Mario Batali on Creative Discipline

I love to cook. LOVE to eat. Love to watch and read anything related to cooking and eating. I watched Food Network grow up along with my daughter born in 1995. My love of cooking and my children are so interwoven that I can’t help but think of one without the other.

Conventional wisdom tells us to “do what you are passionate about.” I am certainly passionate about food but I don’t want to do it professionally.

For one simple reason:  I am incapable of consistency.

Skill-wise, I am a culinary child bouncing between passionate experimentation. My cooking doesn’t have the maturity of disciplined and consistent devotion.

I admire those who can run restaurants, catering businesses and the most attractive of all… trucks. But I am content with my “Try the World Boxes,” my “spicebar” experimentations, my Lucky Peach, Southern Living, Saveur, Cooking Light sticky notes.

After all, I have practice being an admirer of the arts as a design historian and as a philosopher focused on aesthetics. I am a trained spectator and cheerleader. An appreciative eater and a curious cook.

I will not be the next Food Network Star. Or, the next celebrity chef. And, that’s absolutely okay.

After reading Mario Batali’s article in Lucky Peach, I feel reassured of my decision NOT to attend culinary school or embark on a culinary career despite my long-standing fascination.

When you go to these three-star Michelin restaurants, repetition is the fundamental driving truth behind it, not that the cooks got whipped. It’s that they had to do it again and again and again. And you go to Michel Guérard or Roger Vergé and you have those zucchini blossoms stuffed with the black truffle and the little porky thing that’s around it. Thirty-five years on that dish is still a revolution; it’s still unbelievable. It’s not just creativity—sometimes it’s productivity and repetition. That’s discipline. It’s hard for people to understand that repetition is the discipline that these guys think they’re missing because no one can anymore.

Wise chef Batali explains the need for repetition and discipline in shaping super chefs – “it’s not just creativity – sometimes it’s productivity and repetition.”

Particularly, in the West where creativity and individuality are highly prized, the crucial role of simple repetition gets lost.  The culinary need for discipline holds true for any arts,  whether visual or performing. Discipline sharpens creativity.

I’m happy to waft in and out of the kitchen, my messy playground. Sometimes I’m lucky to be an appreciative eater of work by disciplined culinary designers.

Wishing you happy weekend eats,



For the full article click the link below:






Taste Testing Tikkis [Saveur’s Fish and Potato croquettes and more]

This week’s recipe experiments and inspirations included: Comedian Aziz Ansari’s Mom’s Chicken Korma recipe posted on the Lucky Peach Magazine website, Saveur’s Fish and Potato Tikkis with Chile and lime (April Issue) and finally Smitten Kitchen’s Strawberry Summer Cake.

First up, Saveur’s Fish and Potato Tikkis…

I had a pound of cod in my packet and just had to use it all instead of the 8oz portion the recipe calls for. So, the fish and potato pattie was closer to a fishcake with a dominant potato taste. My grocery store was completely out of cilantro. No regular, no organic, no little tiny herb packets with two springs that cost $3. The cilantro would’ve added a freshness. The dish was rescued by the cilantro chutney. I really liked the poached cod in cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves and peppercorns. The fish became gently infused with all these surprisingly warm flavors. I can imagine a simple summer dinner of poached spiced cod with a light lemony sauce. Works well as a snack or with a bowl of dal or salad on the side, hot or room temperature. Aside from including more fish, I also added a half of chopped shallot. The frying gives the patties a light savory crust. With a base of mashed potatoes, how could I go wrong!

3 whole cloves
2 green cardamom pods
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
8 oz. skinless cod or red snapper fillets
1 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
Kosher salt
12 cup whole-wheat bread crumbs
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. roughly chopped cilantro
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 small green Indian chile or serrano, stemmed, seeded, and minced (optional)
14 cup vegetable oil
Mint chutney, for serving
In a small saucepan, combine the cloves with the cardamom, bay leaf, cinnamon, and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Add the fish, return to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and poach the fish until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer the fish to a bowl and let cool. Discard the spices and cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, cover the potatoes with generously salted water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let them cool completely.
Add the potatoes to the bowl with the fish along with the bread crumbs, lime juice, cilantro, cumin, and chile, season with salt, and lightly mash the potatoes with the other ingredients until evenly combined. Form the mixture into six 3-inch-wide, 34-inch-thick patties.
In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the patties and cook, flipping once, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer the fish patties to a serving platter and serve while hot with mint chutney on the side.

 Strawberry Summer Cake…

While my grocery store did not have cilantro it did have an abundance of bright red strawberries. We really didn’t need another cake ( we still have a few pieces of a chocolate chip bundt cake waiting to be eaten). But the market spoke, of course, I listened. The house smells sweet and fruity like strawberry jam, like summer even though it is gray and rainy outside in my little Indiana suburban cul-de-sac. I have hope for warm weather and juicy produce ahead.
I used buttermilk instead of whole milk (which I rarely have at home). Reduced the amount of sugar just a bit. Baked it about 10 minutes longer than the recipe suggests. The cake rises to hug the strawberries as it bakes while the strawberries release and caramelize into pools of fruity sweetness. Sigh… So sweet. Would be fantastic with whipped cream.


Strawberry Summer Cake
Adapted, only slightly, from Martha Stewart

I recently picked up some barley flour and fell in love with it. We tend to associate whole grain flours with heartiness and heaviness, but this is neither — it’s silky and delicate, like the best cake flour you’ve ever bought, and it has a subtle creamy, nuttiness to it that goes fantastically with berries. This cake works like a dream with 100% all-purpose flour but if you’ve got barley flour around, swapping it in for half the volume is beyond delicious, adding a real depth to a deceptively simple cake.

I am ever-so-slightly on the fence about the sweetness of this cake. I like it, but I wouldn’t hate the batter itself with 2 tablespoons less sugar (i.e. 7/8 cup sugar instead of a whole one). If that’s your inclination, go ahead and dial it back as well. Leave the sugar on top. It contributes to the berries turning into jam.

6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
1 1/2 cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour (can swap 3/4 cup or 94 grams all-purpose flour with 3/4 cup or 75 grams of barley flour, see Note)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup (200 grams) plus 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup (118 ml) milk
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 pound (450 grams) strawberries, hulled and halved

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a 10-inch pie pan or 9-inch deep-dish pie pan (what I used). I did not test this with a standard 9-inch pie plate but looking at the margin of space leftover in my deep-dish pan after baking the cake, I suspect you’d be safe. Updated 6/13/11: This cake does not work in a standard 9-inch pie pan; it will overflow. Big apologies to anyone who learned the hard way! This cake would work, however, in a 9- or 10-inch springform or cake pan. The 10-inch would make a thinner cake than pictured.

Whisk flour or flours, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.

Pour into prepared pie plate. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer (though I had to overlap a few to get them all in). Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. (Gooey strawberries on the tester are a given.) Let cool in pan on a rack. Cut into wedges. Serve with lightly whipped cream.

Do ahead: Cake can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days, loosely covered, but good luck with that.

and finally,  Fatima Auntie’s Korma (a.k.a, Comedian Aziz Ansari’s Mom)

The ground cashews give this korma a special luxurious nutty creaminess. My family’s does not include cilantro, fennel seeds, nuts or tumeric but does include raisins. This was a really nice extra festive and rich version of a korma. My korma was on the spicy side because I used two red thai chilis giving the dish a hidden angry heat after the initial nutty sweetness. Due the cilantro shortage at my local grocery store, no cilantro was added. I imagine the cilantro would’ve added a brightness. Didn’t hurt the delicious dish at all. Gotta say… Fatima auntie, I’d cook with you anytime. And, deshi brother Aziz, good for you for celebrating your mom and all the yummy food she makes for you! Thank you both for sharing your story and recipe with Lucky Peach and us.

  • 2 lbs skinless chicken, preferably dark meat, cut into 2″ pieces
  • + salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 t turmeric powder
  • 3 cloves garlic, pounded into paste
  • 1/2 C yogurt
  • 1 1″ piece ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2–3 green chilies, seeded if desired
  • 1 t garam masala
  • 1 t ground coriander
  • 1 t ground fennel
  • 1/2 C cashews
  • 1/2 C cilantro leaves
  • + ghee rice or chapati, for serving
  1. In a large bowl or plastic bag, combine the chicken pieces, salt, pepper, turmeric powder, ginger, garlic paste, and yogurt. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
  2. When you are ready to cook, heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion and chilies with the garam masala until fragrant and brown, about 10 minutes. Add the marinated chicken, and fry for about 10 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, grind the coriander and fennel with the cashews and cilantro leaves in a small food processor or mortar and pestle. Add this mixture to the chicken, and cook until the chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes. You will see the oil rise to the top of the mixture and it will smell awesome with all of the spices. I usually cook some ghee rice to go with it, or some chapati.

What Politicians Eat – From Lucky Peach

A story dedicated to those of you voting on this Super Tuesday:



Two Minute Chocolate Cake tastes like …

…well, two minute chocolate cake. Good for a chocolate craving emergency. I used the Lucky Peach Magazine recipe Here. I had white chocolate chips instead of chocolate chips but that should not have affected the cake consistency. Good doused in ice-cream but still a bit odd and chewy. Try it for yourself and let me know. Maybe the microwave is to blame. Baked the two minute batter in a 350 oven for half an hour. Still, good flavor, strange texture. Fun to watch erupt in the microwave.

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What constitutes a failed recipe?

  1. When the end product following the guidelines does not correspond to the image or expectation?
  2. When the instructions are not followed or understood?
  3. When the instructions are not clear?

Recipes are an odd conceptual category between practical instruction and theoretical consistency. The material threat of subverting conceptual clarity as any humble cook knows is very high. Altitude, humidity, quality of ingredients, interaction of ingredients, measurement discrepancies, tools used, water quality, everything contributes the supposed success of the recipe (not to mention subjective tastes). Recipes should be used as a list and an ontographic map towards a particular gastronomic experience that someone else found. If we want to reach the same destination, we need to follow the directions as best we can. We can never know if we arrived at the exact taste location (unless we are recreating a known or familial taste). Good recipes give us skills that take us to different related places, like my favorite zucchini bread or chocolate chip cookie recipe. How you relate to recipes is a philosophical preference. Do you nervously follow every detail, blame the recipe if it doesn’t meet expectation, blame yourself and accuse your skill level, blame the ingredients?  A lot of anxiety related to cooking comes from relinquishing too much power to the recipe.

I enjoy trying recipes and watching the process of either supposed success or failure. I say “try” because I rarely exactly follow a recipe. Here is another experiment from the weekend that I would say was a success.  The pancake recipe from Southern Living advised not to beat the ingredients vigorously together with an image that showed very lumpy batter and gave instructions on when to flip the pancake.

“Cook the pancakes 3-4 minutes or until tops are covered with bubbles and edges look dry and cooked.”

This is a good example of object oriented material thinking. It is not only a measure of time but an assessment of how the ingredients are reacting together. Even with these gentle guidelines, I found it tricky to modulate the heat of my cast iron pan so that the bubbles would form just in time the edges and bottom turned golden, not burnt. Some batches were better than others. Ironically, the first two (usually the worst) were the best. Delicious pancakes. Fluffy, flavorful, buttery…oh yes…very buttery, crispy edges. Thank you, Southern Living recipe writer and tester.

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Then there are delicious dishes that need no recipe, no introduction. Just yummy. Ugly maybe, but so yummy, like my fried egg with bread, marscapone and raspberry jelly. Just dip and enjoy. Or Brie and jam baked in puff pasty. Gooey melting cheese that lazily spills out of flaky pastry. Puff pastry makes everything decadent and as Atiya would say, regal.


That’s my weekend report. It was delicious.

Next time you cook, call it an experiment in material philosophy.  Notice how you feel and make decisions when things work and when they don’t. Then, come back and share your experiences here with other hungryphilosophers. No judgment, just awareness.

Wishing you a wonderful and delicious weekend ahead,