In the Kitchen With: Mike Friedman
For Mike Friedman, cooking was neither a birthright nor an early passion.
"I can't give you that story of sitting on my grandmother's knee learning to make kreplach. And it's not like I held a whisk the first time and it felt like Harry Potter's wand."
What he held was a degree in communications from Boston University that he didn't know what to do with and a job at a radio station he didn't like.
Moving in with his folks in Washington, D.C., he found that his mother had moved her collection of cookbooks into his room.
"I started reading them and they just calmed my nerves. I thought, 'Why not give cooking a go?'"
A decade--plus a CIA degree, plus stints at NYC's The Modern and with José Andrés--later, Friedman and his two partners run the Red Hen, one of the best-liked openings of the last year in the nation's capital.
The restaurant "leans Italian," Friedman says. That means meats cooked in a hearth over an open flame and house-extruded dry pastas, like mezze rigatoni and creste di gallo shaped like a rooster's cockscomb.
And it means that Friedman, who grew up in a Jewish household in an Italian neighborhood and got behind a stove later in life, isn't limited by orthodox notions of Italian authenticity.
Take his fried baby artichokes with dill and anchovy-caper aioli (see the recipe). It may not be strictly traditional, but it is simple, addictive and kind of awesome.
"This is essentially a Roman Jewish dish, so it represents both of my backgrounds. They're not usually served with sauce, but I wanted something salty and earthy with it. Anchovies just give everything this umami-ish, salty, earthy quality that isn't quite fishy but is not not fishy, if that makes sense."
Yes, chef. That makes sense.
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