A third culture kid born to American expat parents, Lauren Holdcroft, SideChef’s new Culinary Producer and former Recipe Editor, spent many of her early years exposed to different cultures. Originally from Washington, she has lived in Hawaii, Argentina, and China and reflects the rich culinary traditions of those places in her cooking.
Lauren originally came to Shanghai as a student, but the pull of the kitchen was too strong and she ended up working at SideChef - first as an intern, then as Recipe Editor, and now as Culinary Producer.
Growing up in Hawaii was honestly what shaped my personality and especially my tastes! Hawaii really is a melting pot in terms of diversity, and this is reflected in the vast cuisine types you can find co-existing on the islands--Portuguese Malasadas and sweet bread, Japanese katsu and mochi, on the same menu next to Cantonese steamed buns, heaps of macaroni salad, and huge glasses of passion fruit, orange, guava juice. There’s a reason I think of butter mochi when someone mentions a bake sale!
Cooking for me has had many stages. My mom was always an amazing cook, and I was super lucky to grow up on awesome dinners and lots of “helping out” in the kitchen. I was into baking in high school. Cupcakes, cookies, muffins...I really loved making pretty things, which I think is why I loved baking more.
It wasn’t until I moved to New York for university that I realized that I should learn to make food that would actually nourish me. What started in my tiny New York apartment transformed my view of cooking from a chore into a borderline-obsessive hobby. I started with a few recipes that I would cook over and over, refining them, then moved on another set.
When I’m missing home, which usually means missing Hawaii, I will always whip up a batch of my favorite childhood snack, Spam Musubis. These little blocks of rice, seaweed and perfectly-seasoned Spam are a poster child for the amazing food that comes from so many cuisines mixing in one place. They were essential for beach days, after-school snacking, and post-soccer game refuel.
Oh god, I don’t think I could do it! Maybe a good french bread? I could probably do it if I also got some cheese.
For the last 2 years I’ve been SideChef’s Recipe Editor, but after 2 years of growing an amazing team, it was time for me to make a lateral move over to our Culinary Studio as a Culinary Producer. Cooking has always been something I loved. From the days peering at my mom and grandmother over the counter creating mouthwatering dish after dish, to a cupcake obsessed teenager, to feeding myself in a tiny new york apartment, cooking and food has always been a source of joy, comfort, and excitement for me. After moving to China for a career I hated, I began cooking more and more to cope with the stress, until every hour I wasn’t at work was spent planning, shopping for and cooking meals for myself and others. Finally, I realized that I was being silly not to pursue a career in the culinary field. I SideChef and I found each other, and the rest is history.
In the thousands or recipes I’ve pored over during my time as a recipe editor, the tips I’ve picked up could fill a book. However, my top tips are: Always use a meat thermometer when cooking meat or poultry, smash garlic cloves with the flat side of the knife to peel them more easily, and make sure you always tell the people you share a kitchen with when you sharpen the knives.
Developing recipes is one of my favorite parts of my job. The process of starting with an idea - a season, a flavor, an ingredient, an event...and somehow turning that into a (hopefully) replicable dish that people anywhere can enjoy, it’s a great feeling. Like making art but with more utility.
I think the term “Chinese Food” is a misconception in itself. The cooking style, flavor, and ingredients used across China varies greatly from region to region, and they’re all amazing in their variety. “Chinese Food” in the rest of the world is generally based on the southern, Cantonese style of cooking.
My go-to Chinese dish will always be anything spicy, especially LaZiJi (Chili Chicken) from Chongqing or Liangpi, A cold noodle dish with chili oil and sesame paste from Shanxi Province. If I’m in the mood for something lighter, a plate of pillowy little Shanghainese soup dumplings always hits the spot.