Inside the Food Lab

Talking Houston With J. Kenji López-Alt

The Serious Eats managing culinary director hits Central Market to promote his new book.

By Alice Levitt February 19, 2016

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Think you know eggs? J. Kenji López-Alt knows better.

Image: Alice Levitt

What's your perfect breakfast? Serious Eats managing culinary director and "Food Lab" columnist J. Kenji López-Alt admits that the best way to start his day is with a bowl of noodles. But that doesn't stop him from spreading the gospel of ideally hard-boiling, poaching or scrambling eggs. In his New York Times best-seller The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, he does just that, along with sharing the science behind everything from Texas-style chili con carne to Mexican street corn salad and "extra-crispy" chicken fried steak. 

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As you might have guessed from the recipes shared in his book, the native Northeasterner, now a California resident, has a sweet spot for Texas. He's touring the Lone Star state from Central Market to Central Market next week, teaching classes called "The Science of Breakfast" at the Austin, Dallas and Houston locations. Those perfectly poached eggs will figure into a from-scratch Benedict, complete with "foolproof" Hollandaise sauce, as well as maple-sage breakfast sausage and his go-to lazy Saturday breakfast, potato hash.

But if his favorite breakfast is noodles, why focus on eggs? "Anytime I write about eggs, it turns out to be an incredibly popular story," López-Alt explains by phone from California. "Eggs are among the first things people are going to try to cook. They undergo a really amazing transformation: It's a liquidy thing and then they turn solid and you get all types of textures out of them." All the better to explain the chemistry that defines each of those transmogrifications. 

The techniques taught in the book and in his personal appearances are true basics, but López-Alt doesn't want readers to stop there. "One of the reasons I picked classics for the book is to serve as a better foundation for the science lessons. If someone is already interested in making macaroni and cheese, it helps to make the science more accessible and understandable." From there, there's room to innovate with a new version of macaroni and cheese, say, Kata Robata's miso-lobster iteration.

López-Alt would probably enjoy the dish, though it's not among the favorites he mentions when recounting past culinary highlights in Houston. He's a fan of the Bayou City's Chinatown, "It's so huge and impressive," he marvels, but dug the slicker Asian fusion of Underbelly, too. He also recalls enjoying meals at Gatlin's BBQ, Ninfa's on Navigation and cocktails at Anvil Bar & Refuge. "My impression is that it is a city with pretty strong roots in barbecue and Tex-Mex and seems to be branching out with all the Asian immigrants now and the flavors that brings."

Sadly, the wait list for his Houston class is currently 24 people deep. But chances are, López-Alt will be back sooner rather than later. "I like coming to Texas," he says. "The only thing stopping me is time."


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