Cook: Don't sweat the small stuff, have fun

McKnight

The recommendation for today’s cook came to us from an authoritative source, Charleston’s own Nathalie Dupree. Nathalie’s kitchen is foremost a classroom, as she has mentored dozens if not hundreds of interns over the years. A delightful part of that experience is becoming an inductee into the “club” of Nathalie’s “chickens,” which really is an honor with a smile on its face.

Name: Daniel M. McKnight

Age: 24

Residence: Charleston

Occupation: Restoration

Family: Mark McKnight, father; June McKnight, mother; Drew McKnight, sister; Gus McKnight, brother; Stewart McKnight, brother; Tucker, dog.

Q. With your interest in food and cooking, what would be your dream job?

A. A dream job actually working in food and food prep every day, for me, would probably be as a private chef or as a caterer. Kitchens are hectic enough places, even before orders come flying in, and I don’t perform well in those high-stress types of environments ... Realistically, I would like to work in food history, maybe as a writer.

I like to pick up secondhand cookbooks at thrift stores and whatnot in hopes that some previous owner has taken some sort of interest in it and maybe, hopefully, has added his/her own spin to a number of recipes; I like to then try the original recipe and their altered one to get a sense of what caused this change to be made and its effectiveness within the dish.

I also enjoy learning about food origins, so food historian is something that’s right up my alley.

Q. You had a five-month internship with Nathalie Dupree. What is the single most valuable thing you learned from her?

A. After all of our conversations about types of flour, growing seasons, cooking times and presentation, the single most important piece of advice I ever received from Nathalie was that when it comes to hosting a dinner party — for any occasion — that the gathering of people to enjoy themselves and each other’s company is what matters most. Basically, don’t sweat the small stuff and enjoy yourself, everyone else is enjoying just being there.

Q. Who or what in the past inspired you to want to cook? And what is the pleasure of cooking for you?

A. As a child, I was always watching what my mom was preparing in the kitchen, I even got in the way on my favorite breakfast days, blueberry muffins. So I guess I’ve always had a natural interest in food and food prep, but it wasn’t until my high school days that I really began to explore cuisine.

I was living with my father at the time and we were going out to eat a lot as he was single and never could cook much of anything except homemade French fries, which are very good.

Eventually, I got fed up with endlessly eating out at the same restaurants every week as my brother was quite the picky eater, so I began to cook from home. I started with things I knew the family liked, and expanded out from there.

Q. Your favorite celebrity chef, and why?

A. My favorite celebrity chef(s), after Nathalie Dupree, of course, would have to be the stars of the 1990s BBC series, “Two Fat Ladies,” Clarissa Wright and Jennifer Paterson. They are my earliest food personality memory, and I found them to be extremely fascinating, from their old motorcycle and sidecar intro to their ridiculous, indiscernible bickering as they filmed. They just made cooking look like fun.

Q. To date, what is a dish or dessert that you have made or created that you were most proud of? What were its challenges?

A. Caramel Sauce. It was through this dish that I learned cooking is as much about sound as it is smell, sight or taste. First off, who doesn’t love a good caramel or caramel sauce? It is a universal dessert topping. While you are making caramel, however, you cannot just trust how it looks or smells, but you will know it’s close to done by its sounds. Caramel may seem simple enough, but like many dishes, it only takes a fraction of a second of overcooking to ruin the whole thing.

Listening to bubbles as they begin to reduce in size but increase in number is important. That means you have reached the soft-crack stage and are seconds away from a perfect caramel, and a minute away from burnt garbage.

The thing about a “burnt” caramel is that it won’t necessarily look burnt ...”

Q. The knife you like best and why.

A. My favorite knife is my Cutco brand paring knife. The beauty of the paring knife is that it is the smaller version of a regular “chef’s knife,” meaning it is easier to control and feasible for a multitude of tasks big or small.

From “Charleston Receipts Repeats”

“A beautiful first course”

Serves: 6

Cooks: 25 minutes

Chill: 2 hours to overnight

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups water

3/4 cup light red wine

1/2 cup sugar

2 generous tablespoons of lemon juice

1 quart of strawberries, hulled and pureed

1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped

1/4 cup sour cream or plain greek yogurt

Blueberries, for garnish

Fresh mint, for garnish

Directions

Combine water, wine, sugar and lemon juice. Boil 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add strawberries, boiling 10 minutes more, stirring frequently. Cool to lukewarm. Combine whipped cream with sour cream or yogurt and fold into strawberry mixture. Chill well.

— Mrs. Lloyd Arthur Pearson (Margaret Ann Boyd)