By Sara Cann,
Classic Culinary Arts alum
Something struck me a few weeks ago when I was asked to try a new line of healthy frozen foods. I was standing among fellow magazine writers, but there was a major divide between these writers and me. They were gushing over the frozen chicken and reheated eggs whereas I found myself searching for the seasoning, the texture, and the presentation. In my head phrases like, “Where’s the pop? The excitement? The SALT?” were frantically streaming through my head, and then it hit me: I’ve been Saveured.
If this were a year ago, I probably would’ve joined the masses and cooed over this healthy alternative to Lean Pockets, but for the past three months, I’ve been through the trenches of Saveur magazine’s test kitchen. And if I had any doubt that this experience left an impression on my life, all I had to do was take a step back and realize that almost everything I do in the kitchen (and grocery store) is now different.
For a large chunk of my time in the test kitchen, I was the only intern (when they usually have three), so I got a crash course in everything from grocery shopping, recipe testing and developing, ingredient sourcing, and food styling. In a way, I was lucky. I didn’t have to share many responsibilities, and the large stack of recipes I tackled every day were just added to my arsenal of amazing recipes to impress friends and family with. I worked my way through the pizza and grilling issue. I know how to mold a thin and beautiful crust–one that won’t stick to a pizza peel or stone.
I know that a pinch of sugar in the dough will make it a beautiful, blistered color when kissed by the broiler. And after weeks of standing in front of a grill pan, I got over my fear of using my fingers instead of tongues.
As I surge forward in my food editorial career, I’m bettered prepared for whatever the food industry has in store for me because of this internship. I’ve combed through hundreds of ingredients and know what fenugreek seeds taste like or where to buy Chiles de Arbol. Before this internship, I would’ve had no idea what ingredients like dried Persian limes were or how amazing they can be in broth or an aromatic for rice.
I was able to get a world-class food education without ever having to leave New York City all thanks to the kitchen directors, Kellie Evans and Judy Haubert. These ladies could turn a sub-par recipe into something mouthwatering. It was always a little nerve-racking to present these editors (and a host of others) with a dish you prepared, and wait for their thoughts. It was hard not to take credit for the dish even though it isn’t your recipe–no matter how good or bad. But it was amazing to watch the recipes transform from being “boring” or “it needs a better texture” to becoming irresistible.
And the most amazing part was that the kitchen director, Kellie, knew how to fix it without ever picking up a spoon. She’d fiddle with the recipe on her computer, print out a clean copy, we’d remake it, and boom, a classic was born. It was like watching a kitchen wizard. And being in the presence of these two magical creatures, the journalist inside me couldn’t help but try to lure out some of their tips. I now know that whenever you need that can’t-quite-tell-what-that-flavor-is-but-I-love-it touch, add a tiny pinch of cumin. Or if you want to make the most amazing burgers in the world, roll them in Montreal Steak Seasoning. And if you find yourself making a mess when cutting kernels off the cob, wedge the ear in the middle of a Bundt pan.
When the next round of interns rolled in, they asked me how many hours I needed to work in order to finish my education. None. I sometimes pulled 13-hour days because this was a dream job for me and I did it as a learning experience, not a school requirement. And for all my fellow crazy International Culinary Center grads–those who pull more work hours than shut-eye with no pay, and those who hobble when they first get out of bed, here are some of my favorite, fool-proof recipes that I fell in love with while working at Saveur.
1. Gruyere-Rosemary-and-Honey Monkey Bread: Think homemade, pillow-y biscuits soaked in cheese and honey. Good luck not eating the entire loaf.
2. Salad Nicoise Quiche: I developed this recipe and it was a favorite among the editors. It came out creamy as if a custard and has a traditional vinaigrette blended into the egg mixture, making for a perfectly seasoned quiche. Plus, it’ll look beautiful on your breakfast table.
3. Roasted chicken: Okay, you think you know how to roast a chicken, but this method guarantees a bronze bird packed with flavor. The secret? Soy sauce.
4. Creme Fraiche Salad Dressing: This salad is amazing. The citrus and pistachios keep it fresh and interesting.
5. Cherry Clafoutis: This cherry dessert has a wow factor. When you pull it out of the oven, it’ll have big, bronze air pockets studded with cherries. It’s basically a glorified crepe.
6. Greek Feta Tart: This is such an easy and delicious appetizer. It’s buttery and oozing with cheese. What more could you want?
The June/July issue is about grilling and there are a lot of standout recipes. I can’t link to them because they’re not uploaded yet, but look out for Thai Chicken, Korean Kalbi, and Jamaican Snapper.