Tales from the test kitchen

For Paul Grimes '78, picture-perfect doesn't mean unreal. Grimes, now a food editor and stylist at Gourmet, always tries to leave a few crumbs on every plate that he prepares for the magazine, in order to make the dish look friendly rather than intimidating. It's his signature. Above all else, food, says Grimes, should be accessible.

A classically trained chef--he received his diploma from the prestigious Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in France--Grimes turned to food styling fifteen years ago. Magazine food stylists are responsible for making our mouths water. They take the featured recipe, buy the ingredients, make the food, and put it on the plate--sometimes choosing the dishes and linens, too--for the cameras. Grimes's work has appeared on the pages of Food & Wine (where he worked for twelve years), Bon Appetit, Harper's Bazaar, Family Circle, GQ, and House Beautiful, and more than a dozen cookbooks, in addition to his assignments for corporate clients Kraft and Beefeater Gin.

Paul Grimes has always been interested in the visuals of food. A studio-art major at Kenyon, he spent a year in France after graduation on a Watson Fellowship studying kitchen design. He illustrated the memoirs of friend Simone Beck, the grande dame of French cuisine. Food styling was a natural progression, combining his understanding of the chemistry of food and the art of putting it on the plate.

Grimes was perfectly content in the niche he had created for himself, and enjoyed the freelance lifestyle. There's a lot to be said for being able to invoice your clients, in your pajamas, watching Oprah, he grinned. But it's hard to turn down a chance to work with Ruth Reichl, the former restaurant reviewer for the New York Times who has given Gourmet a makeover since assuming its editorship a few years ago. The granddaddy of cooking magazines now is edgier, takes more risks, and focuses on good writing, Grimes says. So when he was offered a full-time position at the magazine last January, he took it.

He's one of eight editors who have their own test kitchen at the magazine. In them, recipes are developed, tasted, and critiqued, a weeks-long process. "Cross-testers" are even brought in--people who aren't professional cooks--to make the recipes. It's an exhausting routine but full of challenge and teamwork. "I love it," says Grimes, after a long day spent testing beef stroganoff. "It's pretty wild."

The hours can be grueling. In addition to his regular duties, Grimes is the guy who gets up at 4:30 a.m. to cook the food, select the linens, and script the television segment when the magazine is invited onto one of the morning news shows.

But it's tough to feel too sorry for him. His work frequently takes him to nice places. A recent assignment had him on location at a Vermont farmhouse, where he styled a meal of arugula and tomato salad, Cornish game hens wrapped in bacon with a raspberry balsamic glaze, and corn fritters.

Even better is the education allowance. In order to stimulate innovation and creativity, the magazine encourages food editors to get out and take the pulse of the industry. This is not about food booths in Indianapolis. Grimes is just back from a glutton's feast in London, a city so hot in the culinary world that it's hard to remember its centuries-long devotion to entrails pies and soggy peas.

Grimes doesn't take any of his current good fortune for granted. He worked long and hard to get to here and plans to stay 'til they kick him out. "The people are smart and everybody's very different. There are no fatheads. I feel very lucky."

Island Pork Tenderloin Salad

2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 pork tenderloins (2-1/4 to 2-1/2 lbs. total)
2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic
1 Tbsp. Tabasco

3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. curry powder, toasted
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

3 navel oranges
5 ounces baby spinach, trimmed (6 cups leaves)
4 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage (from 1 medium head)
1 red bell pepper, cut lengthwise into thin strips
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 firm, ripe California avocados

Prepare pork
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Stir together salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, and cinnamon, and then coat pork with spice rub.
3. Heat oil in ovenproof 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until just beginning to smoke, then brown pork, turning, about 4 minutes total. Leave pork in skillet.

Make glaze and roast pork
1. Stir together brown sugar, garlic, and Tabasco and pat onto top of each tenderloin. Roast in middle of oven until thermometer inserted diagonally in center of each tenderloin registers 140 degrees F., about 20 minutes. Let pork stand in skillet at room temperature 10 minutes. (Temperature will rise to about 155 degrees F. while standing.)

Make vinaigrette while pork roasts
1. Whisk together juices, mustard, curry powder, salt, and pepper, then add oil in a stream, whisking until emulsified.

Prepare salad ingredients while pork rests
1. Cut peel, including white pith, from oranges with a sharp knife, then cut oranges crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Toss spinach, cabbage, bell pepper, and raisins in a large bowl with about 1/4 cup vinaigrette. Halve, pit, and peel avocados, then cut diagonally into 1/4-inch-thick slices.

Assemble salad
1. Cut pork at 45-degree angle into 1/2 inch-thick slices. Line a large platter with dressed salad and arrange sliced pork, oranges, and avocados in rows on top. Drizzle some vinaigrette over avocados and oranges. Pour any juices from skillet over pork.

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