Midnight Snack Video: New Chefs Rising – Jake Eberle of Le Fond


From Food Republic: In this episode of New Chefs Rising, chef and co-owner Jake Eberle of Le Fond in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, prepares a classic but hard-to-make dish, poule au pot, and talks about his goal of turning out rustic, satisfying food for diners.

Many thanks and credit to Food Republic, Jake Eberle, and everyone else involved in the making of this video. Please share the Midnight Snack with your friends and start cooking!

ChefSteps Family Meal: “Vietnamese Subway” Edition

We like to eat. And even more than we like to eat, we like to cook. And even more than we like to cook, we like to cook together. That’s why we drop our TPS reports every Friday afternoon and gather in the kitchen for family meal. At restaurants, “family meal” is a venerated tradition where staffers gather together before service and eat a hearty meal, usually prepared by the kitchen staff and served buffet-style to the rest of the employees. At ChefSteps, we turn that tradition on its side: one or more of our chefs pairs up with a non-kitchen employee (a writer, perhaps, or a videographer, or a software developer) to make something amazing for the rest of us. Why do we do it? Because we believe that cooking and eating together makes us better at our jobs, and better at life. And we’re holding tight to that belief. (I mean really, can you blame us?)

chefsteps_family_meal_1

Last week, development chef Nick Gavin paired up with software developer (and home cook extraordinaire) Huy Nguyen to serve choose-your-own-adventure Vietnamese spring rolls (aka “Vietnamese Subway”). Huy’s been making spring rolls since birth, so he knows a thing or two about how to do it right. Read on for his tips on how to roll your own.

Quick Dip

Start with a rice-paper wrapper dipped quickly in warm water. It’s tempting to soak it for a few minutes, but trust us—just a quick dip will do. After you dip, lay it flat on your plate.

Lettuce First

Add green lettuce first, for structure and color, then vermicelli noodles, green onions, basil, mint, cucumbers, and whatever other fresh ingredients you want.

Level Up

Next, poach raw beef or bacon in one of two simmering mixtures: one made of beer, vinegar, and fish sauce; and one made of butter, lemongrass, and onions. (Dipping the beef in beer and vinegar is a Vietnamese tradition called bò nhúng dấm, by the way, and it literally means “beef dipped in vinegar” in Vietnamese.) If you’re feeling ambitious, as we were on this occasion, set up a binchotan (a Japanese charcoal-grill) and add charred shrimp and squid to your spring rolls. (We used octopus instead of squid because it looked nice and fresh.) If you’re not feeling ambitious, make sous vide chicken or pork belly and use that instead.

chefstep_spring roll

Roll On

Once your wrappers are filled with delicious treasures, roll those babies up tight. They key is to work quickly and confidently: pull the edge closest to you over the top of your fillings, then fold in the sides, and roll tightly until you have a nice little burrito. And hey, if you end up with a spring-roll massacre, just grab a fork. It’ll still be yummy. Make a simple dipping sauce out of lemon juice, fish sauce, sugar, and water for dipping, and voilà! You, sir or madam, are the Vietnamese spring roll master.

What should we prepare next Friday? Add your suggestions in the comments below!

Check Out Our New Collection of Japanese Knives

Japanese knives at ChefSteps

When it comes to creating amazing experiences in the kitchen, there’s perhaps nothing more important than a great knife. And yet, so many people feel frustrated with their slicing and dicing tools, even after throwing down major cash for a block of blades that come in every shape, size, and purported purpose. Trouble is, these knife collections so often include tools that are uncomfortable, ineffective, and impractical. What’s the point of having 15 knives if you only use two of them?

Ryusen Sujihiki knife at ChefSteps

In our experience, it’s far better to invest in a few favorite knives—those multipurpose workhorses that fit perfectly in our hands and help us create cleanly sliced meats and lovely, even dices. We’ve tried knives from all over the world, and our favorites always seem to hail from Japan, where blade-making is a centuries old, highly respected tradition. These days, European makers have pretty much abandoned hand-forging traditions, but in Japan these traditions live on. Some makers are still hand-making the whole tool, while other innovators have combined hand-forged blades with factory-crafted handles, resulting in a less-expensive piece of equipment that still yields stellar results. (And looks dang sexy, too.)

Japanese Gyuto knives at ChefSteps

One of the best sources for Japanese knives we know is a small shop in Kirkland, Washington—not far from ChefSteps HQ—called The Epicurean Edge. Founded by Daniel O’Malley, a bladesmith himself, the store stocks a smart selection of sharp-ass blades at a variety of prices. We’ve worked closely with O’Malley to curate a selection of our own favorite knives available through his company, and recently updated this selection to offer a range of prices. Depending on your needs, you can opt for a practically priced utility knife, a show-stopping stainless steel chef’s knife, or a lovely santoku for perfectly sliced veggies—check out the descriptions for details about each style. Got questions? Feel free to ask away in the comments section or post on the ChefSteps forum.
Join ChefSteps now for access to recipes—including everything from a simple-yet-spectacular chocolate soufflé, to the world’s best romesco, and a savory ice cream salad with microgreens—that will help you become the badass cook you always knew you could be.

What Cookbooks Inspire You?

ChefSteps-Cookbooks-Plating
In our recent Design a Dish project, we included a list with some of our favorite books for plating inspiration. Whether we are dreaming up new textural combinations, studying a certain style of plating, or just need to look at something beautiful to get our imaginations flowing, these books always deliver with original flavor pairings and artful photography.

Of course, there are many more books in our library that inspire us for different reasons. And we also keep a lot of perhaps-less-pretty—but equally, if not more, useful—reference guides around for when we want to develop our own Melty Cheese Slices or Chewy Candy.

But now, we want to hear from you. What books inspire you most in the kitchen? What are your favorites for recipes, plating, or just pretty pictures? Leave your mini-list in the comments. We welcome your expert suggestions, and if your picks aren’t already in our library, they’ll definitely go on our shopping list.

Join the ChefSteps community to find out what ambitious cooks like you are cooking, reading, and thinking about. Plus, get the first word on all our new recipes, techniques, and events.

5 Common Misconceptions About Sous Vide Cooking

Sous-Vide-Bath-ChefSteps

UPDATE: ChefSteps has debuted our own sous vide tool, and we think you’ll love it. Head to our website to claim your Joule today.

In the past few years, sous vide cooking—already ubiquitous in fine-dining restaurants—has gained a foothold in home kitchens as well. That’s thanks to newly affordable equipment and cameos on TV shows like The Simpsons and Adventure Time, along with the publication of groundbreaking books such as Modernist Cuisine and Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure.

But despite the technique’s rocketing popularity, it’s still plagued by many-a-misconception. Below, we debunk five common myths surrounding sous vide. Ready to get started? You’ll find plenty of easy recipes, tips, and techniques in our free class, Cooking Sous Vide: Getting Started.

Before we get into some of the more common untruths surrounding sous vide, let’s clear something up: sous vide does not mean boiling food in a bag. Common boil-in-a-bag foods, like packaged rice and ready-made Indian dishes, involve bringing water to a boil and then placing the vacuum-packed food in the water to heat it. With sous vide, however, the point is to cook food gently, well below the boiling point. We’re heating water precisely to a temperature that matches the food’s ideal internal temperature—never any hotter, and certainly never to boiling! The idea that sous vide means boiling food in a bag is a persistent misconception and source of confusion, but—tell your friends and neighbors—it’s just not true.

1. “Sous vide” means “under vacuum,” and that means I need to pony up for an expensive, space-hogging chamber-style vacuum sealer if I want to try it.

Yes, “sous vide” is French for “under vacuum.” And yes, it’s a very confusing name. Because in fact, you don’t need a pricey vacuum sealer—or even an inexpensive countertop one—to successfully cook food at a low temperature in a water bath. To get started with sous vide, regular-old ziplock-style bags will do just fine. In fact, in some applications they are preferable to vacuum-sealed bags. Use the simple water displacement method (instructions in sidebar here) to remove the air from the bags, then get cooking.

salmon-bag-sous-vide

2. Okay, but I still need to buy pricey sous vide equipment.

It’s true that cooks who regularly cook sous vide often opt to invest in an immersion circulator or SousVide Supreme bath. In the last few years, however, a number of affordable models have emerged for home use. (Popular Science has published a helpful roundup of those). And if you’re just looking to test the method out, you can improvise a sous vide setup with nothing more than a pot, a stove, a digital thermometer, and some plastic bags. Allow us to show you how.

improvised-sous-vide-chefsteps

3. I don’t need a circulator to get started, got it—that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not safe to cook food in plastic bags.

People are concerned with cooking with plastic. We totally get it—there have been some alarming reports about heating some types of plastic, and the studies, which sometimes conflict with one another, are also often over-simplified in the news. It’s all pretty confusing.

At ChefSteps, we cook food sous vide all the time. We use the technique in our development kitchen, and at home when we prepare food for our families. And we feel safe doing so. Frankly, we’re much more concerned with working clean and dining at sanitary, well-run restaurants than we are with using sous vide bags. After all, the CDC reports that food poisoning kills 3,000 Americans every year and hospitalizes 128,000. And foodborne illness is overwhelmingly caused by preventable, unhygienic handling of food—sous vide cuts the risk of contamination drastically by preventing this dangerous handling. In other words, those plastic bags are preventing serious, known health risks. To our minds, this benefit far outweighs the potential issue of cooking with plastic, which is at most a casual risk rather than a direct one.

We can’t, however, guarantee you that there’s not some small health risk involved in cooking food in sous-vide or ziplock-style bags. We read the research closely, we understand the science involved, and we believe the risk in cooking food at low temperatures in high-quality plastic bags is small. If we didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t encourage you to use them. The way we see it, risk is just part of life—every time we cross the street, or get behind the wheel of a car, we’re accepting a certain amount of risk. And adventurous eaters are well-acquainted with the possible pitfalls of fresh oysters, sushi, tartares, and certain delicious cheeses. Raw spinach is far from risk-free and, like it or not, you’re taking a gamble every time you bite into a juicy fast-food burger.

Also, the prevailing wisdom has a way of changing. Remember when eggs were considered unhealthy, and everyone ate white bread? Or when low-fat, sugar-laden cookies were supposed to help you lose weight? This week red wine and coffee are good for you, but who knows when a new study may come out and “prove” the exact opposite is true? From nonstick pans to soup cans, all kinds of kitchen products have come under question. And in the end, we can only know what we know. And we know we love to eat meats, seafoods, and vegetables—all wholesome, fresh foods—cooked gently to bring out awesome flavor and lovely texture. We love the predictability and simplicity of sous vide, and we’d love to share the many healthy recipes and techniques we’ve developed around the method, to help you have great success in your own kitchen. And if you still feel funny about using plastics, fear not. We’ll show you how to sous vide stuff in mason jars instead. For more information on sous vide packaging, check out our complete guide, featuring details on safety, when to use what, and tips for perfect presentation.

Note: The above section was updated to articulate our position on cooking with plastic bags.

Half_Candied Blood Orange_5

4. But why do I need a whole new cooking technique just to get tender steak, fish, and chicken?

People unfamiliar with sous vide often think it’s only useful for preparing proteins. While all three of those foods taste great cooked sous vide, there are so many more delicious options. Our gallery of sous vide recipes should provide you with plenty of further inspiration.

Carrots and Perfect Yolk-ChefSteps

5. Alright, ChefSteps. I’m convinced this could be a good way to go when I have plenty of time on my hands, but for day-to-day use, my trusty old oven is way more efficient.

We often reach for the circulator when it’s time to give tough cuts the slow-and-low treatment, but we also prepare sous vide mashed potatoes in 45 minutes flat, and fish, steak, and chicken usually cook in under an hour. And remember, instead of staring hopelessly into your oven window, hoping that chicken breast hasn’t turned to stringy shoe leather, you can allow food to cook largely unattended, safe in the knowledge that results will be predictable every time—and freeing you to focus on other things. Like, say, what you’re going to whip up next.

Mashed-potatoes-ChefSteps
Join the ChefSteps community to get free access to the best resources for sous-vide cooking on the web, share recipes and tips with other enthusiastic cooks, and get the first word on new recipes and techniques.

Typography of ChefSteps

Fortunately, I have the freedom here at ChefSteps to go down rabbit holes I think are important, as long as I can A) Convince the team they are necessary and B) Can execute. So, after feeling like something was a bit off about the typography of the site, you’ll notice in the last couple of months that we moved away from using Raleway and Helvetica Neue on headers and body text respectively, and moved to mostly just Gotham. I love it, and I think the site looks very clean with it, but there was something missing.

It all started with MailChimp’s Archived Post of Rhythm and Grid , and I got started down the path of looking at our own typography and vertical rhythm (it was lacking). Once I started on the path of defining a vertical rhythm, I found several great resources that all coincided with choosing a scale for the typography as well. We’re currently using Gotham as the main font for the site through H&FJ (typography.com). A little more digging and bam! 8th light post about choosing a scale.

I started here, with a 9:16 scale, which is a minor seventh in musical terms. I chose 9:16 because of the similarity (while not exactly the same as) to 16:9 aspect ratio, which Ryan shoots the video at. That scale looks like this. The minor seventh looked good, but sounded a tad discordant for my taste. Knowing no one would really care/know about his, I still took the time to change it so it matched up to a perfect fourth. A perfect fourth sounds like the first chord on this song, which was playing everywhere at ChefSteps one day:

17 by Youth Lagoon on Grooveshark

By this time, I’d seen several blog posts about incorporating music into your typography, and Robert Bringhurst’s advice to compose to scale is where a lot of these rooted from. Tim Brown’s article on A List Apart and Owen Gregory’s on 24 Ways are older posts, but also absolutely amazing and in-depth. I’ve not even come close to the thoroughness of the composition for layout as these two do, but it’s a start.

Here’s what I did: I took the Perfect Fourth and associated our scale to those and used the true 16:9 pixel dimension as the magic number (in this case, 1136px for our videos, which is a true 16:9 resolution. So, we’re using the perfect fourth scale now, which was a small adjustment, but gives me a really nice story behind the design 🙂 — Here’s the modular scale. We skip a few sizes between h3 and h5, but that also allows us flexibility in typography for different sized text should we need it.

One of the big things I struggled with was em vs. rem. I was defining baseline by em, which was screwing up issues because it was all defined by the parent and ems can compound in size based on inheritance. The only real solution while still using ems is to write more css — The answer was to use rems. I then defined the root for html to be 62.5%, which is the same as what Jonathan recommends, in order to have every X.Xrem to translate into XXpx (1.1rem = 11px). Then I used a SASS mixin to define a baseline of 1.1rem and anytime I add margin, I use $baseline * N for as much space as I need.

All this took a little while, because the rhythm is constantly disrupted by image sizes that don’t fall into multiples of our baseline (11px), but for the most part, the text up and down the page does. It helps the pages look more composed and any new modules we have in the future should fit neatly into the grid, making the entire site more flexible and robust from a UX perspective.

Did you get this far? You must really like typography! You’re probably like:

But I’m like:

Vertical rhythm and composing to a scale: Like doing the robot in a robot suit. Thanks to everyone linked here for helping me figure out how to implement something like this on ChefSteps. What’s next?

Some more resources:

Week 46

New homepage! You get that yet? You should have. The new homepage is solving a few different problems for us, and hopefully you.

The top layer gives you the latest content from ChefSteps, regardless of our categorization of it. We’re thinking about doing away with that categorization all together (recipes, techniques, science) because it seems to mean more to us than to users. Can anyone confirm that? In any case, you’ll always see the latest up there.

On the left side, we’re highlighting a few of our courses. If you’ve enrolled in a course and haven’t yet finished it, we’ll show you the course and give you a chance to continue it, because we really want to make sure you get 100% of the content there—We’ve put a lot of work into our courses and will only continue to get more.

Lastly, we have an activity feed! This shows you everything that anyone does on the site. It’s sort of a firehose right now, but the reason why is because there’s always activity happening on the site and this lets you see what other Steppers are interacting with. We UXers like to call that serendipitous discovery. Later, you’ll be able to filter that list based on who you follow (yup, following coming soon) and by trending areas.

Okay, easter egg: Click on Community Activity to take you to the page that loads just activity, then on your iPhone (yeah, unfortunately only for iPhone right now) click Bookmark > Add to Home Screen to get a sweet app icon to save on your phone and have the community activity on ChefSteps a tap away. Week 47 coming fast. Peace.

Week 44-45

The last two weeks: I’ve been busy doing user interviews with a lot of great people here in the Seattle area — It’s been super amazing to talk to people and hear what they like best about ChefSteps. All of the feedback I’m getting has been great, and we’re learning a lot about how to prioritize our efforts. Thanks to Alex, Nicole, Julian, Quoc, Chuck, Zack, and Amanda for taking time out of their day to hang out and talk with me about ChefSteps.

I’m re-examining the value of a carousel around here. I like it, because it’s really beautiful, but I’m not sure it’s helping people find content that is relevant to them. In fact, the more I talk to users, the more I’m seeing that that is a recurring problem. Because we have so many different levels of cooks at ChefSteps, the experience needs to be more guided so that people can find content that helps them take their skills to the next level. For a lot of people that are in the industry, even though some of the knife sharpening stuff is cool and relevant from a science standpoint, they already know how to sharpen their knives because they have to do it for work all the time, but spherification is new and exciting, so they’re more likely to be helped by that new technique.

Equipment continues to be a barrier for a lot of users as well, with a lot of folks not having all the cool tools we have in the kitchen (but wanting them). I think we’re doing a good job listing the substitutes and different techniques to achieve similar results. If we’re not, let us know.

One of the other things I keep hearing is that people don’t document their recipes. I was talking to Michael about this and it’s a big barrier. There are people that do it because it’s their job; recipe development is something they do and they want people to use their recipes, but for most home cooks and for users outside the industry, they cook mostly by feel, taste, texture. Is that a barrier that we can overcome? If we made it easy enough to upload a recipe or made it super-easy to get the bones of a recipe started so that you can edit it later or, better yet, someone else could do it for you or work off your idea and make something different and amazing, would that be good enough for users to really find value? I’m not sure yet, but I’m working my way towards an answer the more people I talk to.

In any case, that’s mostly what I’ve been up to. Lots of good content went up these past two weeks, so make sure you check it out. We’ve still got a lot of things coming soon as well and we’re working at making it more obvious when our stuff is going to come out so stay tuned. Have you uploaded your avatar yet? Get rid of those gray boxes!

Have a great weekend. Remember: <whisper>chefsteps!</whisper>

Week 43

I’m reading a few different books right now, one of which is The Experience Economy, which talks a lot about adding theatricality to your service to create an experience. I’ve been thinking a lot about that with our interfaces and how we can make it more satisfying to users when they do things we like them to do: cook food, practice techniques, take courses (and cook that food), and add recipes. These are all things we want people to do on a regular basis because it’s the best way to get better. Practice quenelles with crisco! You can upload those pictures, too; it’s important for people to learn the how of getting better at cooking, and practicing is part of that. We’re going to make it feel more satisfying to do that as well.

We launched the knife sharpening course last week which has gotten a lot of uptake quite quickly. There’s a dozen pics that are proof positive that Steppers have some kick-ass, sharp knives. We’re about to get hooked up with some really sweet knives and sharpening kits, so stay tuned for that. I definitely need to do some sharpening, so can’t wait to get some stones. And probably a new knife.

I was making myself some coffee one day in the staff kitchen and I really don’t have any idea how to make good coffee on our crazy awesome La Marzocco machine, and Grant just laughs at me (in a nice way) and says, have you not had a lesson? I had one from Ryan a while back, but I forget a lot of things (my 1.5-year-old son kicks me in the head while he’s sleeping sometimes). So he gives a quick run through and I realize again that I am exceedingly lucky to have had that lesson, on a whim, on an average day at work. But I don’t get to play back a video or written documentation to show me exactly how to perfect my technique. Everyone in the ChefSteps community, however, does and even has the access to the chefs if you have questions about what you’re doing. I think that is pretty amazing.

Week 42

Polls? Yes. One of the harder parts about being a sole designer at a startup is that you have try really hard to adhere to what your core product is, and it’s easy to lose focus on that because of all the cool features your team thinks of. The social design explosion is a great article about determining your feature set, and we’re looking at what makes sense and what doesn’t for our users. We wanted to introduce polls because they are adding an extremely great way for users to essentially help shape the curriculum here and ultimately be a place where cooks can learn what they want. And what’s our core mission? Making you a better cook.

So voting for new content is currently where it’s at here at ChefSteps. Make sure you head over and vote on your favorite new thing that our kick-ass kitchen crew will work on. We’re probably going to open up some other social features coming up soon, but don’t look for the deluge of social features to encroach on the great content that we’re putting out.

Last week I changed up the default avatar on everyone’s profile with something pretty generic, but also lets you know that it should be an avatar. There’s a lot of gray boxes out there! Make sure you update your avatar and bio by clicking on the profile link on the navigation bar at the top right. It’ll help you stick out of the crowd.

Last thing for all you designers out there working on digital products: I’ve been working on an email engagement plan to get more awareness on all things we’re working on at ChefSteps. A couple of awesome things that have made my life easier are mailmatic and pre-mailer (comes packaged with mailmatic). It allows me to design and code emails using SASS and HAML and automatically converts them to HTML-style email (like 1990’s code). Pretty awesome. I really want to make the first 30 days of a user’s experience at ChefSteps really amazing (and of course, after that, too), and an email engagement plan is part of that. If you have suggestions on how to make your experience better, please let me know.

That’s it for now. On to 43!