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Bon Appetit in Boston: Local chefs dish their best advice to student ‘foodies’

Jennifer Che, the sole voice behind food blog Tiny Urban Kitchen, said she did not see herself becoming a foodie. She left college expecting to become a chemist.

After graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in chemistry, she worked as a pharmacologist until she decided that she wanted to be something else — a patent lawyer. She spent her days working as a pharmacologist and her evenings in law school until she got her degree. That’s when food came in.

“I had so much free time on my hands, I just wanted a hobby,” Che said. “I had always loved food, so I had this idea to record all the restaurants I had tried and the recipes I liked.”

Since those days, a lot has changed. Che signed with Food Buzz, won Project Food Blog and recently won Saveur’s “Best Dining Coverage” within their Food Blog Awards. And she does it all after working as a patent lawyer during the day.

When people think of celebrity chefs and famous restaurants, New York’s well known food culture might come to mind. In recent years, however, Boston has become a hot spot for food enthusiasts, many of whom have insight about how to survive on a student’s budget.

Che said the secret to a successful food blog consists of honesty, captivating photos and quality content.

“I think food bloggers need to take the risk and let people know who they are,” Che said. “Put a picture of yourself up on your food blog — that way people can connect with you.”

When it comes to the dining world, Che is well versed. Her blog includes reviews not only from Allston to Harvard Square, but also from Japan to California. She said that if a student were to try three restaurants in Boston, it would depend on how much you wanted to spend. For an expensive yet incredible meal, Che said she recommends the highly praised sushi restaurant, O Ya. For something a little bit less expensive, Bergamot in Sommerville offers New American cuisine. For something on the cheaper side, Che said Area Four in Cambridge is her new favorite.

For a guilty pleasure food, on the other hand, Che said she recommends one ice cream in particular.

“The grape nut ice cream at Tuscanini’s is delicious,” Che said. “There have been times I go in, and if it’s not there, I’ll just leave.”

Above all, Che said that young foodies, whether they’re eating or cooking, should value quality over quantity.

“People always ask me how I stay skinny,” Che said. “I just notice that when you eat too much of something, you forget about it. If you eat slowly, you’re eating consciously.”


Chefs in the city

Chef Jody Adams began her career in Boston after graduating from Brown with a degree in anthropology. Starting off as a line cook at Seasons, the restaurant within the Bostonian Hotel, Adams moved her way up to executive chef at Michaela’s in Cambridge in 1990 and excelling from there.. In 1993, Food & Wine magazine named Adams “one of America’s top ten best new chefs.”

Adams said her first three secrets to cooking are a sharp knife, passion and local ingredients.

“If you try to cook things you don’t love, your food isn’t going to taste good,” Adams said in a phone interview. “It’s also important to cook with quality ingredients. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It could be a turnip. If you know where your food comes from, you’re way ahead of the game.”

Adams also undertook the challenges that come with opening your own restaurant. In 1994, she opened her restaurant Rialto, also in Cambridge. Rialto, a take on sophisticated Italian with local ingredients. Her work there earned her numerous accolades, including a James Beard Foundation Award for best dining in the northeast, a mention in Bon Appetit’s “Top 25 Hotel Restaurants” and a “Best of Boston” award from Boston Magazine.

She opened her second restaurant, Trade, in 2011 as a co-owner. Since then, Trade was named Boston Magazine’s “Best New Restaurant,” won a place on Bon Appetit’s “50 Best Restaurants” and was included in Time magazine’s “A Perfect Day in … Boston.”

More recently, Adams has written cookbooks, competed on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters,” entered into the Massachusetts Hospitality Hall of Fame and won Boston Magazine’s award for general excellence. She spends her time teaching cooking classes, cooking at Rialto and writing her blog, Garum Factory.

Adams said she also tries to avoid relying on one set of ingredients. She lets the market tell her what she’s going to cook on any given day, from scallops to braised lamb shoulder.

“It’s impossible to name a set of five [ingredients everyone should keep in the kitchen],” she said. “But, is there a foundation of ingredients you should have in your pantry? Yes. That way, there’s always a meal.”

Other items she said to keep in the kitchen include a heavy-duty cast iron pan, short-grain brown rice, a KitchenAid stand-up mixer with all the attachments and the right mindset.

“Keep an open mind. Start simple. Be critical,” she said. “Good food does not have to be overly thought out. Call your mom or dad — the food authority in your life — and ask for advice. Have fun. Go to the farmer’s market, buy some ingredients, and just start cooking. Hang out in the kitchen. I still love doing that.”

Students in the kitchen 

Despite the plethora of restaurants in the city, Boston University students said that eating out is not always an option.

“Everyone’s heard of the ‘broke college student,’ and restaurants can get very expensive very quickly,” said Maddie O’Connell, a freshman in the School of Hospitality Administration.

Other students agree that spending excessive money on food is hard to justify.

“Without the funding, it’s hard to justify a $25 block of cheese or a $200 bottle of wine,” said Jocette Lee, a senior in SHA.

Che and Adams said that there are ways for students to eat well, even at home.

When it comes to a student kitchen, Che said she recommends keeping a sharp knife, a stock pot, a spatula, a cutting board and a rice cooker. In college, Che said she cooked for herself fairly often, and most of the time that included a stock-pot stir fry and rice.

“I’m pretty sure that’s all you need,” Che said. “Something to cut with, something to cut on and something to cook in.”

Both Adams and Che recommend a sharp knife, but above the cookware, they both also said they recommend a focus on quality. Quality does not necessarily equate to expensive, but rather informed.

“The quality of ingredients will shine,” Che said, “even in a simple dish.”

No matter how you choose to express your love for food, they both said, quality and passion are necessary ingredients.

One Comment

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