Christopher Kimball dishes on his new food venture
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.
Christopher Kimball’s Burmese Chicken.