'Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat' Chef Makes Hometown Debut
Speaker 1: 00:00 Salt, fat, acid heat. Those are the four basic elements that can make or break a dish according to my next guest. It's also the title of her popular Netflix documentary series, so knows rata is a chef teacher, New York times best selling author James Beard award winner and LA Jolla high school graduate. She'll be making her hometown debut as a celebrity tomorrow at Balboa theater as part of UCLA art power event series and she joins us now via Skype and some mean welcome to the program. Thank you so much. You started to laugh when I called you a celebrity. Is that really funny? But you are. This Netflix series is just opening so many people's eyes to these four basic elements of cooking. Do you believe that it's really that simple? Anybody can be good at cooking just using those four main ingredients? Speaker 2: 01:00 I really do. I mean that that is of the main thing that I don't find funny because I think I really believe and I honestly just know because of it's basic human physiology you were all born are. I would say most of us are born with our full, our sense of taste and full, fully intact. And um, I think we even all have foods that we find delicious and craveable and it's just that it hasn't really been broken down for people. Why and how that relates to our own cooking and how we can use what we like to eat and what we know tastes good to as a guide for how to make our own cooking better. So that's really sort of how I came to understand this philosophy and then how I've tried really hard to turn it into something that I can articulate to people and explain and break down for them so that they can use it to improve their own cooking. Speaker 1: 02:04 Now you've got a whole series that explained salt, fat, acid heat, and what they do for eat, what they do for a dish on their own and how they work so well together. I'm going to ask you though, can you give us a nutshell idea of what, and indeed salt, fat, acid heat contributes to food? Speaker 2: 02:24 Yes, absolutely. So salt, really his main role is to enhance flavor and also it sometimes changes texture and improves texture and food. So when something is salted properly, it just tastes more like itself. All the way through. The difference you can think of is like a chicken breast that my baby has salt only on the skin versus one that's been salted in advance and the salt has had time to go all the way through. So every bite tastes perfectly seasoned. Fat is um, is it, whereas salt is a flavor, fat is really, uh, an incredible sort of, um, way to transmit flavors. And it's also its own source of flavor, which you can think of like the difference between the way butter tastes or the way oil tastes. So fat determines the flavor of that. Like a culture uses, you know, in India people use [inaudible] in um, Southeast Asia, people use a lot of coconut oil in, of course the Mediterranean people use olive oil. Speaker 2: 03:27 So if that's what you want your food to taste like, start with, with that fact that also determines texture. Things like crispness and creaminess and flaky or tenderness. In a pie crust and lightness like whipped cream. All of those things come from using fat in the right way. Acid is a flavor sort of balancer. And you know, you can think of that in terms of sometimes some things like in San Diego, it's just like you might get a burrito and it needs salsa and it needs a little squeeze of lime on that fish taco. And that's what balances all of the saltiness and the richness is, it sort of creates this incredible contrast that's so enjoyable for us to eat. And heat is just how we cook. It's the actual source of heat, you know? And basically the simplest way to think about it is that there's two sort of levels of heat. Speaker 2: 04:26 It's not all of these individual degrees on the oven. It's, there's like hot and fast and there's low and slow. And once you understand what your food wants for what texture you want and what final result you want, you can apply that. And it can happen over a grill. It can happen in an oven, it can happen in a stove, you know, it could happen outside when you're camping. And so it doesn't matter so much the source of heat as it does the level of heat. So once you understand that you can do anything. No. So I mean when you were growing up in San Diego, was food and cooking a big part of your upbringing? Well, I wasn't cooking. My mom was cooking and she is an extraordinary cook. My family is from Iran and my mom really, I always joke that we spent 40% of our childhood, me and my brothers in the back of our Volvo station wagon driving all around San Diego looking for like the very best ingredients. Speaker 2: 05:21 We'd go to North park grocery for, you know, all sorts of different herbs. And we'd go to the co-op and in ocean beach for the best, you know, like fresh produce that my mom could find and we'd go to the Persian groceries for all of the special ingredients, the fed cheeses and the breads. And so my mom was really spending almost all of her time shopping for and cooking really beautiful, traditional Persian food. And me and my brothers mostly just ate it. We ate it and we loved eating it. But my parents really wanted us to go to school and get grades and sort of like, you know, my parents were immigrants and they wanted their kids to be better and, and have the better life. So my mom didn't encourage us into the kitchen very much. Speaker 1: 06:08 And now as I say, you are a food celebrity. Yeah. Speaker 2: 06:11 And I just did mine. It's so silly and so funny also because like your voice is so iconic to me. You know, I grew up listening to KPBS and so [inaudible] and you know, as much as I've been on every sort of news channel and in every publication there's this way where like as a kid in a car, you never would think that anyone would talk about you that way. Speaker 1: 06:40 Well, it's true though, because you, for your net or like show for instance, you've gone all, all over the world. You, Italy, Japan, Mexico, uh, your home now in Berkeley. I'm wondering in all of those travels, what's been the biggest lesson you've learned as you've been on this food journey? Speaker 2: 06:59 I think no matter where I go, I am always heard of pleasantly reminded that we as humans are more similar than we are different and that our cooking is more similar than it is different. And there's so much diversity and that's what's really exciting and interesting to get to taste all of the different ways that people sort of put these four elements into play. But then you real, you'll sit down at someone's table and maybe they're adding soy sauce instead of salt or maybe they're squeezing, you know, sour oranges instead of the lemons that you're used to. But you realize like, Oh, all of our pallets crave the same stuff. And so there's this wonderful way where in the kitchen and at the table it's, it's kind of this incredible universal language where I just love seeing and being reminded that we all just want to eat delicious stuff. Speaker 1: 07:54 I've been speaking with some, he knows her at. She is the author of salt, fat acid heat, and the Netflix series of the same name. She will be in conversation with KCRW is good food hosts. Evan Kleiman at Belvoir theater tomorrow night. It has been a delights. I mean, thank you so much. Thank you so much. Maureen.