So you wanna be a Test Kitchen intern.... Meet Kat Nitsou
It seems just a week ago we were double-checking the crispness of a Peking duck recipe, but right now we're all about dessert. We're testing a bread pudding with whiskey sauce (four batches so far), five different flavors of Italian gelato, and six -- count 'em -- different popsicle flavors. It's enough to give give you a major case of sugar shock. (With a smile, of course.)
And 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 (reading 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 returned to the Culinary Institute of America to resume studies, and Tara has gone to gain more experience in the kitchens of New York City.
Here, I introduce Kat Nitsou, on loan from the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles (Hollywood Campus). -- Noelle Carter
I don't know too many people who don't like food -- like to cook it, like to eat it, like to look at pictures of it, like to talk about it, like to brag about it and even like to complain about it. Come to think of it, everyone I know likes food.
However, today in the Test Kitchen we aren't testing "real" food per se...
...we are testing sweet frozen treats on a stick -- various interpretations of one of summer's quintessential delightful treasures, the popsicle. Instantly taken back to my childhood, I'm perched on a bicycle, the wind rushing past me as I race against my sister to our local mini-mart, only to reach our tiny hands into the deep freezer to pull out frozen fudge-flavored skim milk. But the ones we’re testing this week are nothing like that. These delicious creations are made with unexpected ingredients.
Hey, I'm Kat, and I'm consumed with food. Canadian, born of Macedonian parents, I come from a very big family where food is the artery. My love of cooking began probably around the time of those popsicle days.
Five years ago, I moved to Los Angeles for love ... and to finish my business degree. When graduation finally approached, I found myself lacking the enthusiasm to begin a career in business. I learned that being good at something is very different than being passionate about doing it. Cooking was something that I always loved doing, I just never thought I could make it a profession until I was at a crossroads where a career decision needed to be made. I enrolled in culinary school to try to turn my passion into my profession.
And now I'm fulfilling my externship as the final component of my degree, which is why I'm at the L.A. Times Test Kitchen. Here, it's all about respect of the recipe. We test recipes (sometimes over and over again) to make them user-friendly for the home cook. In this environment, EXACT is the name of the game, and the results need to be consistent.
It's an amazing experience, learning and practicing the precision of food and its re-creation. I kind of feel like Alice, crawling through a tiny door into an unpredictable wonderland where the unknown and unexpected can pop out of anywhere. Noelle may walk into the Test Kitchen at any given moment with a stack of new recipes, and we have no idea what to expect.
Take a recipe for fruit focaccia we just finished testing last week. These small individual breads are on the sweeter side, dotted with bright summer berries and savory rosemary for a simple but wonderful explosion of flavor. Little did we know we would have to test the recipe eight times before we got it right. We had to adjust for oven temperature, proofing times, size, baking times and even ingredients and ratios. (We converted from the more professionally used fresh yeast to active-dry, which can be found at regular grocery stores.)
Aside from completing my degree through Le Cordon Bleu, I have my own website, and I am currently working on two cookbooks that I actually started for fun during my last year of business school. My training, both in culinary school and here at The Times, has improved my knowledge and perception of food.
But as much as I enjoy being in the Test Kitchen, it is at home in my circa-1950s kitchen where the true mad scientist really comes out. Where I can be creative and let my passion flourish. I cook because I love it; I push myself because I know I will always have more to learn. I have learned how important it is to control ingredients to achieve a desired effect, but at home I like to let the ingredients control me.
-- Kat Nitsou
Photo, from left: Noelle Carter, Kat Nitsou, Joe Moon and Mary Pat Kuppig. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times