I’m one of those fancy chefs who serves small portions, treats the plate like a canvas and uses flowers and ingredients you’ve never heard of. But I’m also a fan of shortcuts.

Many of the world’s best chefs will readily admit to resorting to shortcuts when they’re cooking.


While we were staying at the Casa Tres Coronitas in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, last October, I asked the house chef, Marilu, to show me how to make her famous salsa. She was giving me a lesson and it was nothing out of the ordinary — tomatillos, onion, garlic, chiles de arbol, salt. And then she reached into the cupboard to pull out her “secret ingredient” — Knorr powdered chicken bouillon. Sure enough, when I tried it at home (with the bag of Knorr powdered chicken bouillon Marilu picked up for me at the supermercado), it contributed a salty umami depth that was missing before I added it. Couldn’t have been the MSG, could it?? More

Temples of Borobudur

When I was a kid, we had an Indonesian exchange student live with us for awhile. His name was Radi. He was a skinny, excitable chap with thick glasses who was eager to introduce his American hosts to Indonesian culture. This included ferreting out an Indonesian market and restaurant deep in an Asian pocket of the San Fernando Valley.

Borobudur in San Francisco

My parents were travelers and adventurous eaters. So even in the comparatively dismal dining scene of my childhood neighborhood, ours were regular faces at the nearest Chinese, Japanese and Thai restaurants. But here was something completely new. More