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Author Archive: "Paul Virant, with Kate Leahy"

Cooking by the Book

Some folks collect baseball cards. Other folks collect antique birdcages. Chefs collect cookbooks.

I can look at a chef's bookshelf and figure out where he or she draws inspiration. If I see Ma Gastronomie by Fernand Point, I'm talking to a classic Francophile. Paul Bertolli's Cooking by Hand and I'm thinking this guy makes his own pasta and charcuterie. Anything on Morocco by Paula Wolfert and I'm willing to bet that there are preserved lemons in her walk-in cooler.

Every year I update my collection with new titles to stay current. But the cookbooks that stick with me the most are the ones I read while working my way up the kitchen ranks. On my last post as a guest blogger for Powell's, I figured it was appropriate to share a handful of titles that resonated with me while I was learning how to cook.

Joy of Cooking by ...


The Mark of a Good Macchiato

Anyone who has spent some time with me will notice my coffee habit. I'm not a one-cup-a-day kind of guy. I'm more of a one cup, followed by a double espresso an hour later, and another after that, kind of guy.

A loyal coffee habit may be the most common thing shared by both chefs and writers. Coffee fosters creativity, and some days you need all the help you can get. A lot of menu ideas in The Preservation Kitchen came together during coffee-fueled meetings with my co-author, Kate Leahy.

As my wife can confirm, I'm something of a coffee fanatic. I have a few fancy contraptions on my kitchen counter, including a gravity-fed coffee grinder. I even figured out a way to work coffee into my book. Maybe too far — while reviewing the manuscript, our editor, Jenny Wapner, politely said enough already with the coffee. Still, some of it survived the editing process, including a recipe for iced coffee. (I cold-brew coffee and sweeten it with a milk jam that tastes like dulce de leche. Now that ...


A Playlist That Cooks

When I started working in restaurants in high school, I never heard the phrase "rock star chef." I wanted to be a rock star, or at least party like one. But the more I got into cooking, the more I realized that juggling sauté pans and order-fire calls from the expediter was like performing — just in a different way .

But while I switched focus from guitar riffs to knife skills years ago, I never lost my love for music. During our first photo shoot for my cookbook The Preservation Kitchen, a Zeppelin song came on the stereo. When I caught the photographer, Jeff Kauck, getting into it, I knew right then that we'd work well together. Cooking and music just go together. While I don't play music in my kitchens during service, a stereo is always on earlier in the day when we prep. It helps get my adrenalin going, whether I'm chopping a few carrots or canning 100 pounds of tomatoes.

The set list changes on the day (and who has control of the stereo), but my ...


Canning Bloopers

Canning mishaps happen to the best of us. One day I'm confidently demonstrating on video how to pickle asparagus. The jar is still hot, and while most canning pros tell you to let the jar cool completely before testing the seal, I'm feeling bold. I pick up the jar and turn it upside down. The lid stays put. Magic.

It's a neat trick and it usually works, but not always. Fast-forward a few months later and I'm doing another canning demo. This time it's live, and I'm feeling the crowd and having fun. So I take the jar of carrots, turn it upside down... and you can probably guess what happens next. Pickling brine and carrots spill out everywhere. I just provided a solid example of what not to do.

Sometimes learning what not to do is a whole lot more important than learning what to do. We always remember mistakes longer than flawless performances. With canning, most of the time there is a simple explanation when things go wrong. So assuming you're not playing fast and loose with methods or ingredients (canning recipes should be followed faithfully for safety ...


Spring Training

In Chicago, spring came at least a month ahead of schedule. We had a wild March, with temperatures soaring past 80 degrees. Daffodils came and went. Even the magnolia trees bloomed. If we have a bad frost now, we'll have problems. But I'm looking at the bright side: The warm weather has been great for canning.

While we never completely stop canning at my restaurants — Vie in Western Springs, Illinois, and Perennial Virant in Chicago — in winter months our projects drop off significantly. We stick with pickled root vegetables and preserves made from citrus fruits. I like them all, but eventually I start to miss green things, like asparagus and ramps.

Especially ramps. Chefs go nuts for these wild onions, present company included. Ramps are the first indication that there is life after winter. On forest floors, they are the first green shoots to pop out of the dead leaves and dirt. News of the first crop of ramps used to travel by word of mouth. Now it's gone digital. I'll get a photo of ramps from Tim Burton of Maplewood Farm in Medora, Indiana, as ...


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