Chef Johanna’s early and heartfelt beginnings in the culinary industry, passion for global flavors, and respect for the power of food to connect people and places intertwine serendipitously to touch every part of the culinary program at the newly opened Mercy Me, a South American-themed hotel café.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Chef Johanna Hellrigl Wilder has given away more than 500 sourdough starters, and now she is giving us recipes we can make at home. While we had her ear, we asked her our questions about everything from recipes to kitchen design.
We interviewed the chef to gain her perspective on successful kitchen design with examples of kitchens by Anthony Wilder, a DC-based design/build firm founded by the chef’s father-in-law.
What are the key ingredients in your dream kitchen?
“Two key items I’d want in my dream kitchen are:
- A pot filler faucet over the stove – it would be a huge help to access water easily.
- An oven that is versatile with steaming or slow roasting capabilities, plus the advanced technology that allows you to use probe cooking. To take what we have in a restaurant kitchen and translate into the home would be ideal.”
What do you love, and what would you change, in your current kitchen?
“I love that we have a JennAir model microwave in our kitchen. It turns into an oven for reheating and acts as a steamer. It’s a nice feature for extra heating capabilities.
I would change the cabinets in our kitchen to stay more organized. By working with a kitchen designer, you can create organized cabinets for easier access and place items where they make the most sense, such as dedicated spice and silverware drawers. If you spend a little more time and money, you can make your kitchen organized and keep it that way. You don’t want to do spring cleaning every fall and winter; you want to make the cabinets organized and maintain them.
I’d also invest in a good range hood. The current hood over our range looks nice, but you want to be sure it’s functional, too. I’d go to a showroom and test out a hood before purchasing one by cooking a burger or steak and seeing what happens. Ours looks like a nice professional hood, but you can’t even grill a steak without opening the windows!”
If you had limited access to utensils and cookware, what five items would you have to have?
- A large cast iron skillet would be a top choice, one that covers one and a half burners. It’s so big you can really cook using one pot for vegetables and meat. I love having a cast iron skillet that you can pass on for generations, too. I didn’t inherit one but want to pass mine on in the future. Cast irons can have history and be practical.
- A Dutch oven for sour dough helps me bake a nice piece of bread and I don’t have to add water, plus you can braise meats and cook pasta sauces in it, too.
- A good spatula is something I can’t live without.
- Tongs are a necessity
- A sharp kitchen knife is important as well, one that you can sharpen via a wet stone or chef’s sharpener. I love Kyna knives from Portugal. They have wonderful handles and are aesthetically beautiful, especially when placed on a wooden block or wall. Having a sharp knife is critical; it’s actually more dangerous to work with a dull knife that makes chopping difficult.
What are your top three recipes you made during the stay at home orders and why?
“When at home, you don’t need to make elaborate meals; make it easy. If I go grocery shopping on a Monday, I’ll prep vegetables that night for the week. Here are a few quick vegetable recipes:
- Broccolini – Set the oven to 425 degrees and mix broccolini with lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and crushed red peppers; place on sheet pan and cook until the stalk is tender and the florets are crispy. This is good hot or cold.
- Baby carrots – Purchase at farmers’ markets or pick up rainbow carrots at Whole Foods; cut in half if thick or leave whole; add a little olive, honey, herbs de Provence, some gray salt and mix together; place on a sheet pan and cook at 425 degrees until tender. They’ll have a nice caramelized coating and are an easy vegetable to always have on hand.
- Asparagus – Add sumac, spices such as Aleppo pepper, olive oil and lemon juice; bake at 425 degrees until tender.
If you make these three vegetables at the beginning of the week, they’re ready to add to your meat or fish dishes for a meal.”
What is a recipe our readers can make at home?
Banana Sourdough Pancakes
1 cup Sourdough Starter (Discard, Fed from previous day) (8oz)
2 cups of All Purpose Flour (Up to 1/4 cup more if your mashed bananas were quite liquid when mashed)
1 1/2 cups Whole Milk
1 Whole Egg, Whisked
2 Tsp Sunflower Oil (Sub Neutral Oil)
1 Tbsp Baking Powder
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1 1/2 Cups Mashed Extra Ripe Bananas (about 3 small bananas)
1 Tsp Salt (Half this if not using maple syrup or sensitive to salt in desserts)
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2 tsp pumpkin spice / cinnamon (optional, but you probably have pumpkin spice leftover in your spices from the fall!) Clarified Butter/ Ghee for Cooking, Butter for Topping, Maple Syrup for Topping
Mix all ingredients together loosely. Do not over or under mix. Let it sit for 20 minutes. Heat up non-stick pan with clarified butter and use large ice cream scooper to help you scoop your pancakes into the pan. Cook until bubbled on one side, flip and watch them rise! Cook for another minute or so and remove. Should make 10 large pancakes! Make smaller if you want more pancakes.
Read more about Chef Johanna here.