In this At the Table, we sit down with Jason Logsdon, the creator of Amazing Food Made Easy and a prodigious author with a series of books on modernist cuisine. Jason sees himself as a passionate home cook who likes to try new things. What we like about Jason is when we were first learning how to cook sous vide, we found his writing and tips to be a really good source of information that was reliable and easy to understand.
What is the last thing you ate that is worth telling us about?
We recently moved to Brooklyn, New York, so I’ve been inundated with great food made by people who really care, but one meal definitely stood out. For my birthday, my wife took me to Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, which is just a few blocks from our apartment and is a 3-star Michelin restaurant.
It’s a cozy, intimate space that seats 16 people and you are basically sitting in the kitchen with the chef as he cooks the meal. It has the same feel as when you go to a friend’s house and sit at their kitchen island while they finish cooking.
The dinner was a 13-course meal with a creative mix of Japanese, French and American food that ranged from the simple to the complex. Every dish came out perfect – in flavor, texture, style and presentation – and the staff was very friendly and informative. The chef, Cesar Ramirez, even walked around several times during the meal, chatting with customers and answering questions.
All in all, it was the best meal I’ve had, edging out the French Laundry and several other 3-star Michelin restaurants.
What is the number one thing you want people to know about you?
People often look at the type of food I cook, which has a heavy sous vide and modernist slant to it, and assume I’m a classically trained chef or have been working in restaurants for years. I’m really just a normal home cook who thought the new, modernist techniques were really interesting so I taught myself to use them. I have no culinary training outside of a few classes, and I’ve never cooked in a restaurant.
I think this is one reason my books resonate with people because they are written for the adventurous home cook who might not have a strong culinary background. My books are designed to show people that with a little more effort, or often with the same amount of effort, you can add a modernist twist to your dishes that will amaze your friends and family. You don’t need to be classically trained to take advantage of the techniques the visionary chefs are discovering and perfecting.
What is your all-time favorite meal?
My wife and I were in France to see two of our good friends get married. After the wedding, my wife and I went to the small seaside town of Cancale. There is a market there along the waterside where you can buy oysters by the dozen that they shuck for you. You walk across the street, sit on the seawall overlooking the oyster beds and eat your freshly shucked oysters on the half shell, and toss the shells back into the oyster beds.
It was a great reminder to me that you don’t always need complex dishes to have a great meal. Sometimes the simplest food, in the right location and with the right people is better than any fancy meal.
Where do you feel the most creative?
I feel most creative when I’m sitting outside coming up with new recipes in my notebook. Trying to think of how different ingredients can meld together and what techniques can complement them the best. It’s a really fun process for me and something I always look forward to.
If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be and where would you eat?
If I had to pick one person, and I’ll keep it in the cooking space here, it would probably be Michael Ruhlman. I had already developed an appreciation for cooking and was making strides towards becoming a better cook when I read his book The Making of a Chef. That book, combined with his follow-up The Soul of a Chef, really transformed how I thought about cooking.
While they are written about chefs, they taught me a lot about what it meant to approach food seriously, how much the foundations of cooking mattered regardless of food style, and what mindset you needed to become a good cook. I’ve since read the majority of his cookbooks, and they never fail to provide insights into new areas of cooking and change how I think about and use food.
As for where and what we would eat, I would suggest heading to the local farmers market and picking up whatever looks fresh or interesting. Then head back to one of our homes, make a few cocktails, and turn those ingredients into a casual meal, eaten in the kitchen or the backyard.
To be able to cook and share a meal like that with him would be a fantastic experience.
What is something you want to learn to do?
I love learning new things so I’m always trying to find classes I can take. On my list for this summer are a sailing class and a drawing class. I’ve also been working on public speaking and trying out some improv training since I’ve been presenting at food conferences lately. On the food front, I’m trying to take classes for cooking different ethnic foods that I’m unfamiliar with.
How did you get into cooking modernist cuisine?
I got into modernist cuisine when my wife bought me Under Pressure by Thomas Keller, and I instantly fell in love with the sous vide technique. The food it produces is so tender and moist, and the cooking is so easy, that it is hard to resist. Being able to make a perfect chicken breast, steak, or pork chop every time, with minimal effort, makes it super convenient in my hectic day-to-day life. I then jumped from sous vide to other modernist techniques like spherification, foaming, gelling and many of the others.
This is also how I got started writing about modernist cooking. Most of the books out there are for professional chefs or for super-fancy food and I struggled to find good information for the home cook. I ended up researching the techniques and writing books that would explain modernist cooking in the simplest terms possible so home cooks could use the same techniques the professionals do.
Is there a recipe or a dish that you would recommend for people interested in trying modernist cuisine?When just starting out, “modernist cuisine” is just such a broad term that it can really intimidate people. My suggestion is to focus on a single aspect, whether that’s a modernist ingredient or a technique, and slowly work that into your cooking. You don’t have to jump right into spending lots of money trying to emulate the food from Alinea.
I think making airs are a good place to start. They only take one ingredient, are made out of almost any liquid, and can be a great, simple addition to finish most meat or vegetable dishes. I also use agar a lot for gelling and for making thick “fluid-gel” sauces. Xanthan gum isn’t very impressive to look at, but I use it more than any other ingredient in my daily cooking to thicken sauces and vinaigrettes. On the equipment front, a whipping siphon is a very versatile tool, allowing you to easily infuse liquids, make foams, and create awesome toppings.
Here are some links
Where is your favorite place to travel?
I love going on trips and experiencing different cultures, but I’m not sure if I have a favorite. I really enjoyed exploring Ireland, France, and Prague…though there are worse ways to spend a few days than just sitting on the beach somewhere!
Check out Jason’s Books in Umami’s Market.