What is your creative process?

Rubell usually starts with one ingredient.
  • Transcript


Jennifer Rubell: I usually start with one ingredient.  And then I think about inside of different ethnicities what . . . what are the classic pairings for that ingredient.  So let’s say I’m thinking about winter squash, like an acorn squash.  Acorn squash is sort of a classically American thing.  So what are some of the pairings?  There is maple syrup.  You know when I think acorn squash, I think Native American vibes.  So certain kind of nuts, maybe maple syrup, brown sugar, molasses – that sort of flavor family.  And then I think about a way to execute it that is really simple.  So in terms of acorn squash, the big . . . the big problem is peeling it.  It’s . . . it’s really not fun to peel.  So I immediately know I’m not gonna peel it.  And then I think about how I want it to look, and how I want it to feel, and what texture I want it to have.  So I wanna bring out that like caramelized . . . not crispy, but have an edge.  I wanna get rid of the mush of squash.  So the more I wanna have a hard edge or a caramelized edge, then I know I’m gonna have to create surfaces.  Because the only . . .  You only have a hard edge on a surface.  So I then make a commitment to slicing the acorn squash without peeling it.  So I’m gonna slice it into, let’s say, 12 or 16 slices.  Because then I have, you know, 28 to 32 sides.  And I could then sauté it, but I’m dealing with such a big quantity of squash slices now I’d have to sauté it in five batches, so forget about that.  And so I’m gonna roast it on a sheet pan.  So I know that to do that, I’m gonna toss it with some olive oil.  And then how do I incorporate those flavors that I was interested in in the beginning?  And I know the acorn squash is gonna take a little while to roast because it’s a pretty hard root vegetable.  So I know if I incorporate any of those flavors in in the beginning, they’re gonna burn.  Brown sugar will burn.  Maple syrup will burn.  So I decide whatever I’m gonna do with those flavors, I’m gonna do after the squash is already cooked.  So I decide to just roast the squash with the olive oil and a little bit of salt in the oven for let’s say, you know, 40 minutes, something like that.  I’m not gonna flip it because I don’t like flipping, because that’s another step that’s usually not necessary.  And I’m gonna leave it in there until it develops . . .  It’ll have a little bit more crispiness on the bottom.  And on the top it’ll get a bit of crispiness but not too much.  And to incorporate those flavors, I don’t wanna just sprinkle something on top because it’s just a bit flat.  So I want to put something on top that’s gonna be a carrier for those flavors.  So I try to think of something that will spread out a lot, and something that is either (57:01) very easy to make, or you can buy in some way.  So I decide to use bread crumbs because they’ll add a little extra crunch; and to flavor them with brown sugar because that’s one of the integral flavors I was looking for in the first place.  And I want the bread crumbs to have that same kind of “Thanksgivingy” depth of flavor and nuttiness, so I sauté them in a little bit of butter to give them that nuttiness; take them out, let them cool, add the brown sugar.  Maybe I’ll try to add the brown sugar while they’re in the pan and discover, as I happened to have discovered, that the brown sugar melts too much, and it all globs together and it’s not right.  So I add the brown sugar when the bread crumbs have cooled.  I toss that together.  Those become sweetened bread crumbs.  I pull the acorn squash out of the oven, mound it on a platter, which the way things look is very, very important to me.  Everybody eats with their eyes first, and I love that very rustic, easy look.  You know 17th century Dutch painting is my holy grail for how food should look.  So I pile them onto a plate and then just toss these sweetened bread crumbs on top.  And it looks great.  It has all of those essential flavors, and it was done with the minimum number of actions on my part.

Recorded on: 12/13/07