to create tender meats and vegetables and yield predictable results conveniently. Now it’s the home cooks’ turn. In recent months, a crop of new affordable machines known as immersion circulators have appeared on the market. Among the options, one of our favorites is the Anova Precision Cooker, which retails for $179. They’re selling faster than the company can make them—if your giftees have to wait, send them to our Cooking Sous Vide: Getting Started class, which is free and will teach them how to use an improvised method until their machines are ready. Once their circulators arrive, they can learn the theory and techniques that chefs use to take their cooking to a whole new level with Sous Vide: Beyond the Basics.

BOMB BLADES AND ACCESSORIES

A Durable, Inexpensive, Japanese Mandoline

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We use mandolines all the time to get thin, evenly sliced vegetables. And while it’s possible to spend a lot of money on an expensive model that requires a lot of careful cleaning, we keep returning to the plastic Benriner model from Japan. It’s built for the long haul and easy to use. And for just over 20 bucks, the price is hard to beat. Know a cook who is always struggling to get skinny veg slices with his knife? Stuff it in his stocking (along with a copy of this Red Onion Jam recipe).

A Hand-Forged Japanese Knife and Sharpening Stone Kit

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The recent death of legendary, third-generation knifemaker Mr. Tsuneo Yoshida signals the end of an era, and makes his gorgeous stainless steel chef’s knives all the more rare and special—once they’re sold, no more can be made. This is a gift of extraordinary significance that is also a remarkably useful and beautiful kitchen tool. Throw in the sharpening stone kit to help your loved one keep that knife sharp for a lifetime.

A Great Cutting Board
Cutting boards come in all shapes and sizes, materials and prices. We’ve found none we love more than the inexpensive, well-made workhorses from John Boos.

THE BEST BOOKS

Awesome Eye Candy

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Alexandre Gauthier is chef at La Grenouillére, a seasonally driven restaurant housed in a 16th century French farmhouse. His new book is game-changing and gorgeous, with dazzling cutaway shots and wilderness pics, plus tons of ideas for anyone who appreciates an artistic flair in the kitchen.

For Foundational Recipes

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The long-awaited book from Parisian chef Pascal Barbot, Astrance—which came out in 2012 but still feels exciting and fresh—is a collection of narrative recipes that take the reader inside the kitchen at three-Michelin-star L’Astrance. It’s a gorgeous and inspiring publication that includes a separate booklet of step-by-step recipe instructions that allow home cooks to create incredible dishes in their own kitchens. A must-have for aspiring culinarians of all levels.

A Technical Tome
Many technical cooking books cost hundreds of dollars and prove unsuitable when it comes to extracting practical takeaways, thanks to inscrutable infographics and a superfluence of scientific jargon. Enter The Kitchen As Laboratory, edited by César Vega, Job Ubbink, and Erik van van der Linden. With techniques and recipes that range from grilled cheeses to jellified beads, this essential volume is both educational and inspirational.

SUPERIOR STOCKING STUFFERS

A Pro-Style Apron

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When the ChefSteps YouTube commenters aren’t remarking on the sexiness of our chef team, they’re often asking what aprons they wear. Use the holiday as a chance to help your favorite cook stock up on some pro apparel.

A Coffee Subscription

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A great companion gift to a new espresso or other coffee machine: a coffee subscription from our favorite roaster, Herkimer. Also, now tell your caffeinated loved one to check out our free Espresso class to learn the ins and outs of extraction.

A Digital Scale

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When we cook, we weigh everything. It’s not only more accurate than measuring by volume, it’s just easier. A digital scale is a great gift for helping your favorite cook yield better results every time. The one we use is a little pricey, but is very precise and durable—a great gift for a seasoned cook who will make frequent use of such a tool. Beginners might opt for a cheaper model to get started—they’re available at every price point.

A Thermocouple Probe and Two-Channel Reader

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When you give the gift of a thermocouple technology, you’re significantly helping to reduce stress in the kitchen—not to mention the wasted food that comes from overcooking. Perfect food, every time: if there’s a better holiday offering than that, we want to hear about it.