November 14, 2011 § 204 Comments
By: Yishan Wong
Quora gives you 500 credits to start.
You can see your credit “transaction history” at http:///www.quora.com/credits
If you go below 100 credits, it will be periodically refreshed back up to 100 credits. This means if you have zero credits, you will get 100 credits. If you have 70, you will get 30 credits. Quora calls these “system refreshes.”
How you get credits:
You can earn credits by answering an Ask To Answer request, by getting upvotes on answers or posts you’ve written, or if someone gives you credits.
For every upvote that you receive for an answer or post, you will receive 10 credits. This is even true if you wrote the answer anonymously.
When someone who you Ask to Answer a question write an answer, you will receive 5 credits for every upvote that answer receives.
The primary usage of credits is the Ask To Answer Suggestion function, where Quora will suggest users to you that you can ask to answer a question. Each user who is not your friend (you are both following each other) may have a price you must pay in order to ask them to answer. You use your credits to send them Ask to Answer requests. 25% of this price is paid to them immediately, and the remaining 75% will be paid if they respond with an answer within a week.
You can give credits to other users, but you must have at least 500 credits in your account. For example, if you have 570 credits, you can only give up to 70 credits to someone. If you later receive more credits, you can then give more. The reason for this is because every user starts out with 500 credits, and Quora doesn’t want people to create multiple fake accounts just to send the initial 500 credits to a single account. You can give credits to any user for any reason, and you can send a message along with the credits.
Under the covers:
When you upvote an answer or post, the author receives 10 credits, but you don’t spend any of your credits. Yes, this is how credits are “created” in the economy (in addition to system refreshes).
If someone pays credits to ask you to answer a question, you will immediately receive 25% of that fee, and you will receive the remaining 75% if you answer within a week. This 75% is the amount that the system says in the “earn X credits by answering” notification that you receive – the 25% has already been given to you.
The number of credits it costs to ask you to answer a question is determined by the rate of incoming requests that you receive. This gives you a maximum price, which you can adjust to any number of lower thresholds on this page: http://www.quora.com/asked_to_answer – click on the “Asking you to answer costs X credits” link.
If you give credits to another Quora user, there is no way to reverse this transaction.
Tips and Tricks:
You can make money off your friends if they are prominent people whose answers tend to get upvoted out of proportion to their answer’s inherent quality (e.g. Quora staff, famous people) by asking them to answer for free, and then collecting the 5 credit/upvote reward that you receive for being the one to ask them to answer.
If you are following someone and they are also following you (i.e. you are “friends”), it is free for each of you to ask each other to answer questions. Therefore, a potentially cost-effective way to get an obvious-but-highly-priced person to answer is to ask someone who is their friend who is also your friend to answer it – it will be free to ask your friend, and they may subsequently then ask the other “obvious” person to answer.
Another way to ask someone to answer who has too high a price (or simply one you don’t wish to pay) is to go to their profile and send them a message with a link to the question and ask them to answer it. Obviously this doesn’t work if the person disallowed incoming messages, but very few users have that setting turned on. Plus, a personal message asking them to answer is much more likely to meet with a positive response. On the other hand, this means you will not receive the 5 credit/upvote reward that you would normally receive if you had asked them to answer via the “system.”
If you are offered a very high bounty to answer a question but don’t really want to give an answer (or can’t come up with a good one), you can write a crappy short answer and then immediately delete it. You will still be awarded the bounty. Keep in mind that your answer will still generate a notification, and this seems like something Quora would fix pretty quickly somehow.
If you happen to be on a question page and you see that someone is in the process of writing an answer (“Currently Answering”) but they haven’t posted it yet, you can quickly ask them to answer and, assuming they end up posting the answer they are writing, you will receive credits for each upvote the answer earns. This is a lower-risk way of trying to draft on peoples’ answer upvotes because you can be relatively assured that they will probably finish and post their answer.
Got a tip about Quora credits? Add it to the comments below!
October 5, 2011 § 3 Comments
By: Michael Sinanian
How you usher a question into existence on Quora can make or break the success of that potential lifelong resource. At this point in Quora’s development, it’s still critical to make sure a question is asked at just the right time, assigned enough relevant topics and directed to the right people to answer it. These steps are absolutely necessary to ensure that question gets the best possible exposure (and thus answers) it could ever hope to receive.
I recently saw the biggest example of this in my own use last week when I asked the question: Why is it seemingly more difficult to remember things from before 3-5 years of age?
Within just a few days, the question had become a Best Source and had the following stats:
- 3,385 views
- over 30 followers
- 20,165 topic followers
- 9 topics
It also got a few really good answers, probably the best you could get short of walking up to a university researcher studying the topic and unabashedly asking them. I know this because I made my friend ask their UCLA neuroscience professor the same question at office hours and didn’t receive anything conflicting or all too different from the Quora page.
But what was it about this particular question that made it succeed?
It turns out that the whole scenario was an accidental experiment of sorts. Unbeknownst to me, there was a similar question already around entitled: Why can’t most people remember things from their infancy?
I’ve since redirected that question to the one I asked since mine had become such a hit (so you can’t visit it anymore), but I took a screenshot right before to prove my point here:
In the few months it had been around (opposed to just days compared to my question), the page had the following stats:
- 325 views
- 5 followers
- 983 topic followers
- 3 topics
So, what does the data reveal?
In short, it absolutely confirms the advice mentioned in Marc Bodnick’s answer to Quora User FAQs: What can I do to aggressively market my Quora question? What can I do to bring an old question back to life?
To rehash that and add a little bit of my own advice…
You need to absolutely do the following to make sure a Quora question receives due attention:
- add lots of relevant topics; stretch the relevancy as far as you can without irking admins and reviewers
- ask the right people to answer; if you find that perfect person to answer a question, they’ll make it a standout page and it’ll attract even more traffic (not to mention providing a useful answer to begin with). Seek active users with relevant expertise; the new Ask-to-Answer improvements make this a lot easier. In the case of this question, I took the time to ask active psychologists and neuroscientists on the site who had already answered several questions in their fields. Bonus points for asking users that are followed by influential Quora Elite.
- cross paths with influential users; if you see some influential users on the site (lots of followers, lots of mentions, etc) voting or following in areas relevant to your question, somehow indirectly grab their attention. the mere act of them following or voting on your question page will create a huge cascade of traffic.
#3 is especially complicated, but there’s definitely a formula to it. For example, to “cross paths” with an influential user, consider the following scenario. In the case of this Human Memory question, I’ll hold off on asking till I see someone who works at Quora (they all have lots of followers) start voting and/or following questions in that topic or related topics (like Psychology, Neuroscience, etc), then I’ll pose my question at that moment. Odds are, they’ll see it, and since their interest is already currently piqued, they’ll be more inclined to follow or ask others to answer it.
Yes, I really do take those extra steps. I don’t care if you need to jot down questions in a note file and save them for a month or two: timing is everything. I did this for the question at hand and it worked wonders. I’ve simply had too many questions miss their crucial opportunity window, going unseen and unanswered because of such shortsightedness.
Will the Quora team eventually figure out a way where timing and all these other hacks are no longer necessary for a fluid question-answer marketplace? Hopefully, but until then use the results of these experiments so your questions get the limelight they deserve.
*This is cross-posted from a personal Quora post.
September 30, 2011 § 3 Comments
By: Michael Sinanian
It covers the whole app experience if you’re curious before jumping in. But there’s some more I didn’t get to expand on in the review: the iPad app.
No, I’m not actually aware of a functioning iPad app prototype. Yes, I did phrase that to catch your attention.
But now that I have it…
I trust that Quora will eventually get around to it, but it can’t come any sooner!
There are two main reasons to tackle the iPad app:
- the iPad and Quora are both habit-forming: talk to any iPad user, they’ll tell you how they’ve formed habits around the device. They’ll tell you how they take it to the bathroom with them, how they spend their last waking minutes of the day with it in bed. It’s a habit-forming device, and that’s perfect for Quora, a habit-forming site, to piggyback on!
- iOS apps are not merely portable versions of the Quora website, but enhanced and extended experiences that the web format by definition cannot offer
Yes, yes, we know: you can access Quora’s HTML mobile site on Safari. Big whoop. As mobile lead Anne K. Halsall mentions in her announcement, the mobile team spent time trying to figure out how the mobile experience could enhance and extend Quora, not simply replicate it on a smaller screen. The iPad offers the same opportunity times a thousand.
When the iPad first came out, a lot of people told me, “But it’s just a giant iPod Touch…”
And I would always respond, “Yes! But you never knew just how cool that would be!”
The same applies for Quora. Yes, it would be just a physically larger version of the iPhone app, but that opens so many new doors.
How awesome would it be to glide through the map on that big 10″ screen, finding topics from around the world, learning a thing or two before you go to bed (or finish your bathroom duties)? It is, by definition, a whole new way to experience Quora.
While the iPad utilizes the same capacitive touchscreen as the iPhone, the fact that it’s three times larger means you get to interact with apps in a way that’s not merely utilitarian. It’s deeply engaging, intimate, whatever you want to call it; hold an iPad and you know what this experience is like.
The Quora team’s not stupid. They’re aware of this and after they’re done celebrating the iPhone app’s success, I’m sure they’ll start brainstorming for the iPad. I just can’t help dream up some of the potential features.
If we think the Quora Nearby map features are cool in Quora for iPhone, wait till we see the funky new “question visualizer” or whatever they’ll cook up from the future. That’s not all, how about:
- Visual-tacticle interaction with Quora’s geo-location layer: imagine the map zoomed out to display the whole world, with a real-time overlay of where new questions are being asked and answered: tiny little blips blinking on and off like thunderstorms viewed from space; tap in on a “storm” and zoom in to see what the fuss is about. A concert? A public speaking event? Just remarkable.
- Visual-tacticle interaction with Quora’s topic ontologies: explore topic ontologies in new visualizations that truly reveal the depth of Quora’s knowledge, see how topics are related and view the genealogy of pure knowledge in ways Wikipedia or other content sites could never provide.
- Visaul-tacticle interaction with Quora’s social graph: explore users in a beautiful collage or other layout we can’t even imagine that highlights all sorts of cross-linked relationships, zoom in and out, rotate, etc with your fingers to get a wrap-around view of all these interlinkages, tap on intersections to view what posts, questions, answers people overlap on: basically: visualize the social connections that underlie Quora and its content. explore Quora through users in a visual way that titillating
We’ll finally be able to interact with Quora in a way that only Stormy Shippy can offer a preview of for however long it takes to read an info-graphic. LAME.  We want it longer than that, and we want it in bed, and in the bathroom, and wherever else our iPads journey with us!
Don’t do me wrong mobile development team, don’t you do me wrong!
 – Stormy’s work isn’t lame. The fleeting excitement is what’s lame, because it’s not something you can constantly go back to and play with over and over. It’s static, non-interactive data visualization.
 – This is cross-posted from a personal Quora post.
Foraging on Quora: Making the site better for sharks, microplankton, penguins, sea turtles, bumblebees, albatrosses, spider monkeys, butterflies, honey bees, amoebae, and fruit flies
July 28, 2011 § 13 Comments
By: Edwin Kite
Disclaimer: I’m just a grad student in an unrelated field.
This is about information consumption on Quora. I won’t say much about the site’s social side.
People forage for information on Quora. It’s different from StackOverflow, where people dip in, and Wikipedia, with its sterile content. Foraging on Quora is more rewarding, because the quality of the thinking is occasionally very high. Foraging is structured by Quora’s feed – adjacent entries in the feed can lead down very different roads. The feed is tightly personalized, with a little randomness thrown in. Users who follow the feed’s cues will diffuse around Quora. Occasionally they will stumble into a new area. There is a natural length scale to their movements: the range of the people and topics they follow, because that’s what sets the breadth of their feed. This is like Brownian diffusion.
Albatrosses are long range ocean foragers. They are big – the biggest living thing that flies. So big you can strap a GPS receiver and a satellite transponder to one, and it barely notices. The data show  that the albatrosses do take many little hops, like Brownian motion. But occasionally they will take a bigger hop. And rarely, they will fly to the other side of the world in a straight line. In fact:-
where l is the length of the foraging flight, and P(l) is the probability that the hop will be that long.
This scale-free pattern (including the exponent -2) has since been found in sharks, microplankton, penguins, sea turtles, bumblebees, spider monkeys, butterflies, honey bees, fruit flies, and amoebae [2,3]. This is called a Lévy flight.
Lévy flights with exponent -2 are optimal for locating resources  when those resources are –
- Randomly distributed
- Once visited, are not depleted, but remain targets for future searches (like a person, or a topic)
Sounds like Quora. By manipulating the environment, exponents between -3 and -1 can be produced in ecological simulations. However, including a “crowding” effect (evaporative cooling?) does not affect the -2 exponent, at least not in mussels .
For a foraging Quora user, distant topics and users on the graph are also
- Rapidly changing
- Altered by the presence of other foragers
Much of the interesting content is coming from people who pop up, write a few dozen excellent answers, and then either leave or start producing mediocre content. This makes the system dynamic. To find these nuggets in your feed, you need to rove far and fast.
It’s unreasonable for users to apply Lévy flight behaviour themselves. This is because Quora is a murky fog of information, not a savanna. The “sightlines” are short, intentionally so, so users have to be tenacious and read many two-line answer previews before they find a truly interesting answer. To bring Lévy flight behaviour to Quora, the company would have to take the lead, by changing the feed.
Brownian motion makes sense for “campfire” social networks, and for Wikipedia. The kind of people who could make Quora great are allergic to sameness and want intellectual challenge. They need Lévy flights.
What would a Lévy-flight personalization system look like?
- Detect novelty-starved behaviour.
- Add a Lévy-flight component to that user’s feed. This is not just randomness, because increasing distance from the user’s preferences will always decrease P(l).
- Keep tabs on each user’s revealed preferences. Some will treat Quora mainly as a social network – keep “campfire” personalization for them. Some are foragers. Some will be in between. I guess the comments/PM ratio could be a tracer of this.
- Openness to experience is one of the Big Five personality traits, so the power-law exponent could be adjusted based on overall assessed openness.
Finally, all Lévy flights are super-diffusive – the mean-squared distance from the origin increases nonlinearly with time. In contrast, Brownian motion gives linear growth in mean-squared distance. Quora’s collection of questions and answers is growing faster than the diffusion of high-quality users away from their origin points. The resulting isolation is demoralizing. Celebrities, for example, are encircled by baying fans and rarely meet another celebrity. Lévy flights can fight this.
TL;DR: Quora’s feed favors campfire behaviour over foraging, which is bad for some users. Adding a scale-free factor would help Quora retain novelty-seeking users.
 Viswanathn et al., “Lévy flight search patterns of wandering albatrosses,” Nature, 1996. (The Lévy-flight interpretation has been disputed, e.g. by Edwards et al., Nature, 2007. Everyone agrees, however, that most animal foraging has scale-free aspects and is not just Brownian, which is enough here.)
 Reynolds & Rhodes, “The Lévy flight paradigm: random search patterns and mechanisms,” Ecology, 2009
 Sims et al., “Scaling laws of marine predator search behaviour,” Nature, 2008.
 Viswanathan et al., “Optimizing the success of random searches,” Nature, 1999
 de Jager et al., “Lévy Walks Evolve Through Interaction Between Movement and Environmental Complexity,” Science, 2011.
(PM me if you can’t get hold of journal articles).
Shame on Business Insider, Gizmodo, et al. for quoting anonymous Quora answer as fact for pageviews!
July 8, 2011 § 19 Comments
By: Michael Sinanian
This blog has discussed Quora’s transformative effect on journalism before, bringing to light its disruptive potential on content commoditization and branding.
But over the fourth of July, a lot of this “news innovation” was effectively tossed out the window. The transgression? Prominent tech blog Silicon Alley Insider ran a story that was entirely derived from an anonymous Quora answer with no attribution what so ever.
Addressing a question about potential uses for Apple’s astronomically large cash hoard, the user wrote a lengthy answer that received over 570 up-votes and a long stream of congratulatory comments. 
Without reliable attribution, this answer should not be up-voted so enthusiastically and it certainly shouldn’t be repackaged and resold by the blogosphere as “news analysis.” This should be a lesson for both journalists and Quora users alike: well-worded answers that tell us what we want to hear aren’t necessarily good answers.
Such titles are worthy of the term “link-bait” for their pure intention of securing re-tweets and re-posts to drive up page views, regardless of editorial value.
Although a win for Quora, whose content is now apparently so valuable as to be quoted without a shred of doubt by major tech news outlets, this is a sore disappointment for Journalism 2.0.
Silicon Alley Insider and all the other blogs that followed suit in reposting this should be ashamed of themselves. It’s stunts like these that make “blogging” a derogatory term in the face of “real” journalism.
Furthermore, as proud members of the Quora community, we must ask ourselves what’s permissible to up-vote. Sourceless answers like the one discussed may still be correct despite a lack of attribution, but that should be taken into consideration when deciding how to vote or sourcing it for a story.
This approval dilemma has arisen in other ways, too. We’ve all witnessed a highly up-voted answer simply because the content is well-worded or emotionally engaging, despite questionable correctness.
Unfortunately, Quora’s current approval mechanisms don’t have much granularity. We are only provided the blunt instruments of an up-vote, a down-vote, or a meaningless “thank you” note. It’s not possible to simultaneously up-vote for writing style but down-vote for attribution.
Despite such shortcomings, Quora does have a system in place that allows reviewers to specify why egregious answers need improvement in certain areas. Without opening this up to most of the user-base, however, content is still liable to be improperly credited on a wide scale.
For those of us who are enthusiastic users or people who use Quora for journalism, we must be careful. Our actions are these missing granular controls, and we must be cautious in their use.
 – The only attribution comes in the form of a few commenters who link to articles from earlier in the year that vaguely go over what the answerer talks about. This does provide some credence to the matter, but not enough for wholesale replication by other news outlets.
 – This is cross-posted from a personal Quora post which can be found here: http://www.quora.com/Michael-Sinanian/Shame-on-the-Blogosphere-and-Quora-Users
April 25, 2011 § 4 Comments
By: Michael Sinanian
It was in 2006 when Facebook had registered its 12 millionth member, rolled out the controversial news feed and launched its official development platform. That was also when Justin Smith decided to found his “Inside Facebook” blog, the first news site dedicated solely to tracking the social web’s most prodigious product and business.
Will The Quora Review (TQR) spawn the same string of daily analytical pieces, research reports and even conferences that Inside Facebook did for their patron company? At the time of Inside’s debut, Facebook had just become a platform, a world unto itself, which made a third-party dedicated news site a viable enterprise.
Quora has not yet become that type of all-encompassing platform (and it may never be), but its service is so enticing that it has already spawned TQR. Today we ask: why, and ultimately for what?
A fair amount of TQR’s posts have thus far covered Quora as a technology and a business, not too unlike Inside Facebook. Attempting to answer questions about the aforementioned “platformization” is something we can reasonably infer about TQR’s coverage trajectory. “Will Quora’s monetization plans include advertising or premium subscription features,” are sure to follow the spate of articles about how Quora “is Google” or “isn’t Wikipedia.”
As you may have already realized, answering questions (even about itself) is Quora’s raison d’etre, so for what purpose would we frequent a site like TQR? Surely we could satisfy our craving for Quora news, analysis, events, corporate developments, and product innovations from within the site itself!
Yes, and no. It was Edmund Burke who famously labeled the Press the “fourth estate” of civil society, and in this same manner, we must examine TQR as the fourth estate of Quora’s Internet society (or “information community,” if you prefer).
First, we must come to recognize Quora as more than just a social web product. It is more akin to a 21st-century version of Enlightenment-era intellectual salons whose conversations weren’t as straightforward as question-and-answer. Indeed, reputations rested on more than just “who got things right,” but also certain political leanings and affiliations. In this sense, Quora is no different. In its current startup-focused orientation, many venture capitalists and entrepreneurs will positively answer questions about their vested interests while avoiding those that could leave more scathing marks. That’s just one example, but many abound, and so like all other communities, Quora’s stands to benefit from impartial journalistic coverage operating outside the scope of its “government.”
It might not be glaringly apparent to us now, but eventually Quora, like all other societies, will have its fair share of internal politics, agendas, opinions, and influences: hallmark maladies of a boisterous community that could incentivize power-grabs through placation of the society and its members. The French Revolution, after all, was indebted to quite a few of those salons!
In stark contrast to dedicated business/product sites like Inside, and what TQR has been up till now, I’d like to bring to light The Daily Dot, a recently founded media startup that aims to be the “hometown newspaper of the Internet.” Their angle isn’t tech news; it’s the community of people that call the Internet their home, that sort of inhabit the vast corners of the Net.
In this manner, they want to cover the Internet symbiotically, in the way that a daily town newspaper covers their community, benefitting their local readers through their coverage while profiting from ads or subscriptions.
As Quora’s user and topic-base expands, TQR should certainly incorporate this take on coverage if it is to best serve the needs of this specific information community. There will certainly be times when users forego asking a question on Quora about Quora to instead check “the official newspaper of Quradom.”
Take for example the recent “Answer Improvements” development. While this could be discussed and debated within Quora (and it is, through a near-unanimously positive comments thread), wouldn’t a third-party forum for discussion be more appropriate? TQR could offer that type of outlet, external to the patron site’s own administrative designs and wishes. We are the community after all, and TQR can be our impassioned voice of criticism and reason.
In the end, Quora’s product versatility could easily support discussions about these internal issues, but being a community newspaper has the legitimacy of being the fourth-estate, the great moderator. That alone makes TQR more valuable. As such, this site should embody the fourth-estate principle and provide coverage that lives up to such integrity, if only because Quora itself is a community, a society of sorts. In the vein of Inside Facebook, there should of course be plenty of coverage about Quora as a product and business; its own vitality depends on it. But we’ll also gather around TQR to discuss the community, the everlasting fabric of Quora that makes it all worthwhile: the curious people, the probing questions, the scurrying users who auto-curate, who debate. We’ll be with them.
April 16, 2011 § 1 Comment
As Quora users go, our next subject is pretty rare specimen. A working chef with encyclopedic knowledge of the chemical interactions that go into cooking, who somehow has the time to write as much as he does on quora and his own blog, feastcraft.com: Jonas Luster.
I am grateful he found time in his schedule to answer a few questions about himself:
As a working chef, how the hell do you find time to write?
I am writing this on my Xoom while watching my stocks and sauteeing some onions for a dish. Since I got this marvel of technology, I have become rather adept at writing in chunks, dropping a few lines here and there, until something decent emerges.
That sometimes leads to rather … disjointed … paragraphs which I have to fix after giving them the once-over. Or, horror over horrors, I might miss them. Recently someone wrote something to the effect of “this is such an egregious error, I have to question your whole answer”. He’s right, of course, but the mistake was to continue writing a sentence that I’d started an hour prior.
When writing your answers, how much of the food science comes off the top of your head, and how much is researched?
About 80:20. We’re two cooks in this kitchen with some semblance of food sciences background, so I run some past her when she’s in. Otherwise there’s always Harold McGee 🙂
Where did you pick up all of your scientific knowledge?
I have some amateur chemistry knowledge, augmented by books like Harold McGee’s “On Food And Cooking”, a few courses with the Research Chefs Association (culinology.org), which did’nt help much but got me in contact with others who think about food in a new way. It should be mentioned, that most of the things we consider “modernist cuisine” these days have been practiced by the “evil empire” of mircowave meal makers, fast food chains, and even the guys who sell you sacues and little packages of “just add water” foods for decades. We were just very, very, slow in adopting it into our work. There’s more dogma involved in food than most religions 🙂
Given your evident interest in chemistry, are you particularly drawn to “molecular gastronomy” kind of cooking of Ferran Adria, Grant Achatz, and company? Is it a direction you would go yourself?
One of my heroes, Hans Heinrich Euler, once said “If we understood the Universe we could make it better or completely remake it into a new one”. I don’t have as much interest in making a new universe as I have into making this one (culinarily speaking) a better one. I believe that a lot of culinary dogma comes (again, religion comes to mind) from misunderstandings and simplifications. If we understand food, we can make better steaks, reduce waste, sautee better asparagus spears, and take the pain out of complicated sauces and dishes without sacrificing taste and healthy properties.
Take the “63 degree egg” for a second. For centuries people have devised better and better methods to establish the time an egg has to be in water to be of a certain consistency. A little bit of science, the “Chem 101” version, teaches us two things – egg whites firm up under lower temperatures than egg yolks, and egg yolk assumes a “soft boiled” consistency when it reaches 63 degrees for three minutes. The only question left over is, does it firm over time or temperature and, a few experiments later, Herve This figured out that time played no role. Chefs can breathe easier – all we have to do is take the eggs, drop them into 63 degree Celsius water, and we can walk off and forgget them. Once the egg is warmed through, after 45 minutes or so, it stays there until quite a long time has lapsed.
Would you like to one day be a chef/owner of your own restaurant? What would be the concept?
I want to modernize and make gourmet “comfort food”. Many have tried, but even the chosen gods of our profession don’t go much further than putting better cheese into better bread for a grilled cheese sandwich. I want to take that a few steps further. If I had to elevator pitch it, I want to use the holy trifecta of art, craft, and science in the kitchen to make the best Mac and Cheese you have ever had.
Professionally, what kind of cooking do you most enjoy making?
I am a fan of the New Nordic Cuisine. Bold, strong, flavors with many undertones, always seasonal and always rather spartan in its ingredients. I am happiest when I get to play with tthe preservation, smoking, curing, aspect of the cuisine and when I can work with the ingredient over long time spans.
When designing a menu, how do you draw the line between satisfying your desire to try new things, and satisfying the desires of the eating public?
I honestly don’t think there’s such a thing as a firm line. I am first and foremost in the “hospitality” business, which means I have to make people happy. I see my style of cooking as complimentary, another tool on the bench, in the pursuit of making great food that makes people smile. You can go overboard. “Crab and Oyster Espuma”, anyone? But when I look at a dish like that, my first question is always wether my mother would eat it, and secondly if, on a first date, it would get me invited upstairs for a coffee afterwards. If food doesn’t pass those two qualifiers it’s not going on the menu 🙂
Where do you enjoy eating the most?
Food is kind of sacred to me. People worked hard for it, ominvores like me eat stuff that some other living being gave its life for, the Universe provides. I enjoy eating most where it’s obvious that everyone involved, from growers and ranchers to cooks and servers, respects that sanctity. And because food is such a big deal it’s too big a deal to be eaten in bad company :). In other words, if I go have dinner with someone I really like them 🙂
What topics do you find yourself doing more reading and less writing?
I am but a dilettante in every aspect of life. In some, like cooking, I am enough of an educated dilettante to open my gob, but generally I avoid talking and spend more time listening 🙂
And the Proust Questionnaire:
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Coming home and having my son laugh and run towards me.
What is your greatest fear?
Funny how stuff changes once you produce offspring. It’s all about perpetuating DNA, sure, but it does a hell of a number on most people’s perceptions of reality. My greatest fear used to be a catastrophic event like a quake, war, or something like that. Now it’s not being there to be able to protect my son from harm. Or failing to do so.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
The Brothers Grimm. They struck a fine balance between preserving history and lore, while being very experimental about things in their writing and publishing. And they were quite misunderstood :). In 43 versions of their book they often had to remove or add things because most people weren’t used to “that kind of story”. Over the decades, however, they really influence and changed things.
Which living person do you most admire?
Since you ask this of me in the context of cooking, I’ll narrow it down to that. Outside of the world of kitchens I admire a few people, from aid workers to human rights advocates, who are above anything in cooking. It’s hard to name just one, but in culinary sciences it’s definitely Herve This who didn’t let dogma and the “French style” get into his way to explore the boundaries of cuisine.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
My temper. It tends to flare, especially at work.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Sheepishness and subservience. The willingness to accept without questioning, to take things at faith value. I find science and intelllectual pursuit to be the cornerstone and center of humanity.
What is your greatest extravagance?
My gadget obsession. At this very moment I am writing on a Xoom, tethered to a Droid X, listening to music on Grooveshark, waiting for a a few vacuum packed sprouts to finish bathing in an immersion circulator while checking the temperature with my infrared thermometer. And not ONE of those things is necessary, it’s pure indulgence 🙂
On what occasion do you lie?
Any time someone asks if I got enough sleep.
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
I am 5’6. I am statistically not able to become a CEO or COO in a Fortune 500, desirable to less than four percent of all females (according to a match.com survey), and my back is hosed from working in kitchens designed for 5’8 fellas. Three inches would be nice to have (no, not the kind that’s flooding my inbox, I speak stature).
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
See “appearance” 🙂
If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
Nothing. My folks are perfect.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Beating Cancer. Since you asked for achievements, not accomplishments, that’d be it :). I am well aware that anything in this regard was accomplished by the people who fought it for me, generations of researchers, and a lot of factors I can’t control, but somehow I managed it. Which makes it my most treasured achievement :).
If you died and came back as a person or a thing what do you think it would be?
My dog. I’d be sleeping, eating, chasing squirrels, and basking on my porch all day.
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Hopelessness. The feeling that there’s nothing you can do to change what needs changing. Maybe on par with subservience.
Who are your heroes in real life?
The men and women standing up and demanding democracy in places where this could very well mean pain or death. The aid workers flying into ravaged areas and doing what needs to be done, again often at the peril of their own lives. The French resistance during WWII.
What is it you most dislike?
Preconceived notions and shallowness. The unwillingness to give things or people a chance. Give it a try, be open about it, and then judge 🙂
How would you like to die?
Happy, quickly, by myself, and listening to Louis Armstrong’s “Wonderful World”. It’s the end of my existence, might as well make it a fun event.
What is your motto?
“Shut up and get out of my way” if you ask my coworkers and friends.
“This above all: to thine self be true”, if you ask me 🙂