{You Pick Six} An Interview with Founder of Helen’s Kitchen Cooking School: Helen Rennie

Cooking School Founder Helen Rennie holds a raw chicken

A few weeks ago, I attended Amplify, an event in Boston hosted by Branchfood.

It showcased new local food companies and introduced them to retailers and media. I learned about some great products, that I hope to write about soon.

I also met a fellow food blogger whose blog, Beyond Salmon, was one of the first that I read when I first started blogging.  Helen Rennie has been blogging since 2005, so she is one of the first in the food blogging world. So it delights me to no end to welcome Helen to this blog! Now founder of Helen’s Kitchen Cooking School, let’s find out what she’s cooking up next in the 12th in the interview series, You Pick Six.

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Tell me about what you’re working on now?

I’ve been working on short cooking videos that focus on techniques.  They are all available on YouTube for free.  I started making them to help my students review the material they learn in my cooking and baking classes, but to my surprise and delight I’ve been getting comments from cooks all over the world.

What is a favorite cookbook?
Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers.  Judy has always been a great inspiration to me and I was devastated when she passed away at a very young age due to cancer.  Her book is unique in many respects.  She is the only restaurant chef that I am aware of who wrote her book cover to cover without a shadow writer.  The level of detail is fabulous.  I am forever grateful to her editor for not cutting Judy’s wisdom out of this book.  Do you need five pages on how to roast a chicken?  Absolutely! Although the zuni roast chicken is great, the real gem of this book is Judy’s advice to salt all your proteins a day ahead.  It makes everything so juicy — just like brining without the mess of a bucket.
What is some of the best advice you’ve ever received?
This is not the best life advice, but it’s the best advice all home bakers need to hear: weigh all ingredients for baking.  I am a cook by nature.  I taste and adjust.  Baking was a challenge.  My pie crust cracked, my cakes were dry, my breads were dense.  Then I got Rose Beranbaum’s book “The Bread Bible” and started using a scale.  It was like magic.  Everything worked!  It wasn’t just Rose’s recipes that worked, but all my old recipes that gave me trouble worked.  Flour is a powder and it’s compressible.  Measuring it with cups is unreliable.
What is a favorite simple recipe to prepare at home?
Doesn’t get any easier or tastier than seared scallops, though a microwave poached egg is fun too.
What do you think that most people don’t understand about food?
Food is a performing art 99% of the time, and a creative art (1% of the time).  I often hear in classes the following complaint, “I can’t cook because I am not creative.  I can’t figure out what goes with what.”  Then the students watch me cook and are surprised that most of the time I don’t add anything besides salt, lemon, and olive oil.  The reason food tastes good is the balance of salt and acidity, and controlling texture through how you apply heat.  It takes dedication, patience, and constant attention to detail, just like learning a musical instrument.  If you play the violin off key, it’s hard to listen no matter how passionately you play it.  If the cook gets the salt amount wrong, it’s hard to eat their dish no matter what amazing combination of local organic ingredients are in it.  I find that we have a lot of passion for food in the U.S. these days, but not enough skill either at home or in most restaurant kitchens.  But American food culture is in it’s infancy compared to Japan or France.  I am sure the skill will come with time.
What is a favorite food movie?
Ratatouille, of course!
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Thank you so much for participating Helen!

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Photos: Provided by Helen Rennie.


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