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makers 101 | resources to make better food.


The non-definitive syllabus we would create if we were teaching MAKERS 101 - aka ensembl’s favorite sources of inspiration, ideas, and education for making and understanding food.

Recently, we explored the rise of ‘makers’ – those driven to make something tangible – and how we see the emergence of a new social currency: time. Simply put, having time to make something tangible of your own is the ultimate luxury. While this can take many forms, we are particularly excited by the rise of makers in the kitchen – those using their limited free time to cook.

As we’ve been exploring the art and science of cooking (we are a company that makes things for the kitchen, after all), we’ve been sharing notes with friends, getting tips and feedback, and passing on our own learnings. What we’ve noticed, while venturing deeper down this rabbit hole, is that while the resources available are plenty, there is no single consolidated place to visit that offers an overview of where to begin. Something to look at before you pick up a recipe or set out to freestyle.

And so, we thought, why not try to create the thing we’re searching for?

This represents the start.

This syllabus (we’re nerds, but also syllabus felt like the most appropriate name for what we’re making) will act as your ‘course guide’ to making. Throughout, we list some of our key influences and sources of inspiration and present a curated selection of resources to help you begin your own journey – a journey to acquire knowledge and skills that will help you make better food.

And, if you are so inclined, we encourage you to share your favorite resources with us so we can continuously add to this list. Add them in the comments, or send us a note.

 


source.  

selecting where to obtain the food we consume.

It seems logical to start at the beginning, and for makers of food, that means the source of ingredients. Understanding where to source different ingredients, how that source changes as the seasons change, or how the ingredients available to source change with the seasons, is part of the body of knowledge makers are acquiring. This knowledge empowers makers to source better ingredients and bring more flavor to the table with every dish they prepare.

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source. | influences and inspiration.

Dan Barber, Head Chef and Co-Owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York. We’ve taken our cues from Dan Barber, a strong believer in bringing the principles of good farming directly to the table. He is so obsessive about the source of ingredients – and considerate of how ingredients are grown impacts the immediate taste and the ability to farm in the future – that he has his own farm to grow produce and raise animals. This speaks to the role that farming practices – particularly the role of soil – has on the food we consume.

Maggie Spicer, Co-Owner of Douglas in San Francisco. Douglas is the ultimate wine bar, grocery store, and café – and one of our favorite places to visit in San Francisco. Maggie’s principles are to carry products that are ‘bioavailable’ – paying the utmost intention to ingredients that are seasonal and local, sourcing directly from the producer to ensure freshness and quality, which have a direct impact on flavor. Her dedicated commitment to finding seasonal, local ingredients to sell at Douglas - and helping her customers find alternatives that are seasonal when their standard is out-of-season - provides inspiration for us to do the same within our homes.

Charlotte Langley, Chief Culinary Officer of Scout Canning. Scout Canning is a modern seafood cannery creating gourmet, chef-driven tinned seafood products which are sustainably sourced from Atlantic Canada. In sourcing ingredients for her own culinary pursuits at home, Charlotte practices ‘urban dweller foraging,’ the idea of finding ingredients in our own backyard – whether that be elderflowers found in the sidewalk cracks of a local city park or local honey at the farmer’s market. Charlotte’s resourcefulness and commitment to the concept of urban foraging reminds us that we always have options to source more sustainably.

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source. | list of resources.

  • The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food – Dan Barber
    • Read for: an exploration of ingredients from the soil, land, sea, and seed and how they have evolved in a detrimental fashion at the hands of modern industrialization. Told from the personal purview of Dan Barber, he describes what can be done to achieve the authenticity of ingredients that once was and a vision for how we should eat in the future.
  • Ingredient Seasonality Chart
    • Fruit & Vegetable Seasonality from Exact Sciences
      • Read for: understanding the seasonality of common fruits and vegetables and when to purchase these ingredients at peak freshness.
    • Vegetable Seasonality Chart from CUESA
      • Read for: A deeper overview of local vegetable seasonality, from the perspective of the California coast. Bonus: in San Francisco? This chart depicts fresh ingredient availability at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market.

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technique. 

An exploration of the science behind cooking as we search for the ‘why’ and ‘how’ in the kitchen – why do our results change and how do we ensure consistency?

After our ingredients are sourced, we move towards preparing the dish that we intend to make. When faced with a recipe, it might be commonplace to blindly follow instructions – and skip ingredients or directions that may inconvenience us. However, it is imperative to understand the reasoning and impact behind specific ingredients, methods and how they interact. Ultimately, how choosing to – or not to – take a specific step can drastically alter our cooking results.

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technique. | influences and inspiration.

J. Kenji López Alt, chef and culinary consultant of Serious Eats. At this juncture, it feels impossible to continue without mentioning the profound influence of J. Kenji Lopez Alt. His book, The Food Lab, is an homage to the role of science in cooking. It goes into an incredible level of detail, using science to illustrate why our food turns out the way it does (or doesn’t). Why boil? Why stir? What happens when you omit an ingredient? What happens when you substitute an ingredient? What happens low and slow? What happens hot and fast? Kenji knows, and he shares it in his award-winning book The Food Lab, through his work for Serious Eats, and in bite-size pieces on his Instagram. His obsession with the details is a dream for makers, speaking directly to our desire for perfection and understanding the results – allowing makers to step into the kitchen knowing how our will turn out (and why). Ultimately, this understanding of the science behind what is happening when we cook leads to greater opportunities for makers to freestyle and get creative, while maintaining confidence and control in the end results.

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technique. | list of resources.

  • The Food Lab – J. Kenji López Alt.
    • Read for: the detailed, scientific explanations behind basic to advanced cooking techniques and ingredients, and how these different factors will affect the outcome of your dish.
  • Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking – Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet
    • Read for: a detailed, scientifically detailed overview of both ingredients and techniques for preparing food and understanding how the underlying ingredients and techniques are leveraged to achieve exacting results. The book incorporates a range of tools and the use of complex scientific methods to create an impressive array of cuisines - consider this the advanced next step after you read The Food Lab.

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taste.

The selection and combination of different ingredients to achieve a desired flavor profile.

Having grasped techniques for preparing ingredients and intentionally selecting cooking techniques, we need think about the flavor profile within each dish. How should we combine ingredients to achieve an optimally balanced palate, bring out the coveted flavor of umami, or create a dish that leaves us feeling bright? It all happens when we understand flavor.

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taste. | influences and inspiration.

Samin Nosrat, chef and author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. We turn to another culinary juggernaut: Samin Nosrat. Samin explores four basic building blocks of a dish. Salt delivers flavor. Fat builds upon flavor and adds texture. Acid balances flavor. Heat transforms and determines the final texture. By mastering these four fundamental elements, one will have all the knowledge required to be a great cook. Understanding that the heavy, creaminess of fat can be balanced out by the bite from acid, the complexities of salt and the holy grail of umami. Her work inspires us to think about how we can get the most flavor out of every dish, and the myriad of creative ways that it can be executed.

With these four elements, we can further build and add complexity to flavor and taste based on the surfaces that we choose to cook with. Grilling a fillet of fresh salmon on a wooden plank. Caramelizing onions in a decades-old cast-iron pan, collecting the flavors of dishes past.

It takes education, knowledge, and purposeful intention to properly satisfy taste and appetite for memorable flavor.

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taste. | list of resources.

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method. (macro.)

The way we make things.

*note that we distinguish method from technique; method being the general way we approach preparation – like slow braising or pickling – and technique being the specific details – like how we whisk, how long we sauté, or when we add acid. 

Method has a broad definition – the way that we turn raw ingredients into an end-product.

Recently, we have observed a desire return towards traditional methods – going back to ‘the ways we used to cook’ – oftentimes in the name of preserving real flavor. The rise of industrialization that brought about the popularity of cost-effective, shelf-stable goods that promise everything from sides to main meals. Simply add water and oil to the contents of a box, give it a quick stir and let it boil – like magic, dinner is served. But the popularity of these types of prepared foods has fallen. We no longer turn to processed, off-the-shelf, convenience, and instead seek ways to create complete meals from scratch.

At the heart of this return, is ‘method’. From pickling cucumbers, to smoking brisket, to preparing freshly baked bread: the method in which our food is prepared, and how we can master those methods in our own home, has never been more important.

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method. (macro.) | influences and inspiration.

We owe a special nod here to Noma and Faviken – both restaurants have brought Nordic cuisine to the forefront, and in doing so, have reintroduced the world to the power of preservation. Preserved and fermented foods can be used in so many ways, but the chefs here show us that these traditional techniques are anything but ordinary, instead using them to truly elevate the dishes they prepare. We love Noma’s use of fermentations to change the flavor profile and transform a dish, and love Faviken’s focus on using preserved food as part of a philosophy on seasonal consumption, opting for a preserved variation when “fresh” ingredients are not available.  

Christopher Bleidorn, chef and owner of Birdsong in San Francisco. Chris takes a heritage-driven, intuitive approach to cooking that builds the flavor in his food using traditional methods to achieve non-traditional results. His manifesto at Birdsong focuses on bringing back the ingredients, styles, and techniques of the ways we used to cook, bringing them together to create his own, modern cuisine.

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method. (macro.) | list of resources.

  • Preserving, Canning, and Fermentation.
    • The Noma Guide to Fermentation – René Redzepi and David Zilber
      • Read for: a thorough guide to fermentation that explores the most ancient method of food preservation, from kombucha to fruit, and how fermentation can be used within modern dishes. The guide also highlights how fermentation and pickling can be used to capture flavor at its prime and preserve it for future use, something that is particularly helpful during cold, winter months when access to fresh, local ingredients are limited.
  • Bread
    • Tartine Bread – Chad Robertson (scroll down for the link to the book)
      • Read for: a step-by-step guide and explanation to the elements of making good bread, from a renowned bakery whose bread consistently sells out daily. Bonus: includes additional recipes that turns day-old bread into sandwiches, soups and puddings. Leave no crumb behind. 
    • Breads From The La Brea Bakery – Nancy Silverton
      • Read for: a deeper, more technical understanding of flour for the advanced bread baker. Armed with practical and extensive information, this book covers everything from starters and yeasts to recipes for different types of bread. 

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method. (micro.)

Understanding the way things are made (before they reach us) and how that impacts the way we use and consume them.

*this area is a work in progress for us – our “resources” list is sparse, and at the moment we have more questions than answers. Help us evolve this section, and let us know what questions you have!

Here, we discuss the methods used to make the ingredients that we ultimately use in our cooking. How do different methods affect quality and authenticity of flavor? How and when should we properly use the resulting ingredient? We explore a selection of ingredients in this section, and what is being done by newer brands looking to bring heightened awareness to consumers and introduce new products that have, on account of their method, more authentic flavor.

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method. (micro.) | influences and inspiration.

Aishwarya Iyer, founder of Brightland

Aishwarya was inspired to start her own olive oil company – one focused on production and product transparency - after discovering that her body reacted differently based on the olive oil she consumed. In her quest to find out why she reacted to some of the oils she consumed, she learned about the many ways in which commercial olive oil is made, and that her reaction was likely due to consumption of oil that was rotten or rancid, made with “grubby” olives (olives contaminated by flies) or adulterated, which means mixed with palm or canola oil. In an effort to develop a “clean” extra virgin oil, Aishwarya founded Brightland. As she has grown her brand, she has educated her customer base about olive oil, offering insight into how to select olive oil varietals based on the intended use – one for dressings, one for cooking, one for finishing a dish.

Natural Wine

We love natural wine, and are endlessly fascinated by the flavors and complexity in this “ancient” wine form. Thanks to Ruby in San Francisco and Mon Lapin in Montreal for providing us with some of the most interesting wines we’ve tasted – and sparking us to wonder “why” natural wines can taste so different and whether there are other foods we should be consuming “natural” versions of.

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method. (micro.) | list of resources.

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conscious consumption at home.

what to buy - and how to use it - in order to reduce waste.

From putting together your pantry to putting together a meal – we are making an effort to keep essentials on hand that we actually use and are more than ever conscious of our consumption and the waste we create when we buy food.

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conscious consumption at home. | influences and inspiration.

Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley, cookbook authors, food experience hosts, chefs, and restauranteurs in London. We are fans of all the work Jasmine and Melissa have done – as ‘Hemsley & Hemsley’ and individually, but a favorite still stands out: the ‘stocking your kitchen’ section of the introduction to ‘The Art of Eating Well’, their first book. In the introduction, Jasmine and Melissa provide a great overview of their general food philosophy – eating whole, nutritionally dense foods – which is followed by a comprehensive but not overwhelming guide to stocking your kitchen with the staples required to begin cooking. This has been, and will continue to be, an incredible resource to start from.

Maggie Spicer, Co-Owner of Douglas in San Francisco. Douglas is short on space – combining a café, wine bar, wine store, and grocery shop into a small, corner space in San Francisco’s Noe Valley – but big on selection. Maggie Spicer, Douglas’s co-founder, says she hopes that her customers recognize the curated selection of products available at Douglas, where she aims to offer “one, great version” rather than overwhelm customers with options. In doing so, Maggie hopes their selection can serve as a tutorial of sorts, helping people learn what is essential for a small kitchen, and take cues from Douglas’ stock to set up their pantry at home.

Christopher Bleidorn, chef and owner of Birdsong in San Francisco.

Chris’ philosophy in the kitchen is to not let anything go to waste – whether it’s an undesirable piece of the fish, or the smoke that escapes from a searing hot pan. Instead, he seeks to find ways to use these often-discarded ingredients in the kitchen, and turn them into flavor. His resourcefulness and inventiveness in the kitchen is a greater nod towards finding ways to cook that celebrate the whole animal, the whole vegetable – especially in an era where so many shortcuts are taken in the name of perceived efficiency.

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conscious consumption at home. | list of resources.

  • Building your Pantry
    • The Art of Eating Well, Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley
      • Read for: the section on how to stock your kitchen – a great resource for setting up or overhauling a kitchen pantry. Don’t miss the many great recipes contained in the book which use the pantry essentials as their base – this is truly a kitchen classic, and won’t have you running to the store to buy ingredients you’ll never use again.
  • Reducing Food Waste
    • Bread is Gold – Massimo Bottura
      • Read for: accessible recipes that turn everyday ‘wasted’ ingredients into creative and nutritious meals that are tailored for the home cook.

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about ensembl.

ensembl is a modern housewares brand. the name ensembl means come together. and we are creating tools to help you do just that. we're committed to re-engineering the fundamentals of the kitchen so that form and function can come together to create the next generation of tools for our home.

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