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Chef Juba Kali

by Michele Pesula Kuegler | August 26th, 2011 | Chef Interviews
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Season 7 of Food Network Star may have ended, but our interviews of the contestants continue.  Although eliminated in the second episode, Juba Kali displayed fabulous knowledge of food and cooking.  We were able to speak with him and learn more about this fabulous chef.

TT:  As a chef, scientist and Food Network Star contestant, you have a vast amount of cooking knowledge and experience.  What is one simple food or cooking fact our readers should know that will improve their cooking?

JK:  One of my pet peeves that is EASILY avoidable is the overcooking of vegetables.  One can vastly improve their kitchen prowess by UNDER cooking our fibrous friends.  When cooking green veggies, heat them only to the point where they turn a bright green and then take off the heat.  This happens very fast, around one to three minutes, so BE ATTENTIVE.   Heartier vegetables like carrots and brussel sprouts, I like to blanch in salted water for 1-2 minutes, then add to whatever I’m making.

TT:  Working as a research chef, you are well educated about the food you work with.  Do you think home chefs should learn more about the foods they’re cooking with?

JK:  Most definitely.  Knowing HOW TO COOK is completely different from BEING ABLE TO COOK.  Any body can cook and do it well, knowing how to cook involves having an understanding of the properties (texture, season, taste, and even memories) of the ingredients we use.

TT:  Your cooking talent was obvious on Food Network Star.  Is there a cooking technique that a home cook could master to wow their dinner guests?

JK:  Two things that can a person can do instantly to wow guests is presentation and color contrast.  We eat with our eyes before our mouths, so how our food looks can greatly improve any dish. A dish that’s all one color or has similar colors can look boring, try to break things up a bit by using contrasting colors.  For example, if there’s a lot of green on the plate, I like to spice things up with red or orange.  When plating, presentation is KEY.  Remember LESS IS MORE.  Keep it simple, build height, keep all components tight and clean and don’t be afraid to experiment with plating concepts.

TT:  Conversely, is there a cooking technique that should be left to the restaurants?

JK:  THERE ARE NO COOKING TECHNIQUES THAT SHOULD BE LEFT TO RESTAURANTS!  EXPERIMENT. LEARN. STUDY. EXECUTE. DON’T BE INTIMIDATED.

TT:  Now a little bit about you: what are your future plans?  Will you return to your research chef job, write a cookbook?

JK:  Whatever I do in the future, I want to have creative expression.  I believe that we are all here for one another and would like to foster creative community and collaborate with other creative people.  If you have an idea for a collaboration of ANY kind, contact me at www.jubakali.com.  A partner and I are collaborating with artists and musicians every week at our pop-up restaurant The Burrito Juke Joint in New Orleans.  We have a stage where local musicians play, visual artists and filmmakers their display works, people come for great food, great environment, great people and are building community.  It’s AWESOME.

TT:  You made dishes that represented your hometown.  What is your favorite New Orleans dish?

JK:  Whenever I leave New Orleans, the thing I crave the most are beignets.  Having said that, I LOVE seafood and consider it a luxury to have great seafood virtually all year round.  One of my favorite pastimes here (New Orleans) is plopping up at a bar and ordering a good microbrew and a dozen oysters on the half shell.

TT:  What was the best part about your Food Network Star experience?

JK:  The CREW!  Having wardrobe, make up artists and wranglers (Moms) to do everything for you is pretty awesome.  If y’all are reading this, I miss you, please come back 🙂

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