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One For The Table

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A Chat With Chef Jody Adams

Posted: 04/26/10 04:15 PM ET

Jody Adams is a James Beard Award-winning chef and the owner of the renowned restaurant Rialto, located in Cambridge, MA. She was chosen to compete in one of our favorite cooking shows Bravo's 'Top Chef Masters." We caught up with her to ask her a few questions (One for the Table-style) before her first round appearance which airs this Wednesday April 28th @ 10pm.

What was your favorite childhood food? Was it something your family made and if so do you still make it?

Semolina gnocchi, no contest. My mother made it for dinner parties with braised short ribs of beef. My sisters and I fought over the crusty edges that were left behind. I make semolina gnocchi for my kids and now they fight over the pan.

It's springtime and we love to do "In Season" pieces. Would you tell us two or three ingredients fresh in the farmer's market in the spring that would inspire a Sunday dinner for you.

You have spring farmer's markets? Lucky you. In New England they don't really kick off until it's almost summer, but spring greens, radishes, turnips and rhubarb are showing up at Whole Foods and a few CSA's and co-ops. I like keeping prep, cooking and cleanup simple on Sundays. Weather permitting, the easiest solution is to get out the grill. Last week my husband rubbed half a butterflied leg of lamb with garlic, rosemary and olive oil, let it sit overnight in the fridge, then grilled it the next day. A whole fish like bronzino or mackerel would have also been a good choice; both were in seafood markets last week. To go with the lamb I made a salad of thinly-sliced radishes and turnips, pole beans and greens tossed with a smoked bacon vinaigrette. For dessert we had a homemade rhubarb crostada.

Did you always secretly want to have a restaurant, even when you were studying anthropology, and what inspired you to take the leap?

When I was studying anthropology at Brown I hadn't a clue as to what I would be doing today. But I was cooking then and loving it and traveling as much as I could. I guess my path was already set, I just couldn't see it.

At 24, I was recently divorced, unhappy in my job and uncertain about my direction. After some soul searching I realized that I was happiest in a kitchen. So with lots of cooking hours logged, but no restaurant experience, I started knocking on doors. Fortunately, someone took a chance on me.

Three years ago - that's 30 years later - I became sole owner of Rialto. It was time.

Everyone has a traditional holiday dish (a slightly unusual side dish or a dessert) that they include in their holiday meals that reminds them of Christmases or Thanksgivings gone by? Is there one that you always make?

Pommes Ana with a layer of caramelized onions at Christmas. We've been roasting geese for the holidays since my son was a baby. When he was 6 (he's 20 now) he asked for pommes ana to go with it. I agreed, as long as he helped me layer the sliced potatoes in the pan. We've been making them ever since. Now he's in college, but he still helps.

What is your favorite kitchen tool?

Not very original, but my Misono carbon steel chef's knife. It's part of me. I also couldn't live without a Microplane and a new discovery, my tiny red rubber spatula.

Is there a food/ingredient that you once disliked, but now can't live without? (My mother forced me to eat artichokes when I was a child, insisting that "artichokes were an acquired taste). What version of the ingredient turned you around?

Hot cereal. Although my mother was an adventurous cook and we tried everything, breakfasts were miserable affairs that came in 3 variations: 1) a soft boiled egg, often slightly undercooked; 2) cold unsweetened cereal - sugared cereals weren't allowed in house and adding sugar was forbidden; 3) hot cereal--oatmeal or cream of wheat - again, with no additional sugar. I didn't like any of them and today I still don't eat hot cereal for breakfast. However, I've since discovered that warm 7-grain cereals make great savory side dishes. Start with some sautéed onions and garlic, then follow the directions for cooking the cereal; finally, stir in some herbs at the end.