Q & A With Adam Roberts, The Amateur Gourmet:

Of the chefs you cooked with for your latest book, who surprised you the most?
Adam: Probably Sara Moulton. I knew her best as the wholesome, Leave It To Beaver-ish mom-type from the Food Network. Cooking with her, I discovered that she's hilariously irreverent. She talked smack about the Food Network and revealed her connection to the Beastie Boys (her husband was the director of publicity for Def Jam Records). She's even a lyric in a Beastie Boys rap!
What recipe was the most perplexing to learn? Why?
Adam: I structured the book in order of difficulty. So all of the stuff at the beginning is pretty easy to do; the middle stuff is somewhat challenging and the stuff at the end isn't hard, per se, but it's time-consuming. The most perplexing, I guess, was learning how to sous vide without a sous vide machine. Dave Arnold, who taught me how to do it, showed me how to get a vacuum seal using a freezer bag and a big pot of water. He also told me the temperature to get the pot in order to cook the meat to the perfect internal temperature. It's a strange thing to do -- to fill a stock pot with lukewarm water to cook your meat in a Ziploc bag -- but it really works. It's a great way to try out sous vide cooking without having to buy a sous vide machine.
Which recipe in your book incites the most gracious of groans when you cook it?
Adam: Gracious of groans -- that's a funny phrase. I'd say the French Onion Soup, which is so extraordinary because of the stock that goes into it: a stock that was taught to me by Naomi Pomeroy of the restaurant Beast in Portland. I call it Beast Stock in the book because it's a stock unique to her restaurant. Essentially, though, you're roasting veal bones and vegetables and then simmering them for 10 hours until you have a stock so flavorful, anything you make with it will be good. But French Onion soup made with it and then flavored with truffle salt and 30 year-aged balsamic is over-the-moon delicious.
Two trends that surprised me last year were 1) Restaurants charging for tap water and 2) The mainstream Instagramming of meals. What will trend next in 2013?
Adam: I'm really bad at predicting trends, but if I really think about it, I'd say: a return to the classics? Chefs moving away from foams and centrifuges and re-embracing the work of Escoffier and Fernand Point. Less spheres, more terrines? We'll see how right I am, probably not right at all.
Cupcakes were the new cake first. And then pie was the new cupcake. I'm curious, what's the new pie?
Adam: Multi-colored macarons.
Finish this sentence: Will restaurants please start _________________.
Adam: ...Making menus easier; less small plates that may or may not be sharable, and more traditional breakdowns of appetizers, entrees and dessert.
When shopping for fresh ingredients to cook with, what are the signs that a market is on top of it? The signs that it isn't?
Adam: Your best bet is really to go to a farmer's market where farmers are selling to you directly. Otherwise, who knows when the food was trucked in and from where? That said, if a farmer's market isn't realistic, there are ways to test for freshness. Tomatoes should be bright red; cucumbers should be firm; melons should be fragrant, etc.
Cooking (for me at least) rarely results in anything that looks like the photo. What's the most important part of translating a recipe from page to plate?
Adam: Using your senses. Too many cooks rely on recipes instead of themselves. You have to know the tools available to you to make food taste (and look) better. So taste-wise, add more salt, add butter, add vinegar, add lemon juice... Often times, that's all it takes to go from mediocre to great. As for looks, you'd be surprised how much fresh parsley sprinkled on top of a dish can transform it from humdrum to something special.
What are your "top five" restaurants in the U.S.? It's okay, you can name names...
Adam: I feel like the faster I answer this, the safer I'll be. Here we go: Prune (New York), Franny's (Brooklyn), Pizzeria Mozza (yes, I know, two pizza places!) in Los Angeles, Blue Hill at Stone Barns (New York), and because I had a pretty phenomenal meal there recently while I was on my book tour, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in Napa, Calif.
Be honest, can we all be amateur chefs if we just work hard at it?
Adam: Sure, but you have to genuinely love food and cooking. If you don't have love for it, you probably won't be great at it... Most bad cooks are bad cooks because they hate doing it.


To read more about Adam Roberts' culinary adventures, visit his blog The Amateur Gourmet or pick up his book, 'SECRETS OF THE BEST CHEFS', at a bookstore near you.

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