In Our Community Corner: Meet Erica Jacobs (aka: 'Teachertalk')

Each week we talk to a member of the Serious Eats community. This week we chatted with Teachertalk, a devoted Serious Eater from Fairfax, VA. -The Mgmt.

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Name: Erica Jacobs
Location: Fairfax, Virginia
Occupation: Adjunct in the English Department of George Mason University. (I teach Advanced Composition.) I am also a retired high school Advanced Placement English teacher.
Website: Erica_jacobs.typepad.com

What is one of your earliest food memories?

I was born and grew up in San Francisco, so I have wonderful memories of eating in Chinatown and ordering off the Chinese menu, which was quite radical for non-Chinese in the 1950s and 60s. My mother was a great cook and her specialty was cioppino, which originated in San Francisco so those feasts are my earliest home food memories.

Will you tell us about the most memorable bite of food you've ever eaten?

My first bite of risotto at a white truffle dinner 20 years ago. The chef had flown on the Corcorde to Italy to get fresh truffles for the yearly dinner; the lavish scattering of shaved truffles on the risotto blew my mind--so fragrant, so funky! "Think of barnyard" the chef said.

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Thousands of dollars worth of white truffles [Photograph: Robyn Lee]

When people come to visit Fairfax, where do recommend they eat/take them to eat?

There is a French country restaurant (L'Auberge Chez Francois) outside of Washington D.C. where we love to go for special occasions; it hasn't changed since we began going 30 years ago. Our daughter's wedding was there, and we celebrated New Years' Eve 1999-2000 in their dining room. We love it because it is family run, with expertise and pride.

When you leave Fairfax, where will your last meal be?

We love the Indian restaurant in our neighborhood, Curry Mantra. The Goat Biryani would be my farewell dish!

Is there something that you've eaten recently that you can't stop thinking about?

I made shredded kale with pork belly for the first time this weekend. I know SE has been singing the praises of kale for years--but I can't stop thinking about how much better it was than I expected!

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Erica Jacobs' Cioppino

What do you love to cook most?

Some years ago I started making my mother's recipe for Cioppino as a tribute to her. Even though the sourdough bread has to be shipped from San Francisco, and the crab is frozen, somehow our friends and family have taken to this new tradition in Fairfax. Her secret was sautéing all the seafood in the shell, in copious amounts of parsley, garlic, and olive oil. Scooping up the fishy, garlicky sauce with bread is a transcendent experience.

What is the most disastrous dish you've ever attempted to cook?

Any recent failure is always the most stinging to me. Right now I am embarrassed that I smoked a brisket for company over the weekend and actually believed the smoker guide that it would be ready in 8 hours. It was ready in closer to 14 hours--after the company was long gone. I did pull it off and serve it (pretty chewy, but the rub tasted good!), but returned it to the smoker and at 4 a.m. it was perfect!

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Dumplings. I love pork and chive dumplings, and can eat one or two dozen when I make them. They are my ultimate comfort food.

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[Photograph: Jay Friedman]

What is your favorite aroma in the kitchen?

Hard to choose: bacon, garlic and onions, meatballs, boeuf bourguignon, short ribs roasting in the oven...there are so many good kitchen smells!

If you could eat or cook a meal with anyone who would it be and why?

When I was in graduate school in the early 1970s, I discovered Julia Child and used to make her recipes in our crummy, 122nd Street, cold water flat. I would love to thank her for her gift of cooking inspiration to a poor grad student who could taste the difference between common 1970s food and what I could prepare from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." I guess cooking with Julia is not a realistic goal, but I would love to introduce my grandson to some of her recipes. So cooking Julia's beef bourguignon and pate with Lev Jacobs is my current dream.

Julia Child

Erica also had some very flattering things to say about Serious Eats....

I have been a devoted reader of SE almost back to the beginning. Adam introduced me to homemade pizza and I now have a baking steel in my oven. Kenji is a miracle with every "Food Lab" (I still haven't recovered from Dumpling's loss..) and Will Gordon is one of the best humor writers of all time. Period. Ed's brainchild has what I tell my students their papers need: voice and personality. Every single column has a viewpoint and often a quirky perspective that I appreciate as a writer and cook. SE is the only website I consult several times a day; either I'm OCD or the site is sensational!

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