So you wanna be a Test Kitchen intern.... Meet Mary Pat Kuppig
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No, there’s never a dull moment in the Test Kitchen. Forget coffee -- sometimes it seems we’re running on high-octane fuel to power through the day, whether we’re exploring one or several new techniques, refining a set of recipes, styling a dish for the next Food cover or taping a batch of television segments. Occasionally, we find we’re doing a little of all of that at once. And every day it’s different.
But as busy things sometimes get, it’s hard not to have fun. In fact, just this past Friday, my interns were cleaning out the refrigerators and surprised me with a lovely homemade whipped cream pie....
In addition to our full-time staff, we host interns from culinary schools all over the United States, including international students. These students receive hands-on training as they learn the finer points of recipe testing and development (recipe reading, wording, problem solving, adapting for the home kitchen and testing for consistent results). The students also learn tips for food styling and interact with chefs, writers and food professionals of all kinds. Over the last few months, I’ve introduced some of our Test Kitchen interns, including, most recently, Kat Nitsou, Joe Moon and Maria Sulprizio. Here I introduce Mary Pat Kuppig, on loan from the Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles (Hollywood Campus).
-- Noelle Carter
It’s Friday, and even though we’re nearing the end of the work week, this looks to be an extra busy day: we’re shooting ‘Eat Beat’ segments for KTLA and double-checking some recipes we hope to run soon.
I start the day with a trip to a wholesale produce vendor in Downtown L.A. to pick up several pounds of Romano beans for the video shoot. Not commonly found in grocery stores, seasonal Romano beans are long, broad, flat Italian beans. They are much meatier than your garden-variety green beans. I put in an order the night before to make sure we’d have plenty on hand for the shoot, and secretly I’m excited to use them -- I’ve never tried Romano beans before, and they sound very appealing.
When I left the corporate world a few years back, I immersed myself in my passions: organic gardening, natural healing and food. Nothing thrills me more than surprising friends and family by pulling together a savory and satisfying meal that is as enjoyable as it is healthy. I soon realized I had become everyone’s go-to person in these areas and decided to pursue a ‘second-act’ career with first-class credentials.
I’m now immersed in dual programs, studying culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu and working on my American Dietetic Assn. certification as a nutrition educator and coach. Eventually, I want to make a living coaching and teaching healthy cooking and food habits -- but without sacrificing big flavor. Which brings me back to those Romano beans....
Even wholesale, the beans seem a bit expensive, though they’re massive and meaty-looking and I’m excited to try them. I’m filing a mental note to research possibly growing them in my garden next year.
When I get to the kitchen, everyone is prepping recipes to various stages for the video shoot. It’s all part of the ‘magic’ of TV; we’ll prep a dish to various points in a recipe so the on-camera talent can demonstrate the steps and finished product. The video segments may take several hours to prepare, and around an hour to shoot (what with all the different camera angles and steps), but after editing may be only 1-/2 to 2 minutes long. We can’t expect viewers to wait 20 minutes while we cook vegetables, or 40 minutes to bake a cake....
Noelle is just beginning to shoot a video segment on whole-wheat pancakes. As she talks to the camera, someone is making a batch of pancakes to fill a plate for the finished shot, while another person monitors the progress of an apple walnut loaf as it bakes in the oven (this loaf will need to be done by the time Noelle shows taking it out of the oven for her next segment). Meanwhile, I’m helping another intern, Joe, as he double-checks a recipe for strawberry coconut cake, quietly chopping strawberries so the microphones don’t pick up the noise on camera.
When Noelle’s segments are shot, we prep the ingredients for the next segment. Food Editor Russ Parsons is up, and he’s going to demonstrate the romano beans recipe! We stage the ingredient props for the opening shot. On a large wooden cutting board, pancetta is curled up on itself like a blooming flower. The beans are mounded in a beautiful pile next to a bowl of bright cherry tomatoes and a wedge of creamy Taleggio cheese. Basil leaves peek out from behind a (strategically placed) scattering of onions and garlic, bookended by a bottle of olive oil.
Even though I’ve already prepared our romano bean recipe through several stages, there are still complications and delays I do not anticipate. For one step, I have to shift the contents from one hot pan (the one I used to cook) to another (the on-camera pan) at the last minute for visual continuity. I juggle prep and various batches of the recipe throughout the demonstration so the items are ready as needed.
All through the demonstration, the wonderful smells from the bean dish build in an intoxicating way, and it’s been hours since breakfast… I’m particularly delighted when Russ finishes the demo with his characteristic line, “And there you have it….” We clean off the counter, and prepare for the final segment. The beans are ready to eat. Ravenously, I dig into the beans. They are warm and meaty, layered with rich flavor. The Taleggio melts in my mouth.
Before too long, it’s time to clean up and head home for the weekend. I grab some of the leftover romano beans and begin to imagine how good the recipe might be substituting ingredients I have at home, perhaps a little applewood-smoked bacon for the pancetta, and shaved parmesan for the Taleggio. The week might be over, but my testing continues as soon as I can get home, open a bottle of wine, and try my own twist on romano beans…
-- Mary Pat Kuppig