So you want to be a Test Kitchen intern: Meet Steve Braslaw
Working in a Test Kitchen, you never know what to expect. We're constantly trying different recipes, learning new techniques and experimenting with unusual ingredients. It changes from week to week -- sometimes day to day. There's never a dull moment.
And sometimes, after an especially long day, we like to unwind by having a little fun....
At the L.A. Times, we not only test (and routinely retest) every recipe that runs in the paper, but we also then re-create and style those recipes for food shoots to appear both online and in print, coordinate and shoot step-by-step demonstrations and videos of various cooking techniques, and prepare for recipe demonstrations that air weekly on KTLA-TV's afternoon news. When we're not actually working with food, we're tracking down reader email requests for the Food section's popular Culinary SOS column.
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. The students also learn tips for food styling and interact with chefs, writers and food professionals of all kinds.
Over the last few months, I've introduced some of our recent Test Kitchen interns, including Jonathan Wing and Annie Rouleau Dean, on loan from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles, and Stephanie Luu, on loan from the Los Angeles Trade-Technical College's professional baking program. Here I introduce Steve Braslaw, on loan from the Culinary Institute of America campus in St. Helena, Calif. -- Noelle Carter
My journey to the Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen as an intern has been a coming home of sorts, in several different ways. I’ve called Los Angeles home for most of my life, and I grew up reading the Los Angeles Times. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had two rituals: I remember looking forward to Sundays, enjoying breakfast and reading the comics in full color. And then there’s the Food section. I’ve counted on it to get a pulse of the culinary side of Los Angeles, and it’s been an important part of who I am becoming as a chef.
So, to get to work as an extern here finds me a little in awe. When I tell people that I work at The Times, many are surprised that we even have a Test Kitchen. When I explain what we do, they are pretty impressed.
The Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen tests and often retests recipes that will appear in the Food section. And we photograph almost every recipe we test for publication. During one of these photo shoots, for a story on blowtorches in the kitchen, my arm was in the photo that appeared on Food’s front page. Because of the way the photographer shot the cover, I had to stand behind the guy in the welder's mask and hold the torch for him (he couldn’t see the torch that close through the mask, so someone needed to hold the live torch and aim at the cupcake).
Of everything I’ve done in the Test Kitchen, there’s one experience that stands out. It was part of our Master Class series, and we were working on recipes to go with a focaccia story by Nancy Silverton. The recipes were challenging, especially so for me because I have never considered bread baking a strength. Over the course of two weeks, we tested focaccia over and over (at least 40 times!), before we felt the recipes were good enough to publish. Before long, I knew the recipes by heart.
By the time the story ran, I think everyone else in the Test Kitchen was tired of focaccia. But I took the recipes home and continued to make focaccia again and again, having fallen so in love with the science of baking. It was still a challenge for me, but when I cut into my first perfect loaf at home, and saw the bubbles and crumb of that beautiful bread, I got swept up with emotion. I stared at that bread for a good five minutes, and as I did, I thought back to my time in the Test Kitchen, and how all the recipe testing was present in that bread.
The bubbles in my bread represented something deeper than a simple recipe. It meant that I finally mastered an elusive skill, both in baking good bread, and having the discipline to do it. A big part of going back to school, as I've learned along this journey, was to not just to learn how to cook. I already have that experience. It was gaining the passion and devotion to cook well.
-- Steve Braslaw
Photo credits, from top: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times (top photo), Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times (middle and bottom photos).