The Preppy Kitchen's John Kanell And The Incredible Egg Have Your Holiday Dishes Covered - Exclusive Interview

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New York Times bestselling cookbook author John Kanell has somewhat of an unusual success story. He was teaching middle school math and science before deciding to completely change his path — and it's a good thing that he did. Kanell started his YouTube food channel "Preppy Kitchen" seven years ago, and it currently has a staggering 3.26 million subscribers. In a calm and approachable way that undoubtedly comes from his past as an educator, he gives viewers instructions on how to make homemade meals to share with family and friends.

From dishes like his savory Creamy Tuscan Chicken to his buttery and sweet Pan Dulce, Kanell has a little something for every palette, which hasn't gone unnoticed. The talented cook and his recipes have been featured on "Good Morning America," "The Kelly Clarkson Show," and "The Drew Barrymore Show." In an exclusive interview, we spoke with Kanell about his new collaboration with The Incredible Egg, how his unique cultural upbringing influenced his taste in food, and why he thinks his recipes have resonated with so many people.

Delicious and inexpensive holiday recipes using eggs

Can you tell us more about your partnership with The Incredible Egg?  

I was so excited to partner with America's Egg Farmers, because eggs are one of the most versatile ingredients I use every day in the kitchen. They can do everything from making an amazing, and very easy, egg casserole or savory bread pudding for the morning, to the most amazing silky frosting, or a creamy custard, perfect for your guests.

What are some of your favorite holiday recipes that you make using eggs?  

Every single recipe I make for the holidays uses eggs, but I love creamy things that will melt on your tongue. Eggs are the one ingredient that can give you that consistency. I created a holiday flan that has dulce de leche, my favorite spices, and of course, that caramel topping that we all love. The secret ingredients there are the five eggs that I'm using, which create this lattice of proteins that holds things together enough to get into your mouth and dissolve on your tongue.

My personal favorite recipe would have to be an éclair. I can eat an entire batch. [It's] an éclair made with a choux pastry, which is eggs mixed with flour and butter, and it creates a wonderful silky pastry that you can make anything from churros to eclairs with, and it puffs up in the oven and once cooled, you fill it with the most amazing crème pâtissier, which is an amazing combination of vanilla, cream, eggs, and sugar. It is a dazzling concoction.

Can using eggs instead of other proteins be an affordable alternative for those looking to save money?

Eggs are so versatile, but they're also giving you a value for your money and per unit. Each egg has 6 grams of protein, and adding that to your recipes is adding protein in, as well as adding all the other amazing things that eggs do, like give you that wonderful consistency, or puff things up, or make things silky, or create beautiful, rich flavors. They are definitely a wonderful protein to use.

What's the best way for busy parents to prep ahead for making big holiday meals this season?

Come into the holidays with a plan. Decide on a menu and know what you want to make, and then start putting on your calendar when things could be made. I, for example, will make a biscuit recipe a week or two ahead of time and will have that in my freezer. When my guests come over, they bake straight from frozen, so there's no worrying. They're going to come out of the oven fresh, golden, and amazing. 

A lot of pie crusts can be made up to a week in advance, too. It could be either in the freezer or it could be baked and ready for the filling. Then, I will do any little bit of prep that I can as far in advance as possible, so the day of, all I'm really worrying about is setting the table, being a kind and considerate host, and getting things into and out of the oven without doing a lot of work.

How his upbringing has impacted his taste in food

In what ways did growing up in Los Angeles influence your own cooking style? 

My mother came to Los Angeles from Mexico when she was fairly young. She brought with her a love for cooking and making things from scratch, which is a hallmark of Mexican cuisine. When she came to this country, she discovered so many different cultures in Los Angeles, and I always say, "She explored the world through her kitchen." She got all of these recipe books. She met different people from different places, and she married my father, who is Greek and French-Canadian.

She was able to have these discoveries of flavors, of consistencies, of techniques, and of cultures in her kitchen and she found things that she loved. In my book, I have a Swedish apple cake, which is a bit random, but it's one of her favorite recipes that became one of my favorite recipes. They're beautifully poached apples in a meringue, which is fluffed egg whites with almond meal, and it's ever-so-slightly sweet and perfect with a scoop of ice cream. It has these wonderful soft flavors that I love.

With your mother being from Mexico and your father's family being from Greece, did that shape the way you look at food and culture?

My parents' heritage [definitely] shaped how I look at food and culture. One thing I'd like to point out is a cookie recipe. We have something called snowballs in this country, which are also named Russian tea cakes, but in Mexico, they're called polvorones, and they're known as Mexican Wedding cookies sometimes, too. They're like shortbread cookies that have nuts worked into them and they're rolled in powdered sugar fresh out of the oven. In Greece, you have almost the exact same cookie recipe. 

When I shared this recipe, a lot of people commented that they have one from their culture, too. In Indonesia, there's a version that uses rose water. In another country, they use pistachios.

One thing that was nice about this fusion of cultures is seeing how universal food can be and how it can bring people together in addition to shaping who we are and what our identity is. Both of those cultures have a love of bright, fresh flavors. Although the dishes are much different, and there isn't that much cross-over, it shaped how we worked in the kitchen. 

My mother came from a very small village in Mexico, and everything was [made] from scratch out of necessity. When she came to this country, everything was still from scratch, because that's what she knew and that's what she loved. She helped me understand clear, bright flavors, how to make things from scratch, how to play with things and have fun in the kitchen, and use the kitchen as a place of discovery.

Why he thinks his cookbook has been such a hit

Congratulations on being a New York Times bestseller with your cookbook "Preppy Kitchen: Recipes for Seasonal Dishes and Simple Pleasures." What did that feel like when you were told you received that distinction?

Thank you so much. I was blown away. I didn't even know that was possible. The book had such a lovely reception, and it was a pleasure and a privilege to go on the book tour and meet so many wonderful people. I'm on the farm, in my kitchen every day, and I'll take my kids to school, but other than that, I'm home. I don't get to meet a lot of people. I interact with them online, and I have lovely comments and I answer questions, and that's wonderful.

Hearing so many amazing stories of food, how the kitchen is an important place in the household, how people just like learning about different techniques, it was amazing and I was really blown away. Then, to get a surprise call from my publisher — the ID on the phone said "New York, Man." I answered the phone anyway. I didn't think it would be a telemarketer. It was a publisher, and he told me that I was on the list, and I started crying and called my husband and my mom immediately.

Why do you think your cookbook has resonated with so many people?

I hope that people have come to the blog and the YouTube channel and everything else, knowing that they can trust my recipes. One thing that I always try and do is help people have fun in the kitchen and not be stressed out. Part of that is delivering recipes that work every single time, for every single person. I'll give you all my tips and tricks for how to make things right, how to correct anything that is wrong, and how to enjoy yourself. The book is an extension of that, so people were excited to have something to bring to the kitchen that wasn't on the computer.

Which recipes from his cookbook are the most meaningful

You have so many incredible-sounding recipes in this book from Parmesan Buttermilk Biscuits to Blackberry-Balsamic Pork Chops. Is there any recipe that has a special meaning for you? 

So many recipes have a special meaning to me from this book. A good portion of them are family favorites that, for one reason or another, I held onto, saving them for a special moment or a special place. The Swedish apple cake that I mentioned earlier is one of those. Avgolemono is a Greek soup that is an egg-based chicken-lemon soup and you make a meringue of eggs, you whip the egg whites up until they're fluffy, and you fold that into the soup, and it turns the soup white but gives it a creamy, wonderful texture that's almost magical. With the brightness of the lemon juice, the substance of the chicken, a little kiss of oregano, I call it Greek magic, and it's delicious. It's the perfect thing if you're ever at all under the weather; it'll perk you right back up.

Many of the recipes are coming from a place of history in my family, and a lot of them are also things that came from living in Connecticut. I always loved pressing flowers with my brother. I would go and pick flowers and my mom wouldn't notice we were missing. We'd press them in books, and the nice thing was that you'd come back to them a month, a week, a year later, and you'd find these pressed flowers, and it was a memory of something that happened so long ago.

We moved to a place that has seasons where you're really immersed in winter — it's really winter, not like Los Angeles where it's usually sunny and 72 — so pressing flowers with my kids in books and then opening them up in the winter was that much more special. You're in the middle of white fields of snow, but you know that in a few months, those fields will be filled with wildflowers. A recipe I took from that project was shortbread cookies. They're flavored with orange and they're lovely, but you top them with these pressed edible flowers and you seal them on with a little bit of icing, and they're a magical memory of summer that you can have all year round.

Maneet Chauhan said she rarely sees such a "perfect harmony of technique and passion come together in the form of deliciousness." What does it feel like to get a review like that from her?

Maneet is one of the nicest, most talented, hard-working people I've ever come across. I love her dearly, and my heart was really full from that compliment. It meant a lot to me. I can't speak her praises enough or tell people to buy her lovely book, "Chaat," because she's amazing and it was so sweet of her to say anything about that book.

Comedian Loni Love said if she can follow these recipes in your cookbook, then anyone can. Is it important to you to create meals that anyone can make?

It's one of the most important things because I would be shattered if someone came to a recipe I made and tried and couldn't make the end result. That would be wasting your time and your money and your hope. Every recipe I make, I really go as granular as possible, step by step, showing you how to do things in a way that really makes sense. I was really happy that she said that and really grateful as well.

The one person he'd want to cook him dinner and his favorite fast food

Having tried food from all over the world, who's the one chef you'd want to cook you dinner?

My mother. Someone asked me what my dream meal would be, and I went through it and at the end of the menu, I realized they were all my childhood favorites that my mom had made. Things as simple as the herbed rice that she makes every Thanksgiving, with fresh herbs from her garden and onions and garlic mixed in there and it's fluffy and perfect, to steamed asparagus to a beautiful — it's not seasonally appropriate, but my favorite dessert I have at many holiday meals is a buche de noel.

It's taking egg whites and frothing them up, and that leavens a cake that's paper thin. You roll it while it's warm, so it has memory. Once cooled, you unroll it, and we fill ours with a coffee-flavored whipped cream. Roll it back up, cover it with a chocolate ganache and some strawberries, and that's our semi-traditional buche de noel that I love. That was one of my desserts, and it was my mom's dessert. My mom would be making my food.

What's the one ingredient you can't live without?

I'm saying two – it's going to be eggs and butter because together, they can make anything happen in the kitchen. From a perfect omelet to a beautiful, creamy Swiss meringue, a wonderful cake, any kind of custard, everything that it can do.

What is your go-to fast food order and at which restaurant?

I live on a farm with no fast-food restaurants, let me think about this. I was really partial to an In-N-Out burger and fries because there's one by the airport in Los Angeles. Whenever I would come, we'd go to In-N-Out and be on your way. It's like a nice memory of coming home for me.

For more information on The Incredible Egg, visit their website. John Kanell's cookbook "Preppy Kitchen: Recipes for Seasonal Dishes and Simple Pleasures" is available on Amazon.

This interview has been edited for clarity.