"Ask a Chef" is part of an on-going series in which 5280 poses a single question to a local culinary luminary.
Driven by curiosity and armed with a Betty Crocker cookbook, Chef Scott Parker began experimenting in the kitchen when he was six years old. He's been perfecting his art ever since. Parker’s latest exploration comes in the form of Session Kitchen, which opened last week on South Pearl Street. Offering fresh and flavorful dishes inspired by a wide range of global cuisines, Session Kitchen's most distinctive trait is its unique take on portioning—each dish is specially sized for tables to share. In the midst of the opening, we pulled Parker aside and asked him about one of his (many) favorite culinary hobbies.
5280: What attracts you to preserving and curing foods?
SP: Honestly, it’s just about getting the flavors of the seasons all year-round if you can. Not like in a weird chemically convoluted way, but as close to natural as possible. Very minimal—just a salt, sugar, vinegar kind of thing. Little bites of summer. Have you ever eaten a strawberry warmed by the sun or a peach from the tree [that’s] delicious and perfectly sweet and the texture is great, and you wish you could hang on to that? You’ll never get that fresh thing [out of season] but preserving is a good way to keep those flavors going a little bit.
When I was seven or eight, there was a strawberry field next to one of my friend’s houses. We weren’t supposed to, but we went next door and just ate strawberries like crazy because they were warmed by the sun and just juicy and perfect. We just ate them and ate them and ate them. We got in trouble for it.
I’m just waiting for the seasons to roll around to do some different stuff. And we’re heading into winter where I have cabbage, potatoes, onions, and beets. I’m going to find some cool new ways to preserve that stuff.
Preserving has been going on for thousands of years. It was something I didn’t know [much about]. So I had to find out. It’s fun getting to do something like this. It’s kind of like if everything just went to shit all the sudden and you just really wanted to watch TV, could you make one? I’m slowly getting there through meat and fruit. I just want to preserve things and know how to make things like hams and bolognas and all these sausages. On the grand scale maybe I’ll end up with an iPhone, but right now I’m starting with meat. Its just one of those things I have to know. And since I cook for a living, and have been for a long time, it’s like why not get into every aspect of it. It’s a craft.
I need to know more, so that’s why I’m still [cooking]. And when I decide that I don’t need to know more, then I’ll be something else. Plumber. Carpenter. Weight lifter. A lugist. We’ll see what happens.
Insider Tip: The vague listing of "jam" and "seasonal jam" on Session Kitchen’s menu allows Parker the freedom to devise new concoctions whenever he pleases. Parker gave us a taste of his most recent creation: Schmaltz Onion Jam, a sweet and savory onion preserve made with chicken fat and fried chicken skin. Find most of Parker's preserved foodstuffs—served with small bites such as Kennebec tater tots and plancha bread—under the "Jam Session" section of the menu.
—Photo by Rachel Nobrega