Q&A: Jaden Carda, Pint Size Chef and "Mini Minimalist"

Jaden Carda is the three-year-old Internet sensation behind the "Mini Minimalist," a video homage to New York Times writer and cookbook author Mark Bittman. In a single take, Jaden recites an almost verbatim rendition of Bittman's instructional video on making chocolate ganache. Jaden's memory and delivery is even more amazing considering that he was born in Thailand and has only begun to master English during the past eight months, when his family moved to Arvada, Colorado. We talked with Jaden's producer (and father) Joel Carda about the budding chef.

In the video, your son appears to mimic Mark Bittman's video for making chocolate ganache nearly word-for-word. How did he do it?

Miniminimalist_2 I download children's podcasts for Jaden on my iPhone from Sesame Street, NickJr, and PBS, which he loves, but of course I also download podcasts for myself. Most of my podcasts bore him but he returns again and again to "The Minimalist." Who would have guessed that Mark Bittman would be like catnip for kids?

Some of the comments on various blogs were almost as funny as the video. A couple of concerned parents suggested that he was showing signs of autism. Others were worried that we force him to watch Bittman in lieu of play-dates. He was hailed a prodigy and a genius. Like all biased parents, I think he is cute and smart and would love to believe that he is a genius but the truth is that he is none of the above. All kids are sponges and it is cute and surprising when they imitate adults. We just don't expect that kids would find something like that interesting and when they do, it strikes us as funny. For better or for worse, technology allows kids access to all kinds of unexpected information. Lucky for me, he'll soon be making some great meals.

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Agenda: 100-Mile Dinner, Extreme Beers, and Escape to the Hamptons



The Hundred-Mile Dinner
Slow Food NYC is presenting a fundraising dinner to benefit Slow Foods in Schools programs throughout the city. Hosted by Jimmy Carbone (proprietor, Jimmy's No.43), the menu will feature creations by Chef Philip Kirschen with ingredients that traveled no more than 100 miles from farm to plate. The menu features dishes like "Surf and Turf" tataki of venison and yellow fin tuna, merlot braised lamb cheeks, and spicy collard greens with bosc pear. All courses will also be accompanied by a locally produced wine or hard cider. The event will take place at Jimmy's No. 43 (43 East 7th Street) on Sunday, March 30th. Two seatings are available at 6:00 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. Those who wish to contribute an additional donation may do so when they purchase their tickets. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets $85/members, $105/non-members.

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Great Grater


Fans of Microplane, the maker of ultra-sharp and incredibly effective zesters and graters based on woodworking tools, has applied its brilliant design to re-engineer the classic box grater. Like the original, the Microplane Box Grater has four cutting surfaces to zest citrus and slice, shred, or finely grate vegetables, chocolate, or cheese. Just be extra careful of your knuckles the next time you make potato pancakes. $34.95 at Williams-Sonoma.


David Chang's Tongs Takedown


Last week's New Yorker featured a profile of culinary it-boy David Chang and his trio of restaurants, Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, and (brand new) Momofuku Ko. A lot of attention has been paid to the article's discussion of Chang's pefectionism, neuroses, and stress in dealing with the incredible amount of praise he has received. Others have obsessed over passages hinting at the possibility of a palatial Momofuku outlet opening in Vegas or even Dubai.

But, it was another passage that I found even more intriguing. It recalls an outburst by Chang when he discovered some shoddy technique by his cooks at the Noodle Bar:

At Noodle Bar, a junior line cook had been cooking chicken for family meal— lunch for the staff—and although he had to cook something like seventy-five chicken pieces and the stoves were mostly empty, he’d been cooking them in only two pans, which meant that he was wastiing time he could have spent helping to prep for dinner. Also, he was cooking with tongs, which was bad technique, it ripped the food apart, it was how you cooked at T.G.I. Friday’s—he should have been using a spoon or a spatula. Cooking with tongs showed disrespect for the chicken, disrespect for family meal, and, by extension, disrespect for the entire restaurant.

Disrespect? For using tongs!

I have no formal training as a chef, but I love using my tongs. When I cook, they're like an extension of my hands. Of course, I wouldn't use them to flip a delicate fish filet for fear of tearing it apart, but they seem to do the job perfectly with chicken (at least for me).

So, have I been a disrespectful cook all these years? What do you think, home cooks and pros, tong lovers and haters? Is tong technique acceptable or should it only be reserved for cheesy restaurant chains?


Agenda: North of the Border BBQ, Brooklyn Eats, and Home Entertaining


Crazy Canuck Barbecue Dinner
Get a taste of barbecue, north of the border-style, at the Crazy Canuck Winter Barbecue Dinner. The dinner will feature food prepared by wild-haired chef Ted Reader, one of Canada's most adventurous and celebrated barbecue experts. Look for treats like maple-smoked chicken lollipops and cherry Coke-marinated brisket paired with Canadian wines and beers. The event will take place on Wednesday, March 19th, at 7:00 p.m. at the James Beard House (167 West 12th Street). Tickets $155/person, $125/members (212.627.2308).


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Eating Your Colors


Tattfoo Tan (below right) is the Malayasian-born artist behind the newly installed mural on Front Street in DUMBO. The mural is life size replica of a placemat he created as part of his Nature Matching System (NMS). The colors in the placemat are inspired from actual food colors and serve as a reminder to eat properly.

Free NMS placemats are available at Foragers Market (56 Adams Street) in DUMBO. To request an artist-signed copy, contact [email protected] (shipping and handling charges will apply).

What was your inspiration for the NMS project?

Fan2eNMS was developed as a reminder to consume our daily recommended doses of color. The shades of color displayed at farmers’ markets are more than skin deep, reflecting the inner potential of every fruit and vegetable; intense colors might even be called nature’s nutrition labels. They get many of their colors from phytonutrients, compounds that play key roles in health and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. The more colors come together at a meal, the better. Sadly, marketers of junk food apply the same technique used by nature to pollinate seeds in order to sell their nutrition-deprived products. Color is a device that can either do good or be deceptive and even ensure the "pollination" of unhealthy eating habits. The colors on the placemat are all actual food colors, taken from photographs of various fruits and vegetables. Match your meal to the placemat -- it is truly a rainbow connection.

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The Postmodern Martini


The seemingly endless design possibilities of thermal glassware are well-documented on this site, from a novel french press to shape shifting glasses for liqueur, beer, or wine. Here's another stunning example: Alissia Melka Teichroew's Inside Out Martini Glasses, which surround the iconic cocktail vessel with a water glass-shaped exterior. A set of two is $68 at the MoMA Store.


Agenda: Chop Suey, Tea Parties, Sharp Blades, and Sweet Chemistry


The History of Chop Suey
Both beloved and abhorred, chop suey is widely accepted as the dish that opened the American palate to exotic cuisines. The Culinary Historians of New York will be presenting a dinner and lecture, "The History of Chop Suey in America," led by independent scholar Andrew Coe. Coe is currently working on a book about the history of Chinese food in the United States, expected to be published in 2009. The event will take place on Thursday, March 13, at Grand Harmony Restaurant (98 Mott Street) with a buffet dinner at 6:00 p.m., followed by the lecture at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets. $45/non-members, $30/members, $27 student and senior members.


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A Winter Caprese


Do you find yourself craving summer dishes in the waning days of winter? I know even the thought is heresy for the hardcore adherents of seasonal cooking and eating, but what I wouldn't give right now to be eating a caprese salad of fresh mozzarella, ultra-ripe heirloom tomatoes, basil, and olive oil.

Unfortunately, the ingredients won't cooperate. You can't find a decent tomato until summer -- and late summer at that -- so, what does one do? I've made a fair alternative caprese by roasting plum tomatoes, sliced in half, seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and cooked in the oven (or toaster) until their interior is soft. Once the tomatoes have cooled, serve them either chilled or at room temperature with sliced mozzarella, and you have an almost caprese.

But, I recently discovered another way of creating caprese glory as fresh in winter as the summer original: substitute winter citrus, now at its best, for the tomatoes.

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Garden a Go-Go


Los Angeles-based Food Map design has come to the rescue of global thinking folks who harbor big organic gardening ambitions but might be hampered by small local real estate. Its non-toxic movable Food Map Container is partially made from post-industrial recycled materials and is designed to have a minimal overall environmental impact. The planter-on-wheels concept means it can be placed where sunlight is most favorable, or out of the way of your guests at your next cozy summer BBQ. Start your own garden for $245-$255 at Food Map design.