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.