Ask Me Anything about cooking Italian food and pasta, using spices, choosing and using the best vegetables and fruit, how to select fish, Moroccan food, and baking whether savory or sweet.

Aliza Green
Jan 20, 2018

With a lifetime of cooking experience as a chef, caterer, television and print food stylist, food journalist, cookbook author, and culinary tour leader, I have the varied and practical experience of working in many different cooking environments. Because I am a self-taught chef, I know the kinds of challenges that home and professional cooks face. Working with so many chefs and in so many kitchens in the US and abroad, I know that there is always another way to get where you want with your food. I love a challenge and welcome your questions. As the author of more than a dozen cookbooks, I have done a great deal of research and testing so I know what you can buy, how you can best cook it, and how to make that wonderful dish you've been dreaming of creating!

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What kind of supporting training and workshops did you undergo to sharpen your ability as a Chef?

Jan 20, 3:09PM EST0

What kind of supporting training and workshops did you undergo to sharpen your ability as a Chef?

Jan 20, 2:01PM EST0

I have take many, many classes, done week-long cooking schools in places like Greece and Italy, participated in workshops, attended food conferences, and planned a few myself, all in the effort to incrrase my skills and knowledge and to refire the engines of my creative spirit. 

Jan 20, 2:42PM EST0

What has been the most difficult subject to write for a Chef Author like you?

Jan 20, 1:32PM EST0

My two books about seafood (Field Guide to Seafood and Fishmonger's Apprentice) were the most difficult because the subject is quite complex. It depends on developing a working knowledge of worldwide supply and demand, and requires learning about and writing about controversial subjects (farm-raised vs. wild, imported vs. domestic, frozen vs. fresh). 

Jan 20, 1:37PM EST0

How were you able to develop a book of fish and meat focus? Did you make an intricate study on how to use, prepare and cook them?

Jan 20, 1:02PM EST0

I have actually written two books each on fish and meat: Field Guide to Seafood and The Fishmonger's Apprentice and Field Guide to Meat and The Butcher's Apprentice. I did make a very in-depth study of those subjects including participating in a short course on meat at Texas A & M University and spending a week working at a large fish wholesaler to learn more about cutting fish. I interviewed all sorts of people in the industry, read lots and lots of books and articles, and purchased and worked with all sorts of cuts of meats and various types of seafood to learn first-hand how to work with them. Luckily, I thrive on a challenge because making sense of it all was quite difficult!

Jan 20, 1:15PM EST0

How were you able to develop a book of fish and meat focus? Did you make an intricate study on how to use, prepare and cook them?

Jan 20, 1:01PM EST0

Who among the celebrities have you catered to? What was the experience like, cooking for the stars?

Jan 20, 12:51PM EST0

I haven't catered to many celebrities, but when I did food styling work at QVC in the 90s, I did get to work with many of the big names of the time including Jeff Smith (Frugal Gourmet), Paul Prudhomme (K Paul's Kitchen), Georges Perrier (with whom I co-authored a cookbook), Jacques Pepin, Barbara Kafka, The Two Hot Tamales (Mary Sue Milliken & Susan Feniger), Julia Child, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and more. What I found is that, like the rest of us, those who are famous can be either mean or generous, friendly or self-absorbed and it has nothing to do with how famous they are. Some of the most famous were the warmest and most generous while some of the lesser names were snobby and demanding. I was lucky to have the opportunity to work "behind the scenes" with many of these people and to learn what I could from working closely with them.

Jan 20, 1:20PM EST0

How many books have you authored? What is the uniqueness of each one and how long does it take you to finish one?

Jan 20, 12:35PM EST0

I have written 12 cookbooks on my own and co-authored 3 others. Each book is unique though I have written several books in series (Starting with Ingredients and Starting with Ingredients: Baking; Field Guide to Produce, Field Guide to Meat, Field Guide to Seafood, and (my favorite), Field Guide to Herbs & Spices. Also, The Fishmonger's Apprentice and The Butcher's Apprentice. Writing books in a series, is helpful because there are clear guidelines to follow. Depending on the complexity of the book and its length (Starting with Ingredients has over 500 recipes), the time required ranged from about six to eight months on the low side and a year and a half or more on the high side. For several years, I wrote two books a year.

Jan 20, 1:23PM EST0

You seem so tireless, what is the secret to your energy? Does it come from the food you cook?

Jan 20, 11:54AM EST0

I am in no way tireless! I require a good night's sleep, 9 hours preferably, and rest up in my free time. I am energized by the challenge of leading tours and cooking delicious food for my catering clients. I try to eat well so perhaps that helps my energy but I don't follow any special diet (vegan, gluten-free, etc.). I try to eat balanced and eat less meat and more veggies, legumes, and fruits.

Jan 20, 1:26PM EST0

How often have you gone to Morocco to take the tour and make a show of it? Why Morocco, of all places?

Jan 20, 11:49AM EST0

Although I have been wanting to travel to Morocco for a long time and had the opportunity to work closely with several Moroccan (and Tunisian) chefs, this was my first trip. I just love the food, which is complex, subtle, full of delicious locally-grown vegetables, grains, and smaller amounts of meats, which is the way I like to eat. While spicing is very important in this cuisine, it is subtle and aromatic, light on the chile and provides an undernote rather than hitting you over the head with strong flavors. 

Jan 20, 1:28PM EST0

How do you juggle doing the events such as The Magic of Spice Blends, Morocco Culinary & Cultural Tour, the book and living life as a whole?

Jan 20, 11:00AM EST0

I am a good juggler, which I learned especially during the five years that I did free-lance food styling at QVC, which ran 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because I was doing hundreds of shows in a year, always with a different author, food product, or kitchen tool, I learned to think on my feet, how to make decisions quickly, and how to work with many types of people. Now that my kids are grown, it is easier for me to juggle the various parts of my life. I am also very productive and can get a lot done in a short period, partly due to my years cooking on the line at restaurants. And, of course, I am not doing it all at once!

Jan 20, 1:31PM EST0

Can you name one great challenge for a Chef to overcome each time he/she is cooking?

Jan 20, 10:17AM EST0

That is an excellent question. Every time I (and other chefs) cook, the challenge is to maintain control and speed while at the same time, mixing in art and that little bit of love. You have to love what you do and enjoy making guests happy with what you cook, which might not be what you like personally (I am not a big shellfish lover, but I cook plenty of shrimp, scallops, and lobster and enjoy working with these products to get the most in flavor out of them while not over-cooking and seasoning them properly. 

Jan 20, 1:34PM EST0

Are you hiring a professional to help you with the marketing stuff? How long have you been working with this person?

Jan 20, 8:03AM EST0

I don't work with a professional personally though I have done extensively in the past through my various gigs and for book promotion. Right now, it's a cost that I can't justify. 

Jan 20, 8:21AM EST0

Which cuisine are you most famous for? Why are you so fond of the food? What makes them easy to prepare?

Jan 20, 4:44AM EST0

These days, I am most well-known for my pan-Mediterranean cooking, including dishes from Turkey, Greece, Israel, Italy, Tunisia and Morocco. 

I really respond to all of the cuisines that depend on olive oil and I love to work with vegetables, dairy products, and grains. As well, using fresh herbs in abundance makes for freshness and liveliness.

These dishes are mostly rustic-style, not at all formal, and they don't require the use of stocks and reductions as in French cuisine, so that makes them much easier to produce for me and for the home cook. Good ingredients in their season, fresh herbs, really good olive oil, fresh plump garlic, and ripe produce are the key. 

Jan 20, 9:27AM EST0

How long have you been catering events and which are you most famous for? Which was the most unforgettable and satisfying?

Jan 20, 1:35AM EST0

I actually started my culinary career in the 70s by catering small private events and working out of my tiny apartment kitchen. Eventually, I went into restaurant work because I wanted to find mentors to help my culinary knowledge and skills grow. Through the years, I did consulting work for a well-known caterer and eventually, though I didn't really plan to, I ended up catering full-time. Most of my catering is for weddings between 100 and 250 guests and I create a custom menu for each couple. If you go to the website, www.materialculture,com, and go to the Events tab, you'll see lots of photos and some sample menus. The most satisfying thing for me is when the happy couple gives me hugs because they are so happy with the food. 

Jan 20, 9:31AM EST0

How did you get started with being a Chef? Did you study Culinary Arts to gain the knowledge?

Jan 19, 10:59PM EST0

I am actually a self-taught chef, like many of the big names of my generation. I don't remember a time when I didn't cook and clearly remember the first complex dish I learned to make: Chiles Rellenos coated in the delicately delicious egg batter, deep-fried and laid into a chile-tomato sauce. I was 11 years old and spending the summer living in Mexico City. The Mexican woman who helped us in the house taught me to make this classic. I decided to try cooking as a career, leaving college, and thinking that if I didn't like it, I would return. That didn't happen as I kept going, working in restaurants, traveling, devouring cookbooks, and constantly striving to improve my skills. While these days most ambitious chefs will go to culinary school to jumpstart their careers (and there are a lot more choices out there now), learning on your own is another path, perhaps more challenging but also very satisfying. Also, the type of cooking that I do is quite rustic; for four-star style precision cooking using modernist equipment, it would be necessary to go to school and to stage (do short term work) in some of the famed restaurants in the world. 

Jan 20, 9:36AM EST0

How many people will be working with you each time you handle the food preparation for an event? Are they your permanent employees?

Jan 19, 10:09PM EST0

We generally have about seven in the kitchen, including me, working an event and another twelve or thirteen or so working the floor including bartenders, servers, and a supervisor. Some are part-time and a few are full-time. Because catering is so variable, it's really important to have flexibility with people that are available as needed. 

Jan 20, 9:38AM EST0

How big is your catering event each time? What is the most number of people to serve and what is the most minimum?

Jan 19, 9:42PM EST0

Our minimum for a catering event is 100 guests and our maximum for a full dinner is about 250. For a cocktail party with heavy hors d'oeuvres, we can accommodate about 300. 

Jan 20, 9:39AM EST0

How did you organize all your spices together to form a notable taste? Do you have a signature spice?

Jan 19, 8:45PM EST0

I always look to tradition when combining flavors whether by tasting foods while traveling, visiting spice markets (a favorite of mine), reading books, and talking to locals. Certain flavors marry well together and balance of pungent, salty, hot, bitter, aromatic, and funky flavors is key. You don't want to hit people over the head with flavors, but rather impart a layered selection of nuanced elements. Right now, I'm fascinated with Moroccan Ras-el-Hanout (head of the market), which is custom-made by each spicemonger for use in particular types of dishes with different versions made for fish, poultry, meat, and vegetables. I did my best to learn more about its secrets while doing several spice workshops in Morocco.

Jan 20, 9:45AM EST0
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How much further down the road are you willing to work? Have you planned on what to do when all the buzz and frenzies are done and gone?

Jan 19, 3:03PM EST0

You've read my mind. While I still love cooking professionally and get a great deal of satisfaction from preparing delicious good for happy customers, I am cutting back on my hours and looking to spend more time on free-lance projects that I can do in my own time, such as writing, leading culinary tours and consulting

Jan 19, 3:24PM EST0

How did the NBC’s Today Show appearance help your books? What other marketing strategies are you implementing?

Jan 19, 12:04PM EST0

I was able to see a big jump in sales on Amazon directly after my appearance for my book, BEANS, so I know that it was a big help and a great opportunity. I also appeared on the Today Show for my book, Field Guide to Produce, which is still one of my best-sellers. I am a bit lax in promoting my books but I find that the best method for me is to do a presentation with demo before an audience of culinary professionals and/or enthusiasts. Afterwards, many people will buy books, often in multiples.

Jan 19, 1:44PM EST0
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