Matty Matheson: Catfish Noodling and Making “The Bear” | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 703
January 26, 2023

Matty Matheson: Catfish Noodling and Making “The Bear”

Matty Matheson: Catfish Noodling and Making “The Bear”

This week, we get inside the mind of Matty Matheson, actor and culinary consultant on the hit TV comedy “The Bear.” Matheson reveals his thoughts on internet stardom, what it takes to open five restaurants in two years and why “The Bear” stands alone in the food TV genre. Plus, we peer into the illicit history of rum-running on Long Island with Amy Kasuga Folk; Adam Gopnik considers the act of fasting; and we make Cinnamon Sugar Yogurt Doughnuts from Romania.

Questions in this episode:

Can you help me better understand sourdough pizza crust?

Can you give me ideas for what to do with hand-harvested salt?

I'm back to share my results of cooking falafel.

Can you help me improve my goulash?

Image002 credit Aaron Wynia 1

Christopher Kimbell: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball, Chef and internet star Matty Matheson has been around restaurants long enough to see the industry change, the better.

Matty Matheson: When I opened my first restaurant when I was 26, it was just like, we serve food shut up, we're going to serve booze shut up. This is a make a cocktail. This is how you open wine our way or the highway. And I'm just like, it just can't be that anymore. Can't just be two people have like the ultimate power over like 20 people.

CK: Matty shares his own approach to running a restaurant later on in the show. But first it is time to talk about a different kind of running that would be rum running. During Prohibition, Long Island became a hotspot for rumrunners. Today, we're chatting with historian Amy Kasuga Folk who collected stories from this era in her book, Rum Running in Suffolk County. Amy, welcome to Milk Street.

Amy Kasuga Folk: Thank you for inviting me.

CK: So, the liquor business during Prohibition, I didn't realize how lucrative it was. I think you wrote that one of these gangs, pay tutor dollars a week to 100 employees. And this is when $25 a week was the typical salary. They paid $100,000 a week to the police and graft, federal agents, etc. So even with all that outflow, a gang could make $12 million dollars of profit.

AKF: Yep. And that kind of money is what made rum running so dangerous.

CK: And on Long Island, where you are these rum running gangs were very active, I guess, because there were beaches, the proximity to New York City, etc. You write the 12 miles off the coast you'd find a line of ships hovering just outside the United States border. And this area was called rum row. So, alcohol was being brought in by boat, but just explain how this whole thing worked.

AKF: Sure. Prohibition didn't affect just the United States, it affected the international beverage industry. So, when the US said, no more alcohol, that stops the business in Scotland and France, in Bermuda in a lot of other countries, what was happening is some of the businesspeople would get together a ship of alcohol, and they would park it in the international waters just off our coastline. So, what happens is, people could go out there and buy a case or two, and they would try and put it in a really fast little boat, and then run it into shore. When they got it to shore, they would load it into cars and trucks, and then try and drive it up to the city. And the prohibition agents would try and find the cars and stop them. Sometimes with machine gunfire. The vehicles however, and the boats will be confiscated, impounded, and then sold at auction, and a lot of times the gangs would just buy them back again, and put them back again.

CK: A minor annoyance. So, let's talk about some of the people involved with all this Legs Diamond, Frank Costello, Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, you're write that Long Island only missed having Al Capone involved because he'd moved to Chicago the year before Prohibition started. Yeah. So, a lot of the rumrunners on Long Island were actually really big-name gangsters.

AKF: Yeah, some of these people were actually living in Long Island. And we have locals who did oral interviews, saying, oh, I remember them. When I was a kid, they used to let me go down and use their automatic weapons and shoot at the fence posts and things like that.

CK: Yeah, I had a guy, its long story, but he was over for dinner. He was the brother of someone who lives near us, and he starts talking, you work for this guy down in Florida. And, you know, he was kind of a gangster. And I said, you don't mean Meyer Lansky. So yeah, that's his name. So, this guy, this guy, what was the muscle for Meyer Lansky down in Florida for a couple of years. And he's sitting in my dining room, you know, eating eating roast beef. So, it's interesting how some of these gangsters become part of family tradition, I guess, especially around Long Island. (Yeah). You also write that radio stations, they had secret codes and coded messages and codebook. So, they would use commercial radio stations or short waves to I guess, tell people where and when to pick stuff up?

AKF: Yeah. And that's what actually started the book. The Oyster Ponds Historical Society actually has one of the code books, there was a chase in Greenport harbor, and the rum runner threw the book overboard and it landed in the net of a fisherman nearby and and the family hung on to the book for years and years and years and donated it.

CK: I mean, did you break the code or what?

AKF: Yeah, if you look at the back of the book, it's actually written out. One side has the codes in letters and numbers and the other side has phrases. So, you could actually put together I am off of Ambrose Light, I have 25 cases of rum. Where should I land?

CK: This code book actually had the translation had the code?

AKF: Yes

CK: That's not too smart.

AK: Well, that's why he threw it overboard when the Coast Guard was chasing him.

CK: Well, and people were also throwing alcohol overboard so they wouldn't get caught. You tell a really great story about a guy who sees a boat being chased and liquor thrown overboard, and he hops in a rowboat goes out there and dives for the liquor

AKF: That was actually told to me by his son who witnessed it and as he said to me, that's how I got my first trumpet. Because they didn't have money, they would trade the booze for whatever they needed.

CK: Well, didn't some of these guys have buoys attached to some of the crates? So, if they had to throw them over, they could find them again?

AKF: In some cases, they did. Yeah. There's another story about someone in the Great South Bay who was out eeling, and he heard some noises at night. So, when he got up the next day to check his pots, he found a rope with a buoy just under the water that had nothing but boxes of booze attached to it.

CK: He was smart enough to leave it alone, I hope

AKF: No, he pulled it up.

CK: Not too smart.

AKF: Well, he apparently managed to pull up 18 cases. And he also had some fish in his pots as well. He sold the fish for 20 bucks, and he sold the liquor for 900. So, as long as no one wasn’t around, and they couldn't prove it was him.

CK: I think I would have turned around and left it there for a couple of days. So, there's this also this thing about stopping trucks and I love the one about the red paint and the overalls. You want to talk about that?

AKF: Yeah, the Feds had gotten word that someone had snuck an entire load of liquor up in a tanker truck. And when they were stymied by the patrols, one of the guys stole another tanker truck. And he wanted to have the truck disguised as a business that you would commonly see all over Long Island. So, what he did is he took a green truck that said, like AJAX Motor Oil on the side, he painted it red and wrote Havilland motor oil. And then he filled the tanker with crates of booze. And he managed to sneak it, I would say a good hour, hour and a half up the island, when he gets pulled over by a pair of officers that said, oh, we need some gas in our car. Could you give us a hand with it? So, the guy says, oh, alright, I got a I got a little bit of a can of gas right here. Let me put it in your tank for you. And they they let the guys go. And they're talking afterwards. And one of the guys says hey did you notice there was red paint on his overalls. And they went, oh, my gosh. So, they go racing after the truck, and they pull it over again. And sure enough, it was filled with alcohol

CK: All for want of a clean pair of overalls. So, the people who push temperance and then prohibition, obviously the law of unintended consequences, because they really organized crime got it start because this was so lucrative. The people who who pushed this at the beginning, by the time it was repealed in 1933 had that group changed and morphed and come to a different opinion about temperance.

AKF: It was it was a bit of a disaster. Yeah, I also think that some of the older people who were pushing it were passing away and the people who are left and we're looking at the absolute violence that's occurring on the streets, and, you know, several 1000 bystanders were being killed by the fights over this. We had on Long Island in some busy towns, you had gun battles happening between the police and the rumrunners happening right in the middle of town. And I'm sure the politicians were looking at it going you know, something, we're going to end up being completely voted out of office unless we do something about this. And I think they decided to just take the bit between their teeth and repeal it. So, it's about 13 years’ worth of pain for people who want to drink.

CK: Amy’s it's been a pleasure. Great stories, fascinating history. Thank you so much.

AKF: You're welcome. Thank you for inviting me.

CK: That was historian Amy Kasuga Folk her book is Rum Running in Suffolk County Tales from Liquor Island. Now it's time to answer your cooking questions with my co-host Sara Moulton. Sara is of course the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Also, author of Home Cooking 101. So, before we start the calls, this might be embarrassing,

Sara Moulton: ought oh you’re going to embarrass me here.

CK: I doubt it. So, are there some convenience foods that you buy and really like?

SM: Well, you mean besides the classic cheddar goldfish that Julia used to serve as

CK: I know she loved those

SM: and peanut m&ms in the freezer, which are my go-to afternoon chocolate

CK: Anything else?

SM: You know what I've become very fond of recently. I don't eat it straight up is light cream cheese, a third less fat, which I started using in sauces.

CK: You just use it as to emulsify a sauce?

SM: Yeah, add cream and Tang. And it never breaks, r

CK: Really?

SM: and you can make it and reheat it and make it and reheat it and you have to keep adding water. So, I was just up at the old family farmhouse. And I decided to make chicken tarragon you know, the classic French thing. Because my brother used to make it we used to joke anytime he got serious with a lady he would make her chicken tarragon. That's how you knew it was getting serious. So, I thought for fun. I'd make him chicken tarragon also, because I have this aero garden and when growing tarragon, but I thought I'm going to just do the cheating version. So, I took shallots and white wine and white wine vinegar and dried tarragon or reduced it. And then sauteed the chicken breasts, took them out of the pan added that thing that I'd reduced a bit you know that mixture. And then I threw in some light cream cheese and some chicken broth. And just let it become a sauce which it does almost immediately put the chicken back into reheat, add some fresh tarragon both my brother and my husband were blown away and they had no idea what it was.

CK: That's actually a good tip.

SM: I just used it again for something else I'm trying to remember but again it’s the sauce. It just sort of really

CK: This is tick tock worthy.

SM: Yes. I think

CK: I think I'm going to steal the idea. Thank you.

SM: Thanks.

CK: I'll give you credit.

SM: Okay.

CK: Okay, take a call. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Josh, I'm calling from Albany, New York.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: Well, I am just starting to get into sourdough, particularly as it relates to pizza dough. And I keep seeing these terms thrown around in recipes I've looked at. And I don't really understand the differences between them. I know there has to be something. Forgive me if I mangle the pronunciations. But the words that I'm talking about are poolish. Levant and biega.

CK: I think and this is technically incorrect. But I find in recipes, a poolish and biega are just the same thing. And usually, you start with a cup of flour, a cup of water, half a teaspoon of yeast, you let it sit overnight on the counter. That's the biega or the poolish and then you add the rest of the ingredients the next day. Some people I think will tell you the poolish is a wetter consistency than a biega, but I find they're essentially the same thing is just a way of developing flavor before you add the rest of the ingredients. And I find that it actually does work pretty well. And levant just a general term,

SM: a general term. They would both be considered a levant yes.

CK: So, it's just a way of developing flavor.

SM: Josh, I think it's great you're making bread. Did you start doing this during the pandemic?

Caller: Yeah, a ton of baking, just like almost every day bake something for the family.

SM: And what was your favorite thing? Is it this, Is it sourdough?

Caller: No, I haven't really gotten anywhere with sourdough yet, but I've had a lot of luck with making Detroit style pizza. The dough was rather thick, and it's pressed into this 10 x 14, blue steel pan that is similar to the kind of pan used in the auto factories in Detroit.

SM: Wow

CK: I didn't know that.

Caller: And then the cheese goes right on top of the dough. And the sauce isn't added until after the pie is baked.

CK: Really

SM: It’s a traditional tomato sauce.

Caller: Yeah.

SM: Huh

CK: How thick is the dough and how thick is the cheese layer?

Caller: The cheese is quite thick. And it uses the traditional Detroit style uses a cheese called Wisconsin brick that is difficult to find anywhere outside of the area I had to special order it. And the dough is about as thick as a deep-dish pizza would be.

CK: So, is this cheese like mozzarella but has more flavor?

Caller: Yes. It's definitely more flavorful than mozzarella. It has a taste almost like melted butter. It's really delicious and rich.

CK: This is why we take calls,

SM: Right so you can teach us something

CK: People know more than we do.

SM: Yeah, right. You see you notice how I got us off topic a sourdough really fast.

CK: That was nice. Nice job.

SM: My husbands from Detroit so, I'm going to have to go home and ask him has he ever had it

Caller: Oh, he should know about it

SM: He should.

CK: We got more out of this call then you did. So yeah. So, thank you for calling

SM: Thank you for all right, Josh. Take care. Okay.

Caller: Thank you very much.

SM: All right. Bye. Bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Sara and I are ready to solve your toughest kitchen problems. Give us a ring 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, my name is Melissa.

SM: Hi, Melissa. Where are you calling from?

Caller: I am calling from Winthrop, Maine.

SM: How can we help you today?

Caller: So, I have kind of a funny question. I am a high school principal. And one of the staff members that I teach with is a native of Long Island in the Bahamas. And one day we were sitting around and talking, and she happened to casually mention that, you know, when her family went out to harvest salt, and I said, whoa, wait a minute. What do you mean, you harvest your own salt. And so, she was telling me about that. And then of course the next day, she comes in with a little canning jar full of salt for me and I was delighted. I love salt. It's like one of my favorite things. And she gave me this jar of salt and I brought it home and I was really excited. And I was telling everyone about it. But I haven't really used it for anything because like I'm paralyzed to use it. Every time I go to put it on something. I'm like, oh, but this is that really good, like fresh salt. And I guess I just want to know, like, what would be the best way to use some really hand harvested salt?

SM: It's so funny. It's like too special to use. (Hmm, exactly). Yeah, no, I get it. Well, you know, it's interesting because all salt ultimately comes from the ocean. Some of it's just been buried on land for a while, so it's mined. And then the really good stuff is harvested straight from the ocean. And it tends to have more flavor and more minerality and more you know of a personality. I would treat it like a salty crouton, little, tiny crunchy salty croutons. So, let's say you make some hard-boiled eggs and you want to eat them straight up, cut them in half and sprinkle some of that salt on. Let's say you get wild and crazy and make some homemade butter. This would be one of my favorite ways to do it. All you have to do is take heavy cream and beat it like crazy until it turns into butter. There’re recipes online, you have to rinse it out a bit. But it's really really very easy. And it's absolutely delicious. You have to rinse it out so that you get rid of all the milk solids so that it doesn't smell but then you put it into ramekins you freeze it or whatever. And if you put some fresh butter that you made from heavy cream on the table and sprinkle some of that salt on everybody will think you're a genius chef.

Caller: That sounds incredible.

SM: Yeah, you can just sprinkle it on roasted vegetables it’s wonderful on say poached fish. It's a finishing salt. You want it to be there you want it to have its crunch, you want to taste it, it would be good in those desserts, you know, like caramel with salt on it, or some chocolate dessert, you sprinkle a little salt on it like a brownie or something. So that's how you should see it for something that's bland but also as a finishing salt. Now let's see what Chris has to say.

CK: I have an unusual use for salt. When I make salads, I no longer whisk or emulsify a dressing. I just sprinkle a little low acid vinegar on the greens, a little bit of olive oil, a little bit of za’atar, which is a Middle Eastern herb mix, which you don't have to use. But then I use Malden sea salt, and those little bits of salt those crunchy bits, turn an average salad into an outstanding salad. So, any sort of salad, don't put the salt in the vinaigrette with the vinegar and the oil, put it directly on the greens and then you get this just bang of crunch and salt. I agree it's a finishing salt, you put it right on a steak, you know like they do in Italy. Salt it and serve it. Just don't mix it into a liquid like a soup or a stew. Because you won't tell a difference.

Caller: That seems like a waste.

CK: It's a waste,

SM: You know what and put it on the counter. So, it talks to you. So, it says I'm here use me. Because if you put it in the cupboard, you'll never take it out.

Caller: Right. Right, I should just move beyond admiring it and actually eat it.

CK: Yeah. Well also Sara will agree with this. The biggest mistake home cooks make is not using enough salt. And so, if you get into the habit of using finishing salt, your cooking goes from good to great really overnight, because most people under salt and especially if you have that crunchy finishing salt it's it really is a game changer.

SM: Yeah. I agree.

Caller: Excellent.

CK: Anyway, a good problem to have.

SM: Yes, thanks Melissa

Caller: Yeah. And some really great suggestion. Thank you so much.

CK: Thanks Melissa

SM: Bye bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Coming up i's my conversation with Chef Matty Matheson. That's after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Even if you've never seen Matty Matheson, it's entirely possible that you've heard him.

Matty Matheson: Good morning, hello. Yeah. Do you see what's happening? Hello, hello, hello, hello…Do you look at the ingredients because does mind open up into the world that your mouth wants to create.

CK: Right now, we're sitting down with the internet's loudest, Chef. Matty Matheson is the owner of multiple restaurants, a consultant and actor on the hit TV show The Bear and also the host of Cooking Something on YouTube. Matty, welcome to Milk Street.

MM: Hey, Chris. Thanks for having me, buddy.

CK: You're a busy guy noodling catfish to opening a restaurant with $120 prime rib on the menu, and everything in between. But where did this all begin? You know, when did you decide to pursue a career in food?

MM: Like school wasn't easy for me. You know, I was like a young kind of punk and hated my town and hated school and hated everything you know. And I was only going to college just to get to Toronto. I just wanted to go to like punk shows and live downtown and do all this stuff. And my means was going to culinary school. And that was a thing that like really raised my self-esteem and gave me some actual like character where I was like, oh, I'm finally good at something.

CK: So, let's talk about YouTube and TV. One of your videos, you know, I really liked it really stuck with me your catfish noodling in Oklahoma, with Brad Leone, from Bon Appetit. Why did you do this, first of all, and what is catfish noodling?

MM: Well, first off, I'm not an expert, but you kind of tuck your little body in your arms or your feet into these old, like, kind of beaver holes or large animal holes. And hopefully, if a large catfish is in there, it'll chomp on your foot, it'll chomp on your hand, like you have to, like grab onto his jaw, and like, not let go. You know, the inside of their mouths are like, like gritty sandpaper. So, like, it's shredded my hand and its, like, putting your hand inside of a giant, a catfish is just a giant muscle. You know, it's literally just a giant muscle with a mouth.

CK: But this is like 30 pounds, right? I mean, this was huge fish.

MM: Yeah, they're giant. Some of them are 80 pounds, you know, like, it's like a like a, like a five-year-old, flapping around chewing on you. And it's like, the whole experience is just wild because like, you're down there and then like, oh, yeah, like, watch out for like water moccasins.

CK: That was my number one question. Aren't there water moccasins in this water?

MM: And I'm like, I don't even know what a water moccasin is. And I'm just like, what the and they're like, Oh, it's a deadly snake. I'm like, a deadly snake is just like, yeah, make sure you don't grab any roots. Because like, it could be a snake or they're like when you move around, don't splash because the water moccasins are attracted to that because it looks like a bird fell in or like something that's like trying to swim. And I'm like, this is crazy. Like, you know, like, I'm doing this thing. And I'm like, I'm doing this friggin what am I doing this for to get some views?

CK: I you know, I'm pretty adventurous. But I wasn't going to do that. But let me follow up on that. I mean, here you are with his booming entertainment business. And now you're doing the hardest thing in the world, which is opening restaurants. You've opened, I don't know, five restaurants in the last 18 months. So how did you pull that off with everything else going on it and what made you want to go into the restaurant business per se?

MM: Yeah, like I just I, you know, I was a chef at a young age. Like I became a chef. Well, I didn't become a chef, but like, I took a chef job at the age of 26. You know, I'm 40 now I've opened and closed multiple restaurants. And then I left the restaurant business and went and had like, you know, I made television for years with Viceland. I made content all around the world with YouTube. And it's like, I never had my own restaurant for like seven years. But at the core of who I am, I felt like a poser where I'm like, I don't even have my own restaurant,

CK: You know, I get that

MM: I need to like put some skin in the game, you know, like, I need to put some skin in the game I even though it's rough, it's still like, it's still beautiful to me. It's still like the most purest thing is like, no matter what all this branding and all this stuff, it's like, at the end of the day, I'm just trying to like feed people and make somebody have like a nice moment. And I think like that stress is worth it. You know that that amount of stress and restaurants and working with a lot of different people. You know, it's a lot, but it's like, it's worth it to see people come in and enjoy it. You know, it really is.

CK: I totally agree. I think the idea of having a real job having skin in the game, or as they would say in Vermont be useful counts. Because you know, you're right. I mean, the branding thing comes and goes, making TV is fine. But ultimately, you want to be useful in some more concrete way. So, okay, so then this new show that you're on, you have a part on, but also consult on The Bear. First of all, once you describe the show, if people don't know it is fabulous. And two, I want I want to ask you about whether that view of the restaurant industry, is it seems like it's the first show that really, really took a deep dive into what it's really like but but just give us a brief summary of the show.

c Yeah, The Bear is a show about a family owned restaurant, where the brother killed themselves. And the younger brother who is a up and coming rising, superstar kind of chef goes home to take over his unfortunately dead brother's Italian beef spot in Chicago. And I think like the one of the reasons why The Bear is one of the shows that like everyone is saying it's really captured this thing. It's like, I think the thing that we mostly captured was just like humans, being human being frail, being vulnerable, not dealing with life. And I think that like a lot of people can genuinely connect with brokenness coming from a home that is broken. We all kind of do. Like there's a lot of people that want to run away from their hometowns. I'm one of them. And now I've moved back to my hometown, and I've opened a restaurant there, but I'm like, it takes a long time to to find yourself and to be able to allow yourself to, to just be okay. And I think The Bear is it could be any it could have been a convenience store. It could have been a roofing company, like sure they're in the restaurant, and its high octane. And it's like they're running around and yelling behind. And yes, chef and all this stuff, but like, you know, I think really, the thing that the actors did, and the writers and the directors really killed was just like life on life's terms.

CK: I'll just quote you. “Life sucks. Life's heavy, it's uncompromising. And it's about how you deal with it every day, which, you know, is one comedian, I think once said, why would you ever think something good is going to happen?” Right? Yeah, it's sort of like, you just got to show up and deal with a deal with whatever happens, which most of the time is not very good, right?

MM: Absolutely. You got to be I always say like, I'm dumb enough to jump. You know, I'm, like, willing to try to do something I've never done before. A couple times. You know, I've never acted before. Why don't I try acting? I've never produced a TV show. There are so many different things that I never thought that I would do, that I'm doing because it's just like, why? What's the worst that can happen? Lose a bunch of money. Like, be embarrassed, like, okay, I'm willing to take that.

CK: So, in my business, I look at it. It's complicated. It has a lot of pieces. And I think I understand something about the media business, which gives me some hope and optimism that I can solve the problems I’ve been around a long time. And you know, I have some opinions about how it works. You've been in the restaurant business a while. Are there a couple of things you've noticed about the restaurant business where you think, okay, you know, here the mistakes we can't make, but here's the stuff we got to deal with

MM: Yeah, I think I think figuring out what the tools are to give your employees are what's most important. I can't ask somebody to do a job if I don't set them up for success. So, I think giving people what they need and listening to your team. And all I know is when I opened my first restaurant when I was 26. We didn't have conversations like this, we didn't have conversations like any of this, there were, there was no language around any of it, there was nothing. It was just like, we serve food Shut up, we're going to serve booze Shut up. This is how you make a cocktail. That's how you open wine our way or the highway. And I'm just like, it just can't be that anymore. Can't just be a two people have, like the ultimate power over like eight people, or 20 people. Like there needs to be leadership, but there also needs to be understanding and open mindedness. You know?

CK: Okay, so let's end where we began, you know, on one hand, here's somebody who goes catfish noodling. On the other hand, you sound like a very sophisticated New York restaurant consultant, you know, you talk about empowering people giving them the tools for success. So obviously, you have an amazing learning curve. And I would guess, by the time you're done, right, you're not going to be leaving a lot on the table. So, if you're going to be spending it all

MM: No, well, we only got one life. You know, I've almost lost it a couple times. And there ain't no I'm not. This ain't no game. You know, my, I always say my parents were ___ travelers, they would do whatever they needed to do to make sure that we had what we needed. And we didn't have a lot, but we always had enough. And, you know, I'm able to be able to make the things that I make and, and make people happy.

CK: Well, I guess it all goes back to sort of the Church of hard work, right? None of that stuff happens without the hard work.

c Yeah, inspiration is a joke. Don't sit around waiting for something to click, go to work. Hopefully your inspiration clicks while you're shoveling some ___

CK: Matty it's been a real pleasure. I really enjoyed talking to you. Thanks.

MM: Thanks for having me. It's been a hoot.

CK: That was Matty Matheson. He consults for the FX series The Bear. His latest restaurant Prime Seafood Palace opened in Toronto in June 2022. A few years back, I got to know the band the Zen Tricksters and its founder Cliff Black. At the time, I was enamored of the life of a rock & roll band until Cliff explained the reality, living hand to mouth driving through snowstorms, the bad food, the cheap hotels, the list goes on. And if you watch The Bear, you'll come to the same conclusion about the restaurant business. You have no life, drugs and alcohol. A few restaurants ever make it or make money. And as Anthony Bourdain once said, the worst reason to go into food is to become rich and famous. But for some the long hours the crushing physical labor and lack of financial reward is really not a problem. The truth is that some people no matter what the challenge is, just love their day job. I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now let's check in with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe. Cinnamon sugar, yogurt doughnuts. Lynn, how are you?

Lynn Clark: I'm doing well. Chris, how are you?

CK: Donuts. I recently interviewed Irina Georgescu she wrote a book called Tava about Romanian baking sort of Eastern European baking. fabulous book. I didn't know a lot about the topic. But one of the recipes does a cinnamon sugar yogurt donut, I guess similar to you know, sort of nutmeg donuts you'd make in New England. You just fry them up. But these are really good and they're particularly light. So, what's the trick here?

LC: So, in Romania, they love donuts. And this version is sort of their simplest version. It's a really quick batter style donut, you just scoop and drop in the oil. You don't have to shape it. There is no yeast, so it doesn't have to rise. It's kind of a really quick impromptu snack that they would serve in the afternoon. Simple simple batter, dry ingredients flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. The wet ingredients eggs, milk, lemon zest for a little bit of tartness and almond extract, though you could substitute with vanilla if you're not a fan of almond like me, but the key ingredient here is yogurt. And in Romania in baking, they use a lot of cultured dairy. The cultured dairy has a little bit of lactic acid in it and the adds a little extra lift to the baked goods. So, these donuts have this incredible light and airy texture. Sometimes drop donuts can be a little bit dense and heavy. These are the antithesis of that just really nice and light.

CK: So, are these just fried like a drop donor or are they filled or what?

LC: No, no filling. Simple simple. Scoop it with like a cookie scoop and drop it into some hot oil takes just two or three minutes to fry them. They come out of the oil cool a little bit when they're still warm but not hot. You roll them and cinnamon sugar. Cinnamon is probably the number one spice used in baking in Romania. So, it's very traditional. And then you can serve them like they do in Romania with creme fraiche and cherry jam or you can serve them like I would and just pop them into your mouth one right after the other.

CK: You wouldn't serve them you’d just eat them

LC: I would just like yes, roll and eat roll and eat yeah

CK: So, the other thing about these I noticed was the outside unlike the doughnuts I make are a little bit crispy, right?

LC: I mean they're fried right so they have that crispy kind of shell on them, and then and that is kind of exaggerated by the crunchiness of the sugar on the outside. Just really a great contrast between that light inside and the exterior.

CK: So if you're tired of Dunkin Donuts, you can make homemade donuts but easily the cinnamon sugar yogurt doughnuts from Romania from the book Tava are simple but delicious. Thank you, Lynn.

LC: You're welcome. You can get the recipe for cinnamon sugar, yogurt doughnuts at Milk Street

CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up the vices and virtues of fasting with Adam Gopnik. That's right after the break. Hey, Milk Street listeners. This is Chris Kimball and I need a little bit of help. We're working on a story about the foods people eat around the world when they experience the loss of loved ones. So, if there are dishes or food traditions that you would like to share, you can leave us a voicemail at 617-249-3167 or send us a voice memo at Radio tips at 177 Milk One more time, call us at 617-249-3167 or email a voice memo to radio tips at 177 Milk Please say your name and where you're calling from and thanks. I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now, my co-host Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Ben from Barron, Wisconsin.

SM: Hi, Ben. How can we help you?

Caller: Well, I had actually talked to you guys maybe a month or two ago, I had the questions about falafel you know getting it really crispy on the outside fluffy on the inside.

SM: And you went back to the drawing board.

Caller: I went back to the drawing board I had my DaVinci sketchbook out there I was doing all sorts of Anatomy of a falafel drawings and seeing what I could do.

CK: Did we say anything interesting or intelligent

Caller: You sounded pretty smart from my angle. And the first thing was you recommended using a higher oil temperature (right) you also recommended not using canola oil and switching to grapeseed or sunflower oil

CK: Did either of those things help

Caller: like the untrue scientists that I am I didn't really control any of the variables on each one of my experiments however, I did try both the oil and the higher temperature, and they got me closer the first time I tried doing falafel after we spoke there was definitely crunchier on the outside definitely stayed soft on the inside. However, it wasn't quite to the level I wanted it to be at, so I kept experimenting a little bit. And one thing I found was a major difference in the recipes that I did without using flour I found that they were a lot softer on the outside when I mixed flour into the batter and went a little bit lighter on the herbs it definitely gave me that crunchier look I was looking for on the outside

SM: and you were happy?

Caller: I was pretty happy. I still have to tweak it because the recipe I was using it was lighter on the herbs, so I think I still wanted a little bit more green and fluffy on the inside. Now I've been talking to my wife and her ideas that I would need a deep fryer and I'm not saying she's wrong. I just wanted to check in with you guys and see first off what would the difference be between using a deep fryer and then basically like a deep-frying method at home.

CK: How deep was the oil?

Caller: Probably about an inch and a half

CK: That could cause a problem. And the reason is shallow frying, the oil temperature will drop faster than if you had more oil. So, you may have started 360 or 370. And then the oil may have dropped to 285 or 300. The other thing you might try, I don't know if I mentioned this last time, I know with French fries, you can coat the outside with potato starch or cornstarch, roll it in that and then fry it. That will definitely crisp up the outside.

SM: Here's the thing, Ben, I think we'd love to hear back from you again of this saga. Let us know how it goes.

Caller: You got it. I think this is going to be an ongoing thing. And you know, maybe down the road when you guys have taken over the culinary universe and I'm coming out with my first book about the falafel journey. All of our hard work will have come to fruition so

SM: It will have paid off

CK: No, I think we should just start the falafel podcast.

SM: Yeah,

CK: with weekly updates.

cc Oh boy, hopefully people who are listening to this who actually know how to make it aren't screaming at their radios.

CK: The whole secret of a podcast is make as many people as angry as possible as often as possible. That's the whole point

SM: Is that what we're doing here?

CK: Well, you want listener involvement. And when you get people shaking their fist, at you know

SM: I thought we were helping people.

CK: Well, we're trying to

SM: That’s what I thought

CK: Ben, thank you so much and stay in touch. Let us know

SM: Yes Ben thank you

CK: Absolutely. Thank you so much for all of your help. Really appreciate it

CK: Yeah. Take care. This is Milk Street Radio. If you need help in the kitchen, call us at 855-426-9843. That's 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Barbara,

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I have a recipe book I’ve gone back to for decades. And it's my mother's old Austrian cookbook. It was published in 1933. I know that you know a lot of authentic Austrian food Chris. A couple of weeks ago, I was making a big dinner for some people. And I thought I'd make a goulash and this involves about three quarters of the amount of onions in to meat and you roast off the onions. And then you add the meat and some seasonings. And then you just add a lot of water with a bit of vinegar and steam it off until it's all evaporated. And then you add some flour and top it up with water. And then you put it to a low simmer. And as I was doing this, I thought oh, this is different than how we normally do stews. And I realized that it's similar to another recipe I do quite often which is Marcela Hazen’s Bolognese sauce. In her recipe for just three quarters of a pound of ground beef, you first add a whole cup of milk, and then let that evaporate off, and then you add a whole cup of wine and let that evaporate off. And only then do you add the final liquid and put it down to a super slow braise. In both of these recipes, you end up with something with a really, really intense flavor. I was wondering whether this method of cooking a braise or a stew is something that you've seen before? Because I haven't really seen it written down anywhere apart from these other two places?

CK: It's a great question, here's what I think is going on. In general, the less liquid you use, the more concentration of flavor you're going to get, the more Maillard reaction, it's going to be better for the meat. Because if you cook meat in a lot of liquid, it's going to tend to get tough, it's going to tend to lose flavor. So, I think what's really going on is there's a period here where the liquid is evaporating, you're concentrating the wine or the milk, the solids, or the flavors of the liquid. But the meats really getting cooked without sitting in a lot of liquid. So, you see this in Italian recipes for students, for example, where they cook the meat, sometimes with no additional liquid at all ended up in a moderate oven with a top on for an hour and a half or two hours and they take the top off and finish and the meat gets browned by the heat of the oven. And the juices from the meat don't all get released in the liquid because there isn't much liquid and what liquid there is comes out and makes a sauce. So, I think my takeaway is don't cook meat and a lot of liquid if you want to concentrate the flavor of the meat. And I think in a strange way that's sort of what's happening here. Plus, you're concentrating the liquids down to get the essence of their wine, for example is being concentrated through the evaporation at the beginning, but it's a good point. meat cooked a lot of water or liquid is going to be less flavorful than meat. Cooked with less liquid or no liquid. Sara,

SM: Can I ask you a question about the goulash? So, we know the Bolognese was ground meat. What was the goulash?

Caller: Well, it tells you to use what would translate as very tough shin meat, I use a chuck roast and it tells you to cut it into very large chunks.

SM: It wasn't tough or dry. In the end, it was tender?

Caller: Oh, no, it was it was kind of the best goulash I've ever had.

CK: How much meat is there and how much liquid is there?

Caller: In goulash there was a kilo of beef and started off with a couple of cups of water with the spices but reduced it all down.

CK: I think it sounds like a great technique. Yeah. What's the name of the cookbook, by the way?

Caller: It's called ____ which means what should we cook today,

CK: Barbara, thank you.

SM: Thank you.

Caller: Thank you both very much. Bye bye

SM: bye.

CK: You listening to Milk Street Radio. Now let's hear the latest from our introspective friend. Adam Gopnik. Adam, how are you?

Adam Gopnik: I am well, like pretty much everyone, I suppose right around now I am thinking of not feasting, but a fasting. It's that time and when most of us do it. If we're going to have feasting, we must have fasting. But the fasting can't just be a withdrawal. It has to be as neatly ritualized and defined as the feasting that preceded it.

CK: I'm married to the mistress of fasting. She does this every three weeks. Yes,

AG: Yes. And there are many different schedules. And there's many different ways. There's the 16 hours fast, there's the 14 hours fast, there's, of course, it's near relation, the juice fast. Now, the juice fast is essentially what used to be called the 19 centuries, a cure. Remember, all of those characters in 19th century novels went away for cures to spas, we don't call them cures anymore, we call them cleanses. Now, I find no particular benefit in highly organized fasting intermittent period, all that happens to me when I fast is I just get extremely hungry. And then I ended up eating about the same amount at the end of it all. But I'm still struck by the question of why we have this kind of alternative black mass version of the gastronomic pleasures that you and I engage in, in terms of the whole Church of fasting. Now one level, it's obvious why it is it's exactly because we have so much abundance, God knows, we still struggle with food insecurity in this country, and around the globe. But relatively speaking, there is now more food for more people in wealthy countries than there has ever been before. So naturally, one of the things that happens when you have hyper abundance is you're going to have equally hyper non-abundance. And of course, we have to organize our non-participation, just as much as we do our taking part

CK: Let me throw an idea in here. This is not my idea, the woman who wrote the book of Difficult Fruit, which I love. Great book, (right) but she said this, she said, when people get into a health regimen, you know, like this, like fasting, they know they're going to fail, eventually. And then they get to blame themselves. And that the goal of all of this is to blame yourself, which people kind of like to do. So, I just thought that the psychology of that was really interesting.

AG: And accurate, right? And that's because everyone knows they will fail at the fast. Well, you know, it's interesting you say that, because one of the things that I was thinking about as a kind of companion thought, which is that a very wise Englishman once said that character, when we talk about somebody having character, what we really mean is that they have the capacity to refrain character is the capacity to refrain. And we recognize that all the time that people we admire people who can resist temptation. So, choosing to fast is a way of displaying character. So, there's a certain kind of virtue not just the virtue of weight loss, but a larger temperamental virtue that you display when you do it. But here's the thing that I think is missing. I went ahead and did as the perpetual graduate student, my due diligence about the history of fasting and of course, you think about it, fasting has often been used as a political weapon. That's what the hunger strike that Gandhi engaged in is meant to be. But it's also the case that one of the very powerful motives for fasting historically, you had the hunger strike, but you also had the hermit's fast, and hermits would choose to fast because fasting induces hallucinations. And it seems to me if we're going to add something to the regimen of non-taking part, we should revive the tradition of the hallucinatory fast. I don't know what we’ll hope to see, but we should stop eating long enough until a vision comes to us, if not a vision of an angel, at least of the ghost of Julia Child,

CK: Or a cheeseburger, which might be more apt. Well, I think on a more common level, you might fast to get a more sensible view of the world in your life it’s just, it's a timeout, it's the seventh inning stretch, right? Isn't that? Isn't that what fasting can do for you?

AG: I guess that's what fasting actually can do for you. But what keeps striking me is that the people I know who are perpetual fasters are as engaged in it as an activity as you and I are engaged in the activity of cooking and eating

CK: Well, if I could be a little doubting, I think people who do this a lot might constantly want to be a better version of themselves. They're trying to rise to the next level to something that they're missing.

AG: Well, if I can be self-indicting, isn't that why we cook and share certain porcelain because in the sense, it's our way of becoming someone else. It's our way of becoming a person, at once more generous and more accomplished than we can ever else hope to be. The moment we put on that apron and start to cook, we become another self.

CK: So, we've given our listeners clear choices, cook, have friends, be the better person you can be or fast and hope for revelation of a higher being. I think on that note, we've made a clear choice.

AG: It's a classic choice between the spiritual and carnal life.

CK: Absolutely.

AG: I'll take the carnal life.

CK: Me too. Adam, thank you.

AG: Thank you.

CK: That was Adam Gopnik, staff writer at The New Yorker. That's it for today. You can find all of our episodes at Milk Street or wherever you get your podcasts. You can learn more about Milk Street at 177 Milk There you can become a member and get full access to every recipe. All live stream cooking classes and free standard shipping from the Milk Street store and lots more. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimballs Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories. Thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH, co-founder of Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh. Senior Editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Assistant Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock, additional editing by Sidney Lewis. Audio mixing by Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media and Woods Hole Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff, Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX