Elite Spotlight: Cooking with Shereen (@cookingwithshereen)
Why cook from scratch? Because you can, according to Shereen Pavlides. The food personality and recipe developer is best known for her simple approach to favorite dishes (and her entertaining delivery).
She took time out of her busy schedule, which includes writing her first cookbook, to sit down with Dalstrong to talk about her favorite hack, her cooking philosophy, and her best advice for people just starting out with cooking.
You have built a brand around “Back to Basics” and a “Homemade Made Easy” vibe. What inspired this?
It really developed on its own. Homemade Made Easy is just how I’ve always cooked. It’s what I believe in. When I started doing the videos, I really just wanted to show people how easy it was. I do videos in a 60-second format sharing what I believe in, which is always cooking from scratch.
I do create content based on the feedback I get. That’s how “Chefie Tips” was born, and then I created “Back to Basics.” So many people ask me “Why is my chicken so dry?” So I’ll do a “Back to Basics” video on that, back to the foundation. I always start with the foundation and then people can build and create their own creations from there.
Is it really that easy to cook from scratch or do you just make it look easy?
It’s that easy. Anyone can do it.
Why do you love to cook?
It’s in my blood. Ever since I was young, I’ve had a passion for it. I went to culinary school in New York City, worked in restaurants since I was 13, then in food media. I guest-hosted live on-air for QVC, presenting culinary gadgets for over a year, and, before that, worked as a food stylist for live TV. My whole life has been about food.
So many people are stuck at home and have been for months. What are some tips for how to make the most of cooking while we’re somewhat isolated from the world?
I think we’ve all been cooking a lot more. Everyone has the time. I’ve loved reading the messages from people saying how much they’ve learned from my videos. People are taking the time to learn. And they’re seeing that it’s not as difficult to cook. We can get off our computers and phones for a bit to cook from scratch and bond with family.
What’s the one dish everyone overcomplicates?
Chicken! That was why I started “Back to Basics.” Everybody wants to overcook and overseason. In one of my posts, people went nuts. “You only use salt and pepper, you’re a horrible cook!” They couldn’t believe it. And it’s the most delicious succulent, tender chicken.
I started with organic breasts and just added salt and pepper. It is amazing, every single time! When you start with good quality, fresh ingredients, there’s not much you need to do to it. Keep it simple. Trust me.
It seems like we compensate for poorly cooked food sometimes by drowning it in sauces and seasoning...
Right. Now if you want to dip into pesto or tzatziki, great. But here’s your foundation. Let the food be the star. Don’t mask it in flavor. I was always taught to let the food shine. Let the accompaniments complement it. I remember when I worked at the Fountain Restaurant at the Four Seasons in Philly.
I asked one of the chefs about something he made called a carrot puddle. It’s just chicken stock and carrot. He said, “Let the carrot be the star.” That has always stuck with me. Start with your main focus then put the other things on. It’s about layering. But you always start with your foundation.
What are common misconceptions about cooking?
That you have to do a lot. Less is more. When you’re cooking and building, it becomes a cohesive dish. You don’t need to lay a lot of spices on. Wait until the end to season more. It’s the same with interior design and fashion. You wouldn’t add too many earrings, belts, etc. without starting with your basic outfit. It’s just too much. My Jamaican jerk steak has a lot of spices. So I pair it with sides with less spices. Everything has a reason.
What are the three things every kitchen needs?
Dalstrong knives! (Seriously). Everyone needs a good chef’s knife. When my knives get dull, I get grumpy! It really affects my day, affects everything. A sharp chef’s knife is an absolute must.
A good quality 12” saute pan. It makes a huge difference.
What’s your favorite hack?
Putting cold water on your hands and knife when chopping garlic keeps it from sticking to your fingers and knife. It can be frustrating when it sticks. Another benefit of using a stainless steel knife is that as you touch it more, it takes the garlic smell off your hands. (Be VERY careful not cut yourself.)
Is there a new recipe discovery that you’re obsessed with?
So many! I’m coming out with my first cookbook. Working on that now. I’m on an insane deadline, working around the clock. I’m including a small handful of favorites, but there’s going to be 48-50 new ones that no one’s ever seen. Every recipe has a photograph because we always want to see what it’s going to look like.
When you’re not in the kitchen, where are you? What are your passions beyond cooking?
Decorating my house, renovating other homes, and interior design. I love my kitchen but will renovate that eventually. When I do, I’ll take everyone through that experience. I love using my creative energy to make something beautiful and functional.
Everyone loved my flour + sugar (a.k.a: shugá) drawer, and they wanted me to do a video. My whole thing is this is what I have, and I want to do a video in a way that will help people organize better. When I stand at my island, I don’t want to go far to grab what I need.
Is there a spice you secretly hate?
Lavender. I do not like it. It reminds me of soap. There isn’t much I don’t like, but I don’t like lavender.
If you could make a meal for one person (not a friend or family member), who would it be?
What would your last meal be?
Pizza, ice cream, and red wine. And it has to be Haagen Dazs. And French fries.
Who are your cooking heroes?
Gordon Ramsey and Thomas Keller.
What’s your favorite kitchen tool?
My Dalstrong chef’s knife. I’ll be honest with you, I do not work with any company that I don’t believe in. I say ‘no’ a lot. I’ve represented things in my past life that I didn’t love. Now I only represent things that I use, that I’m proud to use, that I believe in. Dalstrong makes amazing freaking knives. I can’t say that I have one favorite series. Love them all.
For beginners, I suggest going with the smaller of the knives or the santoku. Always go smaller first when starting out. The larger knives take a while to get comfortable with. My advice for a foodie or a home cook, get a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife. That’s a must.
Another important point to make here: They’re very sharp. A lot of people don’t realize how to use a knife. People are used to pressing hard because they’re using older, duller knives. With a quality knife, don’t press hard. Let it do the work. That’s when you can cut yourself. Learn how to maintain it. Use the honing steel regularly to keep the blade straight, and then occasionally sharpen the blade.
OK, so be honest. Do you cook every meal, or do you sometimes just pop a frozen pizza in the oven and say “screw it”...
Never. I can throw boneless, skinless chicken breasts on the grill for eight minutes or pan fry Chicken Milanese and make a salad while that’s cooking. The whole thing is ready before the oven is even preheated for a frozen pizza. I love fresh food, and it’s easy.
What have you learned about yourself through cooking?
I learned that I’m a perfectionist when it comes to cooking. If I make a great dish, it makes my day. If I screw something up, it ruins my day. Which seems so silly! But it’s my passion, so it really matters to me.
What are you going to cook today?
Today I’m testing recipes for the cookbook. Working on a bunch of things: homemade pecan pie, Jamaican jerk steak, orzo feta pasta salad, swiss chard and beans, and a martini. I’ll be including homemade, freshly concocted cocktails in my cookbook also.
I want to add one last thing. For people who hate cooking or find it to be stressful, here is my best tip: put on your favorite feel-good music every single time you cook. It will totally elevate the experience, and it will make you love cooking.
That’s awesome advice. What’s your go-to cooking music?
I’m an old soul so I listen to Louis Armstrong. On Pandora, my favorite station is French Cooking Music Radio. And I also like Joey Pecoraro, that’s my feel-good music. And it will totally make a difference in your dish. Your energy pours into your food.
You can (and should) follow Shereen’s cooking journey on www.cookingwithshereen.com Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok. Her first cookbook is finally available which you can order from her website www.shereenpavlides.com.
Interviewed by Abby Slate
Born and raised in the South, Abby lives by three things: bacon goes in everything, all food can (and should) be deep fried, and hush puppies are religion.