My Food Philosophy

You’ll probably get a sense of this from the recipes you’ll see me post to this blog, but I mostly like to cook simple foods using a few very fresh, seasonal, and high-quality ingredients. This definitely stems from my Sicilian heritage (Sicily is known for its simple home cooking); although my German mother did most of the cooking in my childhood home, my Sicilian grandmother, who lived with us for many of my formidable years, often pitched in and taught us family recipes. In other words, I grew up eating like an Italian American.

By cooking with so few but excellent ingredients, the flavor of the food really has a chance to shine through. The sweet, buttery-soft flesh of acorn squash, for example, is all the more evident when all you dress it with is butter and cinnamon; likewise, the freshness and sweetness of summer-ripe corn and the tart acidity of sun-warmed tomatoes is enhanced by a hint of balsamic vinegar, not in competition with it.

That said, I also like foods that surprise me with their contrast; for example, my favorite flavor combination is sweet and savory, followed closely by sweet and sour – lately I’ve been on a Japanese and Pan-Asian food kick. I’m also hugely intrigued by what is sometimes called “molecular gastronomy,” although the food world doesn’t like this term very much and would prefer that we use a phrase more like “innovative cookery.” It’s difficult to sum up this food genre in a few words, but if I had to pin down my sense of it, it would be the use of science and chemistry in cooking to challenge your expectations of what you think food should be – surprising you with flavors, textures, appearances, and so on. (Note my gleeful use of the word chemistry and hence a further explanation of why I call myself a food nerd.) Although I do try to test out contrasts on occasion in my own kitchen, more often I save the experience for a dinner out, when I’m in a brilliant local chef’s capable hands.

I’m not classically trained, and at this stage of life, I probably never will be. Everything I know about (which really only brushes the surface of) food and cooking I learned by watching, reading, and, well, cooking. I credit TV chefs and personalities like Giada De Laurentiis, Alton Brown, Tyler Florence, and Ina Garten for sparking my interest in food, but real-life chefs, foodies, and food writers like Anthony Bourdain, Michael Ruhlman, David Lebovitz, and Grant Achatz (who I think is simply amazing – read his story here) have sustained that interest, inspiring me to learn even more.

Although I like to chef name-drop, by no means do I have a pretentious palate. I’m fortunate to live in Western Pennsylvania at the moment, which is apparently a great place to grow things, and so I have access to many blazingly fresh foods often from just miles away. I also belong to a food co-op through which I can order other sustainably grown and/or locally raised edibles. However, I’m not opposed to using sourced foods either, especially when the occasion calls for it, such as in the middle of winter or any time tropical fruits, imported cheeses, or good dry wines are required. And even though I am a proponent of whole foods (e.g., I make butter), my favorite food is pizza – preferably the greasy, processed, refined-carb, New York-style stuff I grew up on.

And you know what? That’s okay. Food and cooking is “all about the pleasure,” to steal a quote from the short-lived but charming Kitchen Confidential sitcom. Cook and eat what you love, and allow yourself to truly enjoy every bite.

4 responses to “My Food Philosophy

  1. I will probably really like you, I try to eat healthy and with as few ingredients as possible, I bake my bread, make all my pasta and I’m trying to learn how to can. I always froze most of my garden until two years ago when the ice storm wiped out my freezer and repeated for a total of 5 times, so now scared to freeze. I usually cook large batches and freeze in one serving containers, since its just me.

    • Good to hear from you, Kay! My new year’s resolution is to try making my own bread and ice cream (with the help of an ice cream maker that I’m hoping Santa will bring me). I’m impressed with your pasta-making and canning. I always feel so much better about food that I’ve made myself, because I know exactly what’s in it.

  2. Elisa – nice site (blog, though yours doesn’t seem to fit that word) and nice comments on Ruhlman’s website. Since you mention two of my favorites in your response to Kay (ice cream and pizza) I thought I’d recommend a couple of resources. You may already have David Liebowitz’ “The Perfect Scoop” for the first essential food group, but Peter Reinhart’s “American Pie” is a great book on all things pizza: five different doughs, some unique toppings, and good techniques. Any of his books on bread are excellent as well. If you want to go crazy on bread and pastry you might look into the San Francisco Baking Institute for a 2, 3 or 5 day seminar if you ever want a “learning/working” vacation and a fun city to play in. If the cost is out of reach, order their book – an essential reference for anyone who likes the science, technique, and artistry of cooking and baking. Anyway… I’m just another food “nerd” who cooks his own sauce, makes his own noodles and bread, has a wood fired pizza oven, and prefers organic/sustainable whenever it’s available. I use to own a brewery and cook professionally part-time (not professionally trained) – hence the email address. Cheers and all the best. Kevin in Redmond, Washington

    • Thanks for the feedback, Kevin! It’s great to hear from a fellow food nerd. 🙂 I love David Lebovitz and have tried several of his ice cream recipes, but I haven’t heard of the Reinhart book. I’ve been experimenting with different pizza doughs lately, so I’ll have to add his to my list. Thanks for the tips and for checking out my blog!

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