Proust Questionnaire: J. Kenji López-Alt
Kenjiphoto: J. Kenji López-Alt
The Proust Questionnaire is a mini-interview. Its name and modern popularity
(see Vanity Fair) is owed to the responses given by the French writer Marcel Proust.
Today's Proustian Participant is a chef, scientist, and inspiration all in one. I would say that 75% of the food I prepare—anything that takes longer than 90 seconds, to be sure—can be traced to Seriouseats, where Kenji serves as Managing Culinary Director.
In our house, Kenji is as much a verb as Google. "Sous-vide lambchops with vegan pressure-cooker macaroni? Let me Kenji that." In fact, if I could travel back in time to freshman days, I would pass along only three things:
1. Insider-knowledge of the '92 Blue Jays
2. A gun-point ultimatum to get a real haircut.
3. A copy of: "The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science"
Self-described on Twitter as: "Beatles lover. Husband to a Serious Cryptographer. Feminist. Relaxed and groovy atheist. Unapologetically progressive. Filter needer."
Works for me.
Do you have a motto?
Hmm. Not really. Maybe that if you're not learning you're not living.
Was there ever a moment, lesson, or bit of advice that was hugely revelatory to you?
The most useful moments for me have been of self-discovery. Figuring out what it is that I personally define as success and realizing that it is not the same as what is generally considered to be success.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My marriage. It's hard enough living your own life. Living a life with someone else and making decisions together is that much more difficult, but also that much more rewarding.
What word do you consistently misspell?
Muffings. For some reason my hand just wants to type muffings instead of muffins.
What word or phrase do you overuse?
That said. That said, it's a useful phrase.
What word is the most overused with others?
Foodie. I'll be happy the day that word is officially retired.
What advice would you give yourself at age 18?
I'd tell myself to not be such a jerk and talk a little more softly.
(Possibly related) What article of clothing was your worst choice, in retrospect?
I honestly can't think of an answer to this. I tend not to focus much on clothing choices and I rarely get cold, so I don't really notice when I forget a sweater or something like that.
What food did you love as a kid that you now hate?
Bananas. I started hating them when my little sister used to leave banana peels in the car overnight. The smell was terrible.
What food did you hate as a kid that you now love?
Do you remember an empowering moment where you said to yourself, "Wait a second... I can make a better (blank) than that guy"?
I don't remember ever feeling empowered by thinking "I can do X better than that person." My moments of empowerment more come from me realizing I can do something better than I could in the past.
What is your greatest fear?
Losing loved ones. Or the really deep sea.
Who is your favourite explorer?
Hmm. Not sure I have a favorite. Anyone who does science is good in my book.
What superpower would you pick—if you were forced to?
Oh man, I wouldn't want a superpower. Way too much expectation and responsibility. I wouldn't trust myself with one, no matter how good a person I think I am. Batman is my favorite superhero. No superpowers, just intelligence and perseverance.
Guilty pleasure food?
A Big Mac late at night.
Star Wars or Star Trek?
Is this even a question? Wars.
Who should be the next James bond?
Hmm. Don Cheadle. Or I'd like to see a woman play bond. Cate Blanchett would fit the role nicely.
What book do you feel you really should have read by now?
The Art of Eating. Or anything by M.F.K. Fisher, really. I haven't read a single one of her books.
First song (or album) you remember buying.
Schubert's string quintet in C. The Deutsche Grammophon recording of the Emerson Quartet playing with Mstislav Rostropovich on first cello.
Your guilty-pleasure, alone in the car, sing-along song?
I have no guilty pleasure sing-alongs. I sing along to pretty much anything that comes on and karaoke is my favorite bar activity. I guess I'm mildly embarrassed that I know all the lyrics to most Katy Perry songs.
Free trip to anywhere on earth for 3 weeks... where would you go?
Free? Hmm, better pick somewhere expensive or difficult to get to because I do plan on going everywhere. Let's go with Antarctica. That's one place where I may regret poor clothing choices.
What is your most coveted equipment right now?
I don't really have much equipment that couldn't be replaced if push comes to shove. I guess a yanagi that my mother gave to me. It's not particularly special, just a carbon-steel sashimi knife, but it has some sentimental value that couldn't be replaced.