Changes Coming To ChefSteps

Rainbow-Chip-Macaron-ChefSteps

ChefSteps has always been a collaboration between our team and a community of curious cooks who share our interest in the hows and whys of cooking. Feedback from the ChefSteps community is what drives us to keep improving. We’ve learned that many people enjoy ChefSteps because our videos are entertaining, the recipes and techniques are inspiring, and the explanations are helpful. And when we don’t get something quite right, your questions help us fix it.

Some people have indicated that they would like to learn new kitchen skills or master challenging recipes through a more structured class, with guidance from our team. So we’re going to try that. Beginning in late October, we will offer a paid class on preparing French macarons. Daily releases of recipes and techniques will continue to be free-to-learn.

Charging for premium in-depth classes, which are chosen by community voting, allows us to focus on creating content that benefits you, rather than sponsors and advertisers. It also helps us prioritize support for members who prefer more guidance.

Thanks to our community members for their participation and engagement. We’re so grateful you continue to seek culinary inspiration and guidance through ChefSteps.

If you’d like to be notified when the French macaron class becomes available, you can sign up here:
http://chefsteps.com/courses/french-macarons

Sincerely,
The ChefSteps Team

Favorite cookbooks from our collection

We have a large library of cookbooks at ChefSteps that includes what is on hand in our kitchen and extends to the personal collections in our individual homes. Whether you follow a recipe to the letter, or like to peruse a stack of books (or our site) for ideas, it’s a great way to start the creative process of cooking. Here are some of our favorite, dog-eared volumes that you might want to add to your own collection.

Cookbooks_chefsteps_1

Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of CookingNamed both the 2012 Cookbook of the Year and Best Professional Cookbook of the Year by the James Beard Foundation, this behemoth—it weighs 40 lbs!— endeavored to bring a deeper understanding of food science and cooking technology into the culinary arts. It also brought our founders together as a team; Chris Young as the principal coauthor, Grant Lee Crilly as the first development chef hired, and Ryan Matthew Smith as the principal photographer and photo editor.

The Big Fat Duck Cookbook: A gorgeous tome from culinary alchemist Heston Blumenthal. His restaurant, The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, was awarded three Michelin stars in 2004 and chosen as the Best Restaurant in the World in 2005. Chris Young was the founding chef of the Fat Duck’s Experimental Kitchen, the secret culinary laboratory behind the innovative dishes served there.

El Bulli 1998-2002: One of our favorites of the El Bulli series from Ferran Adrià, but they’re all worth looking at if you can find a copy and pony up for the hefty price tag.

Herbivoracious: A little change in pace with this excellent vegetarian offering from our CTO, Michael Natkin. The recipes and photos in this book have even our most carnivorous team members drooling with appreciation and there are lots more recipes, techniques, and expert know-how on Michael’s blog, Herbivoracious.

Mugaritz: This cookbook is a favorite of our Development Chef, Nick Gavin. He spent time working with the development team there before joining ChefSteps. Located in northern Spain, Mugaritz continues its reign as an influential force and Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz is much respected for his creativity and innovation.

Pierre Hermé Pastries: One of Grant Crilly’s favorites—he worked with Pierre Hermé’s team at Grégoire-Ferrandi—this book takes you through master pastry chef Pierre Hermé’s recipes for the great classics of French pastry and other definitive desserts from around the world.

The French Laundry Cookbook: Our favorite book from Thomas Keller who aptly describes one of the great challenges of cooking; “to maintain passion for the everyday routine and the endlessly repeated act, to derive deep gratification from the mundane.”

AlineaGrant Achatz is a groundbreaker when it comes to creative cuisine and his Chicago restaurant Alinea has won numerous top awards over the years. Suffice it to say, our copy is well-worn.

Bentley: Contemporary CuisineChef Brent Savage’s cookbook from his Sydney restaurant, Bentley Restaurant & Bar, includes detailed photography and instructions on modern cooking techniques such as sous vide and is a favorite of our development chef, Ben Johnson.

Astrance: A Cook’s Book: This gorgeous set includes both an exquisite cookbook and a step-by-step guide from Pascal Barbot’s restaurant, Astrance, a three starred Michelin restaurant in Paris. Another Grant Crilly favorite; Astrance is also on his resumé.

Momofuku: The cookbook from the phenom that is David Chang. Chef/founder of the Momofuku restaurant group, master of the ramen noodle, this cookbook is filed under must-have.

Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine: Named the #1 best restaurant in the world in 2010, Noma—located in Copenhagen, Denmark—is the brainchild of Chef Rene Redzepi. Gorgeously photographed, this book is a favorite of Kristina Krug, our multimedia project manager.

Tartine Bread: We love Tartine! That goes double for Tartine Bread. Reknowned baker Chad Robertson is the co-owner of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, where the bread sells out within an hour nearly every day.

Momofuku Milk Bar: Christina Tosi shares the recipes for her fantastic desserts—Compost Cookies, Crack Pie, and Cereal Milk™ to name a few—all from the legendary Milk Bar, the awe-inspiring bakery she started as the pastry program at Momofuku.

The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life: The quote on the cover from Marco Canora; “If you crossed Jason Bourne with Julia Child, you’d end up with Tim Ferriss.” A blast to read and a great choice to include as a whip-smart survival guide.

Soon-to-be-released titles we’re looking forward to:

D.O.M.: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients: Alex Atala’s first major cookbook and we can’t wait to get our mitts on a copy.

Manresa: An Edible Reflection: the long-awaited cookbook from dear friend David Kinch, utilizing classic and modern techniques plus collaboration with nearby Love Apple Farms which supplies nearly all of Manresa’s exquisite produce. Preordered!

Coi: Stories and Recipes: a new cookbook from Daniel Patterson, head chef/owner of two Michelin starred Coi in San Francisco. It’s on our wish list.

Got some of your own favorites that you want to share? We’ve got a great cookbook thread on our forum, so please join in.

Weeknote 52

Things

This is what my Things list looks like.

 

5 weeks late, the weeknote is back. The last time I had a weeknote ready to draw up, I was going to talk about the Knife Collection Design, which is up at chefsteps.com/knife-collection.

We worked really hard on the design and implementation of this page so that it would work on mobile as well as desktop. The original idea I had for the knives came from (of all places) Boden, which featured large, lovely pictures of clothing and touch or click targets on top of those that opened up a popover to purchase. For the life of me, I can’t find any good examples of them doing that now, and it’s possible they’ve moved on from that design, but I liked it, so cribbed it, mostly because I knew we wanted to have a very photography heavy experience and to highlight those knives. Since our pics are so great, wtf not, right?

Additionally, we have these awesome stories to tell, and I wanted to draw the eye to them when users scrolled so that it wasn’t ignored. You’ll see the pics naturally, but the words about these knife makers is pretty freaking cool, so I used a little javascript magic to put a cool gray background behind the words. This, you’ll see was another idea stolen from kerem.co, whose got a beautiful website as well.

When we had our first iteration, responsive was screwing everything up, and our mobile screens weren’t doing what we wanted so I iterated on those a bit. Truth be told, I should obviously be designing mobile first, but our user base does actually skew heavily towards desktops, though we absolutely expect that to change. So instead, I pitched the push-right, push-left idea to Huy, and he came up with a great implementation. Affordances to show that you can click off (or the plus button) to close the window were light, so another idea, from Path’s menu was taken.

So that’s it! Those are all my design secrets. We’ve been hard at work on the macaron course, which involves brand-new content (of course) but also a redesign landing page and activity pages for the courses, streamlined with a focus on getting through and experiencing the content so that there’s less jumping back and forth. If you’re interested in getting a sneak preview and talking about it for a while, leave a comment.

 

It’s all about the beer this weekend!

Chefsteps_Oktoberfest_Beer_2

Can you guess what we’ll be doing this weekend? We’ll be raising our beer steins in honor of Crown Prince Ludwig I of Bavaria’s wedding on October 17th, 1810—the occasion of the first Oktoberfest. The event festivities were such a hit, that the tradition of Oktoberfest still lives on 200 years later. Prost to that!

And, speaking of history, since the late 19th century, the Pacific Northwest region has been known for producing hops. Our grand ole state, Washington, contains approximately 75 percent of the total United States hop acreage. Cool, eh?

We have many reasons to be clanking our steins together; Oktoberfest, the upcoming first year anniversary of our website launch, and a slew of new recipes in production. So, in honor we’ll be drinking some of our favorite beers. And what are our preferred brews? Well, we’re lucky to have several local Northwest breweries among our favorites—a shout out to Georgetown Brewing CompanyHilliard’s Brewery, & Ninkasi Brewing.

And remember, don’t drink all your beer, make sure you save enough for this recipe. This meal would pair beautifully with a pale ale in hand!

Ein Prosit!

Side note: Since we’re on the beer topic, look for us on Brew Dogs, premiering on September 24th, 2013 on the Esquire Channel. We might have contributed to the world’s most-caffeinated beer, you’ll have to watch to find out!

Danke!

Sounds from the Kitchen

My name is Hans Twite, and I’m the audio director for Chefsteps.com.

I have always been drawn in and mesmerized by music and sound. Early on, I thought I wanted to be Louis Armstrong, so when it came time to select an instrument for 5th grade band, I chose the trumpet. My relationship with the horn didn’t last long, but my very encouraging parents bought me a guitar and my first true musical voice was born.

Hans-Twite

I obsessed over music, wanting to know the history and influences of my favorite artists. I spent many years playing in bands; developing my skills as a guitarist, and working with incredibly talented people. The more I played in bands, the more interested I became in the mechanics of making music. As I spent more time in the studio, recording albums, I learned that the studio itself could be a living, breathing musical instrument.

To support my growing interest in composition, production, and sound engineering, I started working in restaurants, eventually moving up into bartending. It was a great job for me—I loved the physical nature of creating intricate cocktails, the chance to be creative, and the fun, social environment.

Ryan Matthew Smith and Grant Crilly were regulars at the restaurant where I worked and we would talk at the bar about the various projects we were working on. They shared their vision for ChefSteps with me, and it was easy to see how driven and passionate they were about their project. I explored their work with Modernist Cuisine, and was particularly impressed with Ryan’s photography, which, to me, was remarkable because it conveyed so much of the content in just a single image. Ryan’s creativity and passion as a photographer and Grant’s proficiency and knowledge as a chef were inspiring to me. I also learned about Chris Young and his proficiency not only in the kitchen, but with science and mathematics, as well. The combination of art and science seemed to go comfortably hand in hand with the team they had assembled. I was eager to collaborate with people as creative as this, so I gave them access to my various websites so they could explore my past musical projects, and when they told me they needed someone to handle the music for their online content at ChefSteps, I jumped at the opportunity.

Hans_Music_studio_3_images_2

So here I am, working with an amazing team of dedicated people. I create and record the music to the online modules and high-speed videos for Chefsteps.com, but I also self-produce everything that I create, so the recording, mixing, and mastering is done in my studio. I have collaborated with local musicians on some of our videos, and record and edit the lectures and presentations we make as well.

One of my ongoing challenges is to find a way to musically convey the essence of the content we produce. I’ve created a database of sampled sound recorded around the kitchen at ChefSteps, which I then incorporate into the music I make. The object itself, like a sharpened knife blade, liquid nitrogen gas rushing out of a tank, or a kitchen sink, can become a musical object. We get to experience the essence of the object in a new way and with a different perspective.

What I do at ChefSteps is not a new approach by any means. It originates from the musique concrète concept of the early twentieth century, which was developed into a compositional practice by Pierre Shaeffer in the 1940s. In 1955, Hugh Le Caine—another pioneering composer—made an entire piece of music entitled Dripsody using the sound of a single drop of water hitting a sink, and hand splicing it into extremely intricate rhythms and pitches.

This approach is central to my musical philosophy here at ChefSteps: Both for the historical perspective, and for the appreciation that science and art coexist in wonderful ways that can surprise us and take us into uncharted territory.

I look forward to evolving and refining my approach for you as I continue my journey here at ChefSteps, and I couldn’t ask for a better team to inspire me to do so.

Cheers!
Hans

 

A Word to the Geeks – What We Are Building at ChefSteps

Looking at ChefSteps today, you will see a gallery of beautiful recipes, our first several courses, and a thriving community of members eager to cook better than they ever have before. We are proud of what has come thus far, but we also want to share what we hope to build in the future: a radical change in the way recipes are documented, shared, and evolved.

Superficially, presenting recipes looks like a simple problem. Cookbook authors have been doing it for decades. You have a list of ingredients and equipment, and a series of steps you apply, and dinner is made.

As soon as you scratch the surface though, there are all sorts of interesting problems and opportunities to make recipes better, both for end users and for recipe writers (which ultimately could be anyone who cooks).

Take ingredients, for example. If you look at a recipe and see an unfamiliar ingredient—maybe smoked paprika—you’d like to be able to click and quickly research it. You might want to know where you can purchase it, of course, but also where it comes from, how it is traditionally made, what substitutions to consider, what it pairs well with, whether it is gluten free, etc.

But it isn’t as simple as linking the ingredient name to a page of text. Is an apple an ingredient? A green apple? A Green Winter Pippin? What if it is peeled, cored, and diced? Dehydrated? The answers matter, and they aren’t simple: if we consider them all to be different ingredients, we’ll miss out on opportunities to share information that is consistent across the various forms. If we consider them to all be the same, you might end up making apple pie from a variety that doesn’t bake well.

Can we be both precise and tell you that you need 500 grams of diced apple, but also help you out for shopping and let you know that that is about 3 apples? Can we scale that quantity up or down in a sensible way depending on the overall context of the recipe?

It is going to take both a sophisticated model and the contributions of a passionate community to fully capture all of this complexity.

If you take a look at other websites that have tried to structure recipes, they’ve hit the same issues and basically punted into just marking up text. The semantics aren’t really captured at any deep level. There are sites that are trying to solve the ingredient problem with natural language processing, because they want to be able to sell you the ingredients for an existing recipe, but as you can imagine that falls apart pretty quickly, presenting inaccurate or incomplete information.

And what about recipe steps? Everyone writes them over and over as plain text, but they tend to have a repetitive formal structure. When professional chefs share recipes, it takes just a few words because of a shared understanding of what it means to sear or hydrate or emulsify. Can we deliver that kind of concision to home cooks and provide them with deeper explanations and videos just-in-time when they are lost? Can we help them troubleshoot when it has all gone wrong?

On the authoring side, I’ve written hundreds of recipes, and yet when a professional recipe editor works on them, they always get better. You can imagine how bad recipes are when they are written by folks who have the gift in the kitchen but not at the keyboard. Can we make it much easier for cooks to express their formulae in a way that other people can replicate?

Recipes are hard to optimize because ingredients and techniques interact, so you can’t just vary one thing while holding everything else constant – in many cases it is a full combinatorial problem, with multiple local maxima. What is the equivalent of github for recipes? Can we create that same sort of environment where recipes can be shared, co-authored, forked and improved? Can we make it possible for groups to self-organize around the development of the ultimate barbecue sauce or baguette?

We’ve made some baby steps on all of these problems – our existing recipe display lets you scale and change units on recipes in a way that, while simple, hasn’t really been done before. Users can enter their own recipes in an intuitive, structured WYSIWYG format with as much or little detail as they like, and they can “fork” an existing recipe to create their own variations. But as you can see, this just barely scratches the surface of what we plan to build. There are years worth of good problems here.

And by the way, if you are reading this and thinking “boy, I’d love to be a part of that development team,” and you’ve got the chops to back that up, we’d love to hear from you at jobs@chefsteps.com.

Tailgating with ChefSteps

With the start of this year’s football season and our devotion to BBQ, we wanted to put together a great menu of chow that will wow at your tailgate party.

First up, a shout out to Meathead Goldwyn and his AmazingRibs.com site for posting an excellent Tailgating and Camping Checklist to help you with all the nitty-gritty details.

Add an insulated cooler and a digital thermometer to Meathead’s list, and you’ll have an improvised sous vide bath on location. Or if you prefer, you can do your sous vide prep ahead of time so all you’ll need is a quick sear for perfect steaks and a few minutes on the grill to finish the bark with our Apartment Rib Rub on baby back Apartment Ribs.

Apartment-Ribs

 

Make our favorite potato salad. This American classic is the perfect accompaniment for BBQ and most of the elements can be prepared several days in advance and combined on the big day.

Potato-Salad-ChefSteps

 

Add a batch of pressure-cooked baked beans to the lineup. We’ve developed our recipe to leverage the speed of pressure cooking, allowing you to churn out perfect homemade baked beans in less than an hour without sacrificing flavor.

Baked-Beans-ChefSteps

 

Don’t forget the coleslaw! We’ve offered up two kinds: creamy and red.

Our creamy coleslaw features finely–sliced, crisp Savoy cabbage and Walla Walla sweet onion paired with grated carrot and rehydrated raisins for sweetness and contrasting textures. A bit of freshly grated horseradish adds heat and pungency to complement the cabbage and onions. Last, shortly before serving, the salad is lightly dressed with our own recipe for a brightly acidic, savory mayonnaise.

Red coleslaw is common to the Piedmont region of North Carolina, where it’s better known as slaw. In this region, sliced cabbage is lightly salted to soften it, and then dressed with cider vinegar to give the salad a fresh, mouth-watering flavor. We add finely sliced sweet onion and pickled mustard seeds to complement the pungency of the cabbage and grated carrots to balance the tart acid dressing with sweetness. Celery seeds add a distinct aroma that completes the dish.

Creamy-and-Red-Coleslaw

 

Have a great season, cook the best food you’ve ever cooked, and enjoy the company of your friends and family. Go team!

Cheers,
The team at ChefSteps

 

Week 46

New homepage! You get that yet? You should have. The new homepage is solving a few different problems for us, and hopefully you.

The top layer gives you the latest content from ChefSteps, regardless of our categorization of it. We’re thinking about doing away with that categorization all together (recipes, techniques, science) because it seems to mean more to us than to users. Can anyone confirm that? In any case, you’ll always see the latest up there.

On the left side, we’re highlighting a few of our courses. If you’ve enrolled in a course and haven’t yet finished it, we’ll show you the course and give you a chance to continue it, because we really want to make sure you get 100% of the content there—We’ve put a lot of work into our courses and will only continue to get more.

Lastly, we have an activity feed! This shows you everything that anyone does on the site. It’s sort of a firehose right now, but the reason why is because there’s always activity happening on the site and this lets you see what other Steppers are interacting with. We UXers like to call that serendipitous discovery. Later, you’ll be able to filter that list based on who you follow (yup, following coming soon) and by trending areas.

Okay, easter egg: Click on Community Activity to take you to the page that loads just activity, then on your iPhone (yeah, unfortunately only for iPhone right now) click Bookmark > Add to Home Screen to get a sweet app icon to save on your phone and have the community activity on ChefSteps a tap away. Week 47 coming fast. Peace.

Week 44-45

The last two weeks: I’ve been busy doing user interviews with a lot of great people here in the Seattle area — It’s been super amazing to talk to people and hear what they like best about ChefSteps. All of the feedback I’m getting has been great, and we’re learning a lot about how to prioritize our efforts. Thanks to Alex, Nicole, Julian, Quoc, Chuck, Zack, and Amanda for taking time out of their day to hang out and talk with me about ChefSteps.

I’m re-examining the value of a carousel around here. I like it, because it’s really beautiful, but I’m not sure it’s helping people find content that is relevant to them. In fact, the more I talk to users, the more I’m seeing that that is a recurring problem. Because we have so many different levels of cooks at ChefSteps, the experience needs to be more guided so that people can find content that helps them take their skills to the next level. For a lot of people that are in the industry, even though some of the knife sharpening stuff is cool and relevant from a science standpoint, they already know how to sharpen their knives because they have to do it for work all the time, but spherification is new and exciting, so they’re more likely to be helped by that new technique.

Equipment continues to be a barrier for a lot of users as well, with a lot of folks not having all the cool tools we have in the kitchen (but wanting them). I think we’re doing a good job listing the substitutes and different techniques to achieve similar results. If we’re not, let us know.

One of the other things I keep hearing is that people don’t document their recipes. I was talking to Michael about this and it’s a big barrier. There are people that do it because it’s their job; recipe development is something they do and they want people to use their recipes, but for most home cooks and for users outside the industry, they cook mostly by feel, taste, texture. Is that a barrier that we can overcome? If we made it easy enough to upload a recipe or made it super-easy to get the bones of a recipe started so that you can edit it later or, better yet, someone else could do it for you or work off your idea and make something different and amazing, would that be good enough for users to really find value? I’m not sure yet, but I’m working my way towards an answer the more people I talk to.

In any case, that’s mostly what I’ve been up to. Lots of good content went up these past two weeks, so make sure you check it out. We’ve still got a lot of things coming soon as well and we’re working at making it more obvious when our stuff is going to come out so stay tuned. Have you uploaded your avatar yet? Get rid of those gray boxes!

Have a great weekend. Remember: <whisper>chefsteps!</whisper>

Older Entries »