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So you want to be a Test Kitchen intern. ... Meet Larry Diamond.

LARRY'S BLOG

It may be the week before Thanksgiving in the real world, but here in the L.A. Times Test Kitchen, as far as recipes go, Thanksgiving is long over for us. We also already celebrated Hanukkah -- recipes were tested and photographed last week for an upcoming story -- and are now in full Christmas mode.

With the holidays in full swing here, the Test Kitchen can be a bit of a blur as we test and finetune recipes for those special foods that are so central to the season. But as busy as things get (sometimes we do wish we could sprout an extra set of arms to stay on top of everything), we always have room for a little fun. We have our mini Christmas tree set up in the Test Kitchen window (flawlessly decorated by our interns) and have the holiday music on at full volume in tune with the seasonal spirit.

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 (recipe reading, wording, problem solving, adapting for the home kitchen and testing for consistent results). The students also get tips on 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 a 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.

Over the last few months, I've introduced some of our recent Test Kitchen interns, including, most recently, Joe Moon, Maria Sulprizio, Mary Pat Kuppig and Sicily Johnson. Joe is continuing his studies at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Maria, Mary Pat and Sicily graduated from Le Cordon Bleu over the weekend.

Here, I introduce Larry Diamond, on loan from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles (Hollywood campus). -- Noelle Carter

We’re just wrapping up the last of our Thanksgiving testing –- a whirlwind three weeks' worth –- and as I glance over the counter at the latest batch of holiday dishes and sides, I’m taken back to my childhood.

I remember waking up on Thanksgiving morning and propping myself up on a chair at the kitchen counter island to watch my mother work. I would sit and watch as she transformed mere ingredients into a holiday dinner, utterly transfixed.

Before too long, I began helping in the kitchen, learning from her how to prepare and cook the day’s meals.

My mother was a huge inspiration growing up.  She was an amazingly creative and artistic woman, who worked her oils with a paintbrush on canvas as deftly as she composed a striking dish on a platter. My sister inherited her artistic talents, excelling in painting like my mother and working as a successful milliner for years.

I inherited my mother's love of cooking.

Though she would deny it, she was as talented in the kitchen as she was in the studio.  In later years, when illness prevented her from cooking or painting, I stepped in and happily cooked for my family both on a nightly basis and for gatherings.  The dishes I produced were all influenced by her, and to this day, many still are.

Later in life, I found myself daydreaming from my corporate job about the evening meal: what I might prepare, how I would prepare it and what I would need to pick up from the store on my way home. I took occasional cooking classes and even tackled a summer weekend job for a caterer just to learn my way around a professional kitchen. It was my culinary outlet -- being able to create dishes and experience different types of food preparation. And I was able to do this for a few years until the 24/7 demands of my regular job prevented me from continuing.

So after my corporate layoff, it seemed the time was perfect to travel down the path I should have taken earlier in life.  I enrolled in culinary school.

Larrysicily It was during a baking course that I had an epiphany of sorts. I was kneading bread dough and remembered hearing stories of my grandfather. He was a baker and owned a shop years ago in Brooklyn. Although I had never met him, I’d heard about him and his delicious creations from my mother, stories I’d forgotten over the years. As I turned the dough, I was overcome with emotion and shared my epiphany with my chef instructor. He said four words that will always remain with me: “It’s in your blood.”

And now it seems that pieces of my life are finally fitting together. I’ve completed my schooling and am working on my internship as I prepare for the future. Here in the Test Kitchen, I find I’m using various pieces of my collective experiences as we work on the variety of recipes that come through the door. The fine-tuning of recipes as we test and retest a dish to get it just so. Tasting to determine and decipher flavors, experimenting with new and unique ingredients, the simple pleasure of kneading a dough -- and a part which seems to come as naturally to me as the cooking itself: styling a completed recipe for photos for The Times' Food section.

Ultimately, I’d like to parlay my culinary education, intern experience, family tradition and tenure in the business world into a position where I can use this knowledge in the culinary field or food industry. I know there are more ways to make a living in this business than sweating out 80-hour weeks in a restaurant!

Several opportunities have recently presented themselves in the world of food styling for television and film, and as I write this I am awaiting a telephone call about a segment on the Jay Leno show, prepping and styling for another kitchen inspiration of mine, Paula Deen.  I’ve also accepted a job working with a company that provides food for onscreen shots.  Ever wonder what stars of a film or television show, and the people in the background of a restaurant scene, are eating?  Well, it may be dishes I’ve prepared and styled for them!

Hopefully the exposure I get will allow me to explore and experience the world of food styling and opportunities associated with the craft either on screen or in print. In the meantime, I’m also catering for intimate private gatherings; my first booking is scheduled for later this November.

Are you watching me now, Mom?

-- Larry Diamond

Photos, from top: Intern Larry Diamond get a helping hand, or two, in The Times' Test Kitchen. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times. Diamond is pictured with Sicily Johnson at their graduation from Le Cordon Bleu. Credits: Noelle Carter / Los Angeles Times

RELATED:

LA Times Holiday Cookie Bake-Off: Round 1 results

LA food stylist pulled from flight for "Atom Bomb" tattoo

Notes from the Test Kitchen: Inaugural poundcake

 
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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.