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Section: Other   Category: Interviews

Interview with Adventurer & Chef Scientist Melinda Strauss

Melinda Strauss is one of the most unconventional and adventurous cooks you can ever hope to meet.  Melinda has already created some features recipes for Culinary Kosher and now we finally had a chance to find out more about how Melinda came to be Chef Scientist.  Enjoy!

You can see some of Melinda'Strauss's recipe's in her recipe box. 

Culinary Kosher:  What kind of food did you grow up on?
Melinda Strauss:  I grew up eating 3 types of food:
My parent's loved to serve delicious comfort food like mac n' cheese, tuna casserole, chicken ala king, and hot dogs n' beans.
My parents and grandparents encouraged me to try a lot of adventurous food like sweet and sour tongue and sweet breads.
Since so many of my friends growing up in Seattle were Sephardic, I also enjoyed a mix of Sephardic cuisine, such as spanakopita, spinach bulemas, and "torpedoes" (a.k.a. kibbeh).

CK:  When did you start cooking?
Melinda: I always loved watching my mother cook in the kitchen and I would help her with all the baking, but I didn't really start cooking on my own until I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in college. I started with breaded chicken fingers and broccoli kugel and it has grown so much from there.

Did you take any cooking courses?
Melinda:  I wish! My sister went to school to become an incredible pastry chef so she has taught me quite a few things, but I haven't taken any official courses...yet!

At what point did you decide to turn your kitchen into a lab and hire yourself as chef scientist?
Melinda: Haha, a chef scientist? I love that. After I married my husband, Justin, and we moved to Queens, NY, we loved having Shabbos meals with all of our friends. That's when the experimenting began. I would make themed meals like Greek and German, challenging myself to try new and unique recipes that I might never have thought to try. 4 years, a move to Long Island, and 2 kids later, Justin found a durian fruit in China Town and brought it home for us to try. That smelly fruit took my kitchen experimentation to a whole new level!

Aside from you experimenting in the kitchen what are your normal cooking patterns? Do you make suppers/lunch every day?
Melinda:  I like to cook a few times a week for dinner, but we eat a lot of leftovers! I always make lots of food for Shabbos so we can eat the extras all week. I also have to admit that my father-in-law is one of the owners of Mauzone, a catering company in New York, so we sometimes eat delicious catered food during the week. It's funny to go to an event catered by Mauzone and eat the same food I eat in my own home.

What kind of food do you cook for shabbos and do you have guests?
Melinda:  I love having guests for Shabbos! I tend to invite 2-3 couples and they tend to come with 2-3 kids each. It's hectic but so much fun! I have a format for my menu that I always follow: 1 appetizer (plus chicken nuggets, pasta, and cucumbers for the kids), 1 meat main, 1 chicken main, 1 sweet side, 1 carb side, 1 vegetable side, 1 miscellaneous, 1-2 desserts and 1 fruit salad. The recipes I make are different every week. I love to google for recipes and Pinterest has been a great source of inspiration these days.

When do you start preparing for Shabbos?
Melinda:  I try to write my menu by Tuesday, shop for groceries on Wednesday and start cooking on Wednesday night or Thursday while my daughter is napping.

How is your kitchen different than the one you grew up in?
Melinda:  Ha, well the one I grew up in is much bigger! I love visiting my parents' house and cooking in their kitchen. So much counter space, incredible lighting and the most beautiful view of Downtown Seattle and Lake Washington! I try not to complain since my kitchen has really nice finishings; i.e. granite countertops, stainless appliances, etc. but I could definitely use more counter space!

How do you spend most of your day?
Melinda:  These days, I'm usually playing with my 1 and a ½ year old daughter, Nora. She naps for a couple hours a day and during that precious quiet time, I cook and type for Kitchen Tested.

Tell us a little about your new venture Cara-Mels and how it came to be.
Melinda:  My new business came to be after I made a beautiful salted peanut butter caramel apple galette for Kitchen Tested and I fell in love with the caramel! At first, I thought I would sell galette's but I just didn't think there would be enough sales there. A few people I spoke with said that the caramel was the star of the recipe so that led me to the idea of selling caramel apples. Well, that idea didn't work either since caramel apples are a lot of fun, but a hard sell for a regular Shabbos dessert. So that led to just selling the non-dairy caramels in all of their glory, dipped in high-end dark chocolate and topped with cookies, nuts and other fun toppings. I make plain and peanut butter caramels and they are to die for!

Do you have other plans up your sleeve for the future?
Melinda:  Well, I currently don't have a hechsher for Cara-Mel's so my first goal is to get that hashgacha! Once that happens, my options are endless! I am always thinking up new recipes for Kitchen Tested so stay tuned for more crazy and adventurous recipes.

If you could have any cooking/baking job in the world which one would it be?
Melinda:  Wow, that is a tough question! I would love my own show on The Food Network. Always been a dream of mine. It would also be amazing to own my own bakery with my siblings one day.

Don't forget to check out Melinda's cooking blog 

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