Kitchen Favorites: Brys Stephens

The Cookthink cofounder spends his days thinking about other people’s food cravings. So what does he find himself daydreaming about?

Cookthink cofounder Brys Stephens satisfies a craving.

Indecisive food cravings can be a major problem. You’re in the mood for something crunchy and sweet, but . . . what exactly? That’s where Brys Stephens and his Web site, Cookthink, come in. The online recipe database is like the food version of Pandora, which creates a personalized online radio stream based on your favorite artists and genres. (Stephens admits Cookthink was inspired by the music project.)

When you answer a simple question—“What are you craving?”—Cookthink offers a spectrum of recipe possibilities that highlight specified ingredients, flavors, and regions. Type in “apple,” “rich,” and “Spanish” and you get the recipe for a white gazpacho with apple and mint. It’s like a brain making all the hair-pulling what-to-cook decisions for you.

So what inspired Stephens to get into the online recipe business? While working as a law clerk, he’d channel his logic, reasoning, and analytical skills into decoding culinary obsessions. Jobs with a major wine distributor and Joseph Phelps Vineyards followed, and in 2006 he founded Cookthink with Chip Brantley, a former head cheesemaker at Westfield Farm in Massachusetts. Together they write a blog that muses on kitchen experiments, childhood-food nostalgia, and seasonal ingredients.

Because Stephens answers food-preference questions every day, we figured he wouldn’t mind taking the Kitchen Favorites microphone. Read on to find out what he thinks of turkey-free Thanksgivings and crusty baguettes.

French fries or onion rings? Onion rings. When they’re good, they’re more decadent than fries.

Favorite holiday, foodwise?
Thanksgiving—an obvious one. But I like to break with tradition for at least part of the meal and sometimes forgo turkey altogether. Instead I’ll roast a whole beef tenderloin, sauté Brussels sprouts in duck fat, roast beets and toss them with goat cheese, and use lots of fresh herbs and citrus zest.

Gorgonzola or goat cheese?
Gorgonzola. With beets or simmered with heavy cream for a simple pasta sauce.

Favorite school-cafeteria memory
: Mostly seeing and talking to girls. The excitement usually took away my appetite.

Linguine or angel-hair pasta?
I don’t cook angel-hair pasta enough. The texture goes well with delicate, cream-, or butter-based sauces.

Favorite bread for toasting
: I like to slice a good crusty baguette, drizzle it with olive oil, and broil it until it’s crisp on the outside but still a little tender on the inside.

Potato chips or pretzels?
Good, thick-cut potato chips, especially with a sandwich.

Favorite food town
: Ooh . . . probably Rome. Beautiful artichokes, zucchini, asparagus, aged cheeses, fresh pasta. And the lunchtime grazing, dozens of variations on pizza by the slice, cafe white-bread sandwiches, wine bars, espresso . . . .

or Bon Appétit?
Gourmet because of its impressive photography.

Favorite jam
: Southern hot-pepper jelly. A friend recently served some on hot, buttery biscuits with cream cheese.