ChefSteps, a Seattle-based cooks’ collective, celebrates the art of culinary showmanship with geeky glee. Here, how they cooked a feast using a 1,500-degree applewood inferno.

By Daniel Gritzer
Updated May 23, 2017

ChefSteps, a Seattle-based cooks’ collective, celebrates the art of culinary showmanship with geeky glee. Founded by three of the key thinkers responsible for the Modernist Cuisine cookbooks—chefs Chris Young and Grant Lee Crilly and photographer Ryan Matthew Smith—the group solves ambitious cooking problems they invent for themselves. Like, what’s a cool way to feed dozens of people for a solstice party? The photo at left reveals the answer: Build a wall of shelves, load it with applewood, set it ablaze, and use that infernal 1,500-degree heat to cook a hunk of pork shoulder, a 45-pound king salmon, five whole chickens and perhaps the world’s largest pastrami—the 120-pound forequarter of a cow that the ChefSteps whizzes had already soaked in 40 gallons of brine and cooked sous vide in a plastic bag at exactly 162 degrees.

ChefSteps’ execution isn’t always perfect—the group once started an inadvertent fire while trying to cook eight 50-pound rib roasts using a homemade crane—but no matter the outcome, the performances always relate to the core of its mission: teaching home cooks to cook smarter. To that end, it produces polished online video courses on all sorts of topics, including practical how-to’s (identifying fresh fish at the market), classic recipes (quiche Lorraine) and advanced techniques (making strawberry juice in a centrifuge).

This dual expertise in throwing memorable culinary events and creatively explaining complex tasks makes ChefSteps a great candidate for a challenge: F&W asked the group to stage an authentic clambake on the shores of Puget Sound, and then hack it for a kitchen. Clambakes don’t translate well to the oven—take away the beach, the sandpit, the layers of seaweed and the smoky hardwood fire, and all you’ve got left is some steamed seafood. So to capture the authentic flavors of the real deal, ChefSteps created a recipe using a cast-iron casserole, Japanese kombu, charred wood chips and a hefty rock. See how they did it here.

ChefSteps shares a growing collection of cooking courses and recipes on the group’s website,