10 Things in the Food World We Loved in August

Including a vegan chef wunderkind, a serendipitous partnership between an actor and a New York City institution, and a DIY food project (that doesn't include maintaining a sourdough starter).

Published Aug. 30, 2020.

One of the things all of us at America's Test Kitchen have in common—no matter what department we work in, whether it's in the kitchen or at a desk—is a love of food. And not just eating and cooking it, but learning about it. We talk about the latest food podcasts with coworkers, share interesting articles in Slack, and have long email chains about what food-related activities we're doing after work or on the weekends.

That's why we decided to start a series where we share the things we loved over the course of the previous month: things that made us think, things that made us laugh, things that reminded us why we relish being a part of the food world. If we enjoyed them, we thought you might, too.

In the third installment of the series (you can find the first two months' lists here), we've got 10 things that we loved in August, submitted by ATK staff members from all over the company. The list includes an episode of Chopped featuring a friend of the Test Kitchen, a Boston restaurant initiative to send financial aid to Beirut, and a deep dive into single-origin spices.

1. "Here to Persevere!" episode of Chopped with Kia Damon

If you've been listening to Elle Simone's new podcast The Walk-In, you're already familiar with Kia Damon. (And if you're not listening, now's the time to start!) Elle and Kia had such a candid conversation on the podcast, and I ended that episode eager to follow Kia's career. I didn't have to wait long. She appeared on an episode of Chopped the second week of August. Don't worry: I won't spoil the ending, but I will share that it was an especially good episode. Kia and one of the other chef contestants have an easy, friendly vibe that made me even more invested in the competition. Kristen Kish, a favorite of Bostonians and Top Chef viewers, is one of the judges. If you're anything like me, you'll probably stumble across the episode some evening while channel surfing. But I suggest seeking it out—check out when it next airs or search for Episode 13 of Season 46 ("Here to Persevere!") on demand. — Kate Shannon, ATK Reviews Deputy Editor

2. Beirut Boxes

The images and accounts of the explosion that took place in Beirut in early August were horrific and the devastation that city is facing as a result, combined with the country's financial troubles and the fear and uncertainty caused by COVID, are hard to comprehend. In order to provide some financial relief, Boston-area restaurants (including Sarma, Oleana, and Moona) are teaming up with the Beirut Emergency Relief Fund by selling "Beirut Boxes" as part of their to-go menus. Each box features items inspired by Lebanese cuisine and each restaurant comes up with their own offerings. All profits go to a local, vetted NGO that's committed to providing relief efforts on the ground. — Stephanie Pixley, Cookbook Team Deputy Food Editor

3. "Can a 12-Year-Old Convince You to Go Vegan?" by Ella Quittner

If there’s one stereotype veganism can’t shake, it’s that plant-based food just isn’t as tasty. If there’s a second, it’s that it’s only for white “yoga moms." Enter superstar Omari McQueen, who at 12 years old is shaking up the food world and proving to everyone—including his skeptical grandmother—that his vegan versions of well-known dishes are every bit as delicious as the originals. What sets him apart culinarily is how he incorporates the Jamaican dishes he grew up eating into his new recipes, like his chip dip Caribbean Kick (mango, pineapple, and chili). He started cooking vegan as a way to help alleviate his mom’s health issues, and soon realized it was his passion. Now he's out to change the way the world eats, one person at a time. With a new cookbook, a YouTube channel, and a snack business that started with him selling to his siblings, you have to admire his hustle. Keep your eyes on this one as he already has dreams of opening a restaurant at 16. If his past accomplishments are any indication, he'll be able to achieve that goal—and any others he sets for himself. Meet him in this delightful article— Lauren Robbins, Imaging Manager

4. Russ & Daughters + Jake Gyllenhaal t-shirt collaboration

When actor Tom Holland nominated his buddy Jake Gyllenhaal to a social media challenge that involved putting on a t-shirt while doing a handstand (¯\_(ツ)_/¯), it wasn't only the ease with which Gyllenhaal completed the task that caught people's attention, it was the shirt he put on while doing it: It was a faded, presumably DIY tie-dyed shirt from Russ & Daughters, the iconic Jewish deli that's been a New York City staple since 1914. Now Russ & Daughters is collaborating with Gyllenhaal and offering the shirt for a limited time in its online store, with all proceeds over the next month going directly to the Independent Restaurant Coalition, a non-profit group leading lobbying efforts to save independent restaurants. — Mari Levine, Web Managing Editor

5. Learning about single-origin spices

For my birthday this year my thoughtful team sent me the Fundamentals Collection, six incredible spices (including a couple in the photo below), from Burlap & Barrel in NYC. Cooking with these spices has been a game-changer. They’re more complex, aromatic, and flavorful than any spices I’ve used before. After I did some research I discovered why—they’re sourced from single farms and come through a shorter supply chain.

It just so happened I was working on a story about spices for Cook’s Country this month, so I thought it would be helpful to our readers (and exciting for me) to interview Ethan Frisch, the co-founder of Burlap & Barrel. What stuck with me most was learning about the inequality and exploitation that has existed and continues to prevail in the spice trade.

To top off my spicy month, I attended a talk hosted by MOFAD (The Museum of Food and Drink, NYC) between Sana Javeri Kadri, founder of direct trade spice company Diaspora Co., and Stephen Satterfield, founder of the food media company Whetstone, called Straight to the Source: Origins, Stories, and Spices. The talk was intimate and honest, and addressed the challenges Sana and Stephen faced in starting small food businesses, the racism in food media, and the tension between capitalism and decolonization. My favorite part of the talk was learning about how Sana (through Diaspora Co.) works with her farmer-partners in India to create a more equitable spice trade. Her farmer-partners now have access to better wages and healthcare for the first time.

Who knew a kind birthday present would spark a new interest in single-origin spices? — Carolyn Grillo, ATK Reviews Associate Editor

6. Now Serving bookstore

The only thing more satisfying than a good cookbook mail day is knowing that your new titles came from a great indie retailer like Now Serving. Ken Concepcion and Michelle Mungcal, owners of the pint-sized Los Angeles' cookbook shop, pivoted quickly from in-person sales to a robust online ordering platform when the COVID lockdown hit. (Locals can also call in curbside orders.) Shopping is a pleasure: Their thoughtfully curated "shelves" offer all the big new titles as well as the ones you can get only from niche stockists—particularly magazines like Eaten, Dill, and Drift, as well as out-of-print titles by request. There's also a handful of artisanal provisions (Brightland EVOO, a few small-batch LA-made sauces, Yolele fonio), tea towels, waxed canvas knife rolls, and fine notebooks—not to mention an impressive lineup of Zoom webinars and recordings with renowned authors and speakers that makes this an invaluable gathering place for the food and cooking community. — Liz Bomze, Cook's Illustrated Managing Editor

7. The Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD)

As someone who loves both food AND museums, I'm surprised I didn't know about the Museum of Food and Drink in NYC prior to now. During the pandemic, they have hosted some incredible online panel discussions on the intersections of food, race, and power (some of which have made it into our monthly What We Loved lists). The talks I've "attended" via Zoom have been super well-organized and thought-provoking. I highly recommend checking out their upcoming events on their calendar, and I can't wait to visit in person when that becomes possible. Their next exhibition, "African/American," was just about to open in their space when the pandemic hit. It looks like it will be incredible to experience when their doors reopen. — Afton Cyrus, ATK Kids Senior Editor

8. Shiitake Mushroom Grow Kit from Mycoterra Farm

I’ve been ordering groceries through Mass Food Delivery, and one of the recent orders included a shiitake growing kit from Mycoterra Farm. The kit is incredibly easy to care for and produced mushrooms very quickly. It's a small block (about eight by six by six inches) that lives in a bucket in my bedroom. Spraying it with water a few times each day for about a week yielded a little over half a pound of gorgeous shiitakes, and with a couple of weeks off in between, it should produce a few more times before its nutrients are spent. It's a little like caring for a sourdough starter in that it requires daily attention, but the rewards are a lot more immediate and visible, so I highly recommend it for a stay-at-home activity. I actually ended up using my first harvest for ATK's recipe for Vegan Stir-Fried Tofu, Shiitakes, and Green Beans. — Azariah Kurlantzick, Content Audit Intern

9. iamcooking with Chef Drew

I recently discovered this food blog and awesome social account, @iamcooking on Instagram. Chef Drew is an amazing food photographer and has some really wonderful step by step recipes that look so delicious. He's got a great variety of comfort food with photos that consistently make me hungry and inspire whatever ends up being my dinner that night. And he's excellent with meal prep and food prep recipes to set you up for the week! His blog is great too, where he goes into a bit more detail for each recipe than you have room for on social. Chef Drew keeps making everything he post look amazing, I'm excited to see what he makes next! — Chad Chenail, Podcast Producer

10. Harbison Mini from Jasper Hill Farm

Form the first time I tasted it, Jasper Hill's award-winning Harbison has been one of my favorite cheeses. The only thing I ever said I would change about it was its size: I didn't always want to buy a 9-ounce wheel of it. (Not that it would ever go to waste—I just like having options!) That's why I was excited to see the recent announcement that Harbison is now being offered in 5-ounce wheels—perfectly portable and small enough to carry in your pocket, according to the announcement post on Instagram. It's the same gooey, creamy texture and earthy, savory flavor, all in an adorable little package. — Mari Levine, Web Managing Editor

For more food-related things we like, here are a few more articles you should check out:

This is a members' feature.