Food Well Done

Caesar Salad Is Molly Baz’s Holy Grail. This Fall, She Finally Built Up the Courage To Reinvent It

Portrait of Molly Baz. All photography by Peden+Munk and courtesy of Baz.

Molly Baz is a cookbook author for the Instagram age. She favors bright colors, intense flavors, and abbreviated terms like “cae sal” (caesar salad) and “smoo” (smoothie). This impassioned attitude is on full display in More Is More: Get Loose in the Kitchen, her sophomore cookbook published this fall. After offering a guide to the basics in her debut Cook This Book, Baz aims to encourage readers to take more risks. We spoke with the former senior food editor for Bon Appétit from her home in Los Angeles about the joys of improvisation, the difference between maximalism and gluttony, and her passion for cereal discourse. 

CULTURED: Where are you and what's in your system? 

Molly Baz: I am pacing around my backyard, trying to get some sunshine and vitamins. I just made myself the Blue Smoo, which is a smoothie recipe in More Is More: it's blueberries, tahini, ginger, banana, dates, vanilla, and salt. I had a pistachio milk cappuccino about two hours ago, which sounds fancy but it's not actually that fancy. It’s my favorite milk, so I buy it in bulk.

CULTURED: How has it been to have More Is More out in the world? 

Baz: My first book came out during Covid, so I did all of the events from my couch. Being face-to-face with the readers really filled me up and drained me at the same time. I've never felt so many things all at once. Social media is also an incredible tool to see what is resonating with my audience and what's not. Now I know, one month in, these are the five recipes that people are making the most. These are the hits of the book.

CULTURED: So what are the hits?

Baz: The Mollz Balls, which are my spin on Italian American meatballs; the drunken cacio e pepe; the crispy-skinned salmon with coconut rice and crackle sauce; and the miso-braised chicken and leeks. In the desserts chapter, people are making the pistachio brown butter and halva chocolate chunk cookies. It's honestly pretty predictable: relatable, classic dishes with a twist. That's what I've learned over the years is the thing that people look for in my recipes. What's Molly's spin on this dish that I've had 100 times?

CULTURED: What did you want to bring to this new book that you weren't able to in the first one? 

Baz: I was living in New York when I wrote Cook This Book. I developed it all in my tiny, tiny kitchen, and we shot it in a photographer’s studio. I wanted More Is More to feel grounded in my actual reality and my own kitchen. When you open it up, I want you to feel like you're dropping into my home. We threw dinner parties, and all my friends came over. The process felt very integrated into my life.

CULTURED: You cook with a “leave no flavor on the cutting board” mentality. Tell us about your maximalist origin story. Who taught you how to think big when you cook?

Baz: I got my training in restaurants. I would work at a restaurant for a year, a year and a half, and move on to the next so that I could accrue as much knowledge as possible. I worked at this place called Picholine, which was a Michelin-starred restaurant up by Lincoln Center in New York. It was a 14-course tasting menu every night. And I just didn't see myself on the plate. I worked there because I knew that I would learn really sound technique. But something about the minimalism and restraint of it all felt foreign to me.

At the same time, until you really have good technique and experience under your belt, it's hard to cook with abandon. There's so many unknowns. It's so scary. And that's what this book is about. The worst thing that could possibly happen is that you have a flop of a meal and most likely what's gonna happen is that you make something even more delicious with more depth of flavor than you ever would have [otherwise].

CULTURED: When's the last time you surprised yourself in the kitchen?

Baz: I don't know if you are aware of my relationship to the Caesar salad, but people know me as the Caesar salad girl. I've been making the same recipe forever. And I dared to switch it up recently—I made a new Caesar recipe with a base of toasted walnuts instead of eggs. It's not a mayonnaise dressing; it gets its creaminess from the fat of nuts and it has this deeply roasty toasty flavor from toasted walnuts and anchovies.

I've been sitting at home asking myself whether it's better than my original—it’s different. It took me many years to have the courage to try a different recipe and just let myself go, and it really surprised me. So I guess the lesson there is, no one way is the right way.

CULTURED: In the spirit of More Is More, what do you want to see more of in the food world and what you want to see less of?

Baz: I want to see more people making things their own. It's a tricky position to be in as a recipe developer because in a lot of ways, I do the work so that you can just follow a recipe and know that it's gonna turn out well. But the joy of cooking is the light bulb moment that happens when you make a decision for yourself, take a turn off course, and impress yourself. Whenever I see people being like, “I made Molly's miso braised chicken and leeks, but I made it for Thanksgiving this year, so I brined my turkey and braised it in leeks and miso,” I'm like, “Yes, that's exactly it.” 

What do I want to see less of? Less bro-iness. I feel like food can get really bro-y and “this is the best way”—really intense, masculine energy. Like, “I put caviar on my fried chicken on Friday.” It's gluttonous and gross and over the top. Maximalism for me is not gluttony.

CULTURED: If you had to pick between breakfast, lunch, and dinner, what would you pick and why?

Baz: Dinner. I love the rituals around dinner. It's an event every day. Where are we eating it? What's the vibe gonna be? Whether we're ordering takeout and sitting on the couch or having people over, it’s what anchors me every day.

CULTURED: Underrated ingredient? 

Baz: I’ve been pretty obsessed with cereal lately. I go through phases when I am developing so many recipes that my palate is fatigued on all of the normal ingredients in my pantry. When that happens, my greatest joy is finding the perfect combination of a handful of Crispix and a handful of Shredded Wheat and two parts Life cereal. I feel people disregard cereal. It's just that thing you eat when you have nothing else. But to me, cereal is the least boring thing on the planet. There's infinite possibility in cereal.

CULTURED: You should write a cereal manifesto.

Baz: I'm actually thinking about it. I eat my cereal with ice cubes in the milk, and I season my cereal with salt because I feel like cereal is underseasoned. I posted a picture of my bowl from last night and people are freaking out. I'm getting more DMs than ever before. I think they're just shooketh by the idea that someone has innovated the cereal eating experience.

CULTURED: What about an overrated ingredient?

Baz: This isn't a trending ingredient, but I've always been over pork belly. People think pork belly is the best way to eat pork. To me, it's so unbelievably fatty and unbalanced that I feel sick eating it.

CULTURED: Is there a kitchen etiquette rule that you live by? 

Baz: One thing that I learned working in restaurant kitchens is that the most efficient way to cook is to minimize your movements. That's how you ensure that you get food on the table in a really timely way. Your crop of tools is exactly where your hand lands on the cutting board and you spin around and your pots and pans are right above you so that you don't have to walk across the room. I don't think people think about that when they set up their home kitchens. Part of cooking for me really involves the dance of it all, which sounds super cheesy. Being graceful in the kitchen for me is what keeps me coming back.

CULTURED: You host a lot of dinner parties. If you were to host the dinner party of your dreams, who would your first three invites go to? 

Baz: Ruth Reichl, because she's my culinary idol and has been such an inspiration to me. We were actually supposed to have dinner last year at some point and then it didn't work out. I got very nervous with the thought of meeting her because I have looked up to her since I was a child. Larry David, because he really cracks me up. And—this is such a weird group of people, I wouldn't necessarily want these three people at a dinner together—but I'm gonna have to say Mariah Carey, who has been my true love since I was a child. I have no idea how she would pair as a dinner guest, but I would love to find out.

CULTURED: What is the dish that represents where you're at in your life right now?

Baz: The Cozy Bowl on page 131 of More Is More, which is the thing I eat when I need to feel like somebody's giving me a hug. It's a bowl of buttered rice with gingery scrambled eggs and sesame seeds and cucumbers. Having just come back from this very public moment in my life where my physical presence was required in such an intense way, I have really wanted to go inward. That's how I'm finding balance in my life right now: eating a lot of cozy bowls in addition to my cereal.

For more foodie content, see our interviews with beloved food writer and chef Sohla El-Waylly, food critic Matthew Schneier, and culinary alchemist Angela Dimayuga.