- Associated Press - Monday, November 24, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - “When Barry came here, he could cook - what could you cook, Barry?”

“Eggs,” said the young man cooking beef daube.

Barry Garner stood over the six-burner stove in Kit Wohl’s test kitchen, lifting lids on cast-iron pots, stirring. He is the latest in a string of half a dozen Tulane students hired to test recipes.

Wohl’s eighth cookbook in her “New Orleans Classic” series of recipes from favorite restaurants, “New Orleans Classic Creole Recipes,” has just been published. Wohl sends the complete books - laid-out pages, the photography, everything - to Pelican Publishing, which prints and distributes them.

Because she wants the recipes to work for anyone, Wohl hires kitchen novices to test them.

“I needed someone who would absolutely follow the recipe,” Wohl said. “Barry and his gang have proven to us in this process that the recipe doesn’t have any glitches.”

The recipe tester job has been handed down within a Tulane fraternity. Garner is the sixth Zeta Psi to cook here.

Wohl meets their families and hosts graduation luncheons. A couple of the recipe testers have gone on to culinary school; one of them, Zach Engel, is working at Gautreau’s.

Garner, who is from Seattle, said the part-time job has “expanded what I eat quite a bit. It makes me appreciate what goes into a meal at a restaurant a lot more.

“I see us do this with three or four dishes at a time, and I can’t imagine a kitchen with it happening 15 or 20 times at once.”

Wohl’s first cookbook was for Arnaud’s, the classic Creole restaurant. She then started working with Pelican Publishing on a series of classic local recipe themes: Appetizers, brunches, celebrations, cocktails, desserts, gumbos and soups and seafood. Almost all the recipes come from local restaurants.

“Because I used to have an ad agency, I understand the physical process of printing and production,” Wohl said. Once a theme is determined, she asks chefs for contributions. Their recipes are re-written for home kitchens, tested and photographed. Wohl, who is also an artist, is behind the camera.

“Mainly because of the cost of photography, but because I had worked for so many years with photographers, I thought I would take a swing at it,” she said.

Through a hallway lined with shelves holding pantry items and food styling props is the photo studio, located on the other side of an atrium from the kitchen. She photographs them in a signature close-up style, years before the look became an Instagram staple.

As she explains her process, Garner is preparing pasta to go with the daube. She tells him to add some oil. She sits at a large marble table directing the work.

“If they hit a stumbling block, that tells me we’ve written it wrong.”

The students work around their class schedule. Garner has been on the job two years, having graduated with a history degree and now going for a second degree in cell and molecular biology.

“It’s much easier to prepare the dishes here than to shoot in restaurants,” Wohl said. “Restaurants are doing something else. On very rare occasions, we’ve had to shoot at a restaurant.”

The kitchen, which “has kind of evolved,” is in Wohl and husband Billy’s home. It has double ovens, two dishwashers, two sinks, and a back pantry has an additional refrigerator and freezer. The test cooks work on a six-burner 18,000-BTU cooktop, the residential maximum. Cabinet doors below the cooktop were removed so pots stored underneath are easy to grab.

Wohl made the chandeliers over the table and one sink. Bending metal is one of her hobbies.

Once they get the recipes tested, “A lot of times we invite the chefs to come in” and taste the result, Wohl said. “We have a blast. The chefs are all fun and funny, and get a kick out of watching the crew work.”

In addition to Wohl and Garner, the crew consists of Sam Hanna, assisting with photography as needed. Jyl Benson manages production. Eloisa Zapeda brings her toddler, Amberly, to work every day to help with preparation. When there are many dishes to shoot, another fraternity brother, chef Brandon Canizaro, pitches in.

Wohl also compiled the P&J; Oyster cookbook and, for Chronicle Publishing in San Francisco, “The James Beard Foundation’s Best of the Best,” with stories on and recipes from 21 chefs who have won the organization’s Outstanding Chef honor.

She also has done cookbooks for chefs she won’t name. The biggest challenge she has encountered (not for any of the classic series books) was from a chef who wanted to include a stuffed lamb heart, “two or three years ago when all the organ meats were in vogue.

“Have you ever tried to source a lamb heart? It’s almost impossible. I could not talk him out of it. I asked, ‘If I can’t find one in New Orleans, how can someone in Okefenokee find one?’”

At this point in the day, Barry handed across the table a saucepan and tasting spoon.

“You may want to reduce this sauce a little more,” she told him.

This is Wohl’s encore career. She is doing it for the pleasure of the work, enjoying the collaborative team. She is proudest of the oyster book.

“You can make them so many ways,” She said. “Photographing it, the graphic part of it, was riveting to me. I decided that since most oysters are photographed from the top down, I’d do them sideways as often as I can.”

The helper at the time gets a recipe in the book being produced. Garner’s pot au feu is in the Creole recipes; in the Celebrations book, his was a strawberry salad.

“In the cocktail book, he did the Bloody Bull Run,” Wohl said.


Information from: The Times-Picayune, https://www.nola.com

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