Campus Foodie: Ezra Schwartz
Welcome to a new Tasty Tufts series! We plan on interviewing a variety of Tufts students who are self-proclaimed “foodies.” These peers will divulge interesting food experiences and opinions and will hopefully inspire you to follow your own culinary explorations. Enjoy!
Can you give us a brief background bio?
My name is Ezra Schwartz, and I am a Tufts junior (class of 2016) studying biology, pre-med sciences, and classics. I am from Montreal, Quebec, the food Mecca of Canada as far as I am concerned. I believe this foodie-ness has recently shown its face at Tufts with the Cooking, Science, and Creativity lecture hosted by Theo Friedman and me recently, our Taco Tuesday on a Saturday events which I hope to broaden access to, and our upcoming ex-college class. Essentially, my food club is Theo and me in a kitchen doing what we love, and sharing our passion and food with people. Not very legitimate, but all the right pieces are there.
What is the last thing you ate?
The last thing I ate was a hodge-podge consisting of spinach quiche, the pickled fennel I made last night, and leftover barbeque salmon, and stir-fry vegetables. What’s the point of being home for break if you do not raid the fridge?
What is your favorite restaurant near Tufts and why?
My favorite restaurant near Tufts is Sarma, located at 249 Pearl St. in Somerville. Two of the executive chefs previously worked at Oleana, and they bring creative and delicious Mediterranean style cooking to a more relaxed restaurant. It is a meze-style restaurant that lends to family-style eating. My favorite aspect of food is the community it can create, and what better way than sharing small delicious plates with those around you. You all share the same gustatory experience and can revel in it together. The food is delicious, reasonably affordable for a college student, and close to home. I recommend it to everyone; seriously, it annoys people.
What items do you have to have in your fridge at all times?
I always have a cheese of some sort, typically a French cheese. I tend to keep a pesto as well; it can liven even the most boring of meals. I also keep olives, yogurt, my mom’s blueberry jam, and, of course, a six pack of some micro-brew or another.
What inspired you to combine chemistry and cooking? What have you gained from this approach?
I always understood food and chemistry as being related because they are one and the same. My fascination with the study of chemistry within cooking, however, is a more recent obsession. As I began to rely on my own cooking skills, I started to have questions and ambitions that could be easily answered by a little investigation. I think that is how it all began. Because of this new knowledge, and having learned the tricks of the trade, I no longer ask “how?” when eating at restaurants, but “why?” To explain, if a chef included a gel on a plate, I now wonder why he chose to include the gel, and why he flavored the gel the way he did, rather than questioning what wizardry allows him to cook that way.
What food do you like to eat when it’s freezing cold and snowing outside? With winter coming fast, we need suggestions to help stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder…
My favorite winter food is any meat plated with demi-glace. The simplest explanation of demi-glace is a reduced beef stock sauce. Dishes best served in summer are those that are light and fresh. Demi-glace is the exact opposite. It has deep flavor, and is rich enough for a cold winter night. Many places in Montreal serve game meats such as venison with the traditional French sauce.
If you were stranded on a desert island with only five food items for the rest of your life, what would they be?
I would have a French baguette and St-Marcellin cheese. There is no better bread than a perfect baguette, and St-Marcellin is always my go-to cheese. Ever since I was young, I could never get enough. I would also have kalamata olives. I love the brininess of them, and their complexity of flavor. I find that only red wine has the same depth of flavor as those damn good olives. I’m going to have to say a rib eye steak with Queue-de-Cheval Montreal steak spice. Queue-de-Cheval is a restaurant in Montreal; while a terrible restaurant, their steak spice is unreal. It is always my go to spice. I rub the steak with it before it goes on the grill, and after it gets off. It is essentially the perfect combination of mustard seeds, salt, pepper, and spices. Lastly, I would have baba ghanoush, specifically from Marché Akhavan. I love eggplant, and this is my favorite baba ghanoush. It is not as delicate as others, nor as smoky. It is brinier, and can be very addictive. And last but not least, balsamic glaze; like the Frank’s RedHot advertisement, “I put that shit on everything.” Really, on the island I would eat sand if it had a healthy serving of balsamic glaze on it. So to conclude, with my food choices I’d die pretty quickly, but I would have a happy stomach when I did.
Describe your approach towards cooking. Do you follow recipes meticulously or do you do your own thing?
I never follow recipes to a “t.” I will always doctor a recipe to my specific taste. I might reduce the salt, or add/substitute spices. If you think about it, recipes are only a published version of someone’s individual taste, so why not “re-personalize” it? This can’t be done when baking, but can absolutely be done with any other recipe.
What is the worst food experience you’ve ever had?
I have had two bad food experiences. The first was in Paris when I ate lamb’s brain. I had just studied the brain in gross anatomy, so I knew all the structures I was eating, and had the smell of formaldehyde in my nose. The second was eating the Icelandic delicacy of essentially smoked rotten fish. It tasted like an ashtray. Happy I tried it, but never again.
Cover photo source: Ezra Schwartz.