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Summer is Served with Preppy Kitchen’s John Kanell


Before John Kanell launched his wildly successful YouTube channel and food blog Preppy Kitchen he spent a decade as a middle school science and math teacher. He now uses his top-notch teaching skills to instruct millions of fans—no matter what their cooking level—on how to make delicious meals and baked goods.

Photo: John Gruen

Kanell believes success in the kitchen (and in school, for that matter) comes from being “prepared,” hence the name Preppy Kitchen. “A lot of times my students were unprepared at school and because of that, they didn’t experience success. Part of my job as a teacher was to make sure they were prepared for whatever comes next. And the same thing is true in the kitchen,” he counsels.

Growing up in Los Angeles, CA, Kanell could be found in the kitchen, watching, helping and learning from his mother, who made every meal from scratch. “I had this master mentor at home teaching me techniques and flavor combinations and how to be confident and trust your instincts in the kitchen,” he says.

When Kanell and his husband, Brian, decided to have children he realized he wanted to be home more. “My husband encouraged me to explore my love of food and to create Preppy Kitchen, where I basically get to teach people how to make delicious food to share with their fami- lies,” he says.

The pair, now parents of five-year-old twin boys, soon traded their busy lives in Los Angeles for an idyllic country life in Connecticut, running their own farm. And it’s this life on the farm that inspired his gorgeous new cookbook, Preppy Kitchen: Recipes for Seasonal Dishes and Simple Pleasures, set to release in October. Filled with gorgeous photos, seasonal recipes and crafts, you’ll also find Kanell’s tips to ensure each recipe comes out perfectly every time. Here, class is happily in session:

What do you think your more than 2.5 million followers on YouTube are responding to?

I’m genuinely excited about food and I love to share and teach. I am here to encourage people to have fun in the kitchen, let go of their kitchen anxiety, and make delicious food. Food is the thing that we all share. It anchors us. It’s love. In the world of electronic everything, it’s one of the few tangible things we can do with our hands and share with other people.

What does a normal workday look like?

I do a lot of recipe testing to make sure the recipes work for everyone at home. I’ll have an idea for a recipe and I’ll make it by the seat of my pants and then write it down after and refine it. My husband, Brian, is my chief tasting officer. He always gives the first opinion and then it’s going out to friends and neighbors to get a little more feedback. If I’m not recipe testing I’m shooting YouTube videos, or out in the vegetable garden with my kids.

Photo: David Malosh

Why did you decide to move to a farm?

We visited a friend and fell in love with Litchfield County. We thought, “One day we’ll move here when we’re old and gray and we’ll garden and relax!” And then we realized “One day could be today!” We had two very young children and we wanted them to have a connection to the land. We decided to take a leap and move here. Our kids now get to have honey from our bees, pick our wildflowers, and understand how to grow and harvest vegetables.

What’s a favorite dessert for summer?

The sweets I crave most in summer are cold ones that also contain a bit of booze (because when it’s hot you need to treat yourself!). [The book’s] banana pudding fulfills both of those cravings. But this isn’t your average recipe. The classic scratch- made pudding gets a punch of bourbon and is layered with a bourbon caramel that has mashed bananas cooked into it, creating the most luscious, buttery-sweet, candied banana sauce that you’ll want to drizzle over everything!

What ingredient should you never skimp on?

Think about the dominant flavor in the dish and use the best of that particular ingredient. If I am making a pastry and want it to have an amazing texture with all the layers piled up super crispy then I’m going to use a high-quality European but- ter that has less water and is pure fat. If you’re making a vanilla éclair then you want really good vanilla. If you’re cooking with olive oil, you can get away with using a basic one because you’re just using it to lubricate the pan, but if you’re finishing off a sauce then you’ll want one with more fla- vor that you really enjoy.

How has life with young twins affected your entertaining style?

In the summer, we’ll have a meal under a large weeping willow tree where we put out a table. We’ll have other adults there too and the kids can be part of the meal but they can also step away from the table and run around in the field or pick wildflowers and have a great time.

People stop by and stay for dinner: What do you make for an impromptu meal?

I would prepare for this! If you’re ever making something that in any way is a bit of work, like spanikopita, make two of them and freeze one. Half of the work is getting the ingredients and preparing them. Part of the joy of being an effortless host is having things at the ready, and that could be things you’ve frozen ahead of time or things you bought at the market, like lovely cheeses and crackers you can pop out. A lot of times, what people remem- ber from visiting is not the most incredible recipe you broke your back on but having a comfortable, warm, friendly vibe that comes from a relaxed host.

Out in October, Kanell’s newest cookbook is broken down by season, making it easier to choose the dishes that work best throughout the year.

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