June 15, 2021

A Conversation with Daniel Gritzer, Culinary Director of Serious Eats - Part 1

A Conversation with Daniel Gritzer, Culinary Director of Serious Eats - Part 1

On this week's podcast, I have part one of my conversation with Daniel Gritzer, Culinary Director at SeriousEats.com.  I’ve been a big fan of Serious Eats and The Food Lab for a while, and love the work that Daniel, Kenji, Stella Parks, and crew have been doing there. This episode went long. Daniel and I spoke for 3 hours on a Sunday night, and I have about 2 hours of finished audio. I was trying to decide how much to leave in. Because this episode is for the cooking nerds, I wanted to leave almost everything in, so this is part one of two.

We talk a lot about the process of recipe development and testing. We discuss cooking equipment, oven calibration, and the subjectivity of taste. You’ll hear about the ins and outs of Serious Eats, and you’ll learn about olive oil, polyphenols, and perceived bitterness. Ever wonder if you should or shouldn’t blend olive oil in a blender? We get into that.

This week’s show sponsor is Olive & Basket. For a wide variety of olive oils, vinegar, spices, sauces, and gourmet food items, visit their website Oliveandbasket.com to have their products shipped to your door. Use discount code CHEF20 for 20% off your order.

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DANIEL GRITZER

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Serious Eats Website https://www.seriouseats.com

Daniel's Instagram https://www.instagram.com/dgritzer

Daniel's Twitter https://twitter.com/dgritzer

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Transcript

Chris Spear:

Welcome to the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast. I'm your host Chris Spear. On the show. I have conversations with culinary entrepreneurs and people in the food and beverage industry who took a different route. Their caterers, research chefs, personal chefs cookbook authors, food truckers, farmers, cottage bakers, and all sorts of culinary renegades. I myself fall into the personal chef category as I started my own personal chef business perfect little bites 10 years ago. And while I started working in kitchens in the early 90s, I've literally never worked in a restaurant. This week. I have part one of my conversation with Daniel Gitzer, Culinary Director at SeriousEats.com. I've been a big fan of Serious Eats and The Food Lab for a while, and love the work that Daniel, Kenji Stella Parks and crew have been doing there. This episode went long, like really long. Daniel and I spoke for about three hours on a Sunday night and I have about two hours of finished audio. Because this is a show for cooking nerds I want to leave almost everything in. So this is part one of two. We talked a lot about the process of recipe development and testing. We discussed cooking equipment, oven calibration and the subjectivity of taste. You'll hear about the ins and outs of serious eats and you'll learn about olive oil, polyphenols and perceived bitterness. Ever wonder if you should or shouldn't blend olive oil in a blender. We'll get into that. A reminder that you can help support our podcast and the Chefs Without Restaurants network by donating through our Patreon. Monthly support starts at just $5 a month. Go to patreon.com/ChefsWithoutRestaurants to find exclusive recipes and see our tiered rewards. And thank you to this week's sponsor Olive and basket with more than 30 each oils and vinegars Olive and basket is my go to for specialty food items. They also have seasoning blends sauces, jams, pasta, honeys, chocolate, gift baskets, and so much more. I don't think I've ever had anything I didn't love from their shop. Sharon and Cindy do a great job curating a wide selection of items that are loved by both professional chefs and home cooks. Located in Frederick, Maryland. Their shop is at 5231 buches. town Pike, but you can also order all their products online and have them shipped directly to your house. Go to oliveandbasket.com and use discount code Chef20 at checkout to get 20% off your order. And now on with the show. Thanks so much for listening and have a great week. Hey, Daniel, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for coming on.

Daniel Gritzer:

Hey, Chris. Thanks for having me. I'm super excited to have you on your I guess one of my favorite chefs and recipe creators. No, take it back. It's you know, it's true. Like if I were to want to make a recipe for like fried chicken or something today, instead of like going through my books, I just like go on the internet and type like fried chicken serious eats or like fried chicken, the Food Lab or something. And this is something I've done for a number of years before I had my own personal chef business like my sous chef was also a big fan. And Mike would come in and be like, oh, for the special tonight. I want to run whatever, you know, meatball parm, and I found this awesome recipe on serious eats, can we run it? I'd be like, Yeah, sure. So we appropriated a few of your recipes back in the day. That's uh, that's why they're there. You know, if somebody steals a recipe like wholesale steals it for some kind of publication where it's directly competing with what we do. That's probably a small problem, but otherwise Go have at it.

Chris Spear:

There. We will just Tinker. You know, it was when I was working in a retirement community and we didn't have necessarily like a playbook, you know, they just kind of said, like, here, you've got this formal dining room and come up with some awesome stuff. And I had a lot of cooks who didn't have a lot of background and education, and a few of them found your your website's info. So we, yeah, better better cooking through serious eats, I would say.

Daniel Gritzer:

Thank you. Yeah, I mean, we that's definitely our goal. And obviously, you know, I think any conversation of like, serious eats as a recipe site yet, you have to, you know, you have to acknowledge kanjis, massive, massive contribution to the entire, you know, the ethos of it, the focus on empiricism. And, you know, I'm, I'm not Kenji. But there's so much of his torch that I continue to carry that, you know, in my own, what I was doing before was a series seeds, I had similar interests. And, you know, Kenji really established his Food Lab and his whole thing so solidly. And so the popularity of an interest in successive I think it speaks for itself. And it's clear why, you know, why, why people have taken to this kind of, you know, let's not just repeat the same thing that everyone else is saying, let's make sure that this holds up under some level of scrutiny to scrutiny scrutiny. And that's really, you know, I think Kenji gets so much, so much credit for that. And that's a massive part of the series, its brand to this day.

Chris Spear:

The book is amazing, right? Like, I would say, if someone wanted to just learn about cooking, and you know, from a beginner level up to like mastery of some really cool stuff, just like buy that book, I can't imagine there's anything you'd want to learn to make that you couldn't find in there. That's a amazing place to start.

Daniel Gritzer:

One of the things that blows, kit like continues to blow my mind because I was working with Kenji while he was still writing the the original Food Lab book, he's got more in, you know, he's published a children's book, he's got a walk book coming, I think his his books keep turning one book keeps turning into two books. Even the first Food Lab book, there's like a whole other half that still needs to be published, which is nuts when you think about it. And somehow he was, you know, he was managing to continue to publish for serious eats non stop at a rate that is staggering by any measure, by any measure, put aside, whether you're reading a book just tried to try to do that much work period, just for the site. And granted, like, stuff, work he was doing on the book was informing stuff he was doing for the site, and vice versa, like he was smart about it, but it's still it, I cannot To this day, get my head around how it's like, physically possible. But he, you know, he did it. And and yeah, it's I mean, it's quite a book. And yeah, so the mythbusting the putting sort of the the, all that old kitchen wisdom to the test is such a critical, critical part of what I think series seats is about and continues to be about. And it's a process to I think that's another thing is it's not there's no final word on anything, right. Like, there's there things still on the site that I'm like, we should go back to that, like, we should look at that again, like I'm even I'm not totally convinced that we've recently. We do you know, Nick Sharma. Yeah. He, he's, he's a contributor for the site. And Nick has a science background, and he's an amazing cook and amazing recipes. For Yeah, he's, I mean, Nick is another one of these, I call them like, you know, food media unicorns who just like, how many talents Do you have, like how many like skill sets and knowledge bases? It's, it's nuts. And Nick, had been exploring this question of bitterness in certain oils, mustard oil, olive oil. I had written about it some years before, I'd been kind of sniffing around this question of, you know, does blending olive oil make it better? And I've kind of gotten partway there in my answer when I published something about it. Then I'd have an interesting talk with a food scientist who works in the auto industry, who had kind of tipped me off that I hadn't fully gotten haven't quite gotten the whole story. And I had, I had this in my pocket for ages where it was just like, I really need to like circle back around to this thing. Like I know that I haven't. There's more to this story. This scientist who works in the olive oil industry has pretty much like filled in the blanks for me like need to go back, run some tests to just confirm what this guy's telling me. And it sat in my pocket for ages. Then Nick was like, I have this topic I want to cover about the science of oils and bitterness and stuff like that. And I was like, oh, man, you know what? Before we published what you need, I talked to a mine. And it was very clear that Nick was already had already been on the same trail. like he'd figured this thing out. And as before we publish your thing, I need to fix mild thing, which has been on my to do list for, you know, ages. That's almost the you know, the science. I know, we don't do like peer reviewed journal level studies of anything, but like, we keep chipping away at these things. And even there's, there's lots that we've done. There's lots that Kenji has done, there's some stuff that I've done, you know, I'm not quite as science driven, is Kenji is in my own approach, but it's a piece of what I do. We're just trying to understand we're not trying to disprove everything, we're not trying to have the last word on everything, you know, the temptation to get into that mindset can be strong. But I think it's important to remember, like, there's probably more to a lot of this than we realize, even as we think we have explanations for all sorts of things like continuing to refine our understanding or find our, you know, the depth of the understanding the limits, even just recipe developing is, like I said, continues to fascinate me because it's like, you can completely lock a recipe in and think you have it totally figured out. Sometimes I'll circle back on a recipe sometime later, and just go shopping at a different store, like one slightly different brand of ingredient or slightly different grind, cook the same recipe, and it's like, it's not quite clicking. God damn it. There's just there's a lot to figure out as a lot of nuance. And so I you know, I like that though. I like that.

Chris Spear:

You just keep thinking about it.

Daniel Gritzer:

Keep thinking about it, keep chewing on it, like, do the work ourselves, explore these things ourselves. Don't just take someone else's word for it. Don't there's a lot of stuff in food media that's like regurgitating other people's Oh, yeah, stuff sort of uncritically. But even like, let's, let's, let's put our own stuff back under the microscope, microscope, you know, like, let's revisit this, let's, maybe there's more to it. Maybe there's more to this story, too. So anyway,

Chris Spear:

I had a recipe that I had been working on for a number of years, I want to do like a rice pudding, but with bulgur wheat. And it always like I couldn't get it cooked, right. And I was trying to cook it in coconut milk. And it was just like challenging, and I really wanted to do and I just like it was an idea and I tabled it. And it was like three years later when Alex on ideas and food did his like romanized rights like oh, pre hydrate your grains by soaking them in water with baking soda. And then they cook in like five minutes. Like he was making his three minute risotto. I was like, I bet that would work. And I just took the bulgur and soaked it in water with baking soda for like 90 minutes, and then drained it off. And I was able to just heat coconut milk and throw it in and like five minutes, it completely cooked. And then was able to put it in the fridge. And it's soaked it up and it got there. But previously, I had trouble. I was scorching the product, and it wasn't cooking. And it was just like I had this idea. And I knew it. I hoped it could work. But I just needed something to connect the dots. And it wasn't until I saw that one thing that I had that aha moment, you know,

Daniel Gritzer:

totally, it's so and I've had this kind of thing with trying to cook grains, dry grains in milk, or, you know, coconut milk or something about the presence of I don't know, whether it's the fats, the proteins or you know, whatever. They can interfere with the, with the absorption of water. And really, you know, in a way, if you were to put one pot of those grains in the same volume of water, and then milk and the cooking times, like the whole thing just falls apart in the milk. I've had that with rice pudding. I know exactly what you're talking about. Yeah. And then there's like some some thing I was messing around with white rice pudding recently, because I've had that same problem. Sometimes I'll just, you know, screw around and like not. I have fun improvising in the kitchen. I think it's a good thing for everyone to do whatever the failures are, and I've had like, batches of rice pudding before we're like, just keep adding more milk and keep adding more milk. I keep adding and it's like swelling and swelling and swelling and swelling but still not covered. It's still not clear. Like what is going on with this stuff. I just can't believe that this is happening. And then it's like oh, yeah, pre hydrate the grain. Yeah. You know, that kind of

Chris Spear:

thing is a revelation. I want to go back to the olive oil. So can you put olive oil in the blender like does that make it better or affected negatively? Because, you know, I come from like you work in a kitchen. It's like, oh, let's make the vinegar. We'll throw it in the Vitamix and blend it up and I'll stay emulsified for three days and then some people like my god, you can't do that. You're gonna ruin the olive Oil. What's Yeah, what can you tell me about that? You can?

Daniel Gritzer:

You can, but not always. And the first thing that causes a lot of confusion is like, what are we even talking about when we say blending olive oil makes it more bitter? Because already, this is a potentially problematic question in conversation, because olive oil can be spicy, like get that back of the throat burn? Is that what we're talking about? Is that the is that the bitterness? We're talking about? Is it something else? I think it's something else. So I think that already, it's very hard. And particularly, you know, if I think most of us are not olive oil experts, to the degree that one can be. And so even being able to tease apart like,

Unknown:

what are we even talking about here? What's the quality,

Daniel Gritzer:

that might get exacerbated in a negative way that we want to avoid? And I think there's a lot of potential confusion just around what we're what we're trying to detect. So that spiciness is not a bad thing, necessarily. Like, I think if you survey an American audience, most American consumers prefer a less spicy olive oil. But like in the world of olive oil, and olive oil expert would tell you like that there's not a negative like that thing is not necessarily there. Depending on where the olives are grown. And, you know, all of this stuff, you may have more of that burn less of that burn. But that is not a good or a bad. That's just a you may have, you know, your what's the, what's it like? It

Chris Spear:

is like, that's just the way it's supposed to be for that oil. Yeah,

Daniel Gritzer:

yeah. And in some applications, you might want that heat. And in other applications that might be too aggressive, and you just as a cook need to decide. So it's something else. And it's it's bitterness, that is very easily confused with the burn, but it's different from the burn and that bitterness is from polyphenols that are in the oil, that my understanding is they develop as a kind of like a defense mechanism in the plant, the harsher the kind of conditions that have grown. And this is this is something that was explained to me by the same expert I'd mentioned before this the the food scientist who works for an olive oil company, the harsh or the growing conditions, and other sort of agricultural conditions have sort of a correlation with the level of polyphenols. So polyphenols, which Nick Sharma had figured out, and which this food site is tipped me off to our water soluble. This is the thing when you get into this question of blending olive oil, that is sort of the key that it's hard to figure out if you're just sort of sniffing around this issue blindly. Like people have anecdotally reported that blending olive oil makes it better and other people have said, I've never noticed this, what's going on? And it seems there may be some level of an individual's ability to taste to detect the bitterness, although part of my recent testing was I got one of these, like super taster bitterness sensitivity kits. I just bought one online like off Amazon and I ranked at which surprised me because I didn't think I would I ranked as a super taster for bitter super taster to be clear for anyone who's listening is not a good thing. It does not mean you have a better palate than anyone else. That means you literally have more taste buds for certain flavors that just like salty tastes salty your to you bitter tastes more bitter to you sweet tastes sweeter to you. It doesn't mean you can you know like a with a why you can pick out more aromas in the wine. That's an entirely different question of smell, sense sensory perception, not a question of taste perception. And yeah, something it's super taster, it's not a good thing. It's you kind of want to be in the middle of the pack there. Statistically, you know, you want to be a normal taster, you don't want to have a lack of sensitivity, you don't want to have a heightened sensitivity. So I was actually surprised that I ranked as a super taster there. But that also indicated that I should have a sensitivity to this bitter like I should notice it if it's there. I guess assuming this kit tested for the exact you know something similar enough to what I was, you know what you might taste a novel so I realized that making this a long story.

Chris Spear:

This is an interesting problem and yeah,

Daniel Gritzer:

is a problem when you talk to you know, you get the nerds on. So, when I was originally exploring this my the explanations that I had seen for why blending olive oil made it better indicated it had to do with some sort of mechanical, strictly mechanical action that was happening with the blend. And molecules in the oil. People were already sort of pointing to the polyphenols, but was something that the blades and I did all these tests were a blend, blend oil and you know all these blind tastings and didn't seem like anybody could really, you know, with any consistency tell which oil had been blended in which one hadn't. So what it seemed what it actually seems to come down to is it's not just the blending is the blending in the presence of some kind of, you know, water, whether it's vinegar or lemon juice, or literally water, you need water, because the polyphenols are water soluble. And if you take an oil that has a high poly phenol level, and you blend it with water, which one might do with a limited grip or a Mayo, the polyphenols will find the water and dissolve in the water and the water. There's still a lot that's really not I think understood about this. But somehow your tongue gets quicker access to them through them being in the water interface versus the fat phase. What's tricky about this is it also depends on the oil. Because not all oils have the same poly phenol levels. And so it there's a lot that I think also comes down to what oil you're using. Unfortunately, it's not easy to know, poly phenol levels in oils as a consumer. So there's basically like, not an easy answer. I think that the ultimate answer is it's better when in doubt, to avoid blending in oil in the presence of any kind of water.

Unknown:

But if you have a habit of doing it, if you tend to stick to the same brands, and it hasn't been bothering you, then keep doing it.

Chris Spear:

I've never noticed a problem none of my customers ever had I make vinagrette I've a standard ratio. I always use the same oil for like, undergrad. And everyone always says this is amazing. I love this. What's the recipe for your vendor grant and not one person has ever said yuck. But I buy nice olive oils from someone in town who has an olive oil shop, she went to Italy she's taken a certification in education of olive oil. And she was kind of like appalled when I told her like yeah, this is my recipe and I put it in a blender. She's like, Don't ever do that. I was like, I don't know, like, I've never had an issue with it. And it's delicious. That's

Daniel Gritzer:

where this this is where this whole thing started for me was I kept reading it. And I was like, this just hasn't been an issue for me, like, what's going on, and it's so it's, it's the intersection of the specific oil, the presence of water, maybe the individual's genetics, some combination of these things sometimes makes it a problem. It's not always a problem. Food is

Chris Spear:

weird. Food is weird. That also get you know, it's

Daniel Gritzer:

like that thing I was saying before where it's like you can like develop a recipe. I'm sure you've had this right, like, you think you have it all figured out. And then like one day one thing changes, and it's just kind of like, not quite there. And you're like, what, what went off the rails here. And I think that, you know, that's always an interesting thing to me because, like, part of my job is putting recipes out into the world where other people cook them not with that, you know, I'm not present to see how they go about it. What do they shop for? What if they brought home? What's their cooking equipment? You know, gear makes a huge difference. The specifics of the pots, the pans, the size, the you know, the surface area of any given all of that, you know, what's the heat on the stove? What's the type of is it? You know, is it gas? Is it induction? Is it a electric all of these things element makes a difference? Is their oven accurate? Like and you know, you don't have any control over that. And, you know, some people really like don't follow recipe,

Chris Spear:

read the comment section. It's like this recipe is good, but I found that I needed to add an extra quarter cup of sugar and then I don't like vinegar so much so I swapped in lemon juice, like that's like the comments section on any recipe website, isn't it?

Daniel Gritzer:

It is Yeah, it's kind of it's become this kind of cliche thing. I don't mind if people at all if anybody changes a recipe like I think that's I support that like actually encourage it. I think that's that's how we that's how we become our own cooks. I definitely mind if someone changes a recipe and then they comment saying the recipe was a problem right? That's that's sort of that's to shift the blame back to the recipe if they've already made all sorts of executive decisions that that are different

Chris Spear:

ingredients aren't always the same though. Like I noticed. I had there was a cookbook I was cooking from the summer and it was something about roasting a zucchini or an eggplant or something like that. And it said to roast it for five minutes and then it was going to be tender and then you're supposed to make like a dip out of it. But I think that that person probably went to like the farmers market and got like this small zucchini or or you know, I had this zucchini It ended up taking me like 30 minutes to get it to tender. Like, thankfully I have the knowledge where I'm like, there's no way that's going to be done in five minutes. But you know, whatever they were working with, clearly was a smaller, maybe an heirloom. And it was just like, No, no, I normally like to follow a recipe to the tee the first time, but like that is just not going to work out at all.

Daniel Gritzer:

I would say this is such an important point that you're making. And I think it's for anyone following a recipe, if it's a well written recipe, the times in most cases are the least important piece of information. Hopefully, they're in the ballpark of being, right. But the times, there's some things where the time matters to, you know, with precision. And the recipe should kind of make that clear. But in most cases, like things you're describing, what's important is the doneness what I call what what rest, I think, commonly in the industry is called, like, the doneness Q, what's the sign that this thing is ready, and it's this, it should be a combination of visuals of texture, transformation of color, well, that's visuals of smells sometimes harder to describe but important. That's all that matters. You know, like you're saying, if you have a recipe and it says roast, this zucchini that, you know, 350 degrees for five minutes, until it's tender. And you put your zucchini up for whatever reason whether the recipe developers oven wasn't calibrated correctly, or your ovens not calibrated correctly, or your zucchini has a different, you know, dimension or size than theirs, whatever the thing is, it's the until tender that matters. It's not the five minutes to 10 minutes. You know, I if I saw a recipe and it said roast this thing for five minutes, and it's like it takes 30 minutes or 40 minutes, something's really something

Chris Spear:

like that. My favorite cheat my favorite cheesecake recipe says like till it's wobbly in the center. And I think it gives you a marker of like, 20 to 25 minutes, and it's never been 20 to 25 minutes for me. And I just know now that like when I make it, I'm looking at a 30 to 35 minute window probably because it's still way too jiggly at that 20 to 25 minutes, and I've just, you know, I've made it so many times now that I know that's what it needs to be.

Daniel Gritzer:

Yeah, you've figured out and that's an inch, you know, wildly in the center is a helpful cue but maybe also vague, right? Like, yeah, how wobbly in the center are we talking about right? So then a recipe writer, hopefully tries to think about that too. To be more specific, like I'd have to you know, you'd have to sort of look at as the recipe developer look at your cheesecake at that moment of perfection like how do I describe this so that someone who's making it for the first time has you know a shot at like sort of pulling in the right moment. But yeah, the times and you know, ovens are just terrible like

Chris Spear:

oh yeah, yeah what what rack is it on? Like is it calibrated? Do you have an oven thermometer, so many variables that go into that so

Daniel Gritzer:

many variables you know, we just did this um, a bunch of shoe pastry recipes. And we've not been in the office because of COVID for you know, the past year but we did one day back in December when rates were still low in New York City. And we were all mass you know, took lots of precautions one day of photoshoots that just a very small three of us. And the ovens in the series seats Test Kitchen are all just fickle. And I've known that but it had been a year practically since I use them so i'd also sort of forgotten a little bit like exactly how to make them work. But the chute completely exposed. Even I had I had probe thermometers in every oven so I could track the temperature I can make sure whatever the you know the setting on the oven dial was like that was to you know, just pick a number out of a hat as long as the number on the on the thermometer was telling me like this is what it is. I had them all sets that they were properly calibrated following the probe thermometers and I had backup thermometer like you know, up the wazoo in the shoe. This doesn't was a lot of things this wouldn't matter but it mattered with the shoe the recovery time when you open the oven door to put the shoe in to bake. And these ovens were way too slow to recover. So if you put you know I was doing garage air and shoe cat and stuff like that if you put them in and gosh off the top of my head, I'm not remembering for 25 whatever the temperature was for the oven. If I had it set and totally like it was locked in at 425 and holding pretty well. Open the oven door, slide the tray and close it. We're talking what like five seconds max oven door open, oven temperature drops 50 degrees. We're down at now like 375 360, something like that. And I'm standing there and I'm the cooking time on the shoe should be about 2530 minutes or less. I don't know if 2025 I'm looking at the thermometer Oh, come on, back up, go back, come on go. And it's just like 361 D 62 361. And you're going, Oh, no, no, come on, you can't do this to me. Just not getting there. The recovery time, you know, that just with something like shoe and my, the some of the initial batches, and this is after I completely worked out the recipe, tested it, you know, at home with also with a calibrated oven, like everything worked. That just completely screwed it. And then I had to say, Okay, well, what am I going to do? Well, I need to spike the oven temperature. So that I met 525. So that what when I open the oven door, it's gonna fall, no, 525 is too high, but whatever, 500. So it's going to fall. And then as soon as I close the oven door, and it's dropped to around 45, I'm going to reset the oven to just all there. So it can be really this stuff can make can have a huge impact in how many home cooks have are likely to have any level of awareness on, on how like their ovens are operating on that level?

Chris Spear:

Not many at all. I mean, it's something I don't even really think about as much, you know, so I hadn't either

Daniel Gritzer:

until this particular situation, like made me realize that I needed to like,

Chris Spear:

yeah, I want to jump back, you'd said something about revisiting recipes. How often do you revisit old recipes? And when do you decide something needs an update? Like, you're just randomly thinking, Oh, meatloaf, let me see what we have on our website. You're like, Oh, I want to make this meatloaf even better. Like, how does that process work? Because I'm sure you update recipes, or post new versions of of old things. What's that look

Daniel Gritzer:

like? There's only so much bandwidth we have so even like finding the time to circle back on recipes. One of the reasons that olive oil story wasn't a recipe, but it was still, you know, something that required testing and time. One of the reasons I had had like I knew that there was like more to this story. And there was this old article sitting on the Senate, like I just have to go back and update and she wasn't finding the time and it was Nick's coming and being like I have this stuff to read about this. And I was like, well, I need to get my article like, you know, lined up for that. So part of it is just finding the time. Anytime. There's any kind of consistent comment on a recipe where people are reporting a problem. I mean, that's a real clear, that's real indicate real clear indication that you need to go back at it. This I like to talk about failures, because I think it's important for people to know that like, you know, we all mess up so several years ago, there was this some interim period before Stella Parkes had been our full time pastry wizard, where there was we didn't really have anybody who did pastry baking. I'm not a baker, you know, I know I just said I did a whole shoe thing with a colleague of mine Christina razon, but I'm mostly I'm not a baker. Kenji is not really a baker like he's done some breads and things like that, but it's not his forte either. I don't think you'd be offended hearing me say that. And instead, it wasn't on staff yet. But we'd like knew we needed to do some some baking stuff and, and we were missing zucchini bread recipe and I said, I'll do it. And I did research and I saw that like, almost all zucchini breads follow the same basic formula. So you know, that is pretty standard. And almost in some ways, like the series seats mindset kind of undid me here. I was like, well, I've got to find some way to innovate on what's what's the new kind of what's the smart trick here or something. This was a this is a lesson for me you don't always need a smart trick. Sometimes things are just like make a solid version of it and like walk away and I developed this I you know, I was like well a lot of zucchini breads are kind of greasy because I have a lot of oil and I'm going to replace the fat with like Greek yogurt and I you know, and I tested it and like my tests, I got them to work. But I'm not a baker, you know, and I don't understand as well where things can go off the rails and over time you know, they're like some people would come in on recipe and be like this I love this zucchini bread and other people are like this was a disaster. And and I At first I was confused because I was like, well gosh, some this really work and for some people probably the people were it's a disaster like they've done something wrong, right. Yeah. You know, any This is like, you know, my my own body. No one's own bias, like you look for the positive signs to reinforce the position, not the negative ones. But eventually actually was the kitchen calm did a review of zucchini breads and they just completely bodyslam. I said, Can you bet bread recipe it was rough. And in this case, they were just not, they were not wrong. And it was like finally that was the sort of like, the moment was like, we got to replace this recipe like I should not have. Either I shouldn't have been the person to develop it or I should not have been so so confident in my ability to just completely rethink like the chemistry of zucchini bread with my limited baking experience. And so we have an entirely new zucchini bread recipe and the site that Christina rizona, who also worked with me on the shoe package developed that fully replaced mine. So sometimes it's the comments. Sometimes it's like, I'm always working on new recipes, so it's hard to find the time to cook my own. Like go back and cook my own stuff. But sometimes if we're doing like a, you know, we'll add a video later. Like, let's say, you know, I have a meatball. I think you mentioned it.

Chris Spear:

Yeah, so I just saw like the meatball recipes, the newest recipe like, I'm sure you know, in the history of the world, there's a million meatball recipe. So like why is there now a meatball recipe is like the most recent one.

Daniel Gritzer:

So this one is this one is spaghetti with meatballs. So it's specifically crafted for being served with pasta, whereas my original meat, like Italian American meatball and red sauce recipe was really like, if you get like a just a plate of like hulking meatballs with sauce and like cheese grater on top without the pasta. And that was always a recipe that one could make work for spaghetti with meatballs, but there was no instruction for how to do it. And it had tricks in it that I think like they're cool, and they make like a you know, maybe like a small bump in the final result but like for like spaghetti with meatballs Do you really need to like without every last trick? Not necessarily. So it was a little bit in this case, like streamlining that recipe and, and creating a set of instructions expressly for serving on pasta. So that is why that exists. But I did a visit. So I had my meatball recipe. I tested the crap out of it. Like I was very happy with the result. I did a video like a year or two later, adding you know adding videos to the site youtube for like how do you make this thing and I had gone to my local butcher and had them grind for me fresh the meat as opposed to prior to that I think I'd bought it every time almost in my testing like Whole Foods or something. And the butchered had run the meat through the courses die of the grinder. And I hadn't noticed until I got you know, it's like you're standing at the counter, they're grinding for you to pay, you know, and I got it. I unpackaged it for the video shoot I saw was a coarse grind. And I honestly didn't set off any alarms for me. But I made those meatballs and they were like good, but they were just not quite as good. They were like, just like not quite there. So sometimes it's like remaking a recipe and and because you've gone to a different store or like gotten something you realize there's some detail that your original recipe just didn't find. So it's like oh, okay, like, not only do I need to specify the fat percentage on this meat, I need to stress the importance of the the grind size. But you know, maybe that anybody listening is like, duh, like, that's super obvious. But like when you're thinking about a recipe in all the dimension, different dimensions of wrestling, I was thinking about the ponad fresh bread, bread crumbs. How do I how do I mix it? There's so many things, it's very easy to like, gloss over. So it's like, well, the meat, I just know I need this fat percentage and it's grown and you just, you know, you miss that detail. So sometimes it is like remaking something and having it not even for yourself be like Wait, what's going on? This isn't how I remember being quite like it's good. I'm not upset with this. But like, it was spectacular. And now it's like pretty good. You know what, like, yeah,

Chris Spear:

that's not the way you you don't want to move in that direction.

Daniel Gritzer:

No, yeah. So then it so I think sometimes circling back on recipes, it's like stuff like that. So it's either like somebody sort of tells you like I cook this recipe and I had these problems and I need to like double check that. We've always been a I think a shoestring operation at Ceres seeds, but we were acquired by dotdash back in September, I think dotdash owns the spruce seeds. And it also they acquired some of the recipes@flickr.com. And we have a different resource situation now I would say and so we've always heavily, heavily tested everything, but everything was kind of in house. You know, Kenji has recipes, he would just tested death. I would test mine to death. We weren't spending the money to ship the recipes out and have a third party, cross test everything. And now we are like that's now part of our systems. And then you know, that doesn't solve everything either. Like, you can still have problems, crop up and republished recipe even when you've gone through all of that. And I, you know, I've worked enough places like I know that that's worked at food and wine where we had a, you know, full time Test Kitchen testing everything multiple times. And sometimes still, you know, people will cook the recipe at home and find something that's not working it's, you said it before, there are a lot of variables there. Yeah, I've even called them variables.

Chris Spear:

Yeah, I've had trouble sometimes with recipes, just not coming out, for whatever reason, the same way. And it's always like, what what happened, you know, things that you just, I don't know, you

Daniel Gritzer:

sometimes you cook the same thing yourself. Sometimes you don't, you know, I use the example of you go shopping in a different place. And like one ingredient is different. Sometimes it's not even that it just like, sometimes it's just, I think, you know, you can drive yourself crazy with this, and I think is a recipe developer professional, you know, cook, we have to concern ourselves with it and figure it out, figure it out as best we can. I think there's also something that's important for home cooks to not find that a source of frustration or a source of you know, feeling defeated, like, oh, if these guys are talking about these challenges, like this is hopeless. Yeah, I would encourage instead of kind of, like Final liberation in that, because perfection at every turn is not, that's not real, that doesn't happen for anybody.

Chris Spear:

And most of it isn't noticeable. You know, it's interesting. It's like my wife used to be a cook. She's not anymore, but she's someone who will help me at an event. And you know, we'll get on site because I cook in people's homes. And I'll forget an ingredient or I'll say, Oh, crap, I forgot to pull that out of the oven. It's over, oh, she's like, nobody's gonna notice, like, you realize that, right? Like, this is you on that level of like, it needs to be at this standard. And I get that, but like, those people are going to have an amazing dinner. And it's like a 1% problem. And like, you just need to like, breathe and move on. Like, most people who are eating and cooking, like, they're not going to notice the tenderness. It's like 5%, less juicy, or something like, I might be able to make it a little better. But you know, where's that margin of error or just let it go?

Daniel Gritzer:

is very true. It's very true, when you're standing there obsessing over how every last thing turns out, you know, you notice these things. But it's such a good point, you know, most folks are not. These days, obviously, with the virus, this isn't necessarily the case so much. But you know, it's a communal act, it's a social act, you know, familial, and with friends, you're having fun, you're having conversation. The food is important, potentially, but it's not, you know, everyone is not sitting there. Like, I actually I used to be. When I was in college, I worked as an extra at the Metropolitan Opera, this is one of my, oh, that's interesting. It's how I made my pocket money in college. And we used to joke. Sometimes people in the audience would send in letters to the opera, and they'd be like, I was watching Tosca. And when the person on the you know, stage, right, pulled out the scroll of the Mac, I saw through my binoculars, that

Unknown:

that was not a period, you know, historically accurate math for that period, it was off by 20 years because the border had changed. Look,

Daniel Gritzer:

if anybody the opera is complaining about that, you know, we're not doing anything wrong. You know, we're, I was an extra I can't take credit for much of what was going on at the upper but like, if that's the problem, you know, so And of course, it dinner, you know, in eating, it's a bigger problem if the food is messed up. But um, there's so much more that's going on.

Chris Spear:

Well, I'm like, have you ever tried to make something fancy and it wasn't as good because like nostalgia so much a part of it like my favorite recipe growing up as casserole my mom made and it's shell macaroni and ground beef, and you cook like peppers and onions and it gets like canned tomato sauce and canned cream corn and it calls for canned mushrooms and just like cheddar cheese that was like pre shredded. So you know, like being the chef like years later, it's like, well, I'm gonna make my own tomato sauce using San Marzano. So I'm gonna get like an extra sharp cheddar, I'm gonna swap out my talkies, you know, like, and fresh corn. It's not the same, like I don't enjoy it, because for me, it doesn't taste anything like that. Now, maybe I'd make it for you. And you would love it. But for me, it's like, now like it just, it's, it's all wrong. Even though I used like the best ingredients, tweaked it. Like who uses canned mushrooms like I don't use them for anything. But I've gotten back to like, when I make this it's not even the same as if I just like cook my own button mushrooms down. So it's just like when I want that and want to have that Association I need to make it like that, by that that recipe.

Daniel Gritzer:

100% Yeah, I mean, it's so much of these, um, you know, what is like taste right, like taste is a is largely a learned thing, like, you could probably argue that certain, there's certain things that are that are more innate, less learn, you know, we have a certain salt, you know, biological requirement for salt, and we're sort of dialed in to sort of our salt preference kind of, you know, nicely aligns with our physical need for salt, but most of it, it's just learned, right? Like most of it is just like, what did we, what were we exposed to? What are the associations we have with it? That's a gross simplification. But there's a lot of truth to that, like, there's a lot of truth. It's one of the things that I you know, I'm not a picky eater at all, and never have been, but it's, it's such a helpful thing to remind oneself if you're, if you're trying to food that is new, and like, it's something that maybe is, like, intimidating for whatever reason, if you didn't grow up with a certain organ meat, or a certain, I don't know, whatever, the example is a certain kind of fish. And for some people that's like, you know, really scary. Just like, you know, for a lot of other people, this is like, this is like cereal in the morning, like, there is just, this is the most like, normal thing in the world. And it's what's the difference, the difference is like the maybe they'll just the lack of exposure, the lack of, there's just isn't that lived experience within so it's straight, it just takes a different place in one's mind. Maybe it's all just learned.

Chris Spear:

But I guess, you know, maybe I am going to be a hypocrite here. Because when someone tells me how they make something, and it just seems like a bad recipe, the first thing I want to do is correct that, like, I have a very dear friend who last week we're talking about like one pot meals. So the next time I saw her, she gave me this recipe for this beef stroganoff and it uses ground beef. But you physically cook the egg noodles in the broth, and I was having a panic attack is like well cook the ground beef and drain the, the grease off and then add the broth, and then just put the noodles in. And I'm like, I'm sitting there like, like, why would you not just cook the noodles in a separate pot? Like, it literally doesn't have to be one pot and my wife's like, just say thank you being nice. I'm like, but I like there's part of me that like, has to say there's like a better way to do this, like, I'm getting stressed just talking about this, like, you know, and but maybe it's like a nostalgic thing. And that's the only way she's ever had it. But I'm like, like, where did these recipes come from? Who creates a recipe like that? I don't even understand the concept of that. It's, it's maddening to me,

Daniel Gritzer:

I think it's sort of like carrying both of these things with you at the same time, right? Like, it's not one or the other. There's the like, this is all subjective taste is subjective taste is learned. It's, you know, reflections of like, geographic, historical, cultural forces, like all of these things, but that's also like, it also, like, it's what constructs our reality, even if we sort of intellectually know, the subjectivity of it. There are a million things we all walk around with, like, incredibly strong opinions about that, like, if you started thinking like this, but that doesn't make the opinions invalid. Right. Like, it's sort of that's, that's sort of the fabric of our of our culture. I think it's good to hope both, I guess, right? They these these things that are in direct opposition to each other, they can coexist, and we can hold one and be very invested in it. Subject these opinions. And we can make all sorts of arguments about why they're right. very compelling ones, sometimes ones that you can prove through some level of empiricism might actually be you know, pretty compelling arguments, and also an awareness of like,

Chris Spear:

like, what's going on?

Daniel Gritzer:

I think that's about the empiricism thing is interesting, because I think there are things that you really can measure, right? Like, like you were talking about the meat before, like, how, how juicy is that piece of meat? How much moisture is lost through some method of cooking or some treatment? And if we say, Well, you know, the more moisture that's present in a piece of meat, the more we we generally will perceive it as juicy. And if, if we're going to agree for the moment that that's a good thing, then Okay, then that's desirable. And you can certainly whether or not it's a good thing, that's the such activity is one thing, but like that it actually happens. That's the empirical thing. This is a tricky one because I allow time ago when I first started working series seeds, I had done some I developed some recipe and published it. And there was a commenter who, you know, I think I think he just wasn't like sold on me yet. Maybe he still isn't. I have no idea maybe. But he definitely wasn't sold on me if you're no Kenji. Yeah, it was very much like prove yourself. And he was like, how do I how can we possibly No, I'm gonna make I don't remember what the risk is I'll make it up. How do we calculate possibly know that your corn soup is the best corn soup? If you haven't done blind tastings like of every like element of this recipe, and it was like, if I'm trying to figure out which way of handling the corn leads to the maximizing the sweetness of the corn, I think you can, you know, you can test that sign, you know, you can use science there. But like, which corn soup is the most delicious? Well, I don't know, like, who are the tasters? Do I want my recipe to be informed by them? Like, possibly, yeah, it's always good to get people to taste your food, get their opinions, that feedback taken into consideration. Ultimately, though, these more subjective decisions are like, they're kind of on the cup, right? Like, you have to find you have to, you have to sort of decide like, this is where I want it to be. And either other people will taste it and say, Yeah, I agree with you, I think this is great. Or they're gonna be like that. Now, this is not for me. And that's those are both fine. But you can't test everything. And you can't you can't do it. You know, if this is like developing recipes by committee, or like creating art by committee, there's always this tension, right? Because the Yeah, plenty of others are getting more than one opinion is really important and helpful. But also like, you don't arrive at like a great thing strictly by committee, right? Because there's anything that pushes a little bit in one direction or another outside of the, the Center for that group of people is going to get pulled back towards the center by that group of people. Sometimes that's good, but that's not always good.

Chris Spear:

Well, like I would have to teach my cooks and chefs how to critique a dish for, you know, things that are clearly right and wrong. Like we're in Maryland, and everyone uses Old Bay. And I would say something, I'd say there's too much Old Bay, and they say, Well, this is Maryland, this is how we like it's like, okay, let's step back. Old Bay is two things. It's spicy, and it's salty. This is too salty. This has too much spice. I don't want to hear that. Like we're in Maryland. And that's how it is like, you have to, on some level, understand that this is not an appropriate level of Old Bay in this product, right? Like, you might like that personally. But like, if we're serving this to customers, it's outside the range of like, what would be, quote unquote, normal or acceptable, right? And that's kind of hard to like, teach people, especially if they don't have a lot of culinary training, but like, how do you talk about food? Because we would do tastings before, you know, a pre service. And everyone just kind of saying, like, they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. This is good. Oh, yeah, this is good. And like, I'd watched five people try something I would get to it as like, like, did no one think that this was a problem? Like, do you not understand how to articulate what is wrong with something? Or what could be better? Like, how can we give critical feedback on a dish and make it better and realize like, this is probably not going to be good for everyone's taste?

Daniel Gritzer:

Yeah, the credit, it's, it's sort of you want that feedback. And there are some things like this is too salty, where I think you can really make a pretty strong case that like, yes, there's going to be some subset of people who don't find it too salty, but there's going to be more people who find it too salty. And that's a problem. Because too salty is like for, it's going to be inedible for those people, or it's going to be extremely unpleasant. And then there are other ones where it's like, it's Yeah, it's theirs. It's more of an opinion. And you want that feedback. Because some you know, a lot of the times you hear and you're like, yeah, you know, you're right. I think this could we could dial this in a little bit more. And I agree, I agree with this feedback. And then other times people are gonna say things where it's like, I think this should be like that. And is the clicker like, no, yeah, no, I'm not saying you're wrong. But that's not what I want this to be. And I'm the one it's my recipe. So

Chris Spear:

I had a cook who like, like to eat vegetarian a lot. And he and I would always fight about he had never put ham and split pea soup. And I'm like, I've never not had ham and split pea soup. And that's one of those things that just like, it could go either way, at the end of the day, it really doesn't matter because, you know, like, we just have to decide, is it gonna be vegetarian? Or is it gonna have ham? But at the core, like the base soup is a good soup. Right. And that's just a decision you make?

Daniel Gritzer:

I think so. Yeah, I mean, something that I think is really important to keep in mind is also you know, it's like, Who's judging a given recipe? And, you know, there's no rule that's like, only certain people can know what's good for one thing or another, but something that we've done a lot of serious seats over the years is like the umami bombs, and, you know, enhancing flavor at every turn. And there's a lot of really cool stuff with that. There's a lot of cool tricks that one can use that make delicious food, but I you know, I've tried to check myself A little bit with some recipes, because it's like, why is the assumption that more flavor is always better? That's, that's a really flawed premise. If you look at any kind of creative thing, you know, whether you consider food art or not, but like if it's music, or so much of what the most skilled people do is not just add, add, add, they remove, right? Take things away, what's what's creating too much noise here, what's creating? And there's no one answer, because these things are also like culturally, they're personal, they're culturally dependent. Japan is something like Japanese cuisine is sometimes like an easy example for me with this to think about where the importance of texture in some situations is, in this is just my understanding, like maybe I don't, maybe I don't fully have this, you know, lecture is just has has a much more prominent role in a lot of dishes, next to flavor. And there can be situations where you may have a dish that like somebody who's not familiar with the cuisine may say, this just doesn't have much flavor. Like I don't get it. I don't like it or I don't, you know, it's, it doesn't taste like much. And it's like, because this is really about quieting the flavor. And foot, let's focus on the texture here. And again, I'm not an expert in Japanese cuisine. So I'm a little bit maybe talking out of turn, but I these it's a quote by who standards are we going by? And I think that's a really, really important and obviously, like food media has been been scrutinized a lot in the past year plus for a variety of problems and the food industry in general, that that really need attention. And there's just one very small piece of it. But this idea of like, Who's Who gets who gets to determine, in this question of like, like, what is good? What is, who standards are we applying? How does that work? is really something that is? It's not easy? There's no easy answer, but it's also like, you can't you can't be blind to that, right? You can't just, it's very easy to steamroll every recipe and just be like, you know, I'm a good cook, and I have a good palate. And I know what good is. It's like, really?

Chris Spear:

Well, I think it's hard when you don't when you're not familiar with a cuisine, especially like, if I didn't grew up eating Filipino food, and I just made a recipe, like there was a Filipino recipe, it would be easy for me to say like, Oh, this needs like a crunch component, or this needs more spice or something. But like, that's not how it's supposed to be or has been traditionally, right. And I think so many people get into the tinkering mode, or the overly judgmental mode, because it doesn't fit the model of like, you know, you learned as a chef, that everything needs to have some sweets, some salty, some acid, some crunch, but like, not every cuisine is made up like that. And the tendency could be to just say, like, well, it shouldn't be like that. It needs to have something but like, do we need to tinker with like, a 2000 year old recipe or technique? Not necessarily.

Daniel Gritzer:

Yeah, and who, you know, the question of who kind of should feel comfortable doing that? And who should maybe be a little bit more careful about how they go about doing that? And, you know, it also depends, is it in your own home? Is it something that you're putting out in the world for, you know, sort of mass consumption, there's, there's a lot of, I think, different layers to it, because, you know, food and wine just had this happen, right, where they, and they've been kind of, you know, people I think have been giving them sort of some level of praise for how they handled the situation where they published a recipe for a melee and through a kind of visual consideration in the, you know, I guess in the spur of the moment at the photo shoot or something, I think is my what I gleaned from the article, they decided to douse bright red hot sauce to add this like pop of color on it, and obviously ended up being a problem. And then they they published a thoughtful kind of piece taking, you know, responsibility for this bad decision and trying to be reflective about it. In that case, it was a visual kind of impulse to add, add something in you know, and the chef said, Hey, you know what, like this, you've completely misunderstood what this is all about by doing that, like just just fundamentally like I've been living this this dish my whole life, trying to understand it and like one just like sloppy motion, he kind of just crapped all over and I should be careful because this I used to refer to one. These are mistakes that we all can make, right? It's not about singling them out. It's very easy to do this in overt ways. in subtle ways. In Whether it's about how should something taste? Or how should something look? Or what does it need some crunch? Like the example you gave? Yeah, it's real hard. And then at the same time, you know, how does one have personal creativity? That's respectful? You know, it's sort of an interesting, and I think, really difficult question to have any kind of easy answer to because the answer can also be everything has to just be static. And nobody can change anything, right? Well, I

Chris Spear:

think it's when you're, when you're claiming it to be authentic, you know, there's got to be some way of saying like, this is inspired by a Mola or something,

Daniel Gritzer:

there was a period years ago at serious seats where, you know, the internet can kind of push certain impulses, like and so we were doing, we were testing things rigorously, we were doing deep research, you know, more than I think, is the the average for recipe development, the doing, like what I would generally like, generally, very proudly say, as I think good work, but you know, the impulse was to slap a lot of recipes with how to make the best this the best that you're competing on the internet, with all these other sites, you know, you've put so much work into it, you really believe what you've done, you think you've kind of maximized in the way that were your goals for maximizing this recipe. And so why not call it the best, X, Y or Z. And, you know, in retrospect, like, that's not, that's really not a great way to title anything, even I think it's obviously there's a self awareness that the best doesn't exist. And it's sort of the best is just speaking to the rigor that went into that recipe and sort of the best version that this developer thinks they, you know, came up with, but still, it's, we don't call any, we don't do that anymore. is really the point like we don't, I haven't developed a recipe in years where I've said how to make the best. Anything, the internet kind of sometimes plays to our worst impulses. And then, you know, you, you have a moment after some time you step back and you go, let's, let's cool it on that. Like, we don't have to do that. That's actually not, it's not great. I don't feel good about this. I don't think this is a good way to go about this. Like it's not played this game anymore. Do you

Chris Spear:

have any recipes that are notoriously thanks for listening to the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast? And if you're interested in being a guest on the show, or sponsoring the show, please let us know. We can be reached at Chefs Without restaurants@gmail.com Thanks so much.