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The Crew from SVKitchen Interview

There are a lot of food blogs out there, and many good sous vide websites. SVKitchen, a collaboration by Pam McKinstry, Sally MacColl, Pete Johnson, and Suzette Mahr, is the rare combination of both.

They have recipes for common dishes like ribs, duck, and chicken to dishes most people would never think of doing sous vide. They are one of my must-read websites and they were gracious enough to answer some questions I had for them.

1) One thing that helps to separate your blog from other sous vide blogs is that you are all very accomplished in traditional cooking and have been in and around cooking for many years. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how the SVKitchen group came together?

An adventurous cook, Pam was fascinated by the sous vide technique from its early days, when a basic setup was a multi-thousand-dollar investment. Pete is a tinkerer who likes to build things. Pam encouraged Pete to cobble together a homebrew water oven from aquarium parts but in the course of their discussions the SousVide Supreme came out. Next thing you know, Pam, Pete, and Sally each ordered a machine.

When we all got our machines (literally within weeks of each other), we realized that there was a need for original, well written recipes that the average home cook could make. Our team works because we have complementary skills and talents. But we all love food and cooking, we all test each other's recipes, and we even take turns on photography and writing and the other creative aspects of producing the site.

Pam started her first restaurant on Nantucket Island in 1979, and she's been involved in the culinary scene since then, having gone on to create two other restaurants and a catering company. She's written five cookbooks and collaborated on two others. Currently she's a culinary consultant for Earthbound Farm and develops recipes for their website every month. She loves the sous vide technique for its convenience and versatility, and says she wishes that sous vide had been available to her during her restaurant and catering years!

Sally is an adventurous home cook who likes experimenting with spices and other ways to boost flavor. Sally and Pam first met at Pam's Nantucket restaurant, and they've been fast friends ever since. They frequently collaborate on recipes, and whenever they get together, the ideas fly.

Pete handles the technical side and is our webmaster. Suzette keeps us all in line as project and editorial manager.


2) A lot of your dishes use sous vide to improve upon or simplify traditional dishes like your custards, bearnaise sauce, and even your ribs. Can you walk us through your process for taking a traditional dish and using sous vide to improve it?

Pam is frequently inspired to experiment with dishes that require precise timing or careful attention to cooking technique, such as bearnaise sauce. She says that the idea that you can throw all the ingredients for an emulsified sauce in a bag or jar and cook it without any effort ? other than setting a timer ? is nothing short of miraculous. She also likes to see how far sous vide cooking can be stretched in terms of scope and concept. Not having a professional vacuum sealing machine limits this to some extent, but she is always thinking of new things to try. The flavor component of sous vide cooking is very intriguing to her. Even with very little liquid (or none in many cases), and a light hand with spices, herbs, and other aromatics, the flavor impact with this style of cooking is amazing.

Sally will typically pick a dish she already prepares traditionally and then brainstorm ways sous vide could improve it ? if its preparation is even possible with our home equipment. After that, she just experiments. She's learned that some things aren't really improved with sous vide; however, the dishes that can actually be enhanced by the sous vide prep, especially proteins like meat, poultry, and fish, are real eye-openers.


3) I feel some people use sous vide for the sake of using sous vide, in your opinion what is the most important thing to remember when choosing to use sous vide instead of a traditional method when cooking a dish?

Pam notes that in many cases it will take longer to cook sous vide?style than in a traditional oven. But, you don't have to worry about overcooking, which is kind of revolutionary when you think about it. Also, it makes the most of cheap, tough cuts of meat, really transforming them into something succulent and delicious without breaking the bank. And it's hot where she lives, so she likes using the water oven because it doesn't add significant heat to the kitchen.

Sally says that for her, it is absolutely the taste and texture in the final result. Hands down, nothing else matters, except perhaps the ease of prep, e.g., not watching the pot, not worrying about overcooking and dryness.


4) What is your favorite sous vide dish to make? What is the most interesting use of sous vide that you have seen?

For Pam, it's bearnaise sauce, dulce de leche, preserved lemons, and ice cream bases. She is intrigued by compressed fruits, but laments she can't do them with her home setup. Or at least she hasn't figured out a way yet...

For Sally and her husband, Allan, it's the Rainy Day Ribeye, with its complex mix of flavors. However they just made a tenderloin of beef "to die for ? it was perfect," and a turkey breast using an herbal rub that was so perfectly moist, tender, and flavorful, it will absolutely be a staple in their refrigerator.


5) As a group that successfully pushes the boundaries between traditional cooking and sous vide, where do you think the future of sous vide is headed?

Pam's hope is that it will become mainstream, in the same way that the microwave became ubiquitous. It is obviously never going to replace the oven, the grill, or the stove, but it is a great piece of equipment to have in your arsenal. She says that if she never used it for anything other than 8 or 10 recipes, she'd be happy. And adds that if you like to entertain a lot, it is an essential tool that really reduces the stress of timing during a dinner party.

Sally thinks its popularity will grow but to a niche market of accomplished and passionate cooks looking to expand their horizons.

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