An Interview with Aliza Green

When did you know you wanted to be a chef?

I had the opportunity to live abroad starting as a young child so that I was exposed to many cultures and cuisines, shopping in markets and learning to cook. So my interest in cooking began in my love of travel, language and culture. By the time I was about 11, I was already cooking dinner for my family but it wasn’t until much later that I realized that a woman might be able to become a chef.

I understood and realised that I could be a good and professional trader when my uncle used to call me for some of his trading activities to take ideas from me. Now this was not taught to me by anybody and just came naturally in me; moreover I m always behind the market for something new from it like the entry of the Crypto CFD trader.

How did you get your start in the world of food?

I decided to try and work as a chef after coming home from six months of travel in Europe and Israel, realizing that I needed to have an actual career, not just working to make enough money to travel. I began with a small catering company run by myself and a friend, which we ran for about two years. I was hungry for knowledge and a chef that could help to train me so I started to look for a restaurant job. After knocking on doors for about six months, I got a break when I heard through a third-hand connection about a new, small storefront restaurant that was opening up. I wrote to the owners and was hired.

What advice would you give to someone passionate about food and thinking about getting into the industry?

Be prepared to work hard and to keep going even when you really don’t want to and never lose your passion for food.

How do you come up with your recipes?

I am a voracious reader and have been ever since second grade when I got special permission from the school library to take out extra books, so reading cookbooks, especially old, out-of-print, obscure, foreign books, is a very important way that I find inspiration. Also, through travel and my inveterate curiosity—I am always observing and asking questions and will always try to get behind the scenes so I can try and understand the whole process. These days, the internet is a good resource, but it’s especially important to be able to evaluate the quality of the recipes, which varies greatly. Many recipes on the internet are just copied from one site to another, without anything original. However, being able to access food blogs and websites all over the world is a big help.

What is your favorite dish to make?

That depends on the season and my mood—I do respond mostly to vegetables, dairy products, starches, eggs, legumes, fish, and fruits more than meats. I love to bake but also enjoy cooking from all sorts of cuisines, especially from places where I’ve had the opportunity to travel and learn about the cuisine firsthand. Some of my favorite foods are zucchini blossoms, chestnuts, buffalo mozzarella, basil, really good tomatoes, fresh shelled beans (my email address starts with cranberrybean for good reason), really fresh fish, extra virgin olive oil, lemon, juicy young garlic, artichokes, cherries, and fresh pasta.

What is your favorite dish to eat?

Again, that would depend on my mood, but I adore all fire-cooked foods from the grill and wood-oven baking for pizzas, but also things like roasted mushrooms and eggplant.

What country makes the best food?

Italian food was my first love and still up there with my favorite cuisines in the world—simplicity, purity, seasonality, hyper-local, fresh as can be, and good extra virgin olive oil make it a cuisine that I never get tired of. I also love the boldness of Mexican food and adore cilantro, chiles, corn, and key lime. My travels to Turkey and Greece led me to a whole world of wonderful Mediterranean food and new seasonings like mastic resin, Urfa and Marash chiles, and amaranth greens.

What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you on a food tour?

I did a television presentation in Chicago while on crutches with a badly sprained ankle. I worked with a reputable food stylist but one who was used to photographic styling, not live television styling. She showed up with a gigantic tractor-trailer-sized cart laden with tools, props, and food—everything but any kind of cooking fat at all! I was to prepare Philly cheesesteak on camera—the meat she brought was cut too thick and I had no way of browning it but somehow I made it work. We set up the whole stage with all the food to the left of the stage. Just before going on camera, the producer came out and told us that we had to move everything to the right side of the stage. The stylist freaked out, convinced that we would never be able to do it. I gave up on getting any help from her, abandoned my crutches and hopped from one side of the stage to the other until I had it all done—in time for the show. Maybe not that funny at the time, but it made a great story.

What are the benefits to preparing something yourself rather than buying prepared (especially when it comes to butchering meat, preparing pasta)?

The most important benefit is that you can control your ingredients—using natural meats and pastured eggs if you desire as well as unbleached and/or organic flour and fresh vegetable purees for color and flavor. As far as meats, it’s also important to be able to prepare the cuts the way you want them, trimmed to your own desires and with the possibility of using all the trimmings creatively too, making the most of your money. Most meat cut in supermarkets comes from giant feed lots and is cut using a band-saw slicing right through multiple muscles, rather than each muscle separated and then trimmed individually. This makes for a meat that is difficult to cook properly because each muscle has different characteristics, ideal cooking methods, temperature, and time.

How did you get into butchering meat/fish?

As a chef, I needed to learn to do everything. I am also very curious and eager to stretched my skills. I love the beauty of fresh fish with bright eyes and shiny red gills; I love the beauty of animal anatomy and learning the best way to use each part of the animal for the most in flavor, body, texture, and satisfaction.

What is the most challenging fish to fillet?

That would have to be the shad, a soft-fleshed anadromous (lives part of its life in fresh water and part in salt water like salmon) fish dubbed the “The Founding Fish” by natural history writer John McPhee. It has a double set of floating bones that must be filleted in a special way that takes skill and practice. The Fishmonger’s Apprentice has a fully-illustrated section in fifteen steps and may be the only printed method available.

 Where did you come up with the recipe for Giant Asparagus Ravioli with Soft-Cooked Egg (p. 158 of Making Artisan Pasta)?

It was inspired by a famous dish from the renowned restaurant in Imola, Italy, called San Domenico, which now has a branch in New York City. I had the opportunity to dine at the restaurant’s original location in Imola in the 80s and always remembered that dish, which they made with a spinach and ricotta filling in egg dough. I decided to try making it with asparagus dough and an asparagus, scallion, and ricotta filling instead, which worked out very well. I just prepared 75 orders for a special pasta dinner at Susanna Foo Gourmet Kitchen.

What does Thanksgiving look like at your house? What are some recipes you prepare for the holidays?

A locally-raised (or two) hen turkey—though they are not usually sold as such, the hens are the smaller birds—up to about 14 pounds, and are fatter, more succulent, and tender. I avoid the big toms. A bread stuffing with toasted pecans, lots of fresh sage and rosemary, and diced dried fruits such as apricots, mission figs, and dried sour cherries. I make a roasted turkey stock from the trimmings and chop the giblets very fine to add to the gravy. Fresh cranberries simmered with cardamom and orange, strained and formed into a mold are a must. Maple-orange roasted white sweet potatoes (the dense, chestnut-like heirloom varieties grown in Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey). Definitely home-made desserts like buttery Dutch apple-currant tart, carrot-hazelnut-semolina cake with lime glaze, and a pumpkin spice roll with cranberry and chestnut cream fillings.

Today’s chefs are focused on using every part of the animal or plant in their recipes somehow (especially in stocks). What ends up in your trash can?

As little as possible! I pride myself in finding good uses for all the parts of the plant or animal from making corn cob stock and tomato coulis from batches of saved tomato trimmings to serving fish cheeks and making caul-fat wrapped sausage patties.

Aliza Green is an award-winning Philadelphia-based author, journalist, and influential chef whose books include The Butcher’s Apprentice and Making Artisan Pasta(Quarry Books, 2012),The Fishmonger’s Apprentice (Quarry Books, 2010), Starting with Ingredients: Baking (Running Press, 2008) and Starting with Ingredients (Running Press, 2006), four perennially popular Field Guides to food (Quirk, 2004-2007), Beans: More than 200 Delicious, Wholesome Recipes from Around the World (Running Press, 2004) and successful collaborations with renowned chefs Guillermo Pernot and Georges Perrier.

A former food columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, andCooking Light Magazine, Green is known for her encyclopedic knowledge of every possible ingredient, its history, culture, and use in the kitchen and bakery and for her lively story-telling. Green also leads culinary tours—her next is scheduled for October 2013 to Puglia, Italy, which she calls “land of 1,000-year-old olive trees.” Green’s books have garnered high praise from critics, readers, and culinary professionals alike, including a James Beard award for “Best Single-Subject Cookbook” in 2001 forCeviche!: Seafood, Salads, and Cocktails with a Latino Twist (Running Press, 2001), which she co-authored with Chef Guillermo Pernot. For more information about Aliza’s books and tours or to send her a message, visit her website athttp://www.alizagreen.com.