So you wanna be a Test Kitchen intern.... Meet Tara O'Reilly
We're just wrapping up another video shoot for KTLA's afternoon news "Eat Beat" segments, taping "how-to's" for recipes on a white gazpacho, bell pepper and corn slaw, quick zucchini pickles and the perfect summer potato salad. We're almost done testing authentic Greek taverna recipes for an upcoming story, putting the final touches on tested recipes in the system, and trying to source one elusive ingredient for the last recipe left to test (anyone know of a local source for smoked eel?).
Oh, and we're testing pies. Lots and lots of summer fruit pies for another upcoming story. We've made over 20 so far, nine of them just this morning.
Of course, it's just another day in the Test Kitchen.
In addition to our full-time staff, we host interns from culinary schools all over the United States, including international students. These students receive hands-on training as they learn the finer points of recipe testing and development (how to read a recipe, wording, problem solving, adapting for the home kitchen and testing for consistent results). The students also learn tips for food styling and interact with chefs, writers and food professionals of all kinds.
And as much as they may learn from us, we also learn a lot from them. Hailing from various regions and with diverse ethnic backgrounds, our interns bring unique perspectives and passions to our kitchen, whether it's discussing the secret intricacies of Texas-style "bowl o' red" or sharing a mother's technique for making Chinese bao. What we all share is a deep love of food.
Both Michael and Leo have since left to resume studies at the CIA. Here I introduce Tara O'Reilly (in pie zen-mode), on loan from the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles (Hollywood campus). -- Noelle Carter
Hiya, I’m Tara and I’m an eater. A passionate, greedy, finish-your-plate-lick-it-and-make-awkward-satisfied-noises enjoyer of food. Like Leo, I’m on externship from culinary school (Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Los Angeles- say that three times fast). I’m here at the Test Kitchen because not only can’t I help eating and cooking all the time- I want to talk about food all day long too.
So how did I end up a gourmet-in-training?
It starts with my family. We appreciate good food, and cooking it. And my mom forced my step-dad, sister and I to sit around the table at dinner. It was absolute torture, having to turn off “Clarissa Explains It All”, mind you. I was completely jealous of my friends that drove through Taco Bell or sat in front of the TV with Little Caesar’s. And no, growing up with a “Cooking Light” mom did not prevent a love for salty, fatty fast food. I dream about my (self-imposed) annual trip to KFC. And my passion for Diet Coke is borderline ridiculous. But that daily ritual: cook, eat, and clean together, was the important part. It taught me how to connect with my family, and cooperate, and communicate with them. Or, at the very least, how to resolve a fight over low-fat tapioca pudding.
Birthdays and holidays were the mealtime ritual amplified. Part of that stems from the fact that I have the best grandmother in existence. I’m not exaggerating. Lou's hilarious, loving, and a consummate home cook and hostess. Even cooler, over the years she’s printed four of her own cookbooks, complete with fantastic photographs and witty asides. If I can be a third as cool as her at any point in my life, I will have done well.
You’d think with all these amazing food role models, I would have embraced the whole cooking thing a bit earlier in life. But I didn’t get serious about cooking independently until my senior year at UCLA (Go Bruins!), when a bout of depression left me seriously isolated, and I spent all day lying on the couch, alone.
In the midst of my stereotypical twentysomething torment, I found myself tearing through Nigella Lawson’s “How To Be A Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking”. And, since I wasn’t doing anything else, I made a recipe every day or two, taking comfort in the activity, the feeling of accomplishment, and the simple carbs.
With a lot of support, I got my act together, graduated, and found a real world job. At the same time, my passion for cooking took off in a huge way. I dinner-partied the hell out of my apartment, conned the boyfriend into buying my groceries in exchange for delicious finished products, and started catering the occasional coworker’s baby shower.
Somehow communicating with people, showing my love for friends and family- the things that were so hard for me while I was depressed, all came easier with food. Nigella showed me that cooking was alluring, witty, and heartfelt--because that’s who I am, and that’s what I have to share.
After a year of this unofficial foodie-ing, I manned up and enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu in Hollywood. Instantly, I had two dozen other inquisitive, passionate epicureans chugging coffee and Diet Coke at 6 a.m. and learning to cook professionally alongside me. Waking up for school at 4:30 a.m., and working and studying in the afternoons took effort, but my awesome classmates were proof I was where I needed to be.
So now here I am at the Times Test Kitchen. A few more vitally important food thoughts:
1) I get freakishly excited over unusual food products- I spent most of last week pawing through the interesting collections of oils, liqueurs, and cooking gadgetry here at the test kitchen.
2) I make a point to know the best places to eat in LA- if you make the mistake of mentioning you know the best pizza/cupcake/taco/pho/etc in my presence, I will make you a list of eight better places, and search out your alleged favorite (if I haven’t been already), for confirmation.
3) I like literally every food/flavor in existence, minus Red Bull. But even that I’ll compromise on with the inclusion of Jaeger. So really, I eat EVERYTHING.
Finally, the Test Kitchen is teaching me how to test food accurately, consider food thoughtfully, and communicate via recipe more precisely. Noelle constantly brainstorms, tweaks, tests, and frets over ways to make meals better for her readers. This wisdom, accuracy, precision, but most of all passion will serve me wherever food communication takes me. Oh and did I mention we get to taste food all day long?!
- Tara O'Reilly