In the kitchen, it takes trial and error to get from a recipe idea to the recipe you read each week in this column. There are times when recipes just don’t work out, and I have to start over once, twice, as many times as it takes. Other times, recipes come together faster because I use techniques that I’ve learned over the years of creating recipes to make something new and different.
These wontons fall into the latter category. Baked wontons are something I began working on — and perfected — a few years ago because while I like the crispiness of fried wontons, I hate the actual frying of them. For this version of my recipe, I paired a Thai-inspired peanut sauce with cabbage and chicken for a hearty, flavorful filling and dipping sauce. They’re crispy on the outside, flavorful on the inside and are pretty easy to make.
When I am creating recipes, I rely on the honest opinions of whoever is tasting them to help me go from good to great.
Last weekend, I saw “Burnt” starring Bradley Cooper at the Bangor Mall Cinemas. The recently released film follows the story of an acclaimed chef who ruined his career — and the two Michelin star restaurant he headed up — with drugs and other bad behavior, but has cleaned up. He returns to Europe to vindicate himself by opening a new restaurant worthy of receiving the coveted and rare third Michelin star from the top-secret restaurant reviewers for the guidebook.
Before he can open the restaurant though, he has to figure out what to serve that will wow patrons and reviewers alike by testing recipes for the restaurant and having anyone who will taste them. Despite his efforts, the opening doesn’t go as planned and the food is panned in reviews as dated. So, he tries again — perfecting more recipes, seeking that flawless state he craves.
Critics and moviegoers were critical of the film. A review in Variety magazine by Justin Chang called the movie, “a moody-foodie therapy session that follows an increasingly tidy narrative recipe as it sets this one-man kitchen nightmare on a long road to redemption.” He also called it predictable and imperfect. Scott Mendelson at Forbes called the movie “a kitchen nightmare.”
I wanted to see “Burnt” anyway because it interested me, despite the reviews.
As the features editor for the Bangor Daily News, I read a lot of reviews of books, film and theater. Some are written locally by our staff and others are from wire services we subscribe to. I choose a few each week to feature.
The best of the reviews — much like the best taster comments when I am working on recipes — aren’t the ones that gush about things. They’re the ones that find what really matters — whether it’s good or bad — and expose it, while also giving credit and critique where it’s due. Review writing is an art, and it’s one that is being practiced less and less, as internet culture gives anyone who wants one a platform for their thoughts.
A professional, well-written review can give insights into things that less-trained eyes wouldn’t consider. And they can inspire people to experience things they might have otherwise overlooked. Sometimes, when I read a well-written negative review, it makes me want to see a theater production or movie even more, because the review is so intriguing.
In the newsroom, we’ve discussed reviews many times. As journalism has changed and adapted over the years, reviews have taken a backseat to other stories. We try to report on as many things as we can, and we wonder if we should be doing any reviews anymore at all. Our biggest question: are they still relevant?
In the end, I really enjoyed “Burnt.” I loved the storyline, which included a subtle love story, a not-so-subtle stabbing in the back and a lot of kitchen reality. I’m glad I saw it, and glad I’d read the reviews too — even though I liked it a lot more than the movie reviewers did.
In the question of relevancy, I wonder what readers think about reviews though. Are they still valuable to you? Do you want to read them? Is there other reporting you’d rather see? What reviews would you be most interested in?
When we finished watching this movie, the first question my friend asked me was if the Michelin Guide — a printed guidebook of restaurants by, yes, the French tire company — is still relevant in our modern digital age. Michelin has been printing this book — and reviewing restaurants for 115 years, and it’s tradition. But it’s also a paper thing in a digital world (it does have a web presence, I should note, though it’s not the same as flipping through the guide).
My answer? Yes. Yes, because people still care about the Michelin stars, and the level of excellence it conveys. It’s something to strive for, awards a job well-done and separates good from great. Without that designation, what would set exceptional restaurants apart?
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- 1 cup diced rotisserie chicken
- 1 cup coleslaw mix (found near the lettuce)
- 1 tbsp peanuts, chopped
- 30 wonton wrappers
- ¼ cup creamy peanut butter
- ¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- pinch crushed red pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush a baking sheet with a little canola oil, taking care not to use it all. (Hint: you may need a second baking sheet.)
- In a mixing bowl, stir together the chicken, coleslaw mix and peanuts. Set aside.
- In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, rice vinegar, soy sauce and crushed red pepper until smooth. Add 3 tablespoons of the sauce mixture to the chicken mixture and stir well to combine. Reserve the remaining sauce for dipping.
- Divide the filling evenly among the wonton wrappers, moistening the edges with water and folding diagonally. Press the edges to seal. Place on the prepared baking sheet or sheets. Brush the wontons with the remaining oil.
- Bake for 8-12 minutes, turning once, until golden brown. Serve with the sauce.