Joel Gamoran is the Senior Resident Chef at Sur La Table’s Hell’s Kitchen store in New York City, where he teaches cooking classes and makes culinary dreams a reality for our customers year-round. Joel has also made countless TV appearances on behalf of Sur La Table, whipping up dishes and excitement with his signature energy. Here, we get him to drop the mic and the Microplane to tell us about himself.
Hi Joel! Let’s start by going way back. Do you remember the first dish you ever cooked?
I made crêpes when I was a kid and accidentally substituted salt for sugar. That was a great day in the Gamoran household!
Did you ever achieve crêpe redemption?
Oh yes I did! They were crêped out by the time I hit high school. I thought it was so cool that I could make crêpes and ran that dish into the ground. Even though I got it right after the first attempt, my dad was still hesitant with every crêpe I served him.
Fast forward to today: What do you love about cooking?
I love playing in the kitchen and getting messy! It’s beyond cool to me that in cooking you get to imagine something and then turn around and create it in such a short period of time.
What’s the best part of your job teaching classes at Sur La Table?
Busting through barriers with people! I love when a student imagines how hard it is to grill a beautiful piece of fish or roll out homemade pasta, and then realizes how simple and approachable cooking can be. Makes my day every time.
What do you want customers to take away from your classes?
I want them to be excited not just to cook the recipes given to them in class, but feel motivated to create their own. I hope to spark inspiration!
Your job is all about teaching others. What’s something that you recently learned?
I learn things from my students all the time. Being in New York, we have a ton of customers from overseas; many will tell me how they cook their favorite things like lamb or chickpeas and I am always like, “how the heck did I not think of that?” Being exposed to the cooking of other people and other cultures is a great part of what I do.
Can you tell us about the autographed post in your store’s kitchen?
It’s full of autographs of culinary rock stars who have visited the store—Amanda Hesser, Daniel Humm, Charlie Palmer and more. I think it adds a lot of character. The idea was suggested to me right before our grand opening. The next day, Ina Garten came in and we walked through the kitchen together. I was geeking out the whole time and finally very awkwardly asked her to sign the post. The rest is history! People walking by love to point at the names they know. There’s one autograph from a non-chef: an Egyptian prince who flew in for the day to take a private cooking class. He just signed it and didn’t tell anyone. After we realized he had, we decided to leave it because the story was too good!
You’ve made quite a few TV appearances. What’s cooking on-camera like and how did you get your start?
I think it’s one of my favorite things to do on earth! My first time on TV was on a local show in Seattle. I practiced with my sister for days. She was the host, and we would time ourselves until I was right on. The day I showed up for he shoot, they changed the amount of time I had for the segment from 4 minutes to 3 minutes. I said to myself, “just go out there and be yourself.” I realized then that’s what plays best on TV. It’s less about perfect timing and more about being authentic and connecting with people watching at home.
New York was a different TV animal. When the Today Show first gave me shot, I just about puked. So intimidating but beyond cool to cook at 30 Rock! The producers became good buddies and started coming to cooking classes. After my third time on the Today Show, the Katie Couric Show wanted to try us out. I love Katie! She has been a great mentor. Good Morning America is a recent highlight. Cooking live under the lights of Times Square can’t be beat. Right before they called action, I thought, “how the heck did I get here?”
People ask me all the time if I get nervous and the answer is that I am terrified! I get nervous before teaching classes, too. I think being nervous means you’re pushing yourself. That said, the second I start cooking I could be alone or with 10 million people watching and I would not know the difference.
What excites you about fall and winter cooking?
The excuse to cook heavier, longer and richer! When it’s cold everyone wants to warm up. That means stews, braises and roasts. I love that type of cooking! When I see sugar pie pumpkins, delicata squash, parsnips and apples, it’s like seeing an old buddy that I haven’t seen for a whole year. I get excited to catch up, then we hang all the time, and after a few months I need a break. That’s the best part about cooking seasonally— you’ll see those buddies again next year and pick up where you left off.
Fall and winter are also the time to be together as friends and family, gather around the dinner table and dig in. I love tradition, football, crisp evenings and fireplaces. There is no doubt everything around the plate this time of year makes the food taste better!
Do you have a “go-to” dish at home? Can you share a seasonal recipe?
Risotto has become my thing. I started making it when I was interviewing for restaurant jobs. I love how it can take on any ingredient! Here’s an off-the-cuff recipe for a good autumn risotto:
Kabocha Squash and Shaved Brussels Sprout Risotto
- ½ Kabocha squash, peeled and seeded
- 1 cup carrot juice
- 4 tablespoons butter, divided in half
- 2 leeks, cleaned and chopped fine
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1 cup white wine
- 4 cups homemade chicken stock (might need one more cup)
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 1 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 handful fresh oregano, stemmed
- 8 Brussels sprouts
Steam the Kabocha squash until tender, about 10 minutes. Blend the squash with a little carrot juice until smooth.
Heat a small sauce pot to medium heat. Add half the butter, leeks and garlic. Sweat those out for about five minutes. If the garlic starts to burn, your heat is too high. Add the rice and toast for about one minute. Next, add the wine and keep stirring. When the wine is gone from the pan, add a cup of the Kabocha purée and one ladle of the chicken stock. Keep adding the chicken stock until the rice is al dente, and then take the risotto off the heat. Add in the rest of the butter and cheese. Season to taste!
Plate the risotto in shallow bowls. Finely grate the Brussels sprouts over the top and finish with a bit more cheese and oregano. Enjoy!
Last question: What advice do you have for newbie home cooks?
Understand that even the best cooks in the world are everyday people, too. One recipe, one ingredient at a time. Discover it, play with it and mess it up! Cooking is learning by over salting, breaking sauces and burning meats. That is why our cooking classes are so great— they give people a safe place to be themselves in the kitchen!
Also, never be hard on yourself. It’s just food. Be proud that you know exactly what’s in your belly and that it’s in there because of you and only you!
Want to take a cooking class from Joel? Check out the Sur La Table Hell’s Kitchen class calendar here.