‘The Food Lab’ Chef Is Bringing Scientifically Ideal Fried Chicken to Somerville
A cookbook that hit shelves last month could almost be mistaken for an undergrad textbook. The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science is a hefty, 960 pages, and includes not only hundreds of classic recipes, but also clear and illuminating—and seriously wonky—explanations of technique.
Would you expect anything less from Serious Eats‘ resident nerd, managing culinary director J. Kenji López-Alt? Working through the scientific method, Kenji, as he is known to his followers, has published the platonic ideal of favorite recipes like macaroni and cheese, chopped salads, battered onion rings, and more on his James Beard Award-nominated blog, The Food Lab, since 2009. The new book translates a few hundred of them onto paper, accompanied with vivid photography, for the perfectionist home cook.
On Thursday, October 27, Kenji is stopping by Kirkland Tap & Trotter with signed copies of The Food Lab, as well as plenty of his crunchy, juicy, Southern-style fried chicken. During the pop-up event, guests can choose to dine family-style with Kenji himself, perhaps taking the opportunity to pick his brain on the merits of buttermilk brining, or simply order the bird a la carte.
The pop-up is something of a homecoming stop on Kenji’s book tour: He studied biology and architecture at MIT, but tired of lab work and found his way into restaurant kitchens. Before honing his culinary wonkiness as a Cook’s Illustrated editor at America’s Test Kitchen in Brookline, Kenji and Kirkland Tap & Trotter chef/owner Tony Maws worked together, and the two remained friends as Maws opened Craigie Street Bistrot, Craigie on Main, and KT&T, and as Kenji moved to the West Coast and carved out his niche on Serious Eats.
His prose is entertaining and accessible on both his blog and in the new book. Kenji writes in The Food Lab that the ideal fried chicken he remembers growing up was actually from a grease-stained KFC bucket. “But times have changed, and as is often the case, revisiting those fond childhood memories results only in disappointment and disillusionment,” he writes. “I may still dig the ultracrunchy, well-spiced crust that KFC puts on its birds, but that’s about the only thing it has going for it. Flaccid skin, dry and stringy breast meat, and chicken that tastes like, well, it’s hard to tell if it really tastes like anything once you get rid of the crust.”
Inspired by that nostalgically perfect drumstick, the chef has improved upon it with a five-spice, buttermilk-brined, light and crispy recipe for juicy morsels of fried chicken. The cooks at Kirkland Tap & Trotter will follow the method to its precise specs so Kenji can chat with fans during the pop-up event, running from 5:30 until the chicken is gone. A copy of the new book and a seat at the communal table comes with the $75 prix-fixe meal ticket, and reservations are required.
Kirkland Tap & Trotter, 425 Washington St., Somerville; 857-259-6585; kirklandtapandtrotter.com.