Irvin Lin is a modern day culinary scientist. He is the chef and mastermind behind the blog, Eat the Love, where he shares his experiments, secret recipes and unique methods of blending ingredients to produce exclusive dishes. He is also an award-winning photographer, known for fusing science and art, on a quest to show folks that cooking isn’t as hard as it looks. See how he uses Pinterest to share, inspire, and even find ideas for his new cookbook!
They say cooking is a science. Can you share your background and how you started experimenting with culinary recipes?
I’ve baked my entire life, every since third grade. In college I studied painting and English literature. I used to joke that my two college degrees made me qualified for a career in being broke. But in college, whenever I had a painting critique coming up or a major paper due, I’d find myself in the kitchen baking brownies or cookies instead. I called is procasti-baking, but really the act of making food calmed my nerves and allowed me space to think and process.
As I got older, I found myself in the kitchen more and more when I was stressed. Turns out that studying painting and English literature wasn’t useless. Both of them were great foundations for learning how to research and how to communicate. As much as I love to make food, I love to read about food, write about food, and discover how and why things work (or don’t work) in the kitchen. I love learning the basics of how ingredients act with each other, how heat and cold affect the ingredients and what methods of blending or cooking is best for the final dish or dessert. Knowing the underlying science behind the culinary techniques that allowed me to play with flavors and build new and different dishes in the kitchen. It’s the perfect marriage of science and art.
When I develop a recipe, I have a pretty good idea of what happens when I put the ingredients together, which technique will work best to yield the best result or most importantly what sort of substitutions I can do to a classic recipe to make it my own. But I’m still learning and experimenting. It’s a never-ending journey. I think even the most seasoned recipe developer and chef will tell you that.
How did your blog “come out of the oven” and into fruition full-time?
I started my blog in 2010 four years ago and I left my day job a year afterwards. I’m still not a full time blogger – I don’t make any money off my blog other than a few sponsored posts here and there. But I do use my blog as both a creative outlet and a chance to build a platform for other opportunities, whether it’s photography, recipe development, food writing or even design. Many of my design projects have come directly from people learning about me through my blog and then discovering that I’m a designer. And, of course, the cookbook I’m currently working on is a direct result of my blog.
You’re also an award-winning photographer. What do you hope people will learn or experience when you share your experiences on your boards?
First and foremost I want people to look at my photography (or other photos that I didn’t take but pinned) and want to make or eat the food in it. I want the food to look doable and approachable and not something utterly unachievable, even if some of my recipes are complicated. I’m not professionally trained in the kitchen and if I can make something, I know others out there can do it as well.
But ultimately, I don’t want people to just drool over the photos, I want to inspire them to get into the kitchen and make food. Making food shouldn’t be a huge enormous task or chore, it should be fun and inspiring and empowering. Everyone has to eat, it’s what ties all of us together, no matter what walks of life you are from. I can only hope my photography inspires others to make and eat great food.
I love Pinterest because it’s a way to discover things I didn’t even know existed before. As a photographer, I’m constantly trying to find new ways to photograph food that has either been photographed a million times before or inherently isn’t that interesting to look at. I love curating and sharing both my own work as well as other work that looks at food in a slightly different way – inspiring me to photograph and look at my food differently!
Whether it’s a moody dark shot of scones or a bright vibrant shot of granola scattered on a lightbox, food photography that is slightly different than expected makes me pause a bit and makes me want to explore more. In this day and age when attention spans are short (and getting even shorter) anything that makes me pause for a moment is a good thing. If I pin that a photograph onto one of those food photography boards, it means I really love that photo and want to be able to refer back to it for visual inspiration.
You’re currently in development writing a cookbook. Tell us about it.
I’m thrilled to be working on my cookbook Marbled, Swirled and Layered, which is specifically about flavor combinations in baked goods. I’m hoping that Pinterest will be an integral part of my marketing for it. Though it’s still a ways off (the release date isn’t until Fall of 2016) I’ve already set up a Marbled, Swirled and Layered board to pin recipes I’ve come across that inspire me or inspired the book somehow. These could be food photography inspiration for the book or they could be flavor combination inspirations for recipes in the book. Or the pins could just be really cool ideas for marbled, swirled and layered desserts!
Once the book comes out, I’m hoping to pin recipes that other people have made from the book onto the board. I plan on doing a strong outreach to other food bloggers and hopefully they too will make recipes inspired from the book so I can pin their work as well (and show them and their blog some pin love). I also plan on having a dedicated section of my blog devoted specifically to the cookbook. It should have extra recipes that didn’t make it into the book, rich media assets like videos that will show some of the techniques that may be harder to learn from just photographs or written recipes in printed form, as well as other references and flavor combinations for the recipes in my book. I’m hoping by pinning those extras, it will drive discovery of my book for a new audience.
What I love about Pinterest is that it’s really is a way of discovering an answers to a question that normally are hard to answer in the traditional search engine way. I’m hoping the answer to questions like “what sort of cake should I make for my dinner party” or “what cookies should I make to impress my in-laws” will lead them to pins from or inspired from my book. Hopefully Pinterest will be an integral part of inspiration to get people baking in the kitchen with my cookbook!
You’ve shared your love for baking in your posts. What smells good in your kitchen right now?
Because I’m working on my cookbook there are tons of desserts in my house. I just finished up a series of sandwich cookies for the book, basically homemade Oreo’s for adults. One is a chocolate mint cookie with strawberry pink peppercorn filling and another is a malted chocolate cookie with a malted butterscotch filling. But my partner’s favorite one was a dark chocolate cookie with maple bacon filling. He made me keep most of them at home for him to eat, and usually we give away my baked goods because I make so many of them!
But since I’m baking so much, I’m also cooking a lot, because I find I need something to offset all that sugar. I just made a bunch of food for a picnic over the weekend including spicy guacamole with grilled avocado and grilled corn, Mexican corn salad, homemade hummus (made with sesame seeds not tahini) and a Brussels sprout and fingerling potato salad with mustard juniper berry vinaigrette. I’ve also been cooking quick stuff like grilled spice-rubbed skirt steak with chimmichuri sauce over a salad with black garlic vinaigrette and dishes like kalbi marinated style Korean beef shortribs. Everything sounds fancier than it really is. Most of the meals I make in an hour or less from start to finish which is good because I have my freelance design and photography projects to do as well as my cookbook to write!
What advice do you have for people caught in the grind who claim they don’t have enough time to cook or think being in the kitchen is too complicated?
My partner used to be scared of cooking in the kitchen with me. We jokingly referred to it as his KPA (Kitchen Panic Anxiety). But he soon realized that unlike all those TV show competitions making food is not a race. You don’t have to chop super fast or make very complicated dishes. Food is supposed to be enjoyed and, for me, making food with other people makes it so much more fun. If you suffer from KPA my first suggestion is get a knife that feels comfortable in your hand — and it doesn’t have to be a super expensive one. Though you see those fancy expensive knives on TV (hint, they’re probably supplied by the company looking for product placement on the show), nearly all professional chefs and cooks that work in restaurant kitchens use cheap $15 Dexter Russell knives with plastic handles. Whatever knife you use though, just makes sure to get it professional sharpened now and then and learn how to cut with it. There are plenty of videos online that will show you how to chop and onion or cut up a carrot. Or you could take a one-day workshop on knife skills. Once you know how to chop and cut, most recipes will start to seem totally doable – maybe even fun!
Of course, there are days that you just won’t have time or energy to make food. But on those days when you DO have more time or are in the mood to cook, I suggest doubling the recipe. I’m a HUGE proponent of leftovers, and that means I pretty much double recipes or pick ones that serve four to six people (we’re a household of two), so I know that I can eat them later on in the week. I often cook more during the weekends when I have the time or energy and once we eat our meal, divide out the leftovers into individual containers. Those containers can be taken to the office for lunch as leftovers or frozen if we don’t feel like eating the same meal several days in a row. Otherwise, I’d suggest people not stress too much. Simple things like stews, casseroles or pasta sauces all freeze great. Defrost them and serve them over a starch (rice, noodles, mashed potatoes or polenta) and you have another meal with minimal effort.
Learning to repurpose the leftovers is also an awesome time saver. Grill four steaks for two people and the next day the leftover steak can be used on top of fast salad or for a great sandwich. The meatloaf you made one night can be turned into an open-faced sandwich the next night, or even cut up into “meatballs” for a fast pasta dish. Double the baked chicken for a meal, and leftovers can be shredded for tacos or a chicken soup. Leftovers rock!