Food has always been an obsession for Andy Baraghani. As a young child he loved his Fisher Price kitchen. At 16, he was preparing elaborate meals for his family. That same year, inspired by the courage of youth, he entered Alice Waters’ culinary temple, Chez Panisse, and talked himself into a job in the kitchen.
At New York University, Baraghani became interested in food media, mixing appearances in Michelin-starred kitchens with preparing recipes in magazine test kitchens. Eventually Baraghani landed Good Appetite as senior food editor. It was a role that brought his anxiety to such high levels that he considered quitting after the first year. But curiosity and perseverance triumphed, and during his six years at Good Appetitehe created the viral video series “Andy Explores” and developed hundreds of recipes.
Raised by Iranian immigrant parents, Baraghani was not always comfortable with his ethnicity and initially avoided bringing the groceries of his family life to his job. But gradually he realized that it was through food that he could find greater self-acceptance, both as an Iranian-American and as a gay man. Baraghani’s First Cookbook, The chef you want to be: everyday recipes that impressshows this enduring love for cooking.
SPICY recently caught up with Baraghani to talk cooking, curiosity and how to make the ultimate cacio e pepe from chickpeas.
The North American celebrity food world is much more diverse today than it was just a few decades ago. Did you have cooking heroes growing up?
I did. I grew up in a family where we didn’t really eat out. I’m a first-generation American, so aside from a few personalities in my family — my grandmother, my mother — a lot of my cooking heroes were PBS chefs. As I got older I had a deeper understanding of restaurant culture and there were chefs who were particular personalities – obviously Alice Waters.
But I’d say probably more than ever, there are so many people I look up to. Hero is such a weighted term [but] I have so many heroes in the food world now. They’re not just in restaurants, they’re food writers; They are former line chefs who have started their own organizations. [It’s] somehow evolved.
Where does the story of this cookbook begin for you? Did you have the idea of a cookbook when you were a teenager?
I think I knew food was going to be a part of my life, but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties and had worked in restaurants and started working in food media that I thought, ‘Oh, I want to write a cookbook someday. “But I never thought I would actually do it. I drowned in imposter syndrome. And it wasn’t until I wrote an essay on identity and the role of food, maybe four years ago, that I got the attention of literary agents and publishers to write a book.
There are four qualities that define me as a chef that I talk about and the lessons I learned from them are contained in the book. One of them is my upbringing as a first generation Iranian-American and how it helped really spark that initial love of food and cooking. Then, [there is] to work in restaurants in California, New York and Paris and to acquire the techniques and this work experience instead of going to a culinary school. The third quality is travel; I’ve been traveling alone since I was 18 – without the desire to simply go to different places and to cultivate my curiosity, which has a lot to do with food. And the fourth is my time in food media, working in test kitchens, taking and cooking the food I love and being able to transcribe it and share it with readers.
In many ways, this cookbook feels like we, the reader, are in conversation with you. Why choose this approach?
I wanted to highlight the good fight we go through during the creative process. If you don’t succeed, it’s okay. You learn – you will do it again, and you will do it just a little bit better next time. Being gentle is definitely something I’ve learned through the pandemic — and through life as a chef — and I wanted to be very transparent about that in my book. I wanted to encourage because I have a very clear sense of what my food is and I know people look to me to find good recipes, but I also want them to be better cooks. And I think it’s important to stay curious. One of my biggest fears is getting stuck in anything. I always want to go deeper. So I want people to be curious cooks. I want them to be curious people.
Chickpea cacio e pepe with caramelized lemon
“There are many recipes for pasta e ceci (aka pasta with chickpeas). Most I’ve encountered are simmering, almost soupy. This recipe emphasizes both the chickpeas and the pasta, but is just as comforting and a lot creamier than the usual versions. Much of the magic in this dish lies in crushing the chickpeas so they release their starch and turn the pasta water into a creamy sauce. Some of the chickpeas hold their shape while others turn into a delicious mush, and the caramelized lemon adds some chewy flavor and brings the noodles back to life after cooking. It’s incredibly satisfying. If I have yet to convince you to do that, know that it was the first meal I made for my boyfriend and he’s been attached to me ever since.”
1⁄4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 small Meyer or regular lemon, thinly sliced, seeds picked out
1 (15 oz/425 ml) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 sprig of rosemary or 4 sprigs of thyme
Freshly ground pepper
1 pound tube pasta (like calamarata, paccheri, or rigatoni)
1⁄4 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1⁄2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add a handful of salt (about 1⁄4 cup).
2. While the water is doing its work, place a separate large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat and pour in the olive oil. Add the lemon and cook, turning the slices with tongs, until they begin to brown and shrivel slightly, 6 to 8 minutes. Use tongs to transfer the caramelized lemon slices to a bowl, leaving the oil in the saucepan.
3. Add the chickpeas to the oil and allow them to get a little crispy and golden, stirring occasionally, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the shallot and mash the rosemary to release its oil and drop into the saucepan. Season with salt and lots and lots of pepper and stir everything together. Cook until shallot softens, 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until almost al dente, about 2 minutes less than the packet says (they will finish cooking in the sauce).
5. Just before the pasta is al dente, scoop out 2 cups of pasta water. Add 1 1⁄2 cups of pasta water to the saucepan with the chickpeas and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. (This may seem like a lot of liquid, but it will thicken as the rest of the ingredients are added.) Gradually whisk in the butter until the pasta water and butter have become one.
6. Using a slotted spoon, add the pasta to the sauce. Cook, stirring frequently, and gradually sprinkle in the parmesan. (Don’t add the cheese all at once, or the sauce may crack and become grainy.) Continue stirring until the cheese is melted and the sauce is creamy and adhered to the pasta, about 3 minutes. If the sauce looks too thick, add more pasta water, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time to thin it out (but know that gravy is ideal because it thickens as it cools). Turn off the heat and fold in the caramelized lemon. Sprinkle with an almost ridiculous amount of pepper and more parmesan before serving.
Reprint of The Cook You Want To Be.
Published in Canada by Penguin Random House, The Cook You Want To Be: Everyday Recipes to Impress will be available on the 24th.