raqinthekitchen: CRAVE. COOK. CONQUER.
I started this blog as a way to express what I wanted to eat. As a freelancer for so very long (nearly a decade, though I just made the plunge to a full-time job as Tasting Table’s Senior Food Editor), I always cooked what my editors asked me to make, what chefs wanted me to test, what readers requested to learn. When did I get to cook what I wanted? What I craved? What I wondered about? Raq in the Kitchen is a space where I satisfy my cravings without conditions–30 minutes or less, 5 ingredients, kid friendly, vegan, grilling, baking, randomly odd ingredients, seasonal, holiday-driven, healthy and guilty pleasures. It’s my space and my food that I hope you find it enticing enough to make, share, and riff on in your own way.
Raquel Pelzel: Me, The Drive-Thru Version
I write about food, I cook food, and I eat a lot of food. I’ve been doing this for nearly 15 years and have seen and learned and tasted a lot along the way. I’ve been to culinary school (one in a Colorado church basement, one in Providence which kinda feels like a church basement), I’ve worked in restaurants and bakeries, I’ve waited tables (from the time I was 15 until I landed my first “real” job at Consumers’ Digest magazine), I’ve reviewed restaurants, have traveled around the world in search of great food stories, and now, I’m in Brooklyn where I cook, eat, write, and think about food all the time.
You may have seen my work in Cook’s Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal, Saveur, or Fine Cooking. Or maybe you read one of the many (more than a dozen at this point) cookbooks I’ve collaborated on. What you haven’t seen or read is my story, from my point-of-view. And that’s what Raq in the Kitchen is all about. Me in my Brooklyn kitchen cooking for the kids, for friends, for work, and absolutely for myself.
Raquel Pelzel: Me, The Ten-Course Version
Born and raised in Rogers Park, Chicago, I developed a palate for culinary adventure early in life. As a latchkey kid of the seventies and eighties, I grew up on macaroni-and-cheese, frozen chicken Kiev, and pop tarts six days a week. On the seventh, my dad an ex-kibbutznik Israeli carpenter, would take me out—we’d hit the city, digging into Pakistani goat curries, Israeli shakshouka, and salads with Roquefort dressing just to name a few. While my dad told me crazy stories about being a paratrooper in the Israeli army, life on a kibbutz, and his mother’s babka and rugelach, I ate, listened, and learned. That is where my love of food, food history, and culinary storytelling began. At the table, of course.
While I became fascinated by the theatrics of restaurants and got a taste for flavors from all corners of the world, I also fell in love with home cooking—not at my home (my mom is a horrible cook and even managed to burn everything—including, one time, the kitchen) but at the home of my best friends. Little did I know that the feeling of happiness and security gained by sitting around the family table and digging in to home-cooked Italian, Italian-American, and Filipino foods would become a propelling force in my life path as a chef, food writer, and a parent.
It was during a college copywriting internship at a food ad agency that I realized my heart was in the kitchen. I spent more time chatting up the house chef rather than at my desk romancing the Keebler elf. A vegetarian at the time, there were only two schools that appealed to my “no eyes, no families” rule. One was in New York City where I knew no one, and the other in Boulder, Colorado where I had family. With my beat-up black pickup truck loaded to the brim, I moved to Colorado for a summer to learn about cooking healthful whole foods to sustain a vegetarian diet. I worked from five in the morning until nine a.m. in a local bagel shop and then biked to the cooking school that was in a church basement. I honed her palate and developed a love of cooking from scratch.
Upon my return to Chicago, I finished college and was hired at several bakeries, but was always too nervous to take the plunge. How could a $5 per hour minimum wage-paid baker payback a small mountain of school debt and support herself? So I took a job as an assistant editor at Consumers’ Digest Magazine where I wrote about health and travel. Every month or so I interviewed for a baking job and was offered every job I applied for. And every time, I couldn’t work up the will to say yes.
I met my now-husband, Matt, and moved to his home-metro, Boston. I landed a gig working as a healthcare writer for a small publisher in tony Marblehead, but I couldn’t ignore my dreams of becoming a real chef. I quit my job as a managing editor and started pastry school at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, and concurrently accepted my first bona fide baking position in 1997 at Rosie’s Bakery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of the “orgasm” brownie. Paid minimum wage and with mostly ex-cons to call as colleagues, I worked from six in the morning until noon every day and then drove to Rhode Island where I would go to class until seven each night. Exhausted yet happy, I fervently studied, cooked, and ate 20 hours a day.
After working at several Boston-area bakeries and restaurants including Barbara Lynch’s No. 9 Park, I heard about a job opening at Cook’s Illustrated. Ten batches of tuna noodle casserole later (that was the interview process) I was hired. For two years I cooked and wrote about my findings and crafted original recipes for the magazine. I headed the Tastings column (for which we tasted our way through a dozen balsamic vinegars or peanut butters to discover the best one), learned about food science, and how to test, develop, and write recipes that were as delicious as they were foolproof.
I began my freelance food writing career in 2002 when I started writing for a start-up food magazine called Intermezzo to which I contributed to for three years as a food editor and had the good fortune to visit exotic locales like India, Tahiti, South Africa, and Russia, Southern France, and others. Matt and I moved to Brooklyn in 2002 and since then I have co-authored 13 cookbooks including the James Beard Award winning Quick Recipe and the James Beard nominated DamGoodSweet and Masala Farm. Several of my books have made top ten and year-end best cookbook lists. My recipe columns, original recipes, and articles about food and travel have been featured in Saveur, the Wall Street Journal, Fine Cooking, Gilt Taste (I contributed to the “Eat Shoots + Leaves” column for which I won an IACP award in 2012), Country Living, Country Home, Prevention, Time Out New York, Edible Brooklyn, Edible Manhattan, The Robb Report, CITY, Everyday Food, and in Whole Foods markets. My restaurant and book reviews have run in Fine Cooking, and Time Out, New York Magazine, and the Hedonist series. I also serve as a judge for several culinary programs as well as the James Beard Foundation.
I am now the Senior Food Editor for Tasting Table and continue to write, cook, and live food in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn with Matt (founder of Factory 25 music and film productions) and our two sons Julian and Rhys.