If you don't know Adam Savage's good friend Chef Traci Des Jardins from her appearances on Top Chef, Iron Chef and Knife Fight, you may know the James Beard Award-winning chef from her several videos on Tested, including Cooking the Perfect Omelette, Improving a Cat Exercise Wheel and Making a Space Burrito (With Chris Hadfield).
This friend of Adam's and Tested's was a natural choice, then, for The Talking Room -- but perhaps what's most unexpected was how much Adam himself learned from his and Traci's ensuing conversation.
In case you missed the full video, we've summed it up for you. Here are our favorite things that emerged from Adam's Talking Room interview with Traci Des Jardins.
Traci grew up eating "strange things," like blackbirds and squirrels.
Traci grew up in a family of hunters, where the rule was you had to eat whatever you killed. It meant that "hunting accidents ended up sometimes with an interesting culinary fodder," such as blackbirds and squirrels.
If you wouldn't kill it, you should reconsider eating it.
Traci first went to a slaughterhouse when she was just 9 years old. Likewise, she always wanted her son, now a teenager, to understand that beef comes from a cow.
"I think it's important that people have a connection to the life given for the steak that's on your plate. One of my favorite questions is, if you had to kill what you eat, what would you eat? Could you kill a cow? A pig? It's not easy and I don't think it should be easy. I think people should really think about that."
Filming Top Chef Masters meant 23 days without a break, which was "intense."
In 2011, Traci appeared in Top Chef Masters, for which she was runner-up. Making it to the final round meant she filmed 23 days in a row. "You had a couple days where they were just doing interviews so we weren't actually cooking, but you were being interviewed for hours and hours and hours."
… to which Adam replied, "Oh my god."
Traci's goal for Top Chef Masters was to not cry on camera.
Traci tends to be a "super emotional person," so her main goal was not to be caught crying on the show. "If I got kicked off, I didn't want to cry on camera." So she didn't get kicked off. Success!
Anchovies are a prep nightmare.
According to Traci, some things in the kitchen are just painstaking to prepare … such as anchovies. "You have to scale them first, then gut them, then take out the backbone." And don't get her started on fava or fresh garbanzo beans. "The labor involved — if you wanted to serve these to 10 people in your kitchen at home and you had to prep them, you would not be having a good time."
But such arduous tasks can be zen.
"I can do something that's really tedious for hours and hours and hours in a kitchen and I find it very relaxing and peaceful. I guess that's why I do what I do."
Traci can immediately smell when something is wrong at her restaurant.
According to Traci, she has a "legendary" nose. "I can walk into the kitchen and smell if something just not quite right." In addition to being able to smell if something's burned, Traci knows immediately if something is off. "Fish. I'm a maniac about fish."
By the time she was 3 years old, Traci was cooking.
Traci started making chocolate-chip cookies with her mom when she was 3. "I think by the time I was about 4 I could make the dough and my mom would bake the cookies for me. That was the first thing that I cooked: chocolate-chip cookies."
Ski bum was Traci's original career goal.
After graduating from high school at age 16, Traci went to UC Santa Cruz and then thought, "I want to be a ski bum for a while." Alas, "my parents weren't going to support me being a ski bum, but I thought if I learned to be a cook I could just go any place and be able to hang out and ski."
Skiing stayed just out of reach for the next 15 years, as 17-year-old Traci started a traditional apprenticeship in the "very, very serious" kitchen of renowned chef Joachim Splichal.
The California Culinary Academy rejected Traci.
"I applied to some culinary schools, to CCA. I didn't get in. Which is really fun. I always like to remind anyone that will listen to that. You didn't let me into CCA."
Don't be afraid to invite Traci to dinner. She's not judging you.
According to Traci, there's a lot of pressure to control your reactions when you're a chef invited to a home cooked meal. But "I am just so happy when people cook for me I don't care what it is. I'm not going to be analytical about it. I'm not thinking like a chef when I come to dinner."S
Traci gets many of her ideas while she's driving.
People have different ways of approaching food, but Traci works through dishes, menus and flavor combinations in her head. "It's informed by products that are available then, but the formulation of the ideas and the flavors —I do that a lot when I'm driving. I'll swork through the textures and flavors and imagine what's happening in that plate."
When a key staffer leaves to start their own restaurant, it can hurt.
"I can remember probably the first time I lost somebody that I really cared about, because you invest a lot of energy in teaching somebody. The first time that I had somebody that I really felt like I'd done that work with and they left me, it was just crushing. It was like breaking up. It was really super sad. You didn't want to see them go. But the creative part of it, those people want to get to a point where they're expressing their own creativity."
Traci used to be "mean."
Today, Traci tries to leave work at work. "I think I used to be so stressed out and I used to be super crazy." Back in the '80s, the kitchen was a pressure cooker that was about to blow all the time. "Super long hours, very stressful. I always kind of liked that. Until I opened Jardinière, I was known to be pretty aggressive and mean. I guess, to survive in those kitchens I had to have a little bit of that going on because that's what the kitchens were like."
But then she learned how to pull back from that and let go of things.
Are you a young chef? Write everything down.
Throughout her career, Traci has kept notebooks on combinations she'd tried, how it worked and what it tasted like, but "I was not as detailed as I should have been ... That's one thing I would definitely tell a young chef. Write every single thing down."