S1: What’s the one thing Johnny can do that will blow her mind.

S2: The plates that he serves on. They’re gonna be warm. Nine times out of ten. Ex boyfriends trying to impress their girlfriends make their hot food and then put it on cold plates. It’s a little shivery and it’s just a bad luck that and napkins napkins. Yeah I mean I can see in your eyes Charles you make me out like Alan all here like Mr. Sensitive. But I’m telling you that a cloth napkin sends a message that you’re not a bad guy.

S3: Welcome to how to I’m Charles Dudek. Each week we talk to listeners who are trying to figure out how to solve one of life’s big problems like how to withstand pain or how to fire a bad employee. Then we do some research and we track down an expert and we learn how to solve the problem. This week we’re headed to Brooklyn in the apartment of Johnny livin.

S4: Here’s the doorbell. Hey hey how you doing. Welcome to my home. I’m Charles Zani nice tonight. It is is it. This is Grace.

S5: Johnny’s originally from Chicago but he came to New York eight years ago to study film and television at NYU. And how old are you.

S6: I’m 26. OK. If I was talking to your roommates and asking them to describe you what would they say. Massey especially when it comes to cooking just like it’s kind of like a nuclear explosion like everything goes everywhere.

S7: The thing is Johnny’s got a lot of great qualities but he says there’s one area where he could really use some work. Yes he needs to up his game in the kitchen just to become a better cook.

S8: There is a catalyzing moment for me which was I was sitting on my couch in my living room with my ex-girlfriend and my roommate had his friend Brian over who was visiting from out of town and Brian was cooking breakfast and he was dazzling. He was doing that thing where shaking the pan. And it’s also like above the fire like fresh and tossing it up and down. And my girlfriend was just staring at him like mouth open just amazed and I think especially in contrast to to my difficulties and I was just like I want to be like Brian he just has so much control. He has confidence in himself. My ex-girlfriend she could cut vegetables like bam bam bam bam bam bam.

S9: And she didn’t she didn’t leave you for Brian. She didn’t leave even right.

S8: Luckily Brian lives across the country but a week later she’s like I talked about Brian in therapy and I was like oh my god that must have been like Visa V me that look I think he was so poised and in control.

S10: He was smooth and I am not like that and it’s not just that Johnny is in smooth one time for instance I woke up early I went to the gym and then I bought one of those. I say I say okay jackets and then a bunch of fruit and hemp seeds and I put in the blender and cut it up all nice and then she ate it and it made her violently ill and she was throwing up on the sidewalk and we were taking the ferry to an event she had at Roosevelt Island and she was nauseous and then like the fairies about a dock and she jumps off early just like throw up more on the dock. Meanwhile they’re shaming her on the public address system like you miss. You cannot get off the ferry early Oh oh no she she’s throwing up. It was horribly embarrassing and not my fault.

S11: What did you how did you screw up. I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe it was the hemp seeds.

S9: How long ago did you guys break up. Well a few months ago. OK. Yeah it’s still kind of like yeah.

S12: RA Yeah I’ll give Jenny this whatever skills he’s lacking.

S13: He is at least are really enthusiastic and it is possible that learning how to cook the right meal might make the difference in his love life.

S6: I texted my ex-girlfriend for what my difficulties in the kitchen were. What can I improve. She said chopping onions with skin still on eyeballing measurements general nastiness knife skills lots of spelling. They said that falls under General messiness and you said issues with heat like what medium heat or summer means on the stove. And I do agree that’s what stressed me out again talking about precision. It’s like turn the thing to medium heat.

S8: Like why don’t they just say 7 or whatever or or low. Why are we talking in code here. And then she also said struggles with kitchen slang like what a clove of garlic means.

S9: So what you text in your drug friend recently to ask about. Yeah. Yeah. In preparation. OK yeah. So you guys are still in town. Yeah yeah. So we’re still. And are you like hoping that like if you are better in the kitchen you’re gonna like rekindle the flame or who knows.

S6: Yes OK. This is my fatal flaw so once it’s corrected I don’t know who you really are like You’re on fire.

S9: Yeah. No she won’t be able to turn you down. Exactly.

S7: So we decided to help John and get better in the kitchen by talking to this guy.

S2: I’m Sam Sifton. I’m the food editor of The New York Times and the founding editor of NYT Cooking.

S13: When we come back we’ll see if Sam can help Johnny win back his girlfriend or at least cook a chicken all the way through.

S14: He’s just got to be confident about that and he’s not looking to make some frilly over the top impressive meal. It’s just gonna make a really good meal and feel good about it and deliver it to someone he cares about and everything’s going to be okay.

S13: So you are a man who knows food. I know a couple things here are there. Sam Sifton is the food editor of The New York Times and he’s the paper’s former restaurant critic. That’s a tough job to complain about. He’s the author of a number of amazing cookbooks. My wife actually loves them. In other words Sam’s a guy who knows his way around a kitchen. But what’s amazing about his writing and his recipes is you never feel like he’s a snob.

S15: I’m not a chef. I’m just a regular Joe. I’m a reporter who happens to cover the stuff and I’m a critic who happens to think about it a lot but I’m not dissimilar from most people who cook.

S7: And that’s actually why we wanted to talk to you because it’s this young guy reached out to us and he has a lady friend that was hoping to impress. And this guy is a terrible cook like E.. Like he doesn’t know what he’s doing in the kitchen which is not that totally dissimilar from me I must say.

S15: It’s true of a lot of people. Yeah. It’s also not true for most of them. They think they’re terrible cooks but there’s something they know how to do. And if they can access the confidence that they have when they’re making popcorn or mixing up that weird cereal and yogurt concoction or whatever it is access that confidence and you’re gonna be able to cook that closer meal you’re looking for with your special friend.

S7: I asked him who I should mention is happily married now and has kids. But I asked him when he was young like how did he try and impress other people in the kitchen.

S15: I never had a sort of go to like you know I make him the pick. And it’s game over. I wish that were the case. But but it’s not. I was as I’m arguing others should seeking self-confidence in the kitchen so that I could serve a delicious meal that would bring happiness to to someone else. So my game was what is that what’s the sort of simplest impressive thing that I can pull off.

S7: So. So this is actually brings up the first question which is when is the right time to try and make a meal for someone.

S2: I’m not generally in the business. I’m often in the business of throwing. So I’m just gonna say third day marking time or date minimum. Okay. I’m thinking that’s the safest.

S16: There you have it. Sam’s first rule is don’t even attempt to cook a meal until your third date.

S14: Johnny is nervous about this so we’re gonna keep this as simple as possible so we’re gonna make skin on bone in chicken thighs so chicken thighs.

S5: We’re gonna go that’s our protein. We’re not we’re not we’re not going to do like an order no appetizer.

S14: No no. You might have a bowl of nuts OK. But what Johnny needs is confidence he got in touch with you because he’s a lousy cook or thinks he’s a lousy cook. Right it’s true. So maybe what he heard was I’d like a really complicated meal and I’d like there to be all this stuff and there’s gonna be champagne and there’s gonna be order. What’s Johnny going to do a tasting menu now. This is the next rule.

S17: If you want to cook at least one meal really well you need to know some basics about food right. But more than anything else you need. Confidence.

S2: And the best way to do that is to be a master of his surroundings now and not to have too much going on but to know the points he’s going to hit and he can hit this main course of the chicken starch and vegetable serve this amazing melted cheese because 90 percent of people eat their cheese cold from the fridge. But here we’re gonna have it. Room temperature and using and melting and very sensual and that’s a pretty good look. Yeah. And then a playful touch at the end with a dessert which I’ll give you. That’s bonkers. So it works every time.

S1: OK so going back to Johnny I’m gonna give him this Sam Sifton self-improvement confidence building prep speech and then he s actually make a meal. Yeah yeah. Okay. So he’s got chicken he’s got some chicken breasts.

S2: No no see already you’re screwing Johnny. So the problem with the breasts is it’s really easy to overcook a chicken breast of any of that dry sawdust the right white meat scenario and that’s just not a recipe for a win. Okay. Going chicken thighs which are fatty or more forgiving more flavor cheaper not for nothing. And and and to my mind infinitely more delicious. Okay okay. So he’s got chicken thigh so he has the chicken thighs. Now for a starch we’re gonna go with rice that’s it that’s it that’s it. It’s gonna be perfect rice and I know he’s nervous about that but he’s gonna go to Delancey Street and buy a rice cooker and that’s gonna stand him in good stead for the rest of his life. Whatever happens on this date a rice cooker is a relatively inexpensive piece of technology that has one job to make perfect rice and it does it every single time.

S5: So Johnny didn’t actually have a race so he went out and I bought one for him and then I came back. And then he headed into his kitchen and got started.

S18: All right. Are we supposed to wash the rice before we cook the rice. I think I kind of remember that.

S5: Jamie’s Kitchen is pretty small and it’s very very bare it is about what you would expect from like a 26 year old guy who lives in the shared apartment there’s a there’s a bottle of gin in the freezer and it’s actually this chili that Johnny’s mom sent him in 2017 but the kitchen does have a microwave.

S6: Okay. My microwave is busted and it’s busted because I used to use it as a timer but I didn’t use the timer function I would still have it operate so I just turned with nothing in it and it kind of went Ker Plunk and it’s a beautiful big microwave so you fried your own microwave Yeah using it as a timer yep when you would actually run the microwave empty in order to use the timer function interact.

S9: Have you told your landlord yet that you tried there. I am trying to make it seem like it’s their fault.

S5: This is another rule don’t run an empty microwave because you’re too lazy to get a real timer. Also.

S19: Don’t let your landlord listen to this podcast. So we started with the first step of the recipe Sam gave me.

S2: Bring some water to the boil as they say in the cookbook trade heavily salted water and I’d get my green beans into that water for like three minutes max and then get them under the sink under a lot of cold cold cold water to to arrest the cooking process. Okay. They’ll be bright green as a result of this. Nice nice. Right yeah. Feet if you have a calendar. And Johnny I hope you have a calendar you can. You can run it through the calendar and I’ll get that hot water out of there faster and you can ice it and get a quick but if you don’t you’ll figure it out. Just get those things cold as quickly as possible and then you can put them aside thank you already.

S18: Oh I think more water you want a lot more a lot more cold water. I think so. We’ve got the rice cooking in the rice cooker. We’ve got water boiling so we can throw in some green beans for three minutes. It turns out that Johnny does in fact own a Collender which is great and that means it is time to start in on the chicken. The first thing you do is season the the chicken which you want to do.

S2: Like really aggressively. OK. Meaning Meaning like more than it feels like I should. Yeah. You should be like Wow that’s a lot we’re gonna do like a kind of like a like a fake coffee which is a French process of cooking in its own fat. OK. We’re not cooking in chicken fat we’ll be cooking in olive oil and not a ton but a lot. So what what you want to do is get some salt and pepper on there quite a lot of salt. Quite a lot of pepper really massage it in there. And then I think hey it’s Chinese party but I’m offering the instruction Yeah. So we’re gonna go with some rosemary as well. Crazy right. Super fragrant Piney funky really nice little off the hook my friend. This is gonna be good. We’re getting crazy and maybe some red pepper flakes if you have some leftover from the pizzeria when you bought those slices right after the last one. All right we’ll get a little spicy too.

S20: OK so take yourself take your pepper and like you just want to go to town like like just as it.

S21: Yes. You’re doing great. That’s exactly. Man you’re killing keep on going.

S2: Now we’re gonna get a big high sided pan. Okay. I don’t know how many pants Johnny has. I’m going to guess three.

S11: How many pants you have.

S1: I have one two three. So what’s the biggest pan that you own.

S2: This guy that that’s the biggest band we’re gonna take the biggest one and we’re gonna put a lot of olive oil in there okay. Like like when you say a lot. How much do you mean like glug glug glug glug glug glug glug glug glug glug glug. I think it’s like 14 slugs is a lot of glass is it when I put the chicken in. Is it gonna be submerged. No it’s not. But we’re also not skimming the pan with just a little oil.

S9: I think it’s all about nature.

S8: You just roll with it glug glug glug glug glug glug.

S2: So we have a lot of olive oil in there. If you have a bailiff that would be cool to go in that all well but I’m guessing Johnnie doesn’t have a penalty. That’s OK. That’s OK. Medium heat medium heat meaning in the oven. So on the stove top Charles. OK. There’s a dial under each one of the burners and usually they’re labeled low medium and high. We want to go in the middle and this is a moment for reflection. Watching that oil. What what do you reflect about. Well I’m actually just spacing out and watching the oil because it changes a little bit.

S22: It begins to move right a bit and eventually it’s going to take on this thing that is like a mirage a little bit of a shimmer and then we know it’s pretty hot and then it’s a kind of an opportunity to contemplate our lives and you know change is inevitable.

S18: Is this the right girl to be making this chicken for eventually when it’s time to stop contemplating life’s most important questions the oil will be relatively hot and that’s when we put in our chicken.

S23: Exactly. We go for it. Looking good. You want it bubbling but you don’t want it out of control. And you can move pretty slowly. OK. This is a very forgiving process for Johnny who’s nervous and doesn’t know what he’s doing.

S24: Oh sorry. So there’s a lot of oil. OK. But nobody’s hurt. Yes.

S2: And after about 15 or 20 minutes turn the pieces over I would say I would start skin down skin. It’s meaning. Meaning the meaning breasts like the top of the chicken down. Yeah. So their thighs and your breasts obsession is laudable but misplaced. Their thighs and you and and they have a side that is mostly skin and aside that is mostly not skin. Right. So I would put the skin side down so that it has more of a chance of Chris being at the OK.

S24: I think let’s let’s let’s flip on that. I think it’s time to flip. Nice. Well dyed oils that can a little bit but.

S2: So that’s going and in fact if you feel that the chicken is done you can take it out and just like kind of let it hang out on a on a platter on a plate and you know notice that I used the word platter and you used the word. I feel like this is where the pro tip starts. Yeah. And get the platter. Get the platter. OK. Make it warm. OK. So your chicken is or is going to be done. We’re confident that it’s going to be beautiful. It’s going to look like a beautiful piece of furniture. This mahogany color it’s going to be just fantastic. I’m feeling very confident right now. Is it done. I’m a little nervous about that. We cooked six of these things. One of them is sacrificial. OK so why do you thinks it’s done. You can take it out put it on a cutting board and use a small knife to cut along one of the bones in the thigh and take a peek at the Interior meat to see what’s going on in there. Right. Is it red. You want it to be done running the juices running clear and not bloody. OK right. And and and then done all the way down to the bone. That seems like a clutch move to not introduce blood into a disaster like salmonella is it is a buzz kill for a day.

S24: And while you’re doing it I’m a check on our rice. Rice looks good. The rice is all done. Fantastic. That’s huge. That’s that’s that’s a game.

S2: Right. So we’ve dealt with the chicken. How about that starch. Oh it’s done. Baby Boom Boom. All it needs is fluffing and put it on the table side. We’re two out of three and we’ve already cooked those. Those green beans so one thing we could do is just toss them in butter. OK. With a little maybe with some slithered almonds that you got from the nut aisle at the Whole Foods that works. Little salt. Squeeze some lemon juice on there at the end. You know we’re serving. So now we’re done we’re done. We’re done. I mean one of the things that I really like about this combination that we’ve we’ve put together is that you have a kind of crisp crunchy salty almost spicy or hints of spiciness in the chicken. Yeah. And it’s quite juicy. And then you have the the kind of crispness of those green beans right. They have a little bit of a snap to them and then a textural element from both the salt that you’ve put on there at the end and from the nuts. And that that sweetness vectors with the sweetness of the chicken the saltiness kind of talks to each other and that and the rice ax is this kind of nutty tasting pure bridge between the two.

S9: Maybe I should get better China because I have these generic white boring. And then we’re done. And so we put it on the plate.

S25: Well what we want to be careful about just put it on the plate. This is not a soup kitchen you’re not like in the Army. Like you don’t have to make it look like an architect was involved but let’s keep the border the border and the food within it OK. And maybe you’ve got the chicken fire too chicken thighs a little drift of of the rice and then a stack of the green beans in which you have. Johnny please try to make them all go in the same direction so that they’re parallel. So our final rule.

S12: Presentation matters clean up the plate make all the beans point in the same direction you know classy right. Sam also says you know light a few candles. Grab a bottle of red wine and you don’t even have to overthink it just just go to the wine store ask the guy what you should serve and then take his advice.

S26: Show me your napkins what kind of napkins are the kind of napkins we have are paper towels. Not classy. But I can improvise and use a dish towel as a napkin.

S24: Yeah I’m not I’m not feeling. That’s better. I would say I would say before day maybe we go buy two nice plates dinner plates and maybe we buy to wrap.

S19: Napkins. Yes.

S5: So is there anything else we need before the doorbell rings.

S2: No no we we still haven’t talked about dessert. Dessert dessert is gonna be a win. Okay you’re gonna take the plates when it’s all done take them into the kitchen don’t deal with them now. Come back with the cheese and two little plates. The bread is right there.

S20: Oh me and that cheese is looking great. It is losing is like it is super losing get through all that.

S2: Oh my gosh I was so good it was so great. Everybody’s super she’s stoked he’s stoked I was right to be confident everything is great. What possibly could come next. And now is when you go to the hoop with store bought all the way some the semi confident people will have some ice cream. Yeah not us man. Malcolm MA in a glass. A tiny glass. Just a couple of ounces of cold organic milk and a Malema.

S27: And that’s how you close it we just blow her mind. That’s how you close Johnny Alomar organic milk.

S2: You know ma’am Yeah. Chocolate covered marshmallow with a little amazed ram on the bottom. There’s this thing that happens. I found that you have not had milk and perhaps neither has she or he in many many years. Now you’re coming back and it’s like a Madelyne this taste because organic milk now grass fed organic milk is so delicious it is amazing and that pure kind of. Barnyard awesomeness with that one single chocolate cookie after the cheese. So you started out really basic you just like Mom would make and then you got a little more sophisticated so with the cheese and then you’re like a little kid again and I know you want to go listen to records.

S28: Who knows what’s going to happen next. But you’re also a good guy right. A creepy guy would not serve a mallard an organic milk. Right. Right.

S29: A creepy guy might like tie up a trout with chives and you know like that’s like putting a roofie in your drink. Yeah. Watch it. Watch it.

S30: No seriously it’s a third day with some dude and it’s like I mean he’s not a professional chef but he did this crazy bondage thing with a trout and there’s all kinds of different butters and like he told you too much about the wine. Don’t be a jerk. Man I love. I love this. I would eat this meal just try to bring pleasure to the other person. That’s it. Oh I like that. Not about you. It’s about serving someone like it’s to deliver joy to other people. So we started by talking about conference because I think conference allows you to do a lot of this stuff. But there’s there’s a related word that also applies and that’s confidence. And I think that probably there is very little that is more attractive than competence the ability to do something in the service of others it is kind of cool.

S2: Yeah and and brings confidence to the person who can do it and delivers some kind of relief to the person who receives it. I can make this dinner for you and you will find it delicious. I can also change the wheel in your car and fix that leaky toilet and I’m pretty good at making a living.

S1: How many fine hair of you in the kitchen. I’m going to take care of you emotionally. It’s OK. So we talked all about what Johnny should do. What’s the one thing Johnny should not do.

S2: Well it’s. Don’t apologize. Interesting. Do not apologize. You will be so sorely tempted to do so but don’t apologize because it looks like you’re kind of begging for a compliment which is just an awkward weird it’s a bad luck.

S27: By the same token don’t try and explain how much you know about it like you listen to a podcast at Slate You’re not like a CIA trained chef you just barely got that chicken on the table. There’s still a price tag on the rice cooker just here’s a delicious thing to eat and I hope you really enjoy it. Be true to the end zone. Yeah. And then she’ll say that’s bad. It’s actually pretty dry. And if it is you’ve got to be like Yep I did that on purpose. Would you like a Mullah Omar.

S17: So me and Johnny went through all of Sam’s rules and in for two hours we cooked the green beans and then he sat down to eat the meal chicken is really good. It’s really really good. And I’ll be totally honest with you. The meal was amazing. It was it was perfect. I’m not just saying that just because it’s the name of this episode. It was it was like tasted kind of me but also simple we really we impressed ourselves.

S5: And then after the main course we eat some of the runny cheese with a baguette and then it was time for dessert. And I had actually gone to the grocery store to find them Eleanor’s but I couldn’t find them.

S17: And so we finished with what I had managed to find which was chocolate covered Nutter Butters which honestly not as classy as a Muslim are but still actually pretty good.

S31: So OK so so we did the meal. Yeah. We eat the chalk every night about her. What’s your tummy your reaction.

S6: It was delicious. Do you feel like you’ll be more confident in the kitchen now. I think so having this experience under my belt. I think it can be repeated.

S31: So do you think you’re gonna invite your ex-girlfriend over and make her dinner. Absolutely. Yeah.

S8: I mean this is this is this is definitely a game changer. I think it’s one of those things that’s like talking to her friends the next day and she’s like he made the most amazing meal.

S11: And it’s that thing where they’re like and he can cook like I like I think that if that’s the last line in my obituary I’d be pretty satisfied with that.

S4: But maybe on my next day you’ll come over as well. I’m a little the training we all still need to be on for a little bit and that loves all standard out a window. Yes exactly. Just give me a thumbs up.

S32: If you want to see the recipe for Sam Sutton’s one perfect meal. We’ve actually posted it online along with photos of Johnny and the Beautiful chicken thighs that we made together. There at Slate dot com slash how to. Thanks so much to Johnny Levine for letting us into his kitchen and a Sam Sifton at the New York Times. Sam has a ton of great cookbooks he’s written including Thanksgiving how to cook it well and a new one coming out in a few months called See you on Sunday. A cookbook for family and friends. We’re going to stay in touch with Johnny and if his romantic life improves because of his cooking we will definitely keep you posted. If you have something we can help you with. We want to hear from you. Send us a note about your problem and how to at Slate dot com and we’ll take on your case and see if we can’t make the problem go away. Also if you like what you heard today please give us a rating and a review in Apple podcasts. It helps people find the show if it helps us know that someone’s listening. Also my wife might think I’m more cool. How tos executive producer is Derek John Merritt. Jacob is our engineer. Our theme music is by Hannah’s Brown. June Thomas is the senior managing producer of Slate podcasts and Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director for audio. Special thanks to Michael Conrado and Asha solution. I’m Charles to Hague. Thanks for listening. If you don’t already know tune in is an all in one audio app where you can listen to life sports music news and your favorite podcasts go to tune in dot.com to download the app or listen to how to with me. Charles Duhigg.

S33: On Tunis.