For the first segment of this episode of Special Sauce 2.0, Kenji takes a question from serious eater Phil on how to make naan in a Big Green Egg. It starts with our grilled naan recipe and ends with a 60- to 90-second bake on a pizza stone.
Next, ice cream Jedi Master Nicholas Morgenstern, of Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream, talks about how he comes up with his notoriously inventive flavors, like Burnt Sage, Black Pepper Molasses, or the Banana Kalamansi ice cream he had me taste on mike.
His ice creams are excellent on their own, but Morgenstern also has a sundae bar in his shop. Why? “The ice cream sundae has come to represent the egalitarian indulgence that ice cream can be in this country…everyone can have an ice cream sundae,” he told me. “Ice cream is already strictly an indulgence, and you’re taking it to another level by adding the things that if you were a child and could have whatever you wanted, you would have on there. It turns out everyone wants to have that.” To prove his point, he also came to the studio with a seriously delicious chocolate peanut butter sundae he’s named the Rosenthal, named after friend-of-Special-Sauce Phil Rosenthal, the host of “Somebody Please Feed Phil” on Netflix.
The final segment of the episode captures low-key rock-star Chicago chef Rick Bayless teaching me the secrets of making the perfect fresh ginger sparkling margarita. Bayless is a master storyteller and explainer, and he does it all without a script or a teleprompter- pretty darn impressive.
With these three great guests, it’s an episode you won’t want to miss.
Ed Levine: Welcome to Serious Eats 2.0. Serious Eats podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce we get invaluable bites of wisdom from Kenji Lopez-Alt, Serious Eats’ Chief Culinary Consultant.
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt: Naan and pizza dough, and it would sort of be the difference between a Smashburger and a regular griddled hamburger where one you’re pressing on, so you get that really smooth sort of crackly surface, and that’s what you get with naan.
EL: After Ask Kenji, a conversation with our guest ice cream genius Nicholas Morgenstern will school us on many things, including what goes into his incredible ice cream cakes at Morgenstern’s in New York City.
Nicholas Morgenstern: We dedicated a substantial portion of real estate to the idea that you were going to be able to walk in and get a cake, period.
EL: You don’t have to reserve?
EL: You don’t have to order?
NM: That’s right.
NM: The more you make them, the more they sell.
EL: And later on today’s podcast, a visit to our test kitchen, Rick Bayless teaches me to make a fresh ginger sparkling margarita.
Rick Bayless: Just shake this one up. Now, this is not one that I typically would use a salted rim on because it’s going in a completely different direction flavor wise with the ginger.
EL: First, Ask Kenji, where Serious Eater’s get to ask Kenji Lopez-Alt the questions they’ve always wanted to ask him.
JKLA: The burning questions about burning.
EL: The burning questions, yes. The burning questions they’ve always wanted to ask him. Some are about burning and some aren’t.
EL: So, Serious Eater Phil wants to know, can you use an egg shaped grill as a tandoor to make things like naan?
JKLA: So by egg shaped grill, he’s talking about the kamado grills like the Green Egg.
EL: Yeah, exactly.
JKLA: Those ones that are really heavy ceramic. The short answer is no, not exactly, because they aren’t a tandoor. First of all, let’s say what a tandoor oven is. So, a tandoor oven is an Indian cooking vessel. Usually it’s buried in the ground, although you can also get above ground models. But it’s essentially a cylinder with a first built at the bottom made out of clay, and you reach in sort of through the mouth of it there’s a lip. When you make tandoor breads like naan, you have a sort of folded up cloth that’s kind of damp, and you put the flat dough on top of it and then you kind of push it in and just kind of like an ink roller you push it onto the side of the oven. So the bread kind of sticks there to the side of the oven, and once it’s done on both sides, it browns from the heat from the ceramic and then it also browns from the radiative heat from the coals below. Once it’s done on both sides, which takes about a minute or so, you kind of pry it off with a little hooked metal rod and you pull it out. So, the keys with tandoor breads are that they make this good surface contact with the clay, and so that gives this sort of like very specific type of crispiness on the bottom, like dry crispiness. It’s sort of similar to pizza dough, but pizza dough you don’t kind of like press it down on the base of the oven. So sort of the difference between say like a pizza dough and naan would sort of be the difference between a Smashburger and a regular griddled hamburger, where one, you’re pressing on so you get that really smooth sort of crackly surface, and that’s what you get with naan.
JKLA: So, the question is whether you can imitate that in a Big Green Egg. The short answer is no, you couldn’t do it exactly like that because it’s just not shaped that way and I’m not sure how you would be able to stick it to the side. Maybe if you have a very, very big one of them you’d have enough room to stick it to the side and build a fire at the bottom, but I think you’re better bet is to place a pizza stone inside your Big Green Egg. Place it in the center and then cook directly on there. So close it up, preheat it as hot as you can get it, 600, 700 degrees if you can, and even hotter if you can. Then when you take your naan dough, and we have a recipe on Serious Eats, you take your naan dough and you can press it down directly onto that pizza stone just like you would press it onto the side of a tandoor oven. Then close off the lid, and it should bake in about 60 seconds or so, 60 to 90 seconds.
It won’t be quite the same as naan, but it’ll be pretty close. Even if you don’t have something like that, you can do it on a regular kettle grill. You can cook flatbreads on the grates of a charcoal grill, and they get a lot of those sort of nice naan or other sort of flat bread like flavors where you get a little bit of charring and crispness, although you don’t get that flat, crispy clay cooked side.
EL: Got it. So it’s almost like you’re telling him to make his naan like he would a grilled pizza dough.
JKLA: Almost, with the exception that you would intentionally press the bread dough down a little bit onto the stone. So whereas a pizza you kind of slide it on and let it kind of float over the top of the stone so it gets a little brown in spots, whereas naan you kind of press it onto the stone so that it gets really crispy and brown all over. You have to have a really nice clean stone, nicely preheated for this to work.
EL: Got it.
JKLA: The real trick is don’t try and move it until it’s ready to come off on its own. If you try to move it before it set, you’re just going to tear holes in it.
EL: So Phil, I hope now as a result of Kenji’s wisdom, you’re not naan-plussed.
JKLA: Well, I was going to say that if you try and move the bread before it’s ready you’re going to poke holes in it, but if you wait until it’s baked, then it’s a naan-issue.
EL: We have dueling puns.
EL: Kenji Lopez-Alt is Serious Eats Chief Culinary Consultant, and author of The Food Lab. Do send in your questions to Kenji to email@example.com.
EL: Now we slide our way over to one of my favorite topics, ice cream, with Nicholas Morgenstern, the founder, ice cream maker, and chief cook and bottle washer of the miraculously delicious Morgenstern’s Ice Cream on Houston Street in New York City. I want to know what your thought process is like when you’re developing a flavor. Give me any flavor, and walk us through it.
NM: It still goes back to the matrix. So, we start thinking about creating a flavor because we need something that’s going to fit in on the matrix, on the menu.
EL: So it is a jigsaw puzzle.
NM: It is, and it’s always driven by the feedback that I get from the customers and what they’re looking for. Occasionally we’ll test something because we think we think we should test something, but I don’t have a lot of time for things that are not going to be successful. You know? So, we’ll taste stuff ourselves and then see if it’s balanced and it’s going to be good, but we just really are interested in what’s going to drive people from the perspective of the experience that they want to have in an ice cream parlor like Morgenstern’s in the 21st century.
EL: All right, I have an idea for you right now.
NM: Please, please.
EL: I would like intense vanilla malted ice cream with homemade Nicholas Morgenstern dark chocolate malted milk balls.
NM: The malt ball is so hard to do.
EL: Oh, come on man. You are going to let me down?
NM: Yeah, I’m not going to let you down, but I’m going to-
EL: You’re going to think about it.
NM: Well, it’s usually also this idea of is the juice worth the squeeze.
EL: Got it.
NM: I’d love to make ice cream just for Ed, but … I will tell you though that actually vanilla malt is on deck right now.
EL: All right.
NM: Oddly. So, a week ago, I think they’re married now, the wife of a chef that used to work for me, a woman named Kelly Hewitt, terrifically talented chef that I employed years ago at one of my restaurants. Her birthday is coming up and her wife emailed me directly and said, “Kelly wants malted vanilla ice cream. Can you make that?” And I looked, and I said, “Yeah, we can do that.” And so we’re making that this week.
NM: Then I thought we should have malted vanilla on the menu anyway. People want that as a milkshake really, so it’s not hard to do, and we should be doing it because that’s something that would be expected at Morgenstern. So, yes.
EL: All right.
NM: As far as the malt balls go, we’ve been down this road with the malt ball before. Thrifty had a flavor for a very long time, which was chocolate malt balls, so chocolate ice cream with the malt balls, and people have a really strong connection to that flavor in certain parts of the country, so we’ve looked at that flavor before. That is a good example of something that we’re interested in, is replicating something like that.
EL: Got it. So, when you’re thinking of developing a flavor you immediately go to the matrix, and then figure out what piece would fit into the matrix, right? And how it would fit, right? Oh, we don’t have something that’s both tart and spicy, or I mean …
NM: Yes, that could be a version. Right now, I don’t want to give anything away, but I’m looking at creating an entire category of cookies and cream flavors. So right now, we have cookies and cream. We started making chocolate cookies and cream. We were just playing around with something and me made something really good, not using a method that you would normally think to make that type of flavor, and then looking at mint cookies and cream, strawberry cookies and cream. Then I said, “Well, we can have a category and that will be successful.” Always the question is like, if you get this flavor, you read it first and then you get it, and once you get it is it going to exceed your expectation from when you read it? That’s the genesis of Morgenstern’s. Always came from that place for me was, can we exceed the expectation of this experience that’s really, really critical to the American consciousness in food, is this idea of going to get ice cream that’s been scooped for you, and can we exceed your expectation? Is it possible for us to do that? So that’s been my mission. That’s what I’m working on every day. It’s very complicated. There’s a lot of things that have nothing to do with ice cream to get to that point, to get that to happen, and so when we think about making a flavor, can we do that? So, we have some unusual flavors on the menu. Banana Kalamansi, which I brought for you. I think we should taste that now.
NM: The Charred Banana flavor is something that’s like very unique. I didn’t bring that one. And then we have, another example would be Yuzu Yamazaki, which uses Japanese citrus-
EL: Right, yuzu is a citrus fruit.
NM: … with Yamazaki whiskey together, and those flavors I think exemplify in this round of our matrix things that I thought about them quite a bit and then put them on the menu. I have this experience a lot where I think something’s really excellent as is really going to work. It’s perfect. This is how you want to have this.
EL: You see, we knew exactly how long it would take you. We knew exactly how much dry ice, and then it’s just spot on perfect for everyone who’s-
NM: Just get a fresh spoon before you go into there. You have them, right?
EL: You know, he’s got standards man.
NM: I just like thinking you should just try it the way-
NM: So, kalamansi is also a citrus fruit kind of like a lime, primary found in southeast Asia, that just has a couple extra layers of bitterness and aromatics. And so, with banana it’s like a nice balance.
EL: Can I interrupt?
EL: This is delicious, man.
NM: Okay good. I’m glad you like that, yeah. I like that flavor a lot.
EL: The kalamansi, it’s spicy and citrusy, and the banana is smooth. It fits into the matrix, dude. It fits into my matrix.
NM: This is part of the matrix now, and it wouldn’t have been before. So, we’re constantly looking back and understanding like what … Cookies and cream is a really important flavor, a critical flavor.
NM: And then, looking forward and saying, “Well, Banana Kalamansi might be a new favorite flavor.” As the American palette broadens so rapidly right now with understanding the pantries from around the world, that these things can find their way into our culture and our food. And going back to the question you asked me earlier about it, that I love doing this because those kinds of doors continue to open for me.
EL: And your ice cream flavors are a reflection of what’s of the evolution of American culture as a whole, not just the edible, not just what people are eating in this country.
NM: Right. I mean, we think about that as like Morgenstern’s is becoming this kind of institution. I think about Morgenstern’s from a legacy perspective for myself in my own life, and how does it fit into my life and what I do. Kim Kardashian came to Morgenstern’s yesterday and-
EL: I sent her.
NM: Thanks, Ed.
EL: You know, I just said, “Kim, Kanye, if you’re in New York you have to go to Morgenstern’s.”
NM: I would have assumed actually that you were the one that sent the bodyguards. There were more bodyguards than guests. There’s actually a lot of famous people that go there, and for us, we’re running this place, and those people come to the store and they’re there with everybody else, so it’s like it’s an environment that’s very equal. It does help to explain how and why we serve the things that we serve, because everybody wants to have that experience as an American, whether you’re from this country or not. You go there and you have this experience. So, understanding that those palettes and those perspectives are so much more broad. That’s why we serve 88 flavors, Ed, because that gives us all the opportunities to speak to all the different palettes.
EL: In a way it’s like your 88 flavors sort of represents the gorgeous mosaic that Mayor David Dinkins of New York many years ago described New York as, but you’re thinking of the country’s gorgeous mosaic.
NM: I think so. I mean, we’re in New York, so it’s like we have a lot of cultures here and access to a lot of different ingredients and palettes and things like that, but I really think about Morgenstern’s in the context of America. I’m in a city that allows me to really push and explore different things, and that’s the great thing about New York.
EL: We’re speaking today with ice cream maven Nicholas Morgenstern.
NM: I forgot I brought this. This is Chocolate Oat.
EL: Oh man. All right, all right. So now-
NM: Have you had this?
NM: This is melting but you should taste this.
EL: That’s okay. Alright.
NM: They just packed this for you special, because we don’t usually have this. So that’s a good one. We’ve had that on the menu for a long time.
EL: This is Chocolate Oat?
NM: Mm-hmm. Chocolate Oat is a flavor that I came up with a long time ago, and then it would come off and on, so it’s deceptive when you see it on the menu. You’re like, “Chocolate Oat, what is that?” So I’ll tell you what it is. This is ice cream that has been flavored with toasted oats. There’s a little bit of cinnamon in there.
EL: Yeah, there’s a little nutty thing.
NM: There’s a little cinnamon. There’s brown butter and cinnamon in there, and then you have chocolate chips. We can talk about Chocolate Oat, but I think I explained what that was.
EL: Yeah, we got it. Yeah.
NM: What was your next question? I’m sorry.
EL: So my next question was, when I heard your story on The Moment with Brian Koppelman you talked about that you had a banker. I was particularly interested because I struggled as you’ll see when you read Serious Eater, I foolishly tried to do my own books, but then I quickly farmed them out and it was a struggle. You talk about doing your own books, and you also talk about you actually got a loan from a bank. But here’s my question to you. The only was I could a loan from a bank, which I did, was to personally guarantee it. Did you have to personally guarantee your loan?
EL: Oh my God, man. Nicholas Morgenstern, you’re now my hero. You know, it’s like-
NM: You’ve got to be careful with the PG. That can really get you into trouble. No, that’s a cautionary tale.
EL: It’s true.
NM: The PG can really screw you up.
EL: The PG man. I’ve never heard it referred to as the PG, but it’s the personal guarantee.
NM: I talk about the PG all the time, man. Be careful with that.
EL: Oh my God, the PG dude was almost my undoing.
NM: Sure, and somethings you have to PG, so you have to understand what you’re PGing. Listen, this go back to the Morgenstern’s conservative ethic has always been you don’t buy anything you can’t pay for, period.
NM: So even when the bank gave me a loan, I already had that money in cash anyway.
NM: So then they gave me the money, and then I’m like, “Okay, now I have twice as much as I had before. Then I’m more comfortable to move forward,” and you decide how to use the financing and that, but I’m just conservative that way.
EL: Got it. Yeah.
NM: I was thinking about this on the way over. The guy that created Dippin’ Dots, I think he was a biologist, and he worked with liquid nitrogen and he loved ice cream and blah, blah, blah, and he creates Dippin’ Dots. Dippin’ Dots right now is like a 250 million dollar a year company, and he doesn’t have anything to do with. So, a cautionary tale, lost his business.
NM: Ben and Jerry were forced to sell Ben and Jerry’s to Unilever in ’01 after being hounded by them for some sort of like a hostile ice cream takeover for many, many years, and then they sold it. Their payout was really small relative to what the market cap on that company is now, and that just sucks. I love what those guys do and who they are, but the product, there’s no way that you’re going to tell me that Ben and Jerry would have done with their brand what it is today.
EL: You know, I have the MBA, but you’ve got this down.
NM: Well, I want to make ice cream so I want to-
EL: It’s like you’ve got this stuff down, man.
EL: What have we got here, Nicholas?
NM: Another crowd favorite, and this is like a sleeper flavor that, this is strawberry with pistachio pesto inside. So, kind of like with my pastry chef hat, making that and then-
EL: It’s so strawberry.
NM: Right. All our puree comes from France, so it’s like we really buy the best strawberry puree in the world. It’s expensive, but-
EL: Oh my God.
NM: Strawberry Pistachio Pesto, people read it on the menu and they’re like, “What is that?” And we say, “It’s really good.”
EL: Because they’re thinking savory and pine nuts and basil.
NM: Well they’re just like, “Pesto, what do you mean?” And then you’re like, “Well, this is what it is.” This is a good example of what I was saying earlier, is that I’ll put some flavors on the menu and I’m like I know that this is good. It’s not weird or egocentric, I’m like, “I know this is going to be good and I know this is going to translate to the public. I know the consumer is going to like this.”
It always takes time. It takes time, you have to be patient before they get onto it. So when we wrote the new menu 88 Flavors, Charred Banana, Yuzu Yamazaki, Papaya Guava, they’re some flavors that are not as obvious, and then they kind of sit in the lower tier of our sales category as far as volume is concerned, and then boom, they will jump up. It’s weird, like the consciousness almost in the zeitgeist suddenly gravitates.
EL: Got it.
NM: I don’t know if they’re talking to each other, the consumers, but then all the sudden Charred Banana is just like going bananas, and then we’re like, “Oh look, there it goes.” Like Banana Kalamansi, nobody knows what kalamansi is, very few know.
EL: Yeah, I do.
NM: 5% of our customer knows what that is, and then all of the sudden-
EL: Kalamansi is a kind of lime, we should tell people.
NM: We said that, yeah.
NM: But then people are not aware of it, and then all of the sudden it starts selling, and it’s moving along. I’m like, “What happened?”
NM: So anyway.
EL: So now, we have to talk … You have a thing about ice cream cakes, which I love. I love the idea that somebody as serious as you about ice cream has tackled ice cream cakes. You’ve made ice cream cakes relevant again. Not since the days of Carvel’s Fudgie the Whale has someone taken over the realm of the ice cream cake the way you have.
NM: We’re selling a lot of ice cream cakes now, Ed.
EL: Tell me about your approach to ice cream cakes.
NM: The Fudgie the Whale cake is produced in a flexible mold. We produce our cakes in a ring. We build them, kind of more like constructing them, and there’s a little bit of cake. We used to make them with a lot of cake, and when you slice the ice cream cake with a lot of cake, if the cake’s really thick then the cake part that’s frozen isn’t particularly pleasant to eat.
EL: Not appealing.
NM: And I would see when we would have them in the store and people would be having a birthday and we’d be slicing it, people would eat around the cake, and that’s not good. We don’t want that. So now, where we are with the evolution of constructing the ice cream cake now is a very, I don’t want want to say very thin, but a thin layer of cake.
They’re more or less all sponge on the bottom, and then it’s a lot of ice cream, and then it’s some blend of crunch in the middle. So, it could be the crumb of that same cake mixed with some other flavoring or nuts or whatever it is. Sometimes there’s something liquid in there, so it could be honey, or chocolate fudge, or jam, or something like that. It depends on what the cake is. And then more ice cream on top of that, cap it, it goes in the ring, that ring goes in the freezer. You freeze it solid and then you pull the ring off, and then you’re frosting it with some version of meringue, whipped cream, or sometimes it’s kind of like a version of buttercream. If there’s enough sugar, like the caramel or the chocolate kind of can go that way, but buttercream freezes in a way that’s not that pleasant.
EL: Yeah, exactly. So, it’s almost like this is another medium for you to work in.
NM: It is, and it’s an important one because people love ice cream cake in this country. That’s why all this stuff’s important to me.
EL: It’s true that people love ice cream cakes, and yet everybody has ignored ice cream cakes. I mean, Hagen Dazs does them-
EL: Ish. Ouch.
NM: I mean, no shade. People ask me all the time, “What do you think about your contemporaries? What do you think about your competition?” I don’t know, I’m not thinking about it. I’m thinking about what I’m doing.
EL: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. No, I know what you mean though.
NM: There’s other things happening, and I am aware of the competition of ice cream cakes because I need to know and understand what the market it. Listen, as far as what we do with how we put the matrix together and what we sell at Morgenstern’s, it’s all about looking at the supply and demand, and we just look at it and we’re like there is a need that is not being serviced and we can service it. I love the medium, I love what this is, and we’ve got to figure it out. You’ve been to the store. You’ve seen the retail store. We dedicated a substantial portion of real estate to the idea that you’re going to be able to walk in and get a cake, and just come to the store and we’ll have a lot of them for you. You can just choose, and that’s an underserved market in New York, period.
EL: So, people walk in, you don’t have to reserve? You don’t have to order?
NM: No, that’s right.
NM: The more you make them, the more they sell.
EL: So, tell us about the Sundae Bar, because that’s another aspect to what you do.
NM: A really important part of the American ice cream experience. It’s something that is defined in so many different ways for the culture of why ice cream is so important to Americans, and how the ice cream sundae has come to represent the egalitarian indulgence that ice cream can be in this country. You can, everyone can have an ice cream sundae. Ice cream is already strictly an indulgence, and you’re taking it to another level by adding the things that if you were a child and could have whatever you wanted, you would have on there. It turns out everyone wants to have that.
EL: That’s funny, because I was going to ask if you knew you were tapping into this totally unique, essential childlike pleasure that ice cream represents to everybody?
NM: That’s a part of what my reality is. It’s emotional draining for me to do that all the time. It’s not easy to do. Look at this.
EL: Oh, man. What have we got here? I’ve got to clean my spoon.
NM: Go ahead, clean your spoon. This is a flavor that I created really early on that helped to define who we are. This is Vietnamese Coffee ice cream. So, Vietnamese coffee, very strong, rich coffee, and they always add condensed milk to it, so-
EL: Whoa, and this is not decaf?
NM: No, I don’t make decaf ice cream, Ed. There’s no point in that.
EL: So, the Sundae Bar, are you trying to again, is it part of the matrix, or are you trying to recreate classic sundaes and contemporize them or Morgensternify them?
NM: Contemporizing them. So, we have a sundae bar that has eight seats, and there’s a kitchen there, and so we can really do whatever you want to do with that medium of all the other things that you can add into it. So we’ve just begun the path of exploring what it means for Morgenstern’s to serve ice cream sundaes. So categorically they can’t be taken out of the store. They have all these sensitive ingredients that all have to go together à la minute.
EL: So, I appreciate the fact that you actually brought one of these. It probably killed you. You were like, “Why am I doing this?”
NM: No, it doesn’t kill me, Ed. Because I get it, and I’m a person in the world that’s sometimes I’m like, “Put it in the bag. I’ve got to go.” I’m a real person. Chef’s often times act like such jackasses. They’re like they don’t live in the real world. “Put it in the cup, let’s go. Let’s go.” I’m like, “He’s going to like it. It’s going to taste good.”
EL: That’s what I told you, because it’s-
NM: Yeah, it’s all good. So the sundae bar has a lot of different things going on, but half of the menu is American classic sundaes and half of the menu is the Morgenstern’s Delights, which is the things that we come up with, our versions. There’s probably right now about 20 sundaes on the menu.
EL: So it could be everything from hot fudge, tin roof, to your creations.
NM: Right, so on the classic side we serve a hot tin roof, we serve a banana split, we serve a strawberry shortcake, we serve the butter pecan sundae, we serve the grasshopper sundae.
EL: Can people reserve?
NM: Reservations are probably going to start in a week. We have it set up, but we haven’t started doing it yet.
EL: Got it.
NM: I’m going slow with this thing. I don’t need it to turn into another monster. There’s a lot of monsters at Morgenstern’s for us. Things can get really … The thousands of customers. That has a lot of stuff that goes along with that.
EL: And also, you contribute to that, because you bring this-
NM: I know, I keep feeding the monster.
NM: I know, I keep feeding the monster. It’s true. Thank you, Ed. Thank you.
EL: I hate to call that to your attention.
NM: The one time since we’ve opened the new store, I closed the store in the middle of the service. We were just having a really hard time, so busy, and the staff was just getting really frazzled, and so I locked the doors. It’s a big store, and it has multiple entrances. There’s four different ways you can get in and out of the store, and I locked all the doors, and then held the door at the exit so that everyone could leave as they were getting their ice cream. And the staff was just like, “What’s happening?”, and I’m like, “We just need a moment right now to collect ourselves guys.” They didn’t even know. And then I gave everyone pep talk and then said, “Okay, we’re going to open the doors again and we’re going to keep going.”
NM: So yes, I’m doing this to myself. So on the sundae bar side, all those classics, and then on the Morgenstern’s Delight side we serve Vietnamese coffee tiramisu, we serve a vegan mango sundae that has all different kinds of expressions of tropical fruits and things like that. We try to keep it as, I don’t want to say approachable, but in the vein. I don’t do weird for weird.
NM: That’s not part of what I want to do.
EL: Got it. No, for sure. Actually, every flavor I’ve ever had at Morgenstern’s, which is a lot right, because when I go there you want me to try a lot of things.
NM: Have some tastes. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
EL: I don’t think I can recall one stupid flavor.
NM: How would you define a stupid flavor? Have you ever had a stupid flavor?
EL: A flavor that makes no sense. It’s the same thing when a chef presents a dish to me, serves me a dish that has three to many ingredients.
NM: Okay, yeah. That’s unedited though. That’s a different-
EL: Yeah, that’s true.
NM: When you’re talking about a flavor and you’re saying a stupid flavor, give me an example of what … Do you remember having a stupid flavor, or you’ve been served one?
EL: Yeah, I have to say that-
NM: You don’t have to say where it came from, I’m just curious.
EL: Yeah, no, no, no, for sure. I don’t believe that bubble gum has a place in ice cream.
NM: I’m glad you brought that up. We don’t serve bubble gum ice cream at Morgenstern’s, but I’ve thought about it a lot because it is a part of consciousness for so many people.
NM: So, it’s like people have such a strong nostalgia for that, and we serve a lot of kids at Morgenstern’s-
EL: Yeah, yeah, for sure.
NM: We did a big event fashion week right now. We did a big event yesterday at a well known fashion brand. I know these guys, good vibes all around. But it was closed to the public and Morgenstern’s had a cart on a high traffic corner, downtown New York, and the kids were coming. And I told the client, “Kids get ice cream.” We’re giving this to all these fashion bozo’s, and the little kids are coming and they just see an ice cream cart, and the parents are like, “Ugh.” And I’m like, “Not a chance. Tell security kids come.”
EL: Kids go to the front.
NM: Yeah, and like the kids, serving children ice cream any day, I don’t care what year it is, it is just a transcendent experience for the child, and as the purveyor, that is something that rubs off no matter what. And then watching what the kids are drawn to and what flavors they want to taste and why and whatever that is, that is an imprint for my future customer. That’s what that is. So bubblegum might be.
EL: Yeah. So now, Nicholas, it’s time for the Special Sauce all you can answer buffet, and as I’m saying this Nicholas is exposing ice cream sandwiches to me.
NM: Look at this thing.
EL: You’re determined that we’re going to go into double overtime, but this is pretty awesome. We have a Mint It’s It Ice Cream Sandwich that I’m going to take a bite out of.
NM: It’s the Nick’s It. It’s called the Nick’s It.
EL: It’s called the Nick’s It, and then I’m going to ask you the first question on the buffet, but I’ve got to have a quick bite.
NM: Look at that thing.
EL: Oh my God.
NM: Ed, this is one of the things that I’m most proud of in my … It is.
EL: Well first of all, can I say that the mint ice cream actually tastes like mint and not peppermint oil?
NM: Or menthol, yeah right.
EL: Okay, I don’t want it to taste like cigarettes, I don’t want it to taste like soap, I want it to taste like mint.
NM: And there’s a method to how we do this that makes it taste that way.
EL: Got it. Oh my God. That is so delicious. All right, we’ve got to get to the buffet.
NM: Why? What do you mean? Are we in a hurry?
EL: Well, you know.
NM: I mean, I’ve got stuff to do but.
EL: Yeah, I know you’ve got stuff to do. So, who’s at your last supper? No family allowed, and it could be people living or dead, artists, chefs.
NM: Like multiple people, or?
NM: People I know or I don’t know.
EL: No, you don’t have to know them. It could be Abraham Lincoln for all I’m concerned.
NM: As I’m processing, I’m going to segue to something going back to the banking and getting the loan from the bank, and how many venture capitalists come to Morgenstern’s on a regular basis telling me that-
EL: That’s really, really weird.
NM: Right? Well they think the brand is—
EL: Yeah, of course.
NM: I try not to say no. I try to just like have a conversation with anyone, and-
EL: Talk to me before you actually do any deals with those guys.
NM: I will, but I wouldn’t do a deal with those guys.
EL: Okay, good.
NM: But the easy barometer, I think this is really important in life. I don’t know how it came to me but it did. You shouldn’t do business with anyone that you don’t want to share a meal with.
EL: It’s true.
NM: And it’s true-
EL: I once went to a charity dinner where the author, it was for Pen, it was Marshall Brickman was at my table, who was the youngest head writer in Tonight Show history with Johnny Carson. He used to say-
NM: How old was he?
EL: Oh, well Marshall is now in his 60s.
NM: Yeah, but then.
EL: He was like in his early 20s. He’s crazy talented. He also wrote Deliverance. He’s a banjo player. He wrote the book for the Jersey Boys. He co-wrote Annie Hall with Woody Allen. This guys an amazing guy.
NM: Wow, wow. Yeah, genius.
EL: Anyway, he said his one criteria for when he interviewed writer’s was, “Is this someone I want to eat lunch with every day.”
NM: Yeah. That is critical.
NM: If you don’t want to share a meal with someone, then you shouldn’t be working with them. Yeah.
EL: Yeah, so all right. So, four people.
NM: Big fan of Donald Glover, Childish Gambino. I’ve met him and talked to him, and we just have fascinating conversations.
EL: Love Donald Glover. Brilliant dude.
NM: He’s brilliant.
EL: Yeah, I love that.
NM: Yeah, so just like someone that’s going to be compelling to talk with and spend time with.
NM: In the chef’s world, I only recently met Cesare.
EL: Cesare Casella, who’s a funny dude.
NM: He just was so fun.
EL: He was wearing his rosemary.
NM: Of course. Are you kidding? Of course he was.
EL: Yeah, okay. All right.
NM: He was so exciting and life of the party in a fantastic kind of way.
EL: All right. I like that. Cesare, Donald Glover, this is a fun table. You’ve got two more people.
NM: I’m thinking a good friend of mine who is a communication strategist who’s at all times is bolstering verbal defense and mounting verbal assault. His name is Jonathan Prince, who was communications director for Clinton and worked in that world.
EL: Oh yeah, I think he was friend of Brian’s.
NM: Yeah. Oh, totally. Totally. And he’s just like super fun and crazy to be around—
EL: Okay. All right. So what are you eating?
NM: At the last supper?
NM: Probably it’s going to be like classic American burgers and that type of a meal, and then followed by an ice cream sundae experience.
EL: I love an ice cream sundae experience. I love that. And what are you listening to?
NM: I don’t really want to have music in that environment.
EL: Yeah, okay.
NM: A little bit in the background, but I think it’s distracting.
EL: What would be in the background?
NM: Maybe some Childish Gambino.
EL: Childish Gambino, I love it. All right, do you cook when you get home, or are you too tired?
NM: Yeah, I cook a lot, yeah.
EL: So, what do you cook when there’s nothing in the house to eat? What’s always going to be in the fridge and in your cupboard?
NM: Toast, eggs. Yeah.
EL: Toast and eggs.
NM: And then I could do … There could be other things. I’ll typically fry eggs. I’ve been getting into the hard, crispy fried egg.
EL: The olive oil one, the Spanish style.
NM: Yeah, you can do it with butter, too. But yeah, I’ll do it that way. I’ll fry it hard so it’s crispy and still runny in the middle.
EL: I like that.
NM: I like to cook over-easy eggs as well, but I feel like I’d gotten kind of over that. Yeah, so eggs and toast, I always have that in the house.
EL: Toast, what are we talking about toast wise?
NM: Just like a whole-grain sliced toast.
EL: Got it.
NM: Something that’s pre-sliced, and I always have the bread in the freezer.
EL: Salted butter or unsalted butter.
NM: Salted butter.
EL: Salted butter. Of course.
NM: Yeah, and then hot sauce. I have a lot of hot sauce in the house.
EL: All right. So, it’s just been declared Nicholas Morgenstern Day all over the world. What’s happening on that day?
NM: Free ice cream for everyone.
EL: That was a layup for you, man.
EL: That was a layup.
NM: Easy. Everyone wins on Nicholas Morgenstern Day.
EL: All right, Nicholas Morgenstern, thank you so much for sharing your special sauce with us. This was awesome.
NM: Thanks for having me. Yeah, it was great.
EL: And when you’re in New York City, stop at Morgenstern’s Ice Cream. It’s a must, and I’m not kidding. And he generously brought Nicholas Morgenstern’s ice cream here to the studio, which was awesome.
EL: And if you mention Serious Eats, but you probably don’t even … Do you serve sprinkles?
NM: Oh, yeah.
EL: So mention Serious Eats and you get an extra sprinkle.
NM: Yeah, we’ll give you one extra.
EL: Finally, let’s head into our Serious Eats test kitchen where Chicago star chef Rick Bayless teaches me to make a fresh ginger sparkling margarita.
RB: We’re going to change gears. We’re going to go into something that’s completely different. A different way of looking at a margarita, and again, it’s kind of a seasonal thing. This is really great for holidays.
RB: So, the first thing that we’re doing is to take agave syrup, and this is the one that we use. I like the blue agave, the organic brand. It’s got the best flavor.
EL: So, what is agave syrup derived from?
RB: It’s from the agave, the same plant that is used to distill into tequila. There’s a way that you can extract the sweetness of it in the same way that people would extract say corn syrup from corn, and you end up with this agave syrup which has got this really rich flavor. And we have heated that up with a little chopped ginger, and we’re making a ginger syrup basically here.
RB: I’m going to strain out the ginger from that so that we can use a little bit of it in our drink. I’m going to reinforce the ginger in this by muddling a piece of ginger. Actually I’m going to throw a couple of them because they’re small on this end here. Throw a couple of those pieces in, and you can do this if you want to, but I find it really fun. This is kefir lime, which I think is delicious with the lime that you would put in this drink here, so I’m going to actually cut up some pieces of it that I can muddle right in there.
EL: What does kefir refer to?
RB: You know, if you’re from Thailand, it does not mean something nice. They really want us to start using another word for it, but it’s the citrus plant that had a bifurcated leaf. I don’t think we have any. That one that I had out here was really beautiful, but it’s a two part leaf, and it’s more used for the leaves in Thai curries and things like that than it is for the fruit which is very knobby on the outside. I only know this because I love the stuff so much that I have a plant of it that I’ve had for years, and it produces this knobby lime at the end of the season. It has almost no juice in it, but you can use the rind of it and it’s really delicious rind.
RB: So I’m going to use this muddler to crush the ginger together with that kefir lime just enough to release the seasonings in here, and then we’re going to put in a very small amount. It’s about a quarter of an ounce of this agave syrup there. We’re going to go for our Blanco tequila, again that one and a half ounces.
Now I’m going to add a half an ounce of the orange liqueur. Again, I’m using the Quantro here. You could get by with using any of the light orange liqueurs like triple secs, though you might want to look and see what the alcohol content of it is. Not because you’re looking to make a really super boozy drink, but because what happens when you lower the alcohol in some of those triple secs is that you also lower the flavor. They don’t have very much flavor. So about a half an ounce of fresh lime juice there, and we’ll put in a big handful of this ice, and I think I’ve got everything in there now to shake this one up.
Now this is not one that I typically would use a salted rim on, because it’s going in a completely different direction flavor wise with the ginger, and then what we’re going to do is to top this off with a little bit of sparkling wine, making a sparkling ginger margarita. I think everybody would have fun with it, would enjoy it, and that ginger is so beautifully warming. It fills in to about two thirds full there, so we’re going to top it off. This is a little kava from Spain, and then you could take one of these leaves and just float a piece of that right on the top of it, and you’ve got sparkling ginger.
EL: And that’s it. That’s the perfect margarita for the more casual than usual Friday.
RB: I love it. This has been loads of fun.
EL: Thank you for stopping by here, because it’s really, really a treat for us.
RB: Absolutely my pleasure. Thank you so much, Ed.
EL: For more details on that recipe and to see the video, go to seriouseats.com. That’s it for today.
EL: Next week on Special Sauce, Kenji will enlighten us once again on our Ask Kenji segment. Do send in your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. More tested tips and truths from our own test kitchen on next week’s Special Sauce. So long serious eaters. See you next time.