Our Editor-in-Chief Shristi Patni interviews Alison Kan a.k.a. HiddenYum. She’s a digital creator, food blogger and considers food as the latest form of art.
1. Hi Alison! It’s great to have you with us today. Please tell us a little about yourself and how did your journey begin.
Hi there! My name is Alison and I’m a food blogger from the greater Boston area. I’ve always been interested in photography, but I first started food blogging in college as a side hobby. I kept it up as a fun thing on the side even when I got really busy – I kind of appreciated having this creative activity amongst all the hard sciences that I was studying. I always took photos of my food and loved to cook and share my creations on my personal Instagram, so expanding to food blogging came pretty naturally to me. I’ve been so fortunate to work with great restaurants and meet amazing people in the food and food blogging industries!
Currently, in the pandemic, my focus has shifted over a bit more to food that I cook at home, in addition to restaurant food/takeout. I do a lot of modifying of recipes to my own tastes and some recipe development, and I’ve also been trying to transcribe passed-down family recipes into clearly written procedures with measurements so that others can try out our favorite foods as well too!
2. According to you, food is a kind of artistry. Who’s your inspiration and what’s your favourite food trend?
Some of my favorite food bloggers for beautiful food photos are @lilybubbletea, @vernahungrybanana, @kerabeareats. I love looking to them for inspiration for food plating, recipes, and food photography in general!
My favorite food trend is charcuterie! While meat and cheese boards are certainly not “new”, I do feel like I’ve been seeing it much more recently, in restaurants, as delivery businesses, etc., as well as people expanding on this idea to do other types of snack or meal boards. I also love how you can be super creative with the plating of charcuterie and showcase super fresh and local produce and products, so I love trying charcuterie and also making charcuterie plates myself.
3. What’s the secret to clicking drool-worthy food photographs?
Natural light! If it’s a dish I’m cooking (often after work), I’m also guilty of trying to take photos inside at later hours. But if you don’t have the right lighting setup, these photos just usually don’t have the nice, bright, crisp quality that I prefer and might need a lot of editing. For me, it’s usually best to shoot mid-morning with natural light, and if not, provide lots of light for the shot if you can control the environment (like in your own home).
4. What’s your favourite cuisine and why?
My favorite cuisine definitely changes with my mood, my cravings, etc., but I have always loved Japanese food. I love sushi and sashimi and have been trying my hand at making rolls at home too!
5. How do you support local businesses?
As a food blogger, I love working with local businesses to feature new dishes, new specials, or even new products. It’s so important to support our local community and shop local, so featuring some local businesses on Instagram or social media, in general, can really help bring attention to these businesses and bring in new customers. For this holiday season, I put together a holiday gift guide with local businesses in Boston on Instagram and on my website to hopefully encourage others to shop local!
6. What was it like being featured in Boston Food Magazine?
It was awesome! The feature, which was part of the ‘Best Food Instagrams of the Week’ series, actually happened a few months after I first started food blogging, so it was a great experience being featured with a photo of food I love (dim sum) from China Pearl in Quincy, MA.
7. You create a lot of content about Boston and it’s food and culture. How’s it different from all other food cultures in the world?
I think that even with our smaller size, like many other cities, Boston has more traditional food, in this case from New England, and also more contemporary, international cuisines. We do have a great focus on local seafood, with being right on the water. In addition, I think a lot of the food culture is influenced by how Boston is a college town and there are lots of young people living in and around the city. This has led to a lot of restaurants that kind of cater to making beautiful, photographable dishes but also some businesses with cheap late-night eats. So I think with the spread of numerous food options into the different neighborhoods of the city and into Greater Boston, there’s usually something for everyone. Boston is definitely an up-and-coming foodie city!
8. Name three classic Boston dishes everyone should try at least once.
While this is an Italian pastry, Boston has their famous North End, where there are many historic Italian restaurants and shops. I love directing any tourists to both Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry, two very well-known Italian bakeries, to try to determine on their own which bakery’s cannoli are better.
#2. Lobster roll
Boston is really known for seafood, and one famous dish is the lobster roll. Try it cold with mayonnaise or hot with butter, both styles are delicious! One great spot to try a lobster roll and other seafood is Neptune Oyster in Boston.
#3. Clam chowder
a super comforting, creamy soup with clams, potatoes, and salt pork or bacon. If you’re looking for a classic, check out Legal Sea Foods or try a fun spin on the dish with the Chowda Fries from Boston Burger Company.
9. Three ‘food sins’ you’re guilty of committing…
- Ketchup on mac and cheese
- Ranch on pizza
- Maple syrup with eggs (only if it’s with pancakes!)
10. Your midnight craving is…
11. Salads vs desserts? Which one’s your favourite and why?
Desserts hands down. I wouldn’t say I have a crazy sweet tooth, but I love a good chocolatey dessert, like lava cake!
12. One food trend that you believe everyone should follow…
Many restaurants are moving towards more sustainably-sourced ingredients or using local produce, which is great for the environment and really helps support local farmers, fishermen, etc. This is something a lot of home cooks are trying to do as well, whether it be through going to local farmers markets, shopping from local community farms, or using other local services that collect leftover produce to cut down on food waste.
13. How do you work?
I currently run my food blog just as a side hobby, so I do almost everything on my own including taking photos, attending events, developing or testing recipes, etc. At the moment, I’m not going into the city as much due to the pandemic, so I have recruited some friends for food events in Boston to help with photos as well.
14. Five essential items you absolutely need in your kitchen…
- Kitchen shears for cooking and for cutting garnishes
- Wooden cheese board for charcuterie
- Pretty plates and bowls for food styling
- Tea towels/cloth napkins for food styling
- A nice pair of chopsticks
15. Since your launch of the blog in 2018, you’ve got a decent readership and following. How’d you do that and what advice would you give to someone just starting out as a food blogger?
I started out blogging while in college, so I wasn’t able to attend all the food events I wanted to or visit all the restaurants I wanted to, just because of how busy I was. Instead, I focused on really enjoying what I was able to experience, trying to improve my blog by working on my photography for both restaurant food and home cooking and connecting with my followers. I love to connect with people over shared interests, like food, and my food blog has been an amazing opportunity for that. Since then, my following has been slowly growing, and I hope to continue to connect with more people! I think my biggest advice would be to form connections with your audience, with other food bloggers, and with restaurants. This can be through commenting on others’ posts, replying to comments on your own posts, sharing through Instagram Stories, etc.
16. Which food blogger/chef do you dream to collaborate with?
I would love to work with Sohla El-Waylly! I’ve been trying out some of her recipes and watching her new Youtube videos, which are very creative, and I love her fun energy!
17. As a renowned food blogger, what ethics do you think every food blogger must comply with?
I think it’s really important to give credit where it’s due, whether it be credit for a photo, credit for an idea for a recipe, credit for inspiration from another dish. In social media, where it’s so easy to share something (and maybe pass it off as your own) but also draw inspiration from others as you scroll and scroll, it’s important to acknowledge and credit ideas. This also goes from restaurants and companies- they should especially work hard to credit those who help with food styling, photography, etc., and make sure they are getting their pay where it’s due.
18. What are your go-to cookbooks?
I love the Cook’s Illustrated (magazines) and the Flour Bakery cookbook!
19. Name three meals that you never get tired of eating.
Udon, tacos, and Japanese curry!
20. Three restaurants in Boston that are absolute hidden gems…
- Orinoco for Venezuelan food
- Coreanos for Korean fusion
- Hojoko for Japanese/Japanese fusion
21. A Boston food culture myth that needs to die is…
A Boston food culture myth is that everyone here eats Boston baked beans. To be honest, I feel like most people don’t eat them that often, although there are restaurants that do them well, and there are definitely better things to try out if you’re visiting Boston!
22. Which ingredient do you feel instantly improves any given recipe?
I’ve been trying to incorporate more fresh herbs into my cooking, and I feel like fresh herbs can really improve a dish! It can help bring lots of flavor (more than dried herbs do) or act as a nice, colorful garnish. Some herbs that I use often are mint, basil, and cilantro.
23. Where do you source your ingredients from?
I shop at a bunch of local supermarkets near me for produce and also some Chinese grocery stores in Quincy and Chinatown for Asian ingredients.
24. Tell us about the best meal that you’ve had so far.
I had a beautiful Shokado Bento, a bento box of the chef’s daily seasonal selections, from Momi Nonmi in Cambridge, MA. I loved how there was a variety of selections, from fresh sashimi to crispy croquettes, to a cauliflower and duck soup, and it all looked beautiful! Momi Nonmi is currently doing omakase for takeout and also really cool collaboration pop-ups, and I hope to try some more of their delicious dishes!
25. What was your first experience in the kitchen like and what’d you make?
One of my first memories of being in the kitchen was when I was young and my mom was making dumplings. I really wanted to help (and my mom probably didn’t want me working with raw meat as a child), so with my creative mind, I thought to make a dumpling filled with mac and cheese! I think from a young age, I’ve always observed and tried to help out in the kitchen, which has really led to my interest in cooking now.
26. Is it possible to cut down on food waste as a student? If yes, how?
While it’s often cheaper to buy items in bulk, this doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. Buying in bulk can be great if you do meal prep or if you shop with roommates, but in college, I bought my own produce and shopping for one person can often be difficult to portion. One tip I have is to do research on how to best extend the shelf life of produce ingredients. For instance, I buy scallions and whatever I don’t use immediately for a recipe, I wash and chop into 2 sizes (some smaller for garnish and some about 2 inches long). These can keep much longer in the freezer, just like many other vegetables. I also invested in some produce saver boxes from Rubbermaid, which are great for berries, as they help them stay fresh for much longer.
27. What’s the best piece of cooking advice you’ve ever gotten?
Always always read the recipe all the way through before starting! This can help you with the order ingredients need to be added to the dish, if you need to preheat the oven or bring certain ingredients to room temperature, or even if the same ingredient is being used in multiple parts of the recipe and you can’t add it all at once. In the same vein, try to prepare as many ingredients as possible before you start, which is called “mise en place” in French, “putting everything in its place”. Both of these tips will help you with the timing of cooking or baking and also save you from accidentally forgetting an ingredient!
28. What do you think makes you different from all the other food bloggers?
I definitely think I’m still looking for my specific niche in the food blogging world, but I’m trying to set myself apart with my style of food styling. I love to create a nice photographic scene by showcasing the ingredients, plating the food nicely, playing with props, etc.
29. If you had to give up one food item for the rest of your life it’d be…
Mayo. I basically only use it for toasted bread in grilled cheese, but otherwise, I really dislike mayo in stuff like egg salad or potato salad.
30. One recipe you’d like to share with our readers…
Sweet and Savory Pork Spare Ribs
Sweet and Savory Pork Spare Ribs
- 1 lb pork spareribs
- 1 tablespoon Chinese Shao Shing cooking wine
- 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 5 tablespoons water
- Prepare your pork spareribs by cleaning and chopping into smaller pieces, about 1” to 2” long pieces.
- Add all your sauce ingredients (cooking wine, rice vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, water) into a saucepan on medium-high heat.
- Add your spareribs and cook for 5 minutes in the sauce while covered. Switch to low heat and simmer until the ribs are fully cooked, around 10 minutes depending on the size of your ribs, stirring occasionally.
- Take the lid off and reduce the sauce on medium heat, about 2-3 minutes depending on your desired consistency. Serve immediately.
For more information, follow Alison Kan on Instagram.
Shristi is an avid reader, recipe developer and wellness enthusiast. She’s probably making a mess in her kitchen right now.