How To Put The Nomnom In Your Cooking Game

How To Put The Nomnom In Your Cooking Game (Artwork created by Brigido Bautista)

Don your aprons and grab your whisks! In this episode of Adult ISH, food and cooking take center stage. First, Merk Nguyen and Nyge Turner talk about fine dining and cafeteria food with chef Dan Giusti, who left his job as head chef of Michelin-starred restaurant Noma to cook healthy school lunches for kids. Then, they put their cooking skills to the test for the first Co-host Cook-off (try out their recipes below)! Spoiler alert: things get spicy … and cabbagey? Be sure to follow all our socials @yrAdultISH!

Merk’s Cabbage Challenge Recipe

Merk's recipe for her cabbage basil sweet soy sauce stir fry. Ingredients: cabbage, egg, unsalted butter, semi-dried basil, cherry tomatoes, 1 sweet onion, soy sauce, brown sugar, salt + pepper, vegetable oil, warm water. Instructions: 1. Prepare sweet basil soy sauce in a small sauce container/bowl. Fill up 1/5 of container with soy sauce, then fill 3/5 with warm water and add about a teaspoon of brown sugar. Mix with chopstick or whatever stirring utensil until you hear minimal sugar crunching! Add in 1-2 big pinches of basil. Set aside.
2. Wash your cabbage and break off at least half the leaves from the head. Then slice your cabbage (including the hard parts of the leaf and set aside.
3. Get large pan and put on low-medium heat while dicing your sweet onion. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to pan; when it runs like water, add diced onions to pan, coating them with oil and spreading them out evenly with a spatula. After about 2 min, mix + sprinkle salt to dehydrate them. Continue to stir every minute or so until they’re translucent/brown ish. Should be about 7 min total. Add a little bit of water to rehydrate the caramelized onions. Set aside.
4. Turn up the same pan (or if you’ve got a wok!) and set it on med-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of oil and your cabbage. Stir fry for about 3 min. Add at least 1 tsp of pepper. Continue to stir fry for another 2 or until cabbage is significantly softer (but still a little hard). Then add half of your sweet basil soy sauce mixture to cabbage. Stir fry for another minute.
5. Plate however much cabbage you want on your plate and layer with caramelize onions.
6. On small pan, set heat on low-medium and when hot, coat with thin layer butter. Crack egg on top and cover with lid for about 1:30. With spatula, flip egg and re-cover. When egg is cooked to your liking, add on top of cabbage/onion plate.
7. Cut up washed cherry tomatoes in half and place around your beautiful creation.
8. Boom! You’re done! Use the remaining soy sauce to eat with the rest fo your meal. Enjoy, my friend!
Merk’s recipe for her Cabbage Basil Sweet Soy Sauce Stir Fry!

Nyge’s Cabbage Challenge Recipe

Episode Transcript

(audio clip plays)

Greg: I remember I called the bros for a little shindig. We got the ham. We got the chicken. I brought the charcoal out. We got the grill going, so I put the chicken on the grill, you know, we all turnt. And the chicken cooking pretty quick. But my problem was I put too much charcoal in it. I didn’t know that, so the chicken was cooking real quick. I’m like, “Okay, maybe this thing’s ready.” So I got everything ready, the barbecue sauce, all that, it was ready. Mouth all watering up, took a bite into it and it was raw inside. It was terrible. 

(audio clip ends)

Merk: Oh my gosh, which friend was that? 

Nyge: That was my boy, Greg. He took a fat L. 

Merk: Wow.

Nyge: Gregory Keith Hill for everybody out there. 

Merk: Oooh, well everybody, I’m Merk Nguyen.

Nyge: And I’m Nyge Turner.

Merk: And this is Adult ISH produced by YR Media, a show where we do not eat Greg’s chicken wings because they’re not approved by the FDA.

Nyge: Fasho, not approved by the FDA. Yeah, let me know about your cooking skills though since you’re coming up for Greg. (laughs)

Merk: Oh, okay. Well, I’d say I’m decent. I didn’t necessarily grow up cooking because other people cooked for me, whether it was my mom, my dad, my brother or sister. So it’s when I moved out like, you know, two years ago is when I actually started to want to cook. But I didn’t say — I think it was probably when I moved to L.A. is when I actually started cooking and baking a lot more.

Nyge: That’s when you started getting in that cooking bag.

Merk: That cooking bag, that baking bag, too, actually. I think I started out baking more than cooking. 

Nyge: Speaking of baking bag, the cookies that you just sent me were pretty fire.

Merk: Oh, that’s right.

Nyge: The little coconut, I see what you was doing with the little you know what I mean.

Merk: Just gotta make your life sweet. 

Nyge: Yeah.

Merk: What about you? Other than eating cookies, what would you say about your cooking skills? 

Nyge: I think I’m pretty nice in the kitchen. I think I got a little finesse, you know? But I mean, I’ve been cooking for a long time and I feel like I definitely have a lot of areas I could get better in. But yeah, I love being in the kitchen. It just brings me so much relaxation. 

Merk: I mean, you even had your own YouTube channel where you were cooking food, so that’s a flex. 

Nyge: I did. It was fun. Me and my friend Tati would just, like, cook all the time. So we turned it to a YouTube channel that, you know, failed. But ahh life. (laughs)

Merk: That’s okay, you can still say you did it.

Nyge: Yeah, we did.

Merk: What do you think, Chef Nyge, is your favorite thing about being in the kitchen cooking? 

Nyge: Oh, barbecuing is probably one of my favorite things to do just because, like, it’s just such a ritual. Like, you go out. You marinate the night before and then you go out early in the morning like at the crack of dawn and light up the pit. And you cook basically like all day. And then like your end product is just like a masterpiece that you put, like, your heart and soul into it. And, yeah, it’s a very spiritual experience. 

Merk: Yeah, it sounds like it’s kind of a rite of passage almost. I would say that’s my favorite thing about cooking is that you get to flex that you made this meal. It’s a very big act of independence, actually.

Nyge: Yeah.

Merk: I like the agency that comes with cooking, you know?

Nyge: Yeah, I mean that’s tight, but you can’t like … Don’t mess up and then cook some really good because then you are now the cook and now you have to cook it every time the family has anything. So you’ve got to watch out for that out there. Don’t cook too good. 

Merk: I got to say I make a pretty mean Italian wedding soup. I make a good homemade crunched up supreme. And Bánh xèo, which is a Vietnamese savory crepe that, mmm, it was probably one of the biggest compliments in my life when my brother said, “Hey, that’s one of the best ones I’ve ever had.”

Nyge: Oooh.

Merk: I was like, “Oh my god.”

Nyge: Okay, Andy coming through with the big compliments. Yeah, another thing that I really like about cooking is so I watch this cooking show or whatever called “Chef’s Table” on Netflix, and they were talking about the dance that two chefs do in the kitchen and how it’s so much like improv. And you’re making stuff up on the fly and you don’t know what the end product is until you’re done with it. And that’s what we do in real life with adulting. We don’t know what we’re going to be. We don’t know what we’re creating, but we’re creating something and we’re doing the dance. And that’s why today’s episode is “Nomnom ISH.” And it’s all about the food that you nomnom on. 

Merk: Yes, how creative you can be with the NOMs, the preparation of it, what it says about where you come from and how important it is to have quality food for everybody. 

Nyge: Yep, so first, we’re talking to professional chef Dan Giusti who went from being head chef of one of the best restaurants in the world to working in a middle school cafeteria. 

Merk: And then later we’re gonna have the first ever Adult ISH Nomnom Cooking Challenge with a special guest judge from our past seasons who y’all are pretty familiar with! Alright, let’s dig in.

[Music Break]

Nyge: Here with us today is Dan Guisti! He’s the former head chef of Noma, one of the most famous and critically acclaimed restaurants in the world. We’re talking two Michelin stars status, being awarded the best restaurant in the world title multiple years running, and servin’ up wild dishes like high quality steaks with … you know a lil’ sprinkle of live ants?

Dan: (laughs) That’s it.

Merk: But that’s not even the coolest thing about Dan! In 2016, he left the fine dining scene to start an organization called Brigaid. They’re a team of chefs who are changing up the public school cafeteria game by creating delicious and nutritious meals for kids across America. So with that, hello, Chef Dan! 

Dan: Hello, what’s up? How’s it going? Thanks for having me.

Nyge: It’s going good. Going good. My first question is what kind of school lunches do you remember eating as a young Dan? 

Dan: As a kid, I did bring lunch. I think most of the time. I was like one of these kids that would bring lunch to school and had like a whole, like green pepper in his bag. And I’d eat it like an apple.

Merk: Oh dang.

Dan: I was like that kind of kid, but when I was in high school, I used to — I was working a full time job as a cook in a restaurant. So food at that point was already very important to me. It’s what I wanted to do for my career. I don’t even associate food as part of high school, like I remember when I had a break for lunch, it was just about hanging out with friends. I didn’t even eat. And now, of course, with that said, and I think it’s an important topic to talk about is I was lucky enough that I didn’t have to eat at lunch. And, you know, a big part of the reason we do the work that we do is because there are a lot of kids in this country that school lunch is when they’re going to eat. And I don’t think a lot of people realize that.

Nyge: I was in charge of making my own lunch from, like probably like fourth grade until now.

All: (laughs)

Nyge: And yeah, it was just like, I remember I had this one friend, Raymond, and his mom would always make him salami sandwiches. And it was like salami and mustard, like the most basic sandwiches ever, but…

Dan: That’s a good sandwich though. 

Nyge: Yeah, I would never have any time to, like, make a sandwich in the morning. I would just grab a bunch of snacks and put them in like a plastic bag or whatever. And so every time at lunch, he would take his sandwich, he would give me one of his sandwiches and then I would give him like the snacks we’d like, divvy up the snacks in between each other.

Dan: A little trade.

Nyge: And that’s how we’d have complete lunches.

Dan: I mean I will say there was a time I feel like when I used to bring lunch to school that was just, and I don’t know like what was going on in my house, but I felt like it was like a bunch of bags inside of other bags. It was like things that were purchased inside of a bag and then inside of another bag. Everything was like a package that you opened. 

Merk: Hot lunches were my thing back in elementary school, but then middle, high school, it was like, “Yeah, do your own thing,” or my mom, she — bless that woman — she would pack stuff. But my favorite hot lunch was what was supposed to be Sicilian style pizza, but it was just like rubbery rectangle pizza with the cubed pepperonis. And it was so good and it was soft and it was, it was crap. But I loved it and just thinking about it, it’s just so nostalgic. But now that I’ve had more food, I’m like, “Oh, I was eating that back in the day?”

Dan: That rubbery pizza is crazy because, like, you don’t understand, like what’s going on with that. And then, like, now that’s my life is trying to figure out like how to do these things and the cheese that we have to use, or the cheese we end up using for a lot of reasons, is so low in fat and in the quality is pretty poor that it actually, in a lot of cases, will burn before it melts, if that makes any sense.

Merk: So that’s what was up with the pizza?

Dan: Yeah, that’s what’s up with the pizza unfortunately.

Merk: I mean you’ve got an impressive background with Noma and fine dining in general, and that’s a whole different atmosphere than what we’re talking about, which is a public school lunch room, full of kids. What’s one of the meanest and/or nicest things one of the kids you’ve cooked for has said to you?

Dan: Oh shit, we could talk the whole show about the things that have been said or done when we first started. It’s actually pretty hilarious. I was going to tell you — I’ll tell you some stories. At the end of our first year in New London, Connecticut, was where we started. It was like — we started in the fall. It was the springtime, and it was like out of a movie. This girl was running for student government for the following year. It was out of like, you know, one of these, like teenage movies. And she was running for, like class president. She was literally advocating to change the food back to what it was before we came as part of her campaign because we took away, like chicken patties, chicken nuggets, stuff like that. We switched it to, like, scratch made food. I mean, we’ve had enough stuff that’s just like it makes you wonder, like, “What are we doing?” On the other side, we’ve had definitely enough positive moments, but I would say the positive moments are few and far between. And why? It’s because, like in so many ways, like it’s lunch for these kids, like this is our life. But in a lot of ways, like these kids, they eat lunch, and if it’s good, they’re probably not even going to say anything. They just go on with their day. They go outside. They have recess. They forget about that lunch. They don’t think about it again. For us, we’re like, it’s all we think about. But we had a high school kid one time and he was like, “I don’t even like the meal that you’re serving today, but we see you’re working really hard and that means a lot to us.” 

Merk and Nyge: Yeah. 

Dan: We get just enough positive feedback to keep us really motivated to keep going for sure. 

Merk: I love that.

Nyge: Your approach with Brigaid focuses on relationships with the young people you’re serving. Your team goes out and essentially hypes up the kids for what’s gonna be on the menu next, right? 

Dan: Yeah, we try.

Nyge: So why this approach? 

Dan: Yeah, well, actually, when I was at Noma, you know, we served all these like crazy meals and a lot of this stuff — don’t get me wrong — a lot of the people who ate at Noma were like, “This is what they, I swear, this is like what they do.” There’s some people living some crazy lives out there. They’re just like going from place to place around the world just eating at all these restaurants, checking them off the list. But we did get our share of people who are like, you put a dish of beef tartare, raw beef, seasoned with ants in front of them. And they’re just kind of like, “Okay, like what? What is this?” At Noma, the chef served most of the food, which was pretty cool, like you’d make it, run out in the dining room and serve it. And we had chefs from all over the world. We were representing like 20 plus nations and our guests from all over the world, too. And like, even though you had these people who are there to eat the food and they’re like, this was this crazy experience. It’s still, I think, the most impactful part of eating there was the chefs out there, and sometimes it meant making a little bit of a joke about the food just to ease people, you know, make people feel comfortable. And it’s such an important part of getting people to try things. And like the other thing is, like, think about like eating food that your family makes for you like if you know who’s making your food and you like them, you’re kind of like — your likelihood to try it or enjoy it even is much higher than if you just — the food’s coming from wherever. I’m six foot six, I’m a tall guy. I would go out to the cafeteria and there’s like these kids that are like two feet tall. They’re like — they’re just like running around and like and I’m thinking I’m like, “Oh, I’m going to get these kids to try kale salad,” you know? And I like to sit down at the cafeteria table with like four or five year olds. And I’m like, “So how’s the kale salad, kids? And like the girl just like looks at me and she’s like, “I have three sisters,” you know?

Nyge and Merk: (laughs)

Nyge: She’s like, “I’m not thinking about that.”

Merk: “But the food, the food?”

Dan: Literally not even paying attention to anything I’m saying or like anything that’s happening and kids are just like running around and it takes a lot like, lunch is 20 minutes long in a lot of places and there’s 300 kids. And so your ability to reach every kid is as few and far between. But the luxury of institutional food in general, we’re talking about schools more specifically is that even if you’re reaching a few kids every day, that’s where you can really be like one on one with them, it’s enough to reach a lot of kids over time. So that’s kind of what our strategy is. 

Merk: So with Brigaid, you and your team are cooking in public schools, and you’re only given about $3 to make a meal, or $1.25 if you don’t include labor and plating and eating utensils, which is obviously not a lot but you make it work, even with a small budget. And like y’all, it seems like a lot of young adults from our generation are trying to find the most effective way to do inexpensive meal prep, including myself. So can you tell us one of the best ways to make your money stretch?

Dan: I think there’s a lot of things you can do. I mean, one thing I know is when I want to do these meals, sometimes I want to make a meal that’s cheap, and I usually target for like $2.50 or less. And I go to the supermarket and I just walk around and, you know, instead of — because I think that’s the thing that we have a problem with, too. We know what we want to make, and you know, especially if you’re a little inexperienced, you find a recipe and you know what you want to make and you’re kind of bound by that recipe, so you go to the supermarket and you’re buying ingredients that it says to buy. In most cases, when you go to the supermarket, especially with perishable items like meat, there’s tons of stuff on sale because there’s things that…

Merk: Manager’s special.

Dan: Manager’s special, nothing wrong with that. Stuff’s fine. You know, maybe the best way to approach it, if you’re not like super experienced in cooking is having a few ideas of what you want to make, a few recipes, and then go and start to look for things that are the cheapest because I think if you go in with with an idea of exactly what you’re going to buy, the likelihood that you’re going to find kind of the most cost effective things is not — it’s very unlikely, so I think that’s the starting point. Also, frozen foods, frozen vegetables, frozen fruits, there’s a stigma around them like they’re not great. They’re actually, in many cases, more nutritious. If you have a small fridge or a small apartment, you don’t have a lot of space. They take up less space. They’re not perishable, obviously, because they’re frozen. In many cases, they’re more appropriate for a recipe than not, and that they have, you know, they might be broken down to a certain point to process already. So, you know, we’re talking about price but talk about time as well. I’m a firm believer that you can make a really good meal at home, a really nice meal if it’s for yourself or if it’s — even if you’re trying to impress somebody, you’re trying to impress a certain someone. Two dollars and fifty cents, you can make a pretty, pretty delicious meal. 

Merk: Mhmm.

Nyge: Well, I have a question about that, that home cooking. So how do you not compromise your culinary creativity while ensuring whoever you’re serving is satisfied? ‘Cause I’m insecure when I’m cooking, because I just always worry about under or overseasoning or whatever because I know what tastes good to me. But you never know, like when you’re cooking for other people. So how do you find, like, that nice balance, especially in your position too, because kids are pretty picky sometimes?

Dan: I’ve come to realize, I think that you can kind of cook in two ways, and I say this a lot, where you could cook for yourself, which I think if you’re a chef, especially in a fine dining restaurant where people are paying a lot of money, they’re coming to eat your food like they’re coming to eat your vision. Or you could look for other people and what we do now, we cook for other people, if you cook for a family in your home, you’re cooking for other people, like it doesn’t really matter what you think at that point. 

Nyge: Yeah.

Dan: So whether you’re cooking for a thousand kids or whether you’re cooking for one person or whether you’re cooking for a family of four, if you don’t know that, it becomes really hard and it’s a shot in the dark and obviously in the work that we do in schools, or if you’re feeding a family of four, you get to understand what the preferences and dislikes are of the people you’re feeding. In the schools, you find out very quickly in terms of, you might serve a meal out of a thousand kids, 700 of them hate it. And it’s like, “Yeah, you like it,” but you really need to understand, like what are the people you’re cooking for really enjoy? 

[Music Break]

Nyge: Thank you so much for being here, chef. To learn more about his team, his story and mission, check ‘em out on Twitter @brigaid or the site And follow Dan on IG, he’s @dan.guisti!

Dan: Thank you so much.

[Episode Break]

Merk: And now it’s time for a special challenge segment between me and Nyge. To ensure it was COVID-compliant, we recorded over 2 days and through Zoom. ‘Nuff said. Take it away, announcer.

[Music Break]

Announcer: Welcome to the first annual “Adult ISH Cabbage Co-Host Cooking Competition.” This is a very fancy announcer and not Nyge. Day one: we have Nygel Turner and the Southern Fried Cabbage. 

(audio clip plays)

Nyge: What I’m about to do is first I’m going to heat up the skillet. I’m gonna make southern fried cabbage because my family is from the south, so I was like, “Why not lean into my culture?” So… 

(audio clip ends)

Merk: The rules of this challenge were that we had 40 minutes to cook one dish that had cabbage, a protein of choice, one acidic ingredient, one dairy ingredient, any kind of cooking oil we wanted, and up to four seasonings that does not include salt and pepper, plus a miscellaneous veggie.

Nyge: But the cabbage needed to be the star.

(audio clip plays)

Merk: So what is your miscellaneous vegetable?

Nyge: What do you mean which one? This one that I’m using right now or?

Merk: Wait, do you have more than one miscellaneous vegetable bro?

Nyge: What vegetables was I supposed to have?

(audio clip ends)

Nyge: I didn’t break the rules. I just had to make a last minute adjustment.

Merk: Because Nyge bought too many vegetables and didn’t see we only had one miscellaneous veggie that we could use. 

Nyge: Slight oversight.

(audio clip plays)

Nyge: If I have to only use one now, because I didn’t know the rules well enough —

Merk: One now? One from the beginning, just saying!

Nyge: Yeah, I’m just saying because I mean it was on me… 

(audio clip ends)

Nyge: So basically we told Dan Gusti that we had wanted one ingredient to base the whole entire dish around and he picked cabbage, which was … a shocker. 

Merk: I was pretty stoked when I found out we were cooking with cabbage because I’m like, “Yeah, this is great. I get to make a vegetarian dish if I want, which means Nyge’s at a disadvantage.” 

Nyge: I was pretty irritated when I found out we were going to cook with cabbage because, yeah, I don’t cook with cabbage like ever. So I was like, “Man, I’m going to lose.”

(audio clip plays)

Nyge: Like when I cook I’m a very like therapeutic cook, so I take my time. I usually have like some oldies bumping … (singing) I was born by the river … in a little tent. (laughs) That’s it, that’s all you get.

Merk: (laughs)

(audio clip ends)

Nyge: So I prepared for the challenge by talking to some family members. I called my grandma. I was like, “Grandma, I need to do something with cabbage.” And yeah, we talked about some possible options. Chopped it with my grandma.

Merk: Grandma assist.

(audio clip plays)

Nyge: Cut it in half and then now I need to get this pit out of the — what’s the core of the cabbage. That’s where all the bitterness comes from. A lot of people add sugar to their cabbage because it’s so bitter, but if you just cut the core out, you won’t get any of the bitterness. Now, I’m going to add some Cajun seasoning. The Cajun seasoning isn’t super spicy. It’s just like … I don’t know how else to describe the flavor palate of Cajun seasoning, but not really so much of a spicy, more of a twang. 

Merk: Is that the first test taste? What are you thinking?

Nyge: Oh, it’s doing good. 

Merk: You’re dancing, so yeah, that looks like a good sign.

Nyge: Red pepper, because I think that’s what’s missing, is that kick, you know what I mean? Oh yeah, we going crazy … Little vinegar in that thing! Just added a touch more Cajun seasoning, just to top it off, just so it’s bustin’, you know, when you get it … Yeah, I’m probably going to go with a pretty small serving size, to be honest, because…

Merk: “So I can have more for myself.”

Nyge: I mean, yeah, and then also, like in fine dining, like they don’t serve you a ton of food anyway. So I got this nice little bowl. 

Merk: Oh, I see. So you’re going for like the Michelin star restaurant. 

Nyge: Yes, those are Davey’s utensils.

(audio clip ends)

Merk: We chose our judge, former senior producer, Davey Kim, as a nod to all the times we’ve had food with him, someone who likes to talk about food all the time and because he’s decently local to both of us. It was a very quarantine-safe cooking challenge.

(audio clip plays)

Merk: You have it in a napkin wrapped in that nice fancy paper?

Nyge: (laughs) Yeah.

Merk: What?

Nyge: That’s what we’re doing, and there, we’re done.

(audio clip ends)

Nyge: So when I finished, I didn’t really have a lot like a ton of time on the clock. And so I brought it out the door and immediately, I’m hit by the cold air, which made me nervous because I was like, “Oh, man, it’s going to cool off.” And so then I’m like walking kind of fast and I’m trying to get to Davey. But then I’m like, “I’m walking too fast. And that might be pulling it off.” And then, yeah, I gave it to Davey. He pulled up in his car and stayed in the car and I handed it to him in the window and he did his thing.

(audio clip plays)

Davey: Oh my gosh, he’s coming.

Nyge: Yep.

Davey: Nyge! 

Nyge: There you go. 

Davey: Oooh my car smells amazing already. 

Nyge: Thank you, thank you.

Davey: How are you doing?

Nyge: Doing good.

Davey: How are you feeling?

Nyge: I’m feeling really confident, really confident. Yeah, I really like how it came out, so…

Davey: Okay, alright.

Nyge: Yeah, can’t wait for you to dig in. 

Davey: Alright, well I’ll get started then.

[Music Break]

Davey: It’s got a nice balance. I can see some bacon and cabbage. I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m not a big cabbage eater. Oh yeah, I like cabbage, crunchy and Korean. I like certain types of Korean cabbage dishes and cabbage and salad. But this is going to be an experience. 

Nyge: Tastes southern.

Davey: Mmm, well, that taste really develops. Wow, this is so good. 

Nyge: Thank you, thank you.

Davey: Do you have more of this?

Nyge: Yeah.

(audio clip ends)

Merk: So there were specific criteria for this challenge, and there were six categories. One, originality and creativity. Two, Texture and color. Three, cooking techniques. Four, flavor profiles. Five, recipe ingredients, and the last one, judge’s discretion. This was all on a five point scale.

(audio clip plays)

Davey: I will say, one, I don’t know if the dish is supposed to be on the slightly less salty side. I guess maybe I’m just a fan of saltier dishes. Your final score for this dish is a 4.3. This is like a meal I would eat once a week over rice with some hot sauce. Overall, I thought this was a fantastic dish and great job. 

Nyge: Cool, thank you.

Davey: Thank you.

(audio clip ends)

Nyge: If I was to make the dish again, I would put a little more salt. That’s it. (laughs)

[Music Break]

Announcer: Day two: we have Merk Nguyen and the Cabbage Basil Sweet Soy Sauce Stir Fry.

(audio clip plays)

Nyge: Alright, three, two, one, go!

Merk: Alright, so, everybody, today I am making food. I’m gonna start out by chopping this onion in half. And this dish I’m going to be making today is going to be stir fry cabbage. The seasoning is going to be a soy sauce with brown sugar in warm water and basil, so it’s like a sweeter soy sauce. 

(audio clip ends)

Merk: I prepared for this challenge by writing down a whole bunch of ingredients that I thought would make this dish pop. I’m like, “Oooh this texture would go good with this texture.” And I physically wrote it down on a big piece of paper. Did I actually practice the ingredients? No, but the thought was there. 

(audio clip plays)

Merk: Right now, I’m just going to start by dicing my onion. Now, I’m going to get a small little “spatuler.” That’s what Mr. Krabs says, and make sure all my onions are coated in oil and lower my heat because the key to caramelized onions is slow and steady wins the race. However, I did not a good job of peeling the onion so our judge might get some onion skins. Let’s hope that’s not the case. I’m going to try to get them all out now. How we at on time? Okay.

Nyge: Nah, you can leave them in there. It’ll be alright. 

Merk: Nah, you know what? I want to win. Do you not know what my last name is? It’s Nguyen. Because you know why?

Nyge: Because winning would be new. (laughs)

Merk: You’re going to the graveyard. Okay, I have put in three inches of brown sugar into the sauce. The reason why I want this sweet is because I know that I’m going to be using the cabbage, which is kind of bland in flavor, and because I want to use the harder parts of it, since the onion is already going to be soft and caramelized, I want him to have a crunch factor when he bites into it. Now, I’m putting some basil. This is one of my seasonings into my soy sauce, brown sugar water mixture. I just love the flavor of basil. It reminds me of when I have phở. It’s, I mean, basil is served with it and, you know, it’s funny. People are like, “Oh my gosh, you’re Vietnamese. Did you grow up eating phở all the time?” No, bitch, I didn’t, because well, no — I did. I did. 

Nyge: (laughs)

Merk: But there are so many other Viet dishes. Phở’s fine. But I think anyone from any cultural background, they know there’s so much more food other than, like the staple, what everyone else knows. But basil just reminds me of the homeland. You know, if I had long chopsticks like my mom does back home, I would cook with those. But like, my mom’s not here and I have tongs, so I’m gonna use those. Hear that sizzle. Let me try some cabbage real quick. Oh, yeah baby, I’m going to put in the soy sauce right now.

Nyge: I’ve been watching like “MasterChef,” like nonstop and they just always, like, commentate when people are, like, doing that. They’re like, “Soy sauce is going in. Merk’s got her cabbage in the pan.”

Merk: (burps) Okay, excuse me. I’m going to run down the list. Okay, so with that, I have not used a dairy ingredient yet. And because this is not a vegan dish — it’s vegetarian — I’m going to use unsalted butter. Okay, so the protein I have chosen for today are eggs. I wanted to make this a vegetarian friendly dish. I’m going to the pan — it’s low heat, stick of butter. Hear a little bit of that sizzle. Now I’m going to crack the egg.

Nyge: See, what Merk is doing right now when she puts the lid on, she’s just trying to get a nice little nice glaze over the top of the egg. Very nice technique. I learned this technique as well. South of France.

Merk: What?!

Nyge: Just talking. 

Merk: Yeah, clearly. 

Nyge: Narrating your movements. 

Merk: Okay, now I’m going to carefully…

Nyge: Now, here’s the moment of truth. It’s a very difficult maneuver. The yolk is intact. 

Merk: Yolk is intact. 

Nyge: Wow. (claps)

Merk: I believe I’m done. Service, ding ding.

Nyge: Service!

(audio clip ends)

Merk: So once I put my final touches on it with cherry tomatoes, put it on the plate, put the sauce in a little thing. I opened the door, went down a flight of stairs and then another, and then I walked up to the pool where I had to strategically open up the gate without dropping anything and then boom. 

(audio clip plays)

Davey: Okay, yum. Let me start off by saying this is something that I could eat every day for like that kind of, like, brunch hour, you know, like a little — I’m not a big breakfast eater, but if I’m, like, hungry and I don’t want to eat lunch, this is perfect for that. 

Merk: Awesome. 

Davey: And this sauce, could tell me a little bit about the sauce?

Merk: Yeah, it’s a brown sugar soy sauce with diluted in water and basil. Dried basil, semi-dried basil.

Davey: Right, and I know you mentioned these are some of the flavors that you grew up with. And, yeah, I would have never, ever personally have created a dish with all these kind of veggies and sauces. I do like how the tomatoes are pretty fresh, but there is a little bit of like a disconnect between, like the dish where it’s cooked and then a tomato that’s like really fresh. And so it was a little bit tricky to kind of like, grab everything with the fork. It’s really good. I love the sauce and I feel like it was seasoned well. But as someone who prefers to overseason as a default, I felt like maybe it could use a little bit more of a — maybe a little bit more of a pungent garlic or something that gives it a little bit more of an edge. 

(audio clip ends)

Announcer: And now it’s time to announce the winner. 

(audio clip plays)

Davey: So, Merk, I have done the math here and across six categories, you get 25 points and if we were to average that out, you get 4.167 points, which rounds to 4.2 points, which is an amazing score. Nyge, he came in with 4.33, which amounts to 4.3. He does edge you out by .1 point.

Nyge: By .1 point.

Merk: Argh!

Davey: And while he may have won this competition, I think this is an excellent dish. 

(audio clip ends)

Nyge: I was really excited to win because the last time Merk and I competed, I lost. And I was like, “Alright, I’m not trying to rack up my second loss.” And so, I was juiced. I’ve been getting, like, a lot back into cooking lately. And it was good for my soul to get a win on this because I was like, “Man, if I don’t win this, I’m not going to cook anymore.”

(audio clip plays)

Nyge: So it’s really — it’s really a win for cabbage. 

Davey: It really is. I told my parents on the way, “I’m going to go eat some cabbage.” And they’re like, “Why would you do that?” 

Merk: (laughs)

Davey: And I’m like, “I have zero clue, but I’ll let you know after.” And so I’m excited to report back to them that, like, cabbage can actually be really good like this. So… 

(audio clip ends)

Merk: Nyge, I think you did a really good job. Congrats on the win and thank you for teaching me some stuff about cabbage that I didn’t know. 

Nyge: Merk, I think you did a really great job. Your dish looked amazing and also nutritious because if you ate my dish every day, it would not be good for your body. 

Merk: You would sweat bacon. 

Nyge: Yeah, facts.

Announcer: This has been the first annual Adult ISH Nomnom Cooking Challenge. Thanks for listening. 

[Music Break]

Nyge: So today’s top takeaways. Make do with what you have, and make sure that even when you’re following your passion, you’re doing it in a way that brings you fulfilment. 

Merk: And two, cooking has so many real-life applications. Just like with our cabbage, with a little creativity you can make one of the most humblest ingredients, sing … like Nyge in the kitchen.

Nyge: (sings) Ahhhh.

Nyge: And with that, thanks for listening to Adult ISH, produced by YR Media, a national network of young artists and journalists creating content for this generation. Thank you’s go out to our producer Georgia Wright, Executive Producer Rebecca Martin and the fine folks at YR who contributed art and music for this episode. 

Merk: We’re also proud to be members of Radiotopia by PRX, an independent listener-supported collective of some of the most audibly delicious shows in all of podcasting. Find them, take an audio bite at Oh yeah, and if you want to see the dishes we whipped up plus our recipes, come to our site or follow us on all the socials @YRadultISH.

Nyge: Now, for next episode’s out of context clip!

(audio clip plays)

(glass of water filling up)

Merk: Alright y’all. Talk to you on Earth Day!

Nyge: Talk to you on Earth Day. Seee yaaaaa.

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