Christo­pher Kim­ball dishes on his new food ven­ture

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - LEE SVITAK DEAN

A lot can hap­pen in two years. Just ask Christo­pher Kim­ball, the droll show­man of food.

You may re­mem­ber him as the founder, pub­lisher and host of Amer­ica’s Test Kitchen, a role that ended in 2015.

Today he’s the founder, pub­lisher and host of Milk Street, a new ven­ture with the sole pur­pose of con­vinc­ing us to head to the kitchen and cook.

This time around his mes­sage has a global res­o­nance: Sim­plify and im­prove your cook­ing by look­ing to the world’s flavours and tech­niques.

We checked in with this na­tive of Ver­mont with a pas­sion for work and the kitchen, af­ter tak­ing a peek at his new cook­book and a PBS show of the same name.

Q: How do you en­ter­tain cook­ing fans in a the­atre?

A: Af­ter hav­ing done this a few years on stage, I know it’s re­ally about the au­di­ence, and I like to get them in­volved as much as pos­si­ble. We will have a live screen test, where some­one has to cook with me on stage and we video­tape it. Af­ter the (U.S.-wide) tour, we will pick one of these peo­ple to be on the show. We do a cook-off with two groups of peo­ple forced to use a ran­domly cho­sen key in­gre­di­ent to in­cor­po­rate into a dish. We have the en­tire au­di­ence do a taste test to see if they are ge­net­i­cally dis­posed to pick up on a cer­tain kind of flavour. And to demon­strate the power of smell, we have fer­mented fish from Swe­den. There will be Twit­ter ques­tions and sur­veys on how peo­ple cook at home, a culi­nary quiz with con­tes­tants on stage. And re­ally aw­ful sub­sti­tu­tions that cooks have done.

Q: How has your view changed on what used to be called “eth­nic” food?

A: I think that when I grew up and learned to cook in the ’60s and ’70s, eth­nic cook­ing was considered to be like some­thing out of Na­tional Ge­o­graphic: what peo­ple did in other places. It was not of­ten com­mon ev­ery­day food, but some­thing fancy. So if it was a Chi­nese or In­dian dish, it was al­ways re­ally dressed up. And it had to be au­then­tic. Every­one wanted to be au­then­tic. But can you re­ally be au­then­tic with a Sene­galese dish made in New York? Or a mole sauce made here? It’s not go­ing to be au­then­tic be­cause the cul­ture is dif­fer­ent and the in­gre­di­ents are dif­fer­ent, and you can’t trans­port ei­ther ef­fec­tively, any­way. This makes no sense. We are talk­ing about ev­ery­day food.

My point is that every­one who cooks is putting din­ner on the ta­ble. Some things should not ever leave the coun­try of ori­gin. But some of it can. So what are the things you can share with oth­ers? I can make a tajine here, but it won’t be the same as in Morocco. But you can learn some stuff about brais­ing chicken.

Q: Why Milk Street? Why now? You had a long, suc­cess­ful run with Amer­ica’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Il­lus­trated, and now you’re tack­ling a new ven­ture?

A: I love what I do. It’s the best job in the world. I get to do ra­dio and TV, and mag­a­zines, books and events. I love it and the peo­ple I work with. I don’t want to re­tire.

I could have taken the money (from Amer­ica’s Test Kitchen) and re­tired to Ver­mont and gone rab­bit hunt­ing. But the ap­peal for that would have lasted about two days. In my small town in Ver­mont, there is a con­cept that you need to be use­ful, no mat­ter how old you are. Peo­ple there who are 90 are do­ing some­thing. I have al­ways found that ap­peal­ing.

Burmese Chicken SERVES 4

Note: For lemon­grass, use only the white, slightly ten­der in­ner bulb, not the fi­brous outer lay­ers. Trim off the root and dis­card the last 5 inches of the stalk; peel off the first few lay­ers to reach the part you want to use. 8 ounces plum toma­toes (2 large), quar­tered 4 ta­ble­spoons grape­seed or other neu­tral oil, di­vided 3 tea­spoons kosher salt, di­vided 2 tea­spoons ground turmeric ¼ tea­spoons red pep­per flakes 2 stalks lemon­grass, trimmed and 5 inches on end re­moved (see Note) 2 large shal­lots, quar­tered 2 ounces fresh gin­ger, thinly sliced (about ¼ c.) 8 gar­lic cloves 1 ½ pounds bone­less, skin­less chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1 ½-in. pieces ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro 2 ta­ble­spoons lime juice, plus lime wedges, to serve

In a blender, com­bine toma­toes, 1 ta­ble­spoon oil, 1 tea­spoon salt, the turmeric, pep­per flakes, lemon­grass, shal­lots, gin­ger and gar­lic. Blend un­til a thick paste forms, about 1 minute, scrap­ing down the blender as needed.

In large Dutch oven over medium-high, add re­main­ing 3 ta­ble­spoons oil, the chicken and re­main­ing 2 tea­spoons salt. Cook, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally, un­til chicken is no longer pink, about 5 min­utes. Add spice paste and cook, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally, un­til fra­grant and paste coats the chicken, 2 to 3 min­utes.

Cover, re­duce heat to medi­um­low and cook, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally, for 10 min­utes. Un­cover, in­crease heat to medium-high and sim­mer un­til chicken is cooked through and sauce is thick­ened, 7 to 9 min­utes. Off heat, stir in cilantro and lime juice. Serve with lime wedges.

Christo­pher Kim­ball is on tour across the U.S. in sup­port of his new com­pany, Milk Street.

CON­NIE MILLER, TNS

Christo­pher Kim­ball’s Burmese Chicken.

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