“Steak And Cake” Transcript
Athena Calderone: Hello. I am Athena Calderone of EyeSwoon. Did you know that over 25% of New York City children are living in poverty? Many rely on free school meals when class is in session, but during the summer months, their families look to soup kitchens and food pantries to eat. The folks at Food Bank for New York City want you to know that unlike school, hunger doesn't take a break. Help them end child hunger by providing meals to families and children in need during those challenging summer months. Visit foodbanknyc.org to learn how you can volunteer, spread the word, and more.
Jess Zeidman: Hi, Bombesquad. You're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe, and this is producer Jess Zeidman. Each week, we talk to the most inspiring women in and around the world of food. I'm filling in for our usual host, Kerry Diamond, who's a little under the weather. Feel better, Kerry. Let's thank today's sponsors, Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Schools, and Traeger Grills.
Jess Zeidman: Some housekeeping. The Cherry Bombe Jubilee Conference is heading out west. That's right. We're coming to Seattle on Saturday, November 2nd, and we could not be more excited. The theme? Food's new wave. We'll be announcing the lineup later this summer, but if you want to secure your spot, early bird tickets are on sale right now at cherrybombe.com.
Jess Zeidman: Now to today's show. Kerry recently sat down with Elizabeth Karmel, the original grill girl. They talked about Elizabeth's latest cookbook, Steak and Cake: More Than 100 Recipes to Make Any Meal a Smash Hit, and learned how she developed her awesome grill skills. We recorded this conversation at MonkMusic Studios in the Hamptons, after Elizabeth grilled up a spectacular main course for dinner. We hosted in collaboration with Wölffer State Vineyard and Traeger Grills. Stay tuned for Elizabeth and Kerry, right after this message.
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Kerry Diamond: So, why are there so many great female chefs from North Carolina?
Elizabeth Karmel: Well, you know, that's awfully nice of you to say. I think there are great female chefs from everywhere. But if I was going to guess, I would say because food ways are so important in North Carolina. You know, we're so far behind we're ahead. So, we really always were living from farm to fork. Putting up. I mean, there wasn't a summer that went by that I didn't remember my mother and my grandmother and all my aunts putting up for the winter. I literally came from a house where everything was made from scratch. I wanted to go to my friend's houses, where they had white bread, because my mother made bread from scratch. Oh, boy. How awful was that?
Kerry Diamond: Elizabeth, I want you to go back and explain what "putting up" means, because a lot of people might not know that term.
Elizabeth Karmel: Okay. So, putting up means that you take in all of the bounty of the summertime. So, all the harvest. What that means is you have bushels and bushels of tomatoes and cucumbers and peaches and okra, and all kinds of yummy things, and it's too much for you to eat while it's fresh. And so, what you do is you put it up for the winter. Literally, that's where "putting up" came from. That means that you can it or you freeze it, then you can eat it all winter long.
Elizabeth Karmel: And, oh. My favorite thing growing up were the peaches. My grandmother would sit at the kitchen table with a paring knife, and peel peach after peach after peach, and then she would slice them, and she would just toss them lightly with ascorbic acid, so that they wouldn't turn brown, and freeze them in pint containers. And then all winter long, we had fresh peaches, and it was one of my best memories.
Kerry Diamond: That's so nice. And from your cookbook, Steak and Cake, I know that everybody in your family cooked.
Elizabeth Karmel: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: It didn't sound like it was the situation where just grandma cooked, or one person was the good cook in the family. It sounds like you came from a whole line of talented cooks.
Elizabeth Karmel: Well, you know what? We cooked because we needed to eat. But in my family, the way that we showed each other that we loved each other, that we cared, was really by cooking, and showing our communication through food. I grew up in a family that at breakfast, you talk about what you're going to have for lunch, and at lunch, you talk about what you're going to have for dinner, and at dinner, you talk about what the next day's dinner is going to be. And so, we all cooked, because that was really the activity in the house, and that was how we all came together as a family. And I'm so glad we did, because I wouldn't have this career if I hadn't grown up in a family like that.
Kerry Diamond: When was it obvious that you had some promise in the kitchen?
Elizabeth Karmel: That is such an interesting question. Nobody's asked me that. So, I grew up obviously cooking and eating great home cooked food. But when I graduated from college, and I had an apartment to myself, I realized that I could go out to dinner, and I could taste something, and through taste memory, I could recreate it or actually make it taste better. And so, I just started doing that, and started jotting them down. I had a double major in chemistry and premed and French, and at a certain point in my college career, I decided, "You know what? I'm sick of being in a chem lab. I'm sick of all this." And so, I switched my major to French. I moved to Paris. And of course... You know. I had been to Paris before with my family. But living there, and actually being able to shop for food and prepare food on my own really changed my life.
Kerry Diamond: Were you a student there, or you moved there for work?
Elizabeth Karmel: I was a student there.
Kerry Diamond: Okay.
Elizabeth Karmel: I was a student there. So I majored in French, and it was a program that had a lot of freedom. For about six months, I basically lived on my own, because the woman I lived with was never home. And so, it was great. I threw dinner parties all the time, and went to the market, and really had to fend for myself. That really sort of imprinted me, in terms of food.
Kerry Diamond: So, it wasn't like when you were little, everyone was like, "Oh my God, Elizabeth makes the best cakes," or, "Elizabeth is great at this." It took a little while longer.
Elizabeth Karmel: Yeah. Everybody... Well, I cooked when I was younger, but everybody in my family cooked. And really, in North Carolina, there weren't that many restaurants to go to that weren't fast food. I mean, you could go to the country club. Everyone cooked at home. Even bad cooks cooked at home, you know? I had a friend, and when we went to her house to spend the night, her mother would go to McDonald's, and literally save the food from McDonald's and reheat it on a cookie sheet, and that was our dinner.
Kerry Diamond: Things have changed.
Elizabeth Karmel: Yes, they have.
Kerry Diamond: So, you obviously understood the principles of grilling better than most people, having been a chem major and a premed major. But when did the grilling really start in earnest?
Elizabeth Karmel: When I moved away from North Carolina. That's because I had to teach myself how to make barbecue. You know, in North Carolina, people serve North Carolina style pulled pork out of silver chafing dishes at Christmastime, right? At cocktail parties. And so, that was not something you made in your backyard. Then I moved away, right about the time that the United States started getting interested in barbecuing at home, and I realized that if I was going to have North Carolina style barbecue more than once or twice a year, when I was going home, that I'd have to teach myself how to make it.
Elizabeth Karmel: And so, you know. I'll never forget the very first time I did it. I went to the grocery store. I got the biggest Boston butt I could find. I let it cook for about six or seven hours, til the outside was completely rendered like cracklings, and the inside was just pull apart. It was so beautiful. And then through taste memory, I made my signature North Carolina style vinegar barbecue sauce. And to this day, my recipe today is almost identical to that very first time that I made it.
Elizabeth Karmel: Then I fell in love with the grill, and I thought, "Oh my God. Seriously, everything tastes better on the grill." And I truly believe that it's the best way to cook, bar none.
Kerry Diamond: Where were you living? Because one of the impediments to grilling, which I'm going through right now, is living in an apartment in the city.
Elizabeth Karmel: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: And you were living... I know you've lived in Chicago, you've lived in New York City. How were you getting your grilling time in?
Elizabeth Karmel: Well, at that particular time I was in New Orleans. I lived in New Orleans for a short period of time, before I moved to Chicago. And so, that's where I was. So, it was super easy.
Kerry Diamond: Got it.
Elizabeth Karmel: And then in Chicago I had a balcony. I had two grills on my balcony. It was fabulous. That's all I needed. You know, it was the balcony-
Kerry Diamond: How big was your balcony? I'm thinking of New York City balconies. Nobody really has two grills on their New York City balcony.
Elizabeth Karmel: You know what? My balcony was about 10 feet by six feet, and I had... Each side was six feet. I had two gas grills on each side, and it was fabulous. I mean, I tested four cookbooks on that balcony.
Kerry Diamond: That's very impressive.
Elizabeth Karmel: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: So, you've brought up cooking from taste memory a few times, and I find that fascinating. Explain that process for us, of tasting something, and then being able to go home and recreate it.
Elizabeth Karmel: It's kind of an innate thing. Right? Like I'll taste something, and not only can I diagram it... So, I can figure out all the different ingredients that are in it, but then I can decide what do I like about it, and what do I want to change. And so, a lot of my recipes are inspired by something that I've eaten, but I want to change it.
Elizabeth Karmel: For example, in my new cookbook Steak and Cake. To me, steak and cake is all about celebration, and that book is about celebration and sharing happy foods with people you love. And because of that, my friends and family play a very large role in this book. And so, my Chocolate Chocolate Guinness Bundt Cake really came from my Aunt Mary Ellen’s chocolate pound cake. This was a pound cake that she was famous for when I was a kid, apparently. That's what my mother told me. And so, my mother gave me the recipe when I was creating the book. I made the recipe, and the color of it was a very pale brown, and it just didn't have enough flavor for me. Because the way we eat today is so different than the way we ate even 10 years ago. I mean, everything is flavor to the third degree. And so, I took sort of the basis of that cake, and the inspiration of the fact that my aunt was famous for her chocolate pound cake, and then I added three kinds of chocolate, and Guinness, because Guinness just complements chocolate so well, and it gives it a depth of flavor.
Elizabeth Karmel: So for me, I'm known for my cooking, but even with my baking, I approach it the same way. I want to have layers of flavor. I want to maximize the moistness, the texture, the tenderness, and the flavor in baking, because I want it to be as craveable as savory food. Sometimes sweets can be one-dimensional. They just taste like sugar. And I want them to have all the dimensions, so that you get sort of a 360-degree experience.
Kerry Diamond: This was just something you were born with. You were born this way, right?
Elizabeth Karmel: I was born this way.
Kerry Diamond: Just knowing what spices were in things, what the different tastes were. I mean, I just find it to be such a remarkable gift.
Elizabeth Karmel: You know what? Well, thank you so much. I'm flattered. You know what? I don't really know. I think that it is hereditary, super tasters and super smellers. My grandmother was a super taster and a super smeller, and I definitely inherited that from her. And I have to tell you, it is a blessing and a curse. Because my nose is so sensitive that if something smells bad, it really, really bothers me.
Kerry Diamond: So, riding the New York subway must be really fun for you.
Elizabeth Karmel: Or even if somebody burns something, right? Like, I can really smell it. But in this career, it's been an advantage.
Kerry Diamond: Is it hard for you to be around fragrance?
Elizabeth Karmel: Not if it's good fragrance.
Kerry Diamond: Okay.
Elizabeth Karmel: But bad... I love good fragrance. In fact, I have lots and lots of it. But as the years have gone by, and I've become even more sensitive to smell. I've gone from liking some of the more traditional artificial perfumes and stuff, to only wearing and liking the more natural ones.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, interesting. Have you met our friend Mandy Aftel?
Elizabeth Karmel: No.
Kerry Diamond: Out in Berkeley? I'll have to introduce you to her.
Elizabeth Karmel: Okay.
Kerry Diamond: She lives literally right behind Chez Panisse.
Elizabeth Karmel: Oh my gosh.
Kerry Diamond: Isn't that crazy?
Elizabeth Karmel: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: And she's sort of the leading natural perfumer, maybe in the world. All right. Let's talk about this cookbook, because Steak and Cake is so much fun. It really is such a love letter to your family. It's crazy. Every head note is about aunts, uncles, cousins, everybody.
Elizabeth Karmel: Friends. Right, right.
Kerry Diamond: Friends. You name it. Of course, I open the cookbook and it lands right on the original PB&J cupcakes. You must feel like... We're in this gorgeous recording studio out in the Hamptons, and I looked at that and I'm like, "Elizabeth must feel like Mick Jagger, or James Taylor, or Joan Jett or somebody." Where people always want you to sing the hits?
Elizabeth Karmel: Right, right.
Kerry Diamond: And I feel like they're always like, "Can you make those PB&J cupcakes?"
Elizabeth Karmel: So, yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Tell us about these, because you're famous for them.
Elizabeth Karmel: I'm famous for my peanut butter and jelly cupcakes. I created them when I was creating the menu for Hill Country Barbecue Market, and oh my gosh. Now that must be... Who knows how long ago it was. Probably 13 years ago, maybe 14. Anyway, cupcakes were the rage in New York City. I mean, they were... And they weren't going away.
Kerry Diamond: You cannot understate that.
Elizabeth Karmel: I cannot. I mean, that is underscore, underscore, underscore.
Kerry Diamond: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Elizabeth Karmel: And I said, "You know what? I'm going to create a cupcake that nobody has ever done before, that is going to appeal to everyone, even people who don't like cupcakes." And so I thought, you know, what's the most iconic childhood food that adults probably don't eat that much when they grow up, but they wish they did? And I thought peanut butter and jelly. I'm a huge fan of peanut butter and jelly, and so I created this very, very delicate, moist yellow cupcake that had Welch's grape jelly baked right in, and then a really rich peanut butter frosting, that wasn't too sweet, wasn't too salty. You know, just right. And this is the first time that it's actually ever been in print.
Kerry Diamond: Well, lucky everybody who buys this cookbook, because the icing, it's butter, Skippy smooth peanut butter... You're very specific about the peanut butter. Why is that?
Elizabeth Karmel: And I'll tell you why. Because personally, I am a great fan. I do eat peanut butter, and I eat only natural peanut butter. Crunchy salted natural peanut butter. But you can't bake with it, because it'll separate, and you will not have a really beautiful, creamy icing. Skippy is emulsified, and so you have to use it. And it works better than Peter Pan or any of the other ones.
Kerry Diamond: Okay. You've tried them all.
Elizabeth Karmel: I've tried them all.
Kerry Diamond: Then there's some confectioner's sugar, because you need that. Vanilla extract, and the sea salt. You don't know this about me, Elizabeth, but I don't like peanut butter and jelly, but I am obsessed with peanut butter.
Elizabeth Karmel: Oh, wow.
Kerry Diamond: And the peanut butter frosting on your cupcakes just blows my mind. I'm one of those people who, I'll just eat the top of the cupcake sometimes. Which I know is weird, but so what?
Elizabeth Karmel: No, no, no. There are lots of people like you.
Kerry Diamond: So, why did you decide to focus on steak and cake?
Elizabeth Karmel: Well, this book actually grew out of a class that I taught at the Institute of Culinary Education, New York City. I was teaching recreational classes there, and I thought... And recreational classes are generally Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I was teaching classes on Saturday night, and I thought, "What kind of class can I create that will give people tools that they can take home, and also give them a great Saturday night experience?" And I think that steak and cake is everyone's favorite Saturday night meal. So I created this class, and it ran for many, many years. It had a very long waiting list.
Elizabeth Karmel: The reason that I wrote the book is I taught lots of classes at ICE, but this class in particular, people would walk into the class. We would gather around one of the tables at the beginning of the class... And this sounds really cheesy, but I promise you it's 100% true... I would go around the class, every class I taught, no matter what it was, and I would ask people why they signed up for the class. Mainly because I was interested, and also I wanted to make sure that they went home learning what they came to learn. You know, their body language was really slumped, and they were like, "Oh. You know, I don't even know how to buy a steak. I've never baked a cake before."
Elizabeth Karmel: The classes at ICE are hands-on, and so, after four hours of them making their own steak, baking their own cake, sitting down and eating it... I am not kidding. They walked out standing tall, smiling. They were so proud of themselves. I could literally see the self-esteem rising off of their shoulders. They would send me pictures, text me pictures of what they had made at home. And, "Oh, I made that again." And so, almost the entire menu from that class is in this book. I said, "I've got to turn this into a book."
Kerry Diamond: It's great. Well, it's so much fun. People are just going to flip through it and absolutely want to make everything.
Jess Zeidman: We'll be right back with Elizabeth and Kerry, after a quick break.
Amanda Haas: Hi, Bombesquad. I'm Amanda Haas, cookbook author and Traeger Grills ambassador. There's so much you can do on a Traeger wood fired grill. I've baked my gluten-free coconut brownie bites. I've roasted cauliflower with parmesan garlic butter. I've even grilled my Thanksgiving turkey. Traeger's wood fired grills provide the superior flavor you can't get with traditional gas or charcoal grilling. So get outdoors, and get baking, grilling, smoking, braising, and more. Try it on a Traeger, and you'll understand why I love my Traeger grill as much as I do. Visit traegergrills.com.
Jess Zeidman: And now, back to Kerry's conversation with Elizabeth Karmel.
Kerry Diamond: We were super lucky, because we did a special event at the Wolfer Estate Vineyard. Our pal Joey Wolfer was there, who a lot of people have heard on Radio Cherry Bombe. Kia Damon was one of the chefs, Yossy Arefi, and you did the entrée, and it was beautiful. So, tell us what you made on the Traeger grills.
Elizabeth Karmel: I took my slow smoked and charred beef tenderloin from the cookbook to make for the dinner, because it was the perfect recipe to sort of emphasize all of the features of the Traeger grill. That you could slow smoke on it, and you could also sear on it. And so, earlier in the day I smoked at about 225 degrees, all of the beef tenderloin for the party. There were about 75 people, so we served it sliced, and just a little bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. That was it. That's all it needed, because the kiss of smoke is what really flavors the meat. Then when it reached a rare state, I took it out and let it rest. Then right before we served it, I gave it a good sear, about five minutes on each side at 500 degrees. And, you had the meat. I mean-
Kerry Diamond: It was sensational. It really was. I was so impressed, and I just thought everybody at the table was blown away. But you mentioned the resting.
Elizabeth Karmel: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: And I think that's one thing... I'm sure you taught that in your class... that a lot of people do not do.
Elizabeth Karmel: Yes. And-
Kerry Diamond: What do you mean by resting?
Elizabeth Karmel: What I mean by resting is you literally take the meat off the heat. You have to do this for any protein that you cook. You let it just gently, literally rest, sit there until all the juices reabsorb. What happens is, the heat shocks the meat. People think you have to cook protein at a high temperature. You absolutely do not. A medium temperature is much better, because-
Kerry Diamond: What's a medium temperature around?
Elizabeth Karmel: A medium temperature is anywhere between 325 to like 450, unless you're searing it at 500 degrees. But 325 is the classic roasting temperature. But the hotter the heat, the more tense the meat becomes. In the business, we say it shocks the meat. Ice water also will shock anything. That toughens the meat. So, my technique of slow cooking it... First of all, it absorbs the smoke flavor a lot better when you're just cooking it at a slow 225 degrees, and then letting it rest. So, it sat covered and refrigerated for about three hours. Then I take it and I sear it, and let it rest just for another... Until, you know, we eat. What that does is it makes the meat super, super tender. I mean, it was tenderloin anyway, but I think you'll agree that the texture of the meat was just silky and tender. You didn't need a knife for it.
Kerry Diamond: 100%. Nope. Nope. That meat got a lot of love. And then, it wasn't just about meat. You also served the most beautiful platters of grilled vegetables.
Elizabeth Karmel: Yeah. So, I prescribe to the French theory of menu planning, which is that you have three items. And so, I did this slow smoked and charred beef tenderloin, which I talked about. I did a variety of garden vegetables that I grilled. Then while they were warm, I brushed them with an Italian caper and anchovy sauce, that's made with olive oil. Very light, but while the vegetables are warm, it can absorb those flavors. It just brightens it up. I mean, grilled vegetables are great anyway, but to put something like a sauce on it really makes a big difference. It just sort of enhances the caramelization from the grill, and then the natural vegetables. Especially something bitter like radicchio, which... You know, or the sweet, tart acid in the tomatoes. To mix that with the capers and garlic and olive oil and anchovies, just really great.
Kerry Diamond: And you grilled the cherry tomatoes still on the vine.
Elizabeth Karmel: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: On the stems.
Elizabeth Karmel: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Elizabeth Karmel: That's one of my favorite things to do. In fact, in Steak and Cake, I grill them on the vine, and I serve them with burratta. That's one of my favorite things to make. I mean, everybody loves it. You get a plate of gorgeous burratta, and then tomatoes on the vine. It's a feast for the eyes, and for the mouth. You know?
Kerry Diamond: It is beautiful. And then-
Elizabeth Karmel: And then-
Kerry Diamond: The third thing... Which, I was with you when everyone stopped you to ask you for your secret...
Elizabeth Karmel: The smashed potatoes. That is something that I make at home all of the time. I most often make them with small baby potatoes. I grill roast them whole. That means that there's an indirect heat. They're really crispy on the outside. You coat them with olive oil and salt first. Then when they're hot, and they're super creamy and silky on the inside, you mix them with olive oil, fresh garlic... That you've used a microplane, never a garlic press, because that turns the garlic bitter. But, you just grate the garlic, and then fresh basil. They are addicting.
Kerry Diamond: They were dynamite. People literally were-
Elizabeth Karmel: There's no butter, cream.
Kerry Diamond: People were literally jumping out of their seats to stop Elizabeth, to find out how she made those potatoes. What kind of potatoes were they last night?
Elizabeth Karmel: They were red potatoes.
Kerry Diamond: Okay. It was a total home run. So, thank you for making them.
Elizabeth Karmel: Well, thank you. Thank you.
Kerry Diamond: And I don't know if I mentioned Yossy, but we also worked with Yossy Arefi, who's also been on the radio, and she is famous for her Summer of Galette hashtag. She of course made us some galettes.
Elizabeth Karmel: And they were wonderful.
Kerry Diamond: They were great, too. And she baked them right on the grill, which blew my mind. Two things I want to touch on before we let you go. Just some grilling tips.
Elizabeth Karmel: Okay.
Kerry Diamond: What are some common mistakes people make when they're grilling?
Elizabeth Karmel: First of all, before I tell you what the mistakes are, let me just say that I like to say that grilling is 90% the will to grill, and 10% skill. Honestly, people are afraid of the grill. But if you just take a deep breath, and think about three things. Number one, you need to know the difference between direct and indirect heat, and when to use it. Basically, direct heat means that the burners are turned on, or there's charcoal underneath where you're cooking. Indirect means that, just like it sounds, that the heat is indirect. It's not directly underneath the food. Usually you turn the middle burners off, and put the food over the burners you've turned off. The lid has to be down, because the heat rotates around the food like a convection oven.
Elizabeth Karmel: So, you need to know the difference between direct and indirect, and when to use it. This is a great rule of thumb of when to use it. If the food takes 20 minutes or less to cook, you use direct heat. If it takes more than 20 minutes, you use indirect heat. And if you don't know how long your food takes to cook, think about it this way: The bigger the food, the heavier it is, the denser it is, the longer it's going to take to cook. So, something lightweight, like asparagus or shrimp, you're generally going to cook direct. And something like a whole chicken, you're going to cook indirect. A boneless, skinless chicken breast, you're going to cook direct, 5 minutes on each side. So, that's number one.
Elizabeth Karmel: Number two, oil the food, not the grates. So many grilling people out there tell you to oil the grates. That is a recipe for disaster. Oil burns really quickly. You always have to preheat your grill, just like you preheat an oven before you bake in it or roast in it. And so, if you're rubbing those cooking grates with oil, number one, that's a torch waiting to happen. Right? Boom. But number two, it burns so fast that it becomes really sticky. And we've all felt the bottom of a saute pan that wasn't well washed, right?
Kerry Diamond: Yes. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Elizabeth Karmel: You know how sticky that is?
Kerry Diamond: It's gross. I hate that.
Elizabeth Karmel: It's gross. But that is exactly what you're doing. So you're gluing your food to the grate, so don't do that. Oil the food, not the grates.
Kerry Diamond: Got it. Good tip. All right. Let's talk careers, before we let you out of here. Because you made some radical changes in your life. You decided to move out to the beach.
Elizabeth Karmel: I did. I did.
Kerry Diamond: You left the city behind, and moved out there. What was behind your move?
Elizabeth Karmel: Well, you know what? I didn't leave the city behind 100%. I still go in when I need to. But I didn't need to be there every single day. I decided I wanted a backyard, so that I could have a pallet smoker, a charcoal grill, and a gas grill, and a little puppy. And not in that order. Well, maybe in that order. I don't know. I just wanted a little more space, you know? I grew up in North Carolina with space. I loved living in apartments. I didn't even think that I was really that ready, but I thought, "Let's give it a go." And I love it. I love it. And I love that anytime I need to go into New York, I just hop on a bus, and I'm, you know. Hop on a bus, Gus. I'm there in two hours.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah. Well, you are the grill girl. I mean, it makes sense that you need room to roam.
Elizabeth Karmel: Right.
Kerry Diamond: I talk to a lot of people like you, who aren't attached to restaurants. I sort of describe it as the world is your restaurant. You literally can go work anywhere today.
Elizabeth Karmel: Right.
Kerry Diamond: But that comes with a whole different set of challenges, because you're essentially a freelancer.
Elizabeth Karmel: Right.
Kerry Diamond: You know? But you did have a restaurant career for a long time. How are you handling the freelance life? Give us some advice for chefs who are maybe listening to this, or people in the food world who are like, "I would actually love for the world to be my restaurant." How do you do it?
Elizabeth Karmel: You know what? I always wrote books, and I design kitchen and grilling tools, and do a lot of consulting work for both housewares companies and food companies. I had already started doing that before I got into the restaurant world, and so for me, it's probably a little bit different. I just kind of took the day to day restaurant world out of my world, but I needed to do that to do new projects. Like this cookbook had been on the back burner for a long time, but I really needed the time away from the restaurants to finish it, and to do everything. But I do think today, that there's so many things that you can do besides restaurants. I mean, restaurants are fabulous and exciting, and I'm so glad I did it for so long, but it's a hard life. It's hard to do it for your entire career.
Kerry Diamond: Do you have an agent or someone out there negotiating all these different projects for you, or is that you?
Elizabeth Karmel: It's mostly me. I've worked with agents on and off through my career. But generally, the opportunities come directly to me. I wish that people wanted to talk to agents more than they do, but a lot of times, people who want to hire you want to work with you directly.
Kerry Diamond: Mm-hmm (affirmative). All right. Great.
Elizabeth Karmel: That's the truth.
Kerry Diamond: That's the truth.
Elizabeth Karmel: Sorry, agents.
Kerry Diamond: All right. Fantastic. We're going to do a quick speed round before we let you out of here.
Elizabeth Karmel: Okay.
Kerry Diamond: Ready?
Elizabeth Karmel: Sure.
Kerry Diamond: Song that makes you smile?
Elizabeth Karmel: Carolina on My Mind, James Taylor. I gotta say that one.
Kerry Diamond: Favorite kitchen tool?
Elizabeth Karmel: Tongs.
Kerry Diamond: A much-loved cookbook, that you haven't written?
Elizabeth Karmel: The original, 1940-something Betty Crocker cookbook.
Kerry Diamond: Ooh. Do you use that?
Elizabeth Karmel: I learned to cook with that cookbook, and I will refer to it if I don't... Like if there's something really classic and I don't know how to make it, I will refer to it. It is amazing. This was written back in the day, where companies could have 100 people on staff testing recipes. So, every single recipe has been tested over and over and over again until it's perfect. That's my pet peeve with cookbooks, and also, obviously all of the recipes on the web today. So many of them have not been tested. I can look at them and say, "Wow, that's not going to work," but not everybody can. And I know so many people who have spent good money and even better time, and they had to throw it in the trash can, because the, you know, measurements were off.
Kerry Diamond: Food you would never eat.
Elizabeth Karmel: Wow. I'm pretty adventuresome, but I can tell you food I'm not too fond of. I don't really like uni.
Kerry Diamond: Dream vacation destination?
Elizabeth Karmel: Provence.
Kerry Diamond: If you had to be trapped on a desert island with one food celebrity, who would it be?
Elizabeth Karmel: My answer would have been Anthony Bourdain, because way before he became uber famous, I read all of his fiction, as well as Kitchen Confidential, which he was famous for. And I was so fascinated. His vocabulary, and his ability to write and tell a story. Very few people have read his fiction. Just fascinated me. He was so smart. So, so smart. So, I would say that. But today, the food celebrity that I would want to be on a desert island with would probably be my pseudo brother, my brother from another mother, Bob Blumer.
Kerry Diamond: Tell us about Bob.
Elizabeth Karmel: Okay. So, Bob. Bob is really like my brother. He's all over the book, because he was one of the stops on my cake tour when I was developing the cakes in the book. Not only is he super smart and a great cook, but he can figure out how to fix anything. So, I know that I could be on a desert island with him, and we would be... Somehow or another, we'd be eating well, we'd be drinking well, we'd have shelter. We'd have everything we needed.
Kerry Diamond: Well, I hope you're not stuck on a desert island anytime soon.
Elizabeth Karmel: Me, neither.
Kerry Diamond: But it sounds like you would have fun with him.
Jess Zeidman: That's it for today's show. Thank you so much to Elizabeth for sitting down with Kerry, and sharing some grilling tips. Elizabeth's book, Steak and Cake: More Than 100 Recipes to Make Any Meal a Smash Hit, is out now. Also, thank you to today's sponsors, Traeger Grills and Le Cordon Bleu culinary schools. Don't forget, we'd love if you could support the Hunger Doesn't Take a Break initiative from the Food Bank for New York City. Visit foodbanknyc.org for more.
Jess Zeidman: Radio Cherry Bombe is a production of Cherry Bombe Media. Our show is edited, engineered, and produced by me, Jess Zeidman. Our special projects director is Lauren Paige Goldstein, our publisher is Kate Miller Spencer, our intern is Julia Fabricant, and our usual host and editor in chief is the one and only Kerry Diamond. Our theme song is All Fired Up by the band Tralala. Thanks for listening, everybody. You're the bombe.
When Harry Met Sally Clip: I'll have what she's having.
Calli Marie: Hi. My name is Calli Marie, and I'm an owner and baker at Brew Five Points in Jacksonville. Do you want to know who I think is the bombe? Sasha Piligian, the pastry chef at Sqirl L.A.. Sasha brings together pastry chefs and bakers from all over. She creates thoughtful, colorful, and untraditional treats, and is a constant inspiration to me and everyone around her.