Shirley O. Corriher
Author, Chef and Scientist
I love my job, and with good reason. People envy my
lifestyle. I get to travel all over from Vancouver to Miami, stay at
luxury hotels, and eat in fine restaurants. People ask, "How on earth
did you get such a great job?" With considerable honesty I answer,
"Washing dishes." In the culinary field, you have to wash your
What makes me valuable is my widely varied background. I
started as a research biochemist at the Vanderbilt Medical School so I
have a reasonable science background and I know how to do research. I
always wanted to be a writer so I had English and writing classes as well
as my chemistry major at Vanderbilt University.
My former husband and I started a boy’s boarding school,
Brandon Hall, where for eleven years, I cooked three meals a day for 140
teen-aged boys and teachers. I got a lot of heavy-duty, hands-on cooking
experience. Then, divorced, with three small children and desperately
broke, at $2 per hour (then minimum wage), I washed dishes, set up for,
and helped teach basic, intermediate and advanced French cooking classes
dozens of times over the next four years. So, in addition to my science
and writing background, I had a tremendous amount of cooking experience
plus classic French cuisine expertise.
Because I have applied science know-how to hands-on
cooking through the years, I have been able to solve cooking problems. As
an article in Food and Wine put it, "If it’s about food and you
want to know why, Shirley Corriher is the person to figure it out."
Over the past 25 years, food writers, chefs, teachers, and, even our
beloved Julia Child, call me with cooking questions.
I write, teach, lecture and consult. I have a column every
month in the Los Angeles Times Syndicate’s Great Chef’s Series, a food
science column for every issue of the magazine, Fine Cooking, and a wide
variety of other writing in everything from Martha Stewart Living to Food
and Wine. I enjoy writing. I do think that the big secret is that you
improve by doing. I am a vastly better writer now than I was ten years ago
and even much better now than I was two years ago. I have also learned
from good editors.
I teach in chef’s training centers and cooking schools
all over the US and Canada and I speak at a lot of conventions—the
International Association of Culinary Professionals, the Smithsonian,
AAAS, American Dietetic Association, the American Chemical Society, etc. I
am very comfortable talking and teaching in front of large audiences, but
this was not always the case. Again, experience makes the master. My first
public talk I had written out my entire speech. My hands were shaking so I
couldn’t possibly read it so I had to talk from the heart. If you know
your subject and are sharing this exciting information with friends, it
doesn’t matter whether you are talking to two people or hundreds
you’ll do well.
I work for everyone from appliance companies like Maytag
to food companies like Procter and Gamble. I love the fact that what I do
is so varied. I always have the writing dead lines. Thank goodness for
laptop computers. But, one day I am at the National Institutes of Health
in Bethesda speaking to The Electrophoresis Society and the next I’m in
Toronto answering food questions and explaining the advantages of a Maytag
double-oven range. Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning I may be at the
Disney Institute in Orlando. Then, Sunday night through Thursday, I’m
teaching cooking classes in San Francisco and Berkeley and Friday,
Saturday, and Sunday, I’m back at the Disney Institute.
I teach in a lot of test kitchens, because I can save them
so much time with little things like the perfect leavening for most cakes
and muffins is one
teaspoon baking soda for every cup of flour. For appliance
companies, I can explain how features on their equipment enhance food
quality giving the public a greater in depth knowledge of and appreciation
for their products.
I have a major book, CookWise, The Hows and Whys
of Successful Cooking out that was ten years in the making. It won the
1998 James Beard Award for Food Reference & Techniques and is widely
used everywhere from test kitchens to food science classes, as well as by
Advice I would have is, no matter how lowly the job, do
your very best and whenever you can, take opportunities for new experience
regardless of the pay or lack of it. Eventually, investments in experience
pay off. Do things that you enjoy. My friend, the actor, Gordon Jump says
that if you like what you are doing, you will never work a day in your
Published February 22, 2001
Yield: about 10 biscuits.
The secret to these soft biscuits is a very wet dough, dropped into
flour for ease of handling, then packed into a cake pan.
Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups self-rising, low-protein flour, such as White Lily, Martha White
or Red Band
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons shortening or lard
2/3 cup cream
1 cup buttermilk (approximate)
1 cup all-purpose low-protein flour, for shaping
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1. Heat oven to 425 F and arrange one shelf slightly below the center of
the oven. Spray an 8- or 9-inch cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the self-rising flour, sugar
and salt. Work the shortening or lard in with your fingertips until
there are no large lumps. Gently stir in the cream, then the buttermilk.
(It may take less than 1 cup of buttermilk, or if you are using a higher
protein flour, it may take more.) The dough should not be soupy, but
should be wet and resemble cottage cheese.
3. Spread the all-purpose flour on a plate or pie pan. With a
medium-size ice cream scoop or spoon, place 3 scoops of dough well apart
in the flour. Sprinkle flour gently over each scoop. Flour your hands,
then pick up a dough ball, gently shape it into a round, shaking off
excess flour, and place it in the prepared cake pan. Continue shaping
biscuits the same way, placing each biscuit up tight against its
neighbor in the pan, until the dough is used.
4. Place pan in the oven and bake until lightly browned, about 20 to 35
minutes. Brush with melted butter. Invert pan onto one plate, then back
onto another to turn biscuits right side up. With a knife or spatula,
cut quickly between the biscuits to make them easy to remove. Serve
immediately. Leftover biscuits can be reheated by wrapping in aluminum
foil and placing in a 350 F oven for 10 minutes.
Nutrition information per serving
cw 1 48.1363m;cw 2 49.8931m;cw 3 49.8931m;hr 0;fr 0;fc 0;lc
0;Calories159Fat6.5 gCarbohydrate21.2 gCholesterol8 mgSodium335
Visit with Shirley Corriher
of us who love food look for any excuse to talk about it—especially with
the experts. So I was thrilled when Shirley Corriher, author of the
wonderful Cookwise and recent winner of the James Beard Award,
dropped by the store with her husband, Arch. They had just returned to
Atlanta from their triumphant visit to New York City, where Shirley
received the award the previous week.
When I congratulated her on her win, Corriher grinned, reached into her
voluminous purse, and pulled out a plastic baggie containing her prize—a
hefty bronze medallion featuring Beard’s sober countenance (bearing a
striking resemblance to Charles DeGaulle). She plopped it into my hand and
busied herself, buying several large handfuls of chocolate truffles, which
went directly into her handbag. She's one of those sensible people who
never goes anywhere without good chocolate at hand. Besides, she was in a
Shirley Corriher is a hero to many people. For years, she has dispensed
help and advice on cooking to practically everybody who's anybody in the
food business. She's known as a food sleuth, solving problems for
everyone, from celebrity chefs to home cooks and everybody in between. She
finally got around to finishing her own cookbook—including the cover
design—and last year it was published by William Morrow to great
Cookwise stands apart from most other general cookbooks in that the
author takes a scientific yet down-to-earth approach to cooking. She
explains all those strange things that can happen when you cook, and she
tells you how to avoid them. For example, why does red cabbage turn blue
when you cook it? Why can your friend make a cake perfectly, but when you
follow the same exact recipe, it flops? Why do muffins come out flat and
full of holes? Cookwise answers these and dozens of other questions
in a user-friendly way, and it includes more than 230 recipes that
beautifully illustrate the relevant principles. Anyone who has done much
cooking will find Corriher's take on the science of food fascinating, and
for those just starting out, Cookwise is a great primer.
In between her colorful stories of the publishing world and general
ribaldry, I had a chance to ask her a few questions:
Borders Dunwoody: Tell us about winning the James Beard Award
Shirley Corriher: It was wonderful, all glitzy like the Academy
Awards. They had an envelope and everything, and when I walked offstage
into the media room, Graham Kerr hugged me and gave me a glass of
champagne. Then Julia Child gave me a hug as well. It was a lot of fun!
BD: Can you offer a few summertime food tips?
SC: This is the time of year when everyone enjoys fruit and
vegetables. So, to keep vegetables green when you cook them, cut them into
small, uniform pieces that will cook in seven minutes or less. I like a
skinny green bean; the fat ones don't get done, and then they turn all
brownish-yellow because you have to overcook them.
Never put fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator! One of their main flavor
components, (Z)-3-dexenal, disappears when tomatoes are chilled.
You'll find the best peaches at roadside stands, and around Atlanta you
don't have to drive very far to find those. There's nothing quite like a
summertime cobbler made with fresh peaches.
BD: What about asparagus? It always seems to turn that
SC: The trick is never to use acids on green foods. Instead
of putting lemon juice or a vinaigrette on asparagus, you can make a
lemony dressing by sautéing a bit of onion or jalapeno and adding lemon
zest to it. This gives you the lemon zing without the acid you get with
juice. I like to put this on raw asparagus and then broil it for three to
four minutes. Or, you could make a vinaigrette but instead of using
vinegar, put in two tablespoons of water.
BD: Cabbage is a healthy and inexpensive vegetable, but it usually
tastes, um, cabbage-y. Any suggestions?
SC: Slice cabbage very thin, like you'd do for slaw. Then throw it
into boiling salted water and cook four to five minutes. Then drain it and
reheat it in a skillet along with some Italian bread crumbs. Sauté it
very briefly, just long enough to warm it up.
BD: What are some of your favorite area restaurants these days?
SC: Toulouse is a great little place on Peachtree. They have
wonderful basic French cuisine that doesn't cost a ton of money. Their
roast chicken is the best in town, and we love their atmosphere. Their
wine list is great also--very extensive.
(Los Angeles Times Syndicate) -- Chocolate is actually good for you! It
is still a high-fat product, but chocolate contains even more treasured
antioxidants than red wine, blueberries or black tea. Hallelujah!
Exactly what are antioxidants and how are they healthful? Back as far
as 1988, in a paper at an Institute of Food Technologist convention, Dr.
Paul Addis explained that the initial phase of cardiovascular disease,
lesions -- injury to the inside layer of the cells of the blood vessels --
is caused by oxides of fats, cholesterol and fat-related compounds. These
fat-related oxides are literally the beginning of cardiovascular problems.
Unfortunately, our bodies abound with reactive forms of oxygen that can
combine with fats and cholesterol to produce these harmful oxides. We do
have an antioxidant natural defense system, but illness, aging and even
factors such as smoking, air pollution and exposure to ultraviolet
radiation can overwhelm our natural defenses.
This is why dietary antioxidants like those found in fruits,
vegetables, tea, wine and chocolate can be valuable aids in preventing
cardiovascular disease. It has been suggested that all the antioxidants in
wine which the French consume may explain "the French paradox,"
the fact that in spite of a diet high in saturated fat, the French have a
lower mortality rate from cardiovascular disease.
I had the pleasure of participating in a recent chocolate workshop
sponsored by the American Chemical Society at Belmont Estates Conference
Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Joe Vinson, a leading researcher in
antioxidants in foods, gave us a clearer picture of just how good for you
chocolate really is.
For example, a 1.4-ounce milk chocolate bar contains more than 300
milligrams of polyphenols; dark chocolate has more than double that and
cocoa powder has four times that. To compare this to things that we think
of as great sources of polyphenolic antioxidants, a dark chocolate bar
contains about the same amount of polyphenols as a cup of black tea and
more than in a glass of red wine.
Not only is chocolate just loaded with antioxidants, it contains super
good-for-you antioxidants. Not all antioxidants are created equal and not
all the polyphenols or flavonoids in cocoa and certain chocolates are
equal. Chocolate contains a range of polyphenolic antioxidants known as
Although there are more than 4,000 known flavonoids (all good for you),
most previous research focused on dietary intake of just five flavonoids.
Current research is breaking down the family of procyanidin flavonoids
into monomers (those containing one unit) and oligomers (those containing
two, three or more units). The exciting news is that as oligomers get
bigger their ability to prevent LDL (the bad cholesterol) oxidation
increases and our beloved chocolate contains plenty of these big,
At this same American Chemical Society Chocolate conference, Dr. Marcia
Pelchat from Monell Chemical Sensory Center spoke on chocolate cravings.
She explained that we crave chocolate not because of some pharmacological
property, but simply because of its magnificent sensuous properties.
Just think, now guilt-free, you can put a big, shiny piece of chocolate
in your mouth and eat the firm, hard solid. Then, close your eyes. The
luxurious, voluptuous chocolate oozes across your tongue and your mouth
fills with thick, velvety, rich liquid. Sensuous aromas waft through your
head, and everywhere, everywhere, deep, dark taste. Breathe in deeply and
lose yourself in chocolate, chocolate, beloved chocolate.
Unforgettable chocolate - the Ultimate Chocolate Cookie
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen 2-inch cookies.
There is a thin, crisp outer shell, but then you bite in and luscious
black chocolate rushes across your tongue. Your first instinct is to grab
the plate and run. When I tasted Marcel Desaulniers' Black Gold Cookies in
his book, "Death by Chocolate Cookies," I had to make cookies
like this right away. I knew that the crust came from the eggs. I wanted
to make these as intensely chocolate as possible. To get this much-melted
chocolate with a small amount of flour, I used butter-flavored shortening
to keep the cookies from spreading too much. These are serious chocolate
(nat. sound: “uhmm’” beater)
When Julia Child wondered why her baby spinach leaves turned bitter in
the sauté pan, she called Shirley Corriher. When baking expert Susan G.
Purdy couldn't keep her lemon poppy-seed cakes from falling, she mailed
Corriher samples. And when cooks in the test kitchen at Pillsbury noticed
that the eggs in their artichoke frittatas had turned from gold to green,
they rang up Corriher, who unscrambled the problem.
Since she began washing dishes as a cook's apprentice more than two
decades ago, Corriher has emerged as the food industry's Ann Landers. She
often takes a half-dozen calls a day at her Atlanta home with a confounded
foodie on the other end of the line. She leads workshops, dispenses advice
on the radio, and writes regularly for food magazines. But Corriher, 63,
didn't attract widespread attention until last fall with the publication
of her first book, CookWise: The Hows & Whys of Successful Cooking
(William Morrow, $28.50). Ten years in the making, CookWise
provides everyday cooks with formulas to help demystify the kitchen. The
230-plus recipes illustrate kitchen science, like why green vegetables can
turn what she calls "yucky Army drab" (cooking them more than
seven minutes destroys the cell walls and allows acid to leak out) and how
to keep melting chocolate from becoming "a solid grainy mass"
(use the right amount of liquid).
Corriher's on to something. Usually, a cookbook selling 20,000 copies
is considered a success. CookWise has already sold about 70,000
copies. It goes beyond restoring the knowledge of kitchen basics lost by
Americans whose mothers or grandmothers never taught them to cook.
"Now, people really, really want to know why," she says.
Corriher came to the kitchen circuitously, starting out as a research
biochemist at Vanderbilt University Medical School in Nashville. She began
cooking for a living only when she and the second of three husbands opened
a boarding school in Atlanta, where 140 hungry boys relied on her for
three meals a day. But her talent as a culinary repairman wasn't
recognized until the mid-1970s, when her entry in a grits recipe contest
landed her free classes with Atlanta's cooking-school doyen Nathalie
Dupree, who then concocted ways to keep Corriher around. "Shirley
wasn't the most dexterous or the fastest of my students," Dupree
says, "but she was so determined and she just asked so many
Now, Corriher percolates with answers. Hardly had she arrived to do a
demonstration in a friend's kitchen when the sight of the fruit bowl
inspired her to give an impromptu science lesson: Plucking up a bunch of
brown-spotted bananas, she explained that the apples next to them were
giving off ethylene gas and causing the bananas to ripen too quickly.
Corriher admits that some of her ideas are unconventional. She
assembles an apple pie after baking the top and bottom crusts and cooking
the apple filling separately; that keeps the pie from becoming soggy.
Corriher was one of the first to suggest that the protein level in flour
makes a difference. Yeast breads generally call for high-protein,
high-gluten-forming flour; low-protein varieties are better for cakes and
biscuits, "so that the gluten doesn't make tough products," she
Corriher's approach works, food experts note, because she makes science
accessible. Says Corriher, "Science is scary, but knowledge is power