Improv in the Kitchen

How Dr. Neil Bardhan brings the spirit of “Yes, and!” into the kitchen.

How closely do you follow a recipe? Do you follow it precisely as it’s written or do you color a little bit outside the lines? For me, as I’m sure it is for a lot of people, it’s circumstantial. I usually treat recipes like a framework and depending on how familiar I am with the language of the cuisine, thats how closely I stay within the guidelines. If it’s a dish that’s new territory for me, I’ll stick to the script with minimal wiggling, but if it’s a dish I’ve done a thousand times before, you can bet that I’ll be remixing ingredients and spinning off new variations almost every time that meal is cooked.

I guess it’s like that with everything in life. When we have more command over a subject we’re more confident with our tools, with our equipment, and with our capabilities, but when we’re just starting out we learn by following along and that’s perfectly fine. Once you learn the steps you can dance to your own rhythm. Which is why I can really appreciate the idea of practicing improv into the kitchen and how we learn, mess up, forgive ourselves, and gain confidence in our cooking.

On this week’s episode of Amuse-Bouche I chat with Dr. Neil Bardhan, an improv performer who also happens to have a Ph.D. in Brain and Cognitive Sciences. We had such a fun conversation about Neil’s love of breakfast sandwiches, his 100 Days of Neil Spice project, improv, and the art of a good dinner party (check out his show My Dinner with Ryanneil PT Bardhanlow). What really stuck with me from this conversation was how practicing improv gave him permission to make mistakes and how that freedom and flexibility extends into the kitchen.

“Overall for me these days, it’s a nice reminder as I’m playing in the kitchen this is a space that I get to be creative in,” says Neil. “There are almost no rules, there’s very few consequences — just joy and flavor.”

Though we may not all be performers, the kitchen is a place where we can bring in a little bit of improv!

You can listen to this week’s episode of Amuse-Bouche on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, Amazon, and more!

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Italian Sausage and Cannellini Bean Soup

If there was a shoulder season for soup, it would be April. Though the sunny days are warm, those drizzly, April Shower days can be chilly and gray — prime soup time.

Making soup is my kind of cooking. Everything goes into a pot and all of the flavors simmer together. It’s a medium I am fluent in and one I feel most comfortable improvising with. This week, in an attempt to use up some cans of cannellini beans I decided to make a white bean and vegetable soup. It was going to be a vegan dinner, but at the last minute, I was in the mood for some Italian sausage I had in the fridge, so I cooked up and threw it in. If you’re looking for a more veggie forward soup, you can leave the sausage out.

Ingredients

  • 2 19oz can cannellini beans

  • 3 large carrots, chopped

  • 1/2 large onion, diced

  • 1 cup chopped spinach (or kale)

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 teaspoon rosemary

  • 1 teaspoon thyme

  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 3 cups vegetable broth

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • optional Italian sausage

Instructions

  1. In a large pot heat up olive oil and sauté diced onions and carrots (add optional Italian sausage at this time).

  2. When onions and carrots are tender (and sausage is mostly cooked), add chopped spinach, garlic cloves, rosemary, thyme, cumin, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.

  3. Stir to distribute seasoning. Once spinach is partially cooked down, add vegetable broth.

  4. Cover the soup and simmer on low for 15 minutes.

  5. Let cool and serve!


Appearing:
Speaking of My Dinner with Ryanneil PT Bardhanlow, I was actually on the latest episode.

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Publishing:

Sometimes those happy little accidents lead to some of the most delicious eats! This recent episode of Delishtory explores how some mistakes in the kitchen have led to entirely new food inventions.

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Listening:

If you’re looking for a good deep dive into kids movies (and kids shows), and Kidflix with Ross Weisman delivers! Every episode is packed with nostalgia and random nerdy facts about the actors, writers, and circumstances behind the film. Neil was also on an episode of Kidflix recently analyzing We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story, which stars John Goodman and features Jay Leno and Julia Child weirdly enough.

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Watching:
After hate-watching “Garden State” again, I decided to go into another New Jersey film universe and dive into Kevin Smith’s original New Jersey Trilogy — Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy. It’s a pretty spot on representation of New Jersey in the 90’s. Though it’s a little before my time, I do remember having to use pay phones at corner stores, how the mall was a center of community and commercialism, and navigating the delicate balance of friendship and love interests. The characters have a ton of multitudes and dimension, I love the nerdy banter (especially the deep analysis of Star Wars), and when you watch all three films in rapid succession, you find there are little Easter eggs hidden throughout the film that remind you that we’re playing in the View Askew Productions’ (Kevin Smith’s production company) universe.

I think this week we’re moving forward and watching Dogma! Do you have a favorite Kevin Smith movie?

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Interesting:

Since the 1980’s, remnants of Garfield phones have been washing up on the shores of the Iroise coast in Brittany in France. For years they couldn’t figure out why this was happening, until recently they realized that it was lost shipping container stuck out at sea. Caught inside a rock fissure, the shipping container has just been leaking novelty Garfield phones for over 30 years.

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