Special Sauce: Nik Sharma on the Kitchen as Laboratory [2/2]

This week, in part two of my conversation with chef and food writer Nik Sharma, we dug into the science-based approach to cooking that informs his terrific new cookbook, Seasons: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food

Given Nik’s background in medical research, it made sense to learn that he thinks of his kitchen as just another lab. All of us, he pointed out, experiment in one way or another in the kitchen, even if we’re just tweaking a family recipe. In his case, though, Nik explains that he “had that training to do that…one of the things I really like about recipes, [is that] the way they’re written is exactly the way I would prepare my buffers in biochemistry or in genetics… We call them recipes, we pretty much use the terminology, everything is arranged by volume or when it has to go in.” He even admits to using lab notebooks when he’s developing a recipe. It’s that analytical approach that he says allows him to make each iteration of a recipe better.

That said, Nik shied away from making Seasons read overly scientific. Instead, “I kind of wanted to introduce myself to people,” he said. “At the same time, I wanted to be really approachable, so someone who is intimated by being too science-y kind of understands that the simplest things that they’re doing in the kitchen actually have a scientific basis to them.” He talked about something as simple as bruising an herb like mint to extract essential oils and introduce them to a cocktail. “You know, you’re breaking those cells to release those essential oils so then they get solubilized in whatever solvent they’re in, so like water.”

The moral of Nik’s story? Even if science intimidates you, “what you’re doing in the kitchen is a form of science,” and even when it goes awry, learning from your mistakes is half the fun. Nik believes, like Bob Dylan once sang, “There’s no success like failure and failure’s no success at all.” When it comes to cooking, he told me “I want people to understand that when you walk in to the kitchen, you don’t have to be compelled to succeed the first time, I think that’s something very cultural where there is this impetus to push people for success, but I think we forget sometimes that it’s okay to fail because it’s your failures that you remember, you’ll never remember what you succeeded at or why, but it’s when you fail you start to remember what was wrong, how can you fix it, and it makes you much wiser.”

I loved hearing what everyone’s eating on Nik Sharma Day, but if I told you what it is, you might not listen to the whole episode. And that, serious eaters, would be a big mistake.


Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce, Serious Eats’ podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce, we talk to some of the leading lights of American culture, food folks and non-food folks alike.

Nik Sharma: We don’t think about these things all the time, but actually what you’re doing in the kitchen is a form of science and in a lot of the experiments I did when I was in research, we would use similar things like a blender, a Waring blender or a mortar and pestle to crush cells, use glass speeds, you know all those kinds of things. And it was fascinating that we were doing the same thing in the kitchen.

EL: Today we’re talking to the supremely gifted Nik Sharma, the author of Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food, and the creator of the amazing blog, A Brown Table. He also writes a column for the San Francisco Chronicle called “A Brown Kitchen.” So, when you started putting “Brown” in your titles, whether it’s the brown table, or brown kitchen, was that in part your way of saying this is who I am, and I’m proud of it, and, you know, just live with it everybody.

NS: There were two reasons behind it. One was the fact that at the time, brown wood was a popular prop in photography.

EL: Oh.

NS: And I couldn’t come up with the name, I’m really not good at coming up with leads and book titles. And obviously blog names, too. And so that was the idea behind that. And the other thing I said, well, it’s also playful because I’m brown, and I think it works.

EL: Got it. So you’re doing the newspaper column, and how did the book come about?

NS: At the time what happened I had won my second IACP award for my blog. And when that happened, an agent reached out to me to write a cookbook. And I wasn’t sure because a couple of years ago, I had reached out to agents who had kind of turned me down and said I didn’t have anything to write about.

EL: Nice, that’s such a great reaction, that really makes you want to just keep on going, doesn’t it?

NS: It does, it actually does. You know why? Because if you come from the science world, your professors will tell you that you have really nothing to tell.

EL: That’s awesome. So your science background really came in handy when the rejection started coming in.

NS: Right. I think one of the things with rejection is you have to learn how to take it with a grain of salt and learn to figure out what your point of view is, whether you’re in science, whether your theory is right or wrong, and whether you have the tools to get there. And so it made me reevaluate my thoughts and whether I should really write a cookbook, whether really the agent was right did I really have something new to tell people? And why was my book going to be different from everybody else’s? You know because, as you know, there are so many cookbooks that come out each year.

EL: Absolutely.

NS: And I think one of the misconceptions that I had early on was that a cookbook would be the next stage in my career but something that I had to do, which isn’t true. There was a point when I told myself I don’t think I need to do a cookbook also. So when the agent reached out to me, I wasn’t really sure, we spoke quite a bit, we even met up in person until she said no, I actually do believe that you have something to tell people that’s different. And we both worked on our proposal together, and this was at the same time that I was working at the food start-up in San Francisco and just started writing my food column for the Chronicle. And, you know, we sold a proposal and then I started to work on Season.

EL: Yeah, and that’s interesting. Since you were doing both the column and the book at the same time, did you have to come an agreement with the Chronicle? Or did you just say Okay, I’m not going to use anything from the Chronicle in the book.

NS: I did-

EL: I know that’s always a thing, when it comes to Serious Eats is, books, or Kenji’s book, or Stella’s book, or whatever.

NS: Yeah, I didn’t have to worry about that, in fact I didn’t even to think about it.

EL: Good.

NS: Because the main thing what I wanted to do was with the book, I feel if people are going to spend money or something, they need new content, and that’s my personal opinion, because they could get that stuff for free elsewhere. And the only thing I did, I decided because my fans wanted me to include the most popular recipe from my blog. I thought that would be okay and so I picked the apple cake in my book, the Masala Chai Apple Cake, which at the time was one of the most popular recipes on the blog. So I put that in the book, but then everything else I really wanted to be different to kind of reflect how everything that I had done in my life had also influenced this book.

EL: So there was a larger point you were trying to make with the book?

NS: Right, I kind of wanted people to first not think it was an Indian cookbook, and I wanted to look at it from the way that this is how an immigrant cooks, and also this is what it means to cook with flavor, to me.

EL: So you start the book with a flavor glossary, speaking of flavor. What exactly is that? And why include it in your book?

NS: Yeah, so that was an idea that came up by my editor. And I thought it was brilliant because one of the things, even for me, who is someone who grew up in India with spices being around them all day, I find it sometimes hard to distinguish between something like cumin or caraway because they all look similar, right? And the shape of the seed is so similar so if they’re not placed next to each other, it’s really difficult. And so I decided to put myself in my reader’s shoes from, you know, based on the blog and the column, and based on the comments over the years, I started also polling them with questions to find out what do they find uncomfortable? And one of the things is with Indian cooking is with spices, and I think this is common with any culture that’s not mainstream, is people are scared of spaces as they’re scared of people. I always put it in terms of xenophobia, you’re always scared of what you don’t know.

EL: Sure.

NS: Right? And so the same thing with spices, so I said this is a great way to kind of, since attention spans have also changed over the past couple of years, something visual will probably resonate much better with people. So if they go to the store and they know what it looks like, then-

EL: They won’t be as scared?

NS: Right, you’ll feel more confident in asking for something.

EL: Before we leave the apple cake behind, the Masala Apple Cake, I do love an apple cake, my grandmother, may she rest in peace, made a phenomenal apple cake.

NS: Oh.

EL: How did you make it yours?

NS: I go with what excites me in the moment, to be honest. Like with this apple cake, if we take this as an example, apple cakes and spice cakes was something that I learned about when I came to America that during, when the weather starts to cool off, people naturally in America deviate to warmer spices in their deserts. And you know we’ve got the spice cakes that kind of do that, even mulled wine does that, and so I said how do I put these flavors but kind of connect the apple cake that’s so American to me with something that’s Indian in my experience, but also brings that level of warm.

NS: And the masala chai spice, or the chai masala rather, works really well here because it’s got those combination of warm flavors, and then I said if I’m going to call it a masala chai cake, and “chai” meaning tea, I need to put tea leaves in it, or tea in some form I need to incorporate that. So I put that into the batter and made a flour with that. And to me that represents kind of this I wouldn’t say fusion, but this kind of meeting of ideas in between.

EL: Yeah, I love that, I love that, ’cause it’s sort of emblematic of the way you cook and the way you think.

NS: Right.

EL: So I want to talk a little about your photographic point of view. On page 75 of in the book, you have these lentils that look like rocks. And you really do have an original photographic voice. How would you describe it? And how did it evolve?

NS: Well, evolve is through trial and error, I, at least, had no idea what even composition was. Two of the pieces of advice I got from my dad on photography was what kind of camera to buy. He’s used Nikon for all his life and so it made sense for me to use Nikon ’cause that’s a brand that he’s worked with, but to be honest, now as I’m more mature, you know, I think no brand is really superior to the other, it’s your lenses that matter. But in terms of point of view, I think that was a lot through trial and error, ’cause for the longest time, I was trying to do what everyone else was doing. And it felt okay, but it didn’t make me happy. And then I was also letting, again, people define who I was even artistically.

EL: Yes, there’s a theme, sort of, there’s a through line here, Nik, I’m getting. You know it’s like each time, and this is true of I think of most creative people, we tend to emulate or imitate the people we respect and admire.

NS: Right, right.

EL: But at a certain point you go, “This is them, it’s not me.”

NS: Right. And it came to me early on that I, it just didn’t feel right, why I was trying to be like everyone else? And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. And so I started to evolve as a writer, as well as a photographer and a cook, and started exploring how could I push my limits.

EL: And so at that point it’s trial and error and there’s nobody that you’re going, God, I’m inspired by, whoever, Weegee, or it doesn’t matter, Walker Evans, or any photographer.

NS: Right, I wanted to see what excites me and how, why was I liking food so much? And so I wanted to convey that through my photos. And so I needed to understand myself in order to put myself out there if that makes sense.

EL: Yeah.

NS: Out to my world.

EL: It makes perfect sense. You titled something in the book says, which I think harkens obviously back to your science background, your kitchen is your lab, what did you mean by that?

NS: So one of the things that in the kitchen I realized is that a lot of us, even we’re handed down a recipe from a family member, be it a grandmother or a mother, we end up changing it quite a bit over time to make it our own. And that is experimentation in its own way. And so, in my case, I already had that training to do that. Because one of the things I really like about recipes, the way they’re written is exactly the way I would prepare my buffers in biochemistry or in genetics, you know, for my enzymes. We call them recipes, we pretty much use the terminology, everything is arranged by volume or when it has to go in. And so, these were the things that I found there were a lot of similarities, and so when I write recipes, I actually use still use lab notebooks, and I write things down in iterations, like you know version one, version two, version three. And so I try to do that with the recipes and work through them in an experimentative way where it may not work the first time, but how do I make it better? So let me look at it analytically.

EL: And like Kenji, you sort of take your readers on your adventure.

NS: I do, I do.

EL: And that seems to be important to you?

NS: That is, because I want people to understand that when you walk in to the kitchen, you don’t have to be compelled to succeed the first time, I think that’s something very cultural where there is this impetus to push people for success, but I think we forget sometimes that it’s okay to fail because it’s your failures that you remember, you’ll never remember what you succeeded at or why, but it’s when you fail you start to remember what was wrong, how can you fix it, and it makes you much wiser.

EL: You know, Bob Dylan wrote, “There’s no success like failure, and failure’s no success at all.” We’ve got to think about that when it comes to cooking.

NS: Yeah.

EL: Let’s talk now, I want to get back to seasoning because it’s a big part of your book. And you talk about the how’s of seasoning.

NS: Yeah.

EL: And you say grinding, bruising and chopping, toasting, infusion, muddling, smoking, brining, marinating, and applying rubs, browning, and then bringing it all together. So what were you trying to communicate in terms of the how’s of seasoning?

NS: I didn’t want this particular book to be something too scientific, because it was an introductory book, and I kind of wanted to introduce myself to people. At the same time, I wanted to be really approachable, so someone who is intimated by being too sciency kind of understands that the simplest things that they’re doing in the kitchen actually have a scientific basis for them. So something that you might not think about, like you mentioned bruising, is a way to pull out the essential oils, for example, in mint, into a drink. You know, you’re breaking those cells to release those essential oils so then they get solubilized in whatever solvent they’re in, so like water. And we don’t think about these things all the time, but actually what you’re doing in the kitchen is a form of science. And in a lot of the experiments I did when I was in research, we would use similar things like a blender, a waring blender or a mortar and pestle to crush cells, use glass speeds, you know all those kinds of things. And it was fascinating that we were doing the same thing in the kitchen in a very different way.

EL: You’ve gotta level with me, Nik. At any time, when you were in that lab, were you making pesto in the blender?

NS: Okay, I can say now since I’m no longer employed by anyone, at least from science, but I did at one point, I was really concerned about yogurt, why was my yogurt when I made it at home not the same kind of yogurt back in India? And so I actually ended up taking cultures and gram staining them and looking under the microscope to see what was wrong.

EL: But not telling your professor that you were doing that?

NS: No, I didn’t need to do. And I think even if they saw it, they wouldn’t really care, ’cause they all did their own. I actually had a professor who would, if I’m correct, he actually ran wine samples once in an osmometer to measure osmolality.

EL: I don’t even know what that is, but it sounds complicated.

NS: But yeah, I mean, so I did like a lot of those smut stuff, I sneaked it in, but at the same time I also, one of the things that I, you know, I was lucky to do was learn about biology, and in so biology, you end up doing a lot of stuff which is edible. So a lot of experiments I did was learning how to isolate pectin or gelatin from plant or animal tissues, you know, measure the yield of casing in different kinds of milk. And so that I think kind of, for me it just made sense, oh, yeah, you would have to do in a lab anyway.

EL: Got it. So you write about the pantry, “I firmly believe that person’s wealth lies in his or her kitchen pantry.” It’s kind of radical?

NS: Not really so and that’s the reason why I put it in, because if you go to anybody’s refrigerator, it might not be stocked with actual ingredients, right? You might not have vegetables, or fruit, or meat, or whatever in there. You will see a lot of condiments. Go to the pantry and it’s the same thing, you might not see actual, you obviously won’t see actual meals in there, but you will see a bunch of random spices, or, you know like a marshmallow or two or something sitting in there, like a half a bag of lentils, and I think that’s what reflects the wealth of a person because it’s kind of like visiting someone’s house and you look at the number of books they have, or the stack of magazines, and you get an idea of how of they think.

EL: Right, so is the pantry-

NS: It’s same thing.

EL: You think the pantry is kind of a Rorschach Test?

NS: Yeah, you walk in and you say, wow, this is something interesting, I don’t have that at home, maybe I should get it, why do they have it? Let me ask them that question, and what do they do with it? And so, and in often what happens in many cases, and this is something that I’ve seen with home cooks a lot, is we’re always trying to make do with what we have already at home.

EL: It’s true.

NS: Right? And so if I have say a bit of brown beef, I don’t really want to go out and buy something new sometimes. I want to work with what I have at home, so how do I make that happen? And so that was what I was trying to tell people is that your pantry’s probably well stocked already, let’s see what we can do with it.

EL: Yeah. Whose had the greatest influence on you sort of cooking wise, writing wise, and photography wise? And they probably are different people?

NS: Yeah, I’ll start with photography. So photography, one of the places that I don’t have any particular names, but one of the places that I actually look for inspiration is anything that’s not food related.

EL: It’s great. And you actually talk about I saw a video online where you talk photography in terms of dance and curves.

NS: Yeah.

EL: That was really fascinating. So you have some explaining to do, man.

NS: Okay. So one of the things I’m drawn to are curves; I find curves to be really sensual, and I actually did a poll recently with people as to what kind of taste they associate, shapes of food with taste, and curves seem to be very popular with people. And I think it’s because curves are so sensual, your eye tends to move on a smooth line and it’s drawn, whereas quadrilaterals and, you know, lines are tend to be a little sharper, and so they feel a little harsh, and so it’s soothing. And one of the things I think about when I’m styling food is that I liked food because I think the process is beautiful by the way it happens, the final dish is beautiful, the ingredients are beautiful, and I’m not referring to the way things are styled, but just the idea and concept. And so I wanted to convey that in a way that made sense to me. And for me that was, oh, look at this ballerina on stage, when she’s dancing, everything falls, it becomes noise, everything around her is noise, and it gets pushed away to the darkness, and then you have the light just focusing on her. So when I photograph in style, I kind of keep that always in mind, where I want to photograph this process as being the ballerina right now.

EL: Yeah.

NS: That’s what makes it beautiful in that moment to me, ’cause sometimes I think we take… the I guess the simplest task for food for granted, like even rubbing a lemon on a cutting board just to loosen the cells up, that’s such a beautiful process that we don’t think about, there’s so much going on in there, the cells are breaking, the essential oils are coming out, and you’re getting to smell that aroma.

EL: Yeah.

NS: And I think those are like the littlest things that make it so beautifuL.

EL: Yeah, I think you’re right. So what about your cooking or your writing?

NS: In terms of cooking and writing, I think I’m heavily influenced by home cook authors, especially Diana Henry is one.

EL: Whose a famous, for people who don’t know, British cookbook author.

NS: Yeah, I love the way that she approaches food in a very mature, sophisticated way, but it’s also very casual and welcoming. Nigella Lawson is another author that I really love, and I also really like Nigel Slater, because they do the same thing, they make it approachable for home cooks. At the same time, they’re also teasing with them new ideas.

EL: Do you have a British fixation? What’s up with that? All three of those people, don’t tell me you’re into the royal wedding, and the royal babies.

NS: I’m definitely not into that.

EL: Okay.

NS: But for some reason, I do appreciate a lot of British authors. From the American side, I do like M. F. K. Fisher, I think her writing is very, it’s again very sophisticated and mature, which I’m not, so I really enjoy people who do that. And then authors that are from India, like Julie Sahni is one of.

EL: Sure, sure.

NS: You know, I really like the books that she wrote. Madhur Jaffrey. And then, I feel like Honey and Co, that’s not really well known, they’re from the Middle East, they’re again based in London, but they’ve written several books, they’re not really well known here yet, but I feel their work is also so compelling because they come from the restaurant side of the world, but they make it approachable for home cooks.

EL: What are their names?

NS: Itamar and Sarit.

EL: I need three recipes people should start with from the book and why. I know me, personally, I’m going to make the Sweet Potato Bebinca for Thanksgiving, ’cause that seemed and looked so awesome.

NS: Yeah, and for the people that hate making pies, I think that’s an easy way to do it.

EL: Yeah, yeah.

NS: Definitely since we’re heading in towards the Stoneford season, I would recommend trying the Broil Peaches with the Maple Vinegar Syrup, that’s one of my favorite deserts in the book ’cause it’s simple and easy. And then I would recommend the Cauliflower Paneer Salad because that’s a different way of looking at paneer, classically, it’s, you know, I always see people substituting feta for paneer, or cottage cheese, or something else. I think it’s time to celebrate paneer for what it is and so I tried to do that with the salad and showcase that it can, it holds its structure, like a lot of the other Greek cheeses. And so it works well, it’s easy to make at home if you can’t find it, all you need is milk and some kind of food acid. And then the third recipe I would recommend is to go ahead and make the Meatloaf.

EL: The Meatloaf?

NS: Yeah, ’cause the meatloaf is something that is so iconically American to me.

EL: This is Cincinnati meets India, meets San Francisco, meet Washington D.C.

NS: Yeah, meets the South. Yeah, ’cause, you know, my husband really loves meatloaf, it was one of the things that he made me when we started dating. And we don’t make it that often now, but the meatloaf was something that I said I need to do kind of something like an East meets West kind of thing in this dish, and it’s such a classic iconic American dish, how do I make it much more flavorful? I’m not a big fan of ketchup on meatloaf, so I made my own sauce for this. So it’s sweet, it’s spicy, but it’s also really moist because of the apples that go into it.

EL: Oh, I am going to try this. You know that Frank Bruni did a whole book of people’s meatloaf recipes?

NS: Oh, wow, I need to look for that.

EL: So what’s next, Nik? You’ve climbed up a lot of mountains in a relatively short period of time. Besides writing for Serious Eats, I think that’s what’s next.

NS: We’ll see what happens, but I am working on a new cookbook that it’s definitely going to be more science focused this time, for home cooks. And it’ll be out in Fall 2020.

EL: Great, that’s awesome. So, now it’s time for the All You Can Answer Special Sauce Buffet. No pressure, you could take your time.

NS: Okay.

EL: So whose at your last supper? No family allowed.

NS: I wouldn’t invite family anyway, they’ll be too critical.

EL: Okay, I like that.

NS: Let’s see, I think I’d like to have Kenji and Stella.

EL: You say that to all the guys.

NS: No, I love Stella, because Stella’s been so wonderful, and I mean Stella’s like someone you can knock on a door and she’ll have an answer for you.

EL: And it’s true.

NS: So I love Stella.

EL: So we should say that Stella Parks is, at Serious Eats, I call her our pastry wizard, and Kenji Lopez, as everyone I think knows at this point is wrote an amazing book called The Food Lab, and was our Culinary Director, and is still our Culinary Advisor at Serious Eats. So I like that, there’s one more person, though, besides Stella and Kenji that I need to have, to finish out the table.

NS: Okay. Samin, Samin Nosrat.

EL: Samin Nosrat?

NS: Yeah.

EL: Is that someone you’ve gotten to know out there? Or just someone you admire?

NS: Both, so Samin and I, we both live, well, she lives in Berkeley, I live in Oakland. And we obviously know each other since we run in the same circles. But Samin is someone that I really admire because she’s someone that’s also, you know, a child of immigrants, and has been so successful. So I’m really in awe of what she’s been able to accomplish, but she’s also just a really nice person, and knows her flavor well. And the three people I selected for this dinner really know their flavor well, so if they had to give me criticism, it would be objective.

EL: I like that. So what are you eating?

NS: Right now?

EL: No, at the last supper.

NS: Oh, at the last supper. So there will be ice cream for sure.

EL: Okay.

NS: ‘Cause I’m a big ice cream fan, so there will be ice cream.

EL: Alright.

NS: Let’s see, I will probably make some kind of rice dish that will have saffron, for sure, and a bunch of spices. So maybe some kind of pilaf, or pilau, as people call it. I’ll probably do a whole roast chicken because that’s a great trick for a home cook to look impressive. You make a big chicken, everyone’s impressed, and it takes minimal work.

EL: That’s great. And you have this line in the book about flavoring a whole chicken, that the trick is to keep the sauce between the skin and the flesh, because the layer of fat in the skin helps the chicken retain its moisture while the flavors in the marinade penetrate the flesh.

NS: Yeah, I don’t know why people do it the other way, like I get the salt outside, but I want the flavor to touch the meat.

EL: Yeah.

NS: That’s just me, but. And then, Oh, yeah, we’ve got to have a salad, so probably do, depending on what’s in season, I’ll make a salad for them. And then, let’s see, we have to a vegetable dish, so maybe a roasted cauliflower or something.

EL: That sounds great, man. Can I come?

NS: Yeah.

EL: Alright. What do you cook when there’s nothing in the house to eat?

NS: If I have eggs at home, which I usually do, then I’ll probably work with the eggs and call it a day. But often what I’ll do is I will just make a quick soup.

EL: Assuming that there’s stock, either store bought, or that you’ve made?

NS: Yeah, sometimes I don’t even use stock.

EL: You use water?

NS: Yeah, and then I just flavor it as I go.

EL: Got it.

NS: Because I usually have a well stocked pantry, I might not have a lot of things in the fridge, but you can work your way through with the pantry and make it work.

EL: So, do you have a guilty pleasure?

NS: Ice cream. Well, I don’t feel guilty about it so I.

EL: Yeah, neither do I. Straight up, are we talking Humphry Slocombe? You’re from San Francisco, Bi-Rite Creamery, which one of those ice creams really touches you?

NS: So I’ll get in trouble for saying this ’cause I’m not going to pick something local. I’m going to pick Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

EL: She’s Columbus, right?

NS: Yeah, yeah.

EL: I think she’s in Cincinnati now, but she started in Columbus.

NS: But the thing with Jeni’s Ice Cream is that she is the only one that makes a really beautiful tart lemon ice cream.

EL: Got it.

NS: And no one has ever been able to compare to that. And that’s the only thing I get from Jenny’s is that lemon ice cream or I make it from her book at home.

EL: That’s so great. So what’s on your nightstand right now book wise? It doesn’t have to be food related.

NS: Oh my God, it is food related.

EL: It’s Okay, that’s good.

NS: I’m currently reading Arabesque by Claudia Roden.

EL: She’s an amazing scholarly writer.

NS: Yeah, I love everything that all the work that she’s done. I don’t have any of her other books, I only have Arabesque and Middle Eastern Feast, I think that’s the book.

EL: Yeah.

NS: And both of them talking a lot personally about cooking Middle Eastern food. I’ve actually been reading the book just for her essays, they’re also fun, the way she approaches stuff.

EL: That’s cool. What’s the most influential book you’ve ever read? That influences you personally on your career, on your life.

NS: There’s a book called Genome by Matt Ridley. That was a book that I read early before I was I think in grad school. And it talks about each chromosome as a chapter, each human chromosome, and I think they’ve done updates to it. But it makes you appreciate how our bodies affect our different ways of life, from food to, you know, sociology and everything.

EL: Right.

NS: And so that has always played in mind when I’ve gone through life, even now with writing about food, a common theme that comes up about taste, you know we’re attached to this bitter taste, or not to taste, and so are the things that he talks about, and I’ve always been kind of paid attention to that.

EL: So, whose had the great influence on you in your career?

NS: Diana Henry.

EL: Really? Have you ever met her?

NS: Yeah, we’re really close friends.

EL: That’s great.

NS: I love her.

EL: And why is she been the greatest influence? ‘Cause you just admire the way she thinks and she cooks?

NS: What I really appreciate about Diana is her ability to introduce new ideas and make them comfortable for home cooks. At the same time, she’s also a prolific cookbook author.

EL: Yeah.

NS: And she’s also been hugely supportive of my career. I can always ask her about books that I’ve never heard about, or a topic that, and you need that.

EL: Sure.

NS: In the food world, you need someone. The same case with John Birdsall, he’s been also really influential in my life in directing me in the right direction. And both of these authors have really taken their time to help someone who was relatively unknown at a certain point and invest in them because they believe in their voice and work, and that doesn’t happen a lot. So to me that, you know, both of them, both John and Dan are really special to me.

EL: It’s just been declared Nik Sharma day all over the world. What’s happening on that day?

NS: Everybody gets a tub of really good lemon ice cream.

EL: Okay, there’s a theme there.

NS: It should be warm ’cause I hate days when they’re cold.

EL: Okay.

NS: And I think everybody should write a line on a piece of paper to say what they did that made them really proud of themselves that day.

EL: I love this. I love Nik Sharma day, we’re going to make it happen. Let’s say September or October, we’re going to make it happen.

NS: Okay, Okay.

EL: So, thank you so much for sharing your Special Sauce for this, Nik Sharma. Pick up a copy of Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food, read Nik’s terrific blog, A Brown Table, as well as his column, “A Brown Kitchen”, in the San Francisco Chronicle. And his about to be column in Serious Eats, no, no, wait, no, no.

EL: But anyway, thank you, Nik, it’s been awesome.

NS: Thanks for having me on, Ed.

EL: So long, Serious Eaters. We’ll see you see next time.