For one, we've been sautéing vegetables all wrong.
As of Tuesday, Hugh Acheson—chef and former Top Chef judge—can also claim the title of podcast host. “Hugh Acheson Stirs The Pot,” a new show that launched this week, brings on guests ranging from activists to chefs to talk about “what they’re eating and what’s eating them," adding Acheson to the growing list of restaurant industry veterans getting in on the podcast game. Listeners can expect to hear guests Carla Hall, Alex Stupak, Anita Lo, Aaron Bludorn, and more this season. Episode one kicks off with chef and Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio, who talked with Acheson about chefs getting involved in politics, America’s changing palate, and why you should make the most of leftovers—the episode is appropriately titled “Tom Colicchio Heats Up Leftovers.”
We listened to episode one; see below for some interesting tidbits, lessons, and gripes.
Staffing is a continued problem in the restaurant industry.
Both Acheson and Colicchio agreed that “it’s hard to find a cook” if you’re hiring these days, and several factors come into play. You can cook anywhere now—good restaurants have expanded beyond big cities, Colicchio noted—and there’s an abundance of restaurants, particularly with the fast-casual boom. He also commented on the newer jobs in the culinary world, such as food styling: “There’s all kinds of ways to work in the industry without working the line at night.”
The chefs also said the role of a chef has expanded beyond opening one single restaurant—now, chefs are opening multiple restaurants, appearing on TV and social media. It’s all about being multi-dimensional.
There are three essential cooking skills you need to know.
Acheson asked Colicchio about rudimentary cooking skills and wanted to hear the three that he thinks a 16-year-old should know. The trifecta, according to Colicchio? “Roasting, braising, and [learning] how to cook green vegetables.” He said that you can build a repertoire of dishes around those three things, adding “figure out how to make potatoes and you can make Thanksgiving.”
Acheson had a similar list, comprised of making a vinaigrette, roasting a chicken, assembling a salad, and again, cooking those all-important greens. (“Maybe that’s four things,” he joked).
José Andrés has been so successful because he approaches disaster relief like a chef.
Acheson and Colicchio got on the topic of chefs and disaster response, mentioning José Andrés and how people often wonder how he does it so successfully. Acheson answered with “he’s thinking like a chef when he goes into a situation,” as chefs constantly have to make fast and steady decisions. He also went on to say that it’s important in disaster relief to cook what people are yearning to eat—to serve comforting, familiar food specific to the location instead of standardized meal kits.
Abandoning a recipe is okay.
Acheson said the trouble with teaching cooking is that we often teach recipes instead of techniques. “You just need to learn when things are done,” he says. “There’s so many variations and nuances. The understanding of atomized technique gives the ability to understand food nuance.”
Colicchio wholeheartedly agreed, and says to be a better cook, you have to cook—and cook with intention, too. He went as far as to say that he wanted to keep recipes out of his first book, Think Like a Chef, but his publisher wouldn’t let him.
We've been sautéing all wrong.
Colicchio recalled a time when he was sautéing vegetables for a soup, and his recipe tester was confused when he added the vegetables to the pan gradually, instead of all at once. He explained that if you add them all in, they’d steam instead of sautéing and the heat would drop off. The key is to make sure the pan is making a “crackle” noise the entire time, he said.
If you're ever in L.A., you have to go to Sqirl.
On the topic of how restaurants have changed over the past 30 years, Colicchio said one of his favorite restaurants in Los Angeles is Sqirl, because the food is “something crave-able, everything is slightly different but not too crazy.” Acheson agreed, saying “The key to Jessica Koslow—she creates food I can yearn for every day of my life.”
“Hugh Acheson Stirs The Pot” will have new episodes every Tuesday—follow along on iTunes.