Nerd of the Week
Meet Amanda, a Food Nerd
Interview by Terra Olsen
What are you nerdy for?
Food. I love cooking, baking, eating, writing about and talking about food.
How did you discover food?
I had always been fond of casually baking and cooking. But I’d say I re-discovered food several years ago on a trip to New York when I stopped into Joe’s Shanghai to try their famous soup dumplings. I had never even heard of a soup dumpling before; I had only heard that I “absolutely must” try them. When the waiter set the bamboo steamer of eight quivering, golf ball-sized dumplings on the table, I was already in awe. I carefully picked one up and placed it in my soupspoon, slowly bringing it up to my mouth as though it were a bubble in danger of being popped by the sheer force of air. That moment when I bit through the gummy flesh and felt the hot rush of savory pork soup filling up my mouth I knew my life changed forever. Simple as they were, these dumplings were unlike anything I’ve ever had before and made me look at food in a completely different way.
What about food sparked the nerd in you?
With regards to food and the preparation of it, there are endless possibilities, undiscovered ingredients and unwritten recipes. Somewhere, there’s always something new.
But with regards to the cooking process specifically, there’s a certain amount of control and chaos that thrills me. I get to chop stuff up, mash things together and generally get pretty messy. But it’s done with deliberation and purpose. It’s like getting to be a child and an adult at the same time. (I’m probably going to regret that last statement for its Freudian implications.)
How has food impacted your life? How do you incorporate food into your life?
Fortunately, you have to eat every day! I try to cook something new at least once a week, and try a new restaurant every other week. I might check Yelp for a suggestion but I usually go by what local food critics advise.
Where do you want to take food in the future?
I’m fascinated by the current trend in food discovery. With services like Foodzie, Delicious Karma and Culture Kitchen that basically mail users a food basket each month, people are making it easier than ever to help others learn about food. More than that, this movement is giving increased exposure to local vendors and hopefully helping these independent businesses.
Then there are all these new websites that make recipe searching easier. Sites like Yummly, Gojee and YumDom provide one-click solutions for this. You can search by flavor, filtering ingredients you don’t like and even by what’s already in your pantry.
I’m not sure where this movement is going next but I’m hoping to be part of it very soon!
For new cooks, I’d say to find an easy recipe and try not to over-think it. I’d go with pasta, casserole or baked chicken or fish. Those tend to be dishes you can leave in the oven for the specified time and aren’t likely to undercook or burn on the first try. Be mindful of the preparation and cook times noted in the recipe and start with something that takes under an hour. That way the experience will be enjoyable enough that you’d want to cook again.
If you’re interested in learning more about food just read and eat a lot. Start with Food Republic, Serious Eats and Bill Buford’s “Heat”. Maybe pick up Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential.” Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the book but like most foodies, I’m a fan of Bourdain himself. The book is easy to read and worth a skim. Also, try a new restaurant each week – it doesn’t have to be expensive – and look at a dish’s components before you eat it. What’s in it? How is the texture? What does it taste like?
Favorite moment/memory involving food?
You know cooking shows like “Iron Chef” and “Chopped”? Culinary school is very similar to that – only it’s complete rookies desperately trying not to screw up the simplest of tasks. During one of my final exams, I had to grill a chicken breast and make two side dishes to go with it.
A couple of us were gathered around the grill, anxiously cooking our chicken (as if it were the most difficult thing in the world). I squeezed in between two people to grab my meat and… I dropped it. The poor little chicken breast with its perfect hatch marks lay pathetically on the ground. I gaped in horror. Without missing a beat, my friend stared me in the eyes, gritted her teeth and quietly ordered, “You pick that shit up. And you plate it.”
And I did. I prayed my teacher wouldn’t eat my dish. Fortunately, he didn’t; he just cut through the breast to check its doneness. I got an A. (And if you’re wondering, I did end up taking the chicken home and eating it for dinner. Call it penance if you want; I was just that hungry.)
California native Amanda Natividad is a recent graduate from Le Cordon Bleu and most recently worked at the Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen, where she got to play with food all day. Prior to working with food, Amanda received a degree in Communications from UCLA and served as an Editorial Producer for digital media and technology news company GigaOM.com. Amanda is also the founder of DelishMegish where she blogs about her experiences with food. Make sure to like her Facebook page and follow her on Twitter @amandanat too!