The Genius Recipe Tapes

The Joy of (Talking About) Cooking | Jesse Sparks

Episode Summary

Kristen enjoys a chat and a laugh with Senior Editor at Eater and The One Recipe Podcast host, Jesse Sparks. They discuss his favorite go-to cookie recipe and how a memorable week he spent cooking with his mom, helped shaped his love of food.

Episode Notes

Referenced in this episode 

Genius-Hunter Extra Credit

Have a genius recipe you'd like to share? Tell me all about it at

Episode Transcription

Kristen Miglore (voiceover): Hi, I'm Kristen Miglore, a lifelong genius hunter. For a decade, I've been unearthing the recipes that have changed the way we cook. Now on The Genius Recipe Tapes, we go behind the scenes with the geniuses themselves. This week, I sat down with Jesse Sparks, senior editor at Eater and host of The "One Recipe" podcast, a new show from the team behind The Splendid Table. Jesse interviews chefs, writers, and other people who love cooking about the "One Recipe" they always turn to and that they think everybody should know. So far, there's been everything from crispy tofu to umami pasta to Matar paneer. In this episode, Jesse and I share a lot of laughs, and while it might sound like he and I have been friends for years, we just recently met when I was lucky enough to tell him about my "One Recipe". That episode will air soon over on the "One Recipe's" feed. So look out for that. Later in this episode, we will get into why the concept for the show is so compelling to us as home cooks and what Jesse's "One Recipe" is. But first, here he is on how an early bonding experience with his mom continues to impact his work today.

Jesse Sparks: When I was much younger, I think I was. Maybe elementary school. My dad took my brother and sister on a trip, and I was too young to go on it because it was a part of our church. It was an age-restricted thing. So I stayed home with my mom, and she said we would make this fun. It'll be a staycation. It was a week that we had together. Just me and her. So we. Made all these plans for what we're going to make. We would watch Emeril. We would watch all these cooking shows, and then we'd say, okay, we will make that. So one day, Emeril was making these rosemary steaks with roasted garlic and this blue cheese or butter. Oh, okay. Yeah, that sounds great.

We can do this. We're going to do this. So we went to HEB, which is a Texas chain grocery store. Oh, Wonderland followed. Randomly aggressively Texas stuff. Freshly made tortillas, warm baked loaves of bread. So we just scooped up all the ingredients, went back home, and got to cooking, and it was entertaining. And it was also a mental thing. Cause when you're a younger sibling, I'm the youngest of three. You really do get stuck thinking, oh, all these cool things are for other people, or when I'm older or, therefore, when I'm in a different place. And I think that many of us get stuck in that mentality with cooking. We believe it's for another time. It's for when we have the proper kitchen, exposed shelving, and nine sunroofs in our kitchen. But really, it's all about just starting with what you have right now, having fun and cooking alone or with someone else. And ever since then, that has become the recipe that my mom and I make any time it's just the two of us. So if I'm popping in through town, yeah. We'll make mistakes. And now we just refer to it as the stakes. I was a seven-year-old and got to have my own stake. And that felt. The world, a state more prominent than my head. Okay, only something you do when you're on vacation with your mom, and she's very relaxed.

Kristen: That sounds so special. And then I love that you still remember it to this day, and you still recreate it to this day. Oh, absolutely. I know you've said that you grew up in a family that was a big entertaining house, and there were always people stopping by. Who was usually cooking? And what were everyone's favorite dishes when people would stop by?

Jesse: Oh my gosh. So my family is fun in that both of my parents are incredibly astonishingly extroverted. When we lived in Michigan, we would have friends from church and friends. So I'm my parents, social activities come by and come through. My parents met at the University of Michigan, and we lived in Ann Arbor at the time. So we would have liked our God aunts and uncles just driving in from Detroit to visit. And it would quickly turn from a very casual, one-on-one catch-up to suddenly there are 20 people in our house. There are kids everywhere. Cousins are everywhere. So my mom would just turn to these batch-style, entertaining dishes. So there's one that's called egg dish. That is an incredibly Midwestern kind of casserole or a breakfast casserole. So it's just scrambled eggs with different types of cheeses. We prefer Sharp cheddar with mozzarella for some of those cheese pulls. And then we would hit it hard with the salt, pepper, a little bit of garlic, and then she would take either Torn up pieces of stale croissants or stale bread and toss it in and mix it in with cooked sausage and onions and bell peppers. It would always be able to feed everyone, and then they would get to the point where she would serve it for brunch. And the morning, and then inevitably, when people were still at our house, people would go back to the fridge in the calm afternoon. It would be eating it out of the dish and in front of the refrigerator.

Kristen: You've said that you are one of those lucky people that knew immediately what you wanted to do. And in your case, it was to be a journalist and a cook. Can you just tell us more about what inspired you at the time to want to do both?

Jesse: The inspiration kind of happened at two different stages. I was that kid in high school who took some of the extracurriculars a little too seriously. So I was on my high school newspaper, the nerd that I am, okay, this is it. I'm going to do it. And I remember seeing a New York Times piece that was this really beautiful interactive that was just breaking down. This horrible avalanche. It was called snowfall, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever. Okay, I'm going to do it. I'm going to, I'm going to pursue journalism. And I'd had an English teacher who said, Hey, you should take this seriously in middle school. You have a habit of disregarding things that you really do because you think you need to do business or become a doctor or stuff that. But you. Think about what brings you the most joy? And after that said, you know what? This is really it. So then, fast forward a few years, I worked as an intern and then as a freelancer. A print designer for the New York Times. And there, I was getting to do a rotation and fill in for the arts, lifestyle, and real estate sections. But one that I had so much fun with was the food section. That was when I've obviously been disregarding something so right in front of me. Cooking has always been so important. My life has always been so informed by food and the conversations and the politics around it.
So why wouldn't I do this thing? It makes me so happy. I find it so interesting, and it has also introduced me to so many incredible people. So from there, I never really looked back, and I got an internship at Eater. They put up with me for a while. And I haven't looked back since

Kristen: That is so inspiring, and that was such good advice. I'm happy someone noticed that you had that tendency to maybe not see the things that you really truly loved. It sounds like it stuck.

Jesse: Oh yeah. I'm super lucky. There is no current Jesse, no "One Recipe" without the community that's had my back.

Kristen: Are there any other cooking moments from your career? Maybe from your time getting started working at Eater or one of a T, anything else that you would want to talk about before we dive into the "One Recipe"?

Jesse: Oh yeah. Oh, so there was one time where how much time do you have? Cause it's cause I could go on for hours. There was one time when it was the middle of summer. I was working at Bon Appetit. I was trying to soak up as much of the New York summer as possible. And I literally sent a text to a group chat with some friends. It was just like, okay, I'm going to make dinner for a park hang. I'm going to be in prospect park in a few hours. I'll see you all there. Be there. Everything will be good. And. It was just one of those moments where I've been talking about wanting to see friends and wanting to make more of the summer, so why not just do it? So I bought a rack of ribs, and I rubbed ribs and sauce them and threw them in the oven.

I had made this minty lie made that has just the right amount of fizz, but it was also cooling. So it's perfect for the summer. So I somehow managed to make a lid out of too much plastic wrap and rubber bands. I was more afraid of accidentally creating one of those Mentos bottle rockets. As opposed to just safely transporting at our bridge responsibly, we stayed through golden hour until the sunset. To this day, it's another one of those golden New York memories and moments in New York where it's just, yeah, I can do this. I feel I can fit into food media.

Kristen: I love that both this and your mom's story with a steak are just about not waiting and doing it. If you want to have this dream life where you eat well with people you care about, you just do it, even if it's only a couple of hours away and it's a rush.

Jesse: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that will be the soapbox. That will be the hill that I die on. I am someone who is a chronic over-thinker. So anytime I catch myself weighing the options too much or just going back and forth forever. I just have to stop and say, okay, but what will bring me the most joy now. And what am I going to look back on and say, I'm so glad I did that. I think we all just spend a little too much time trying to do the thing that we believe. What we're supposed to do instead of just doing the things that we really want to do. So many of us spend so much time debating and trying to do what we think is the right thing or what is the perfect thing when really we just need to be doing. Is the thing that would bring us the most joy and make us the most excited about the moment we're in right now. And I think the "One Recipe" is a perfect example of that, and in a lot of ways, I didn't consider myself the ideal host for a podcast or something that.

I've had so much fun just diving into it with the team and talking to all of these fantastic guests, of which you are one. But yeah, it's just been fun. It is a love letter to the recipes that sustain us and get us through everyday life, and are always there for us. But I'm also hoping for subconsciously a celebration of all the different ways that we can feed ourselves, support ourselves, and just try the things that we didn't think we could do. We have writers like Jaya Saxena, who writes for Eater, talking through her relationship with Julie Sahni's Matar Paneer recipe. And talking through how impactful it was in her own development. And as she was gaining confidence, not only as a cook but just generally in herself.

I wanted this podcast to be something both fun and easily digestible. So definitely under 10 minutes, super till listen, but something that reminds everyday listeners, everyday people, of which I'm one, that we don't have to wait to cook that recipe. We don't have to wait to find joy in something. This is my favorite, and it's impactful and meaningful to me. It doesn't need to be a showstopper. It doesn't need to be the most amazing thing anyone has ever seen before. It is more than enough that we chose the recipe ourselves.

Kristen (voiceover): Hey, it's Kristen. If you're enjoying this chat with Jesse, head over to the The Genius Recipe Tapes and hit follow. So you don't miss out on other stories this one. And our recent episode with Esther Choy, the host of Food52's Hotline Offline podcast, about family traditions, new and old, and the brilliance of caramelizing kimchi. In the second half of this episode, Jesse reveals his "One Recipe". We'll meet you back here for that.

Kristen: That really speaks to me. And I'm sure it speaks to all of your listeners. Anyone who follows food media we're all constantly consuming. So many new recipes. Every single one of these episodes is something that guests return to repeatedly, even amidst a delusion of new ideas and new things to try. Those are the comfort recipes that we turn back to that are so powerful and appealing as a cook and a listener.

Jesse: Thank you. I appreciate that. And yeah, it is super, super powerful, I think. We underplay just how important comfort is. It is often portrayed as, oh, it's terrible to get too comfortable. But it's okay to remind ourselves that we're choosing our joy, determining the presence, and choosing to just be content with where we are right now. That's cool.

Kristen: Yeah, I don't know if it's safe and comfortable to try new things or the other way around. Still, we are getting to try new things that are other people's comforts that are other people's go-to is tried and true. So we're getting exposed to new things while also knowing that they are the kind of recipe that really sticks and is worth making and making over another.

Jesse: Yeah, you nailed it. It's really that it's the safe way to try a new thing. We all have that friend that we turn to. Have you tried this thing? Is that actually good? Whether it's a new movie or a skincare product, we are always looking for someone that can gut check whether things actually were. So I think the "One Recipe" is that kind of safe space for us to say, hey, here are recipes really worth it. And they're safe bets for you to explore, to step out of your comfort zones.

Kristen: I have to ask you what your "One Recipe" is, right?

Jesse: Absolutely. Bon Appetit has a recipe for these brown butter toffee chocolate chip cookies. They are. Toasty and warming and comforting, and I'll spike them with cardamom, too, just to amp up that comfort level. I have a personal philosophy that I should not be showing up to other people's houses empty-handed. This is very much a cultural thing. So whether people are inviting me over for drinks or a birthday party or a dinner party or something, I'm constantly pulling up with a bottle of wine. Just a few snacks or something easy that we can just nibble on. And I think that everyone should have a back pocket recipe that they can turn to and bring. And I think these chocolate chip cookies are that. It's so hard to find someone who doesn't like toasty warming bitter-because-of-the-dark-chocolate but sweet-because-of-the-toffee and a little crunchy cookie. That will please the entire crowd, regardless of who it is.

Kristen: If you know that you're going to meet up with someone in a couple hours, could you bust out these cookies with what you have?

Jesse: Oh, absolutely. In a heartbeat. I'm at the point now where I keep logs and logs of this dough in my freezer. Anytime people come over, just cause I can toss it into the oven real quick. They bake up in 12 to 15 minutes. But also, even if I'm cooking it from scratch or baking them from scratch, it's such a simple and straightforward recipe that you really can. Do it with 30 minutes heads up, and it makes your house smell comforting, which is always lovely.

Kristen: This is the ultimate endorsement of a recipe of a situation too. We often find ourselves in, or we hope to see ourselves in. Or we want to find ourselves in or that we want to find ourselves. When we have moments where we want to be generous to other people. A recipe that will just really make other people happy. And we know it won't fail us along the way.

Jesse: It's precisely that. There's a level of ease with just having a recipe that you can rely on. And just, what about at any moment? I find it really impactful. What about you?

Kristen: I was thinking about this a little bit. Today is my daughter's third birthday. And she, it's funny because when I'm asking her what she wants for her birthday, she doesn't have many things to draw on of her favorite foods that she also doesn't get to eat all the time. Her favorite foods or the things she eats, she wanted for breakfast, yogurt and oats, and fruit, which she eats every day. So she wasn't totally getting the concept of memorable meals.

Jesse: Hey, great. She will have a great morning, but she could have asked for pancakes or waffles or ice cream or something.

Kristen: And she just doesn't have the whole lexicon of the different food words she can ask for and knows she likes. So I was trying to help her along. And what's a special dinner that you also are familiar with. And she eats pasta all the time, but I asked, do you, would you for your special birthday dinner, would you like? So getting meatballs or macaroni and cheese, and she was macaroni and cheese. Melissa Clark's stovetop mac and cheese is another "One Recipe" for me. And I think for me, a lot of "One Recipes" are things that only take a few ingredients and are in our pantry ingredients, things that, that you can remember and be like, oh, I know I can make that with just a quick glance at the recipe. Without a lot of planning and this one, literally. Heavy cream and cheese and pasta. You just reduce down some cream, you add in your grated cheese, and then you quickly add your cooked pasta and you have to eat it immediately because it's not stabilized with flour, a fresher Mel kind of sauce or anything, but it is so satisfying. So comforting. It's a lot box Mac and cheese, but it's got more of the the cheese pole. it's got more of the stringiness of melty cheese. So that's what we're making for dinner. Very timely asked about another "One Recipe" because it's okay to have more than one, one restaurant, right?

Jesse: yeah, exactly. That's the point. okay. Life is too short in, have as many, "One Recipes" as you can categorize them, alphabetize them, quantify order, organize them chronologically. But no, that sounds such a beautiful recipe and I'm so excited for y'all to have that dinner and. Be able to see her eyes light up as you're doing the cheese, the pole little moments that are so they make it all worth it.

Kristen: Yeah. It'll be good. You start every episode with a completely unrelated, fun fact about your guests, their favorite books or hobbies or something else. What would yours.

Jesse: Yes. Oh, great question. It's always so nice to be able to ask the questions and this second, anyone asks you a question. What is my name? Who am I? What is my social security number? Where am I deer in headlights? I think mine is that I just really love home design. I am one of those people who follows the cheap old homes accounts. I love seeing how other people are decorating their homes and stuff. I'll creep on Zillow and imagine my life living in an A-frame across the country. In a place that I would literally never move to. I have them bookmarked. yeah. If I do X, Y, and Z, and if I move my money around, I could buy this house. I could do it. I could do it knowing I'm not going anywhere. I have moved enough in my life. I have moved so much. So at this point it's more dislike, so much fun to get into other people's minds about how they think about. Building a life for themselves. And whether that's through a physical space or how we go about creating spaces for ourselves communally or socially I just find that so much fun and so enriching.

Kristen: So that's what you do on your downtime when you're not thinking about recipes, not thinking about stories that you're editing. Absolutely upon

Jesse: Zillow. Absolutely Zillow, Instagram, Pinterest. We're I'm fully in it. We're invested in every way, except financially. Objectively the most important part there's time for that. The plenty of time he says watching inflation, right? sorry to reel to reel too quick. Just forget the last 20 seconds. That's good. Cookies, fun facts that I learned from a realtor when I was really little. The way that they entice people when buying homes is they'll bake a fresh batch of cookies in the home before they do the showings. That way everyone immediately falls in love with the house, or is more likely to the house regardless of whether or not it's the set of American horror story. Now we've forgotten everything that happened before.

Kristen: Exactly. Think about how perfect those brown butter toffee chocolate chip cookies would be even more so than just the standard toll house chocolate chip cookies.

Jesse: Incredible for your you'd be a goner. Yeah. Yes. As everyone knows, ghosts, love chocolate chip cookies enough to no longer please. Okay. How do we get you here? I'm so sorry. You were trying to ask me very serious questions.

Kristen: There's a "One Recipe" for every situation. Exactly. Exorcism.

Jesse: Children's birthday parties. I think so often. So many of us think that cooking is something for someone else. We think that the beautiful dishes the Instagram worthy posts that we see, every are only things that other people can do. And they're not really for us. But really cooking is what we make of it. And at the end of the day, the "One Recipe" is all about. Celebrating yourself and the cook that you are now and introducing herself to the cook that you might become so it's not just about only cooking the recipes that you feel comfortable and competent and making right now. It's more about just saying, Hey, I see where I want to go. I see the type of cook that I want to be based on the people I follow on Instagram or the cookbooks that I'm on. Paging through always feel free to just listen and give yourself the chance to try it. And at the end of the day, the "One Recipe" is all about giving yourself a new experiment, a new test, a new source of comfort every week, and writing.

Kristen (voiceover): Thanks for listening, and my thanks to Jesse Sparks, host of the "One Recipe" podcast. This week's show is composed by Amy Shuster, Harry Sultan, and Emily Hanhan. Do you have a favorite "One Recipe"? You turn to time and again, just the guests on Jesse's. I would love to hear about it at, or you can tag me at @miglorious on Instagram. And if you The Genius Recipe Tapes and the Food52 podcast network, the very best thing that you can do to support us and to help other people find the show is to take a moment to leave us a five-star rating or review. Or send this episode to someone you would invite to an epic Jessie-style summer dinner party in the park. Thanks so much. Talk to you next week.