After securing his spot as one of the best cooks in America by competing on season 10 of MasterChef on Fox, Michael Silverstein released his successful debut cookbook, New Keto Cooking.
Now, the coveted chef and author is back for seconds by popular demand with his latest cookbook, New Comfort Cooking, which is now available to purchase. Silverstein is passionate about the power of cooking to improve one’s life, and this new book features a stick-to-your-ribs collection of low-carb comfort foods everyone will love inspired by his own family recipes. From Juicy Jalapeño Popper–Stuffed Burgers with “Animal Sauce” to Low & Slow Texas Brisket Chili with Keto Cornbread for dipping, he has truly mastered delicious comfort cooking without sacrificing any taste.
Because Silverstein personally lost over 80 pounds thanks to the ketogenic diet, he was inspired to create Keto recipes that the world would love. While keto is a powerful weight loss tool, he also believes that the benefits of a low-carb lifestyle are much more extensive than weight loss alone and works hard to create food that the whole family will love, regardless of their nutritional goals.
Instinct caught up with Silverstein to talk more about the cookbook, what defines comfort food, and how he responds to people who are skeptical of keto.
Hi, Michael! Thank you for taking some time to chat with me about your new cookbook, New Comfort Cooking. These are dishes inspired by your own family recipes?
Yes. A lot of them are direct recipes from my mom, aunts, and grandmas that I kind of revamped. When I was a kid, my mom would gather all the recipes from my family and put them together in our little unofficial cookbook. So, I put in a lot of recipes that are meaningful to me in the book, as well as some of my favorite foods. There’s a good mix of the past and present. Comfort food is a tricky topic. Like, what does that really mean? It’s going to mean something very different to every person, so I tried to play on that.
What is your definition of comfort food?
I have battled with this question throughout the whole writing process. It took me about a year to put this book together. My first cookbook that came out last year was this new, modern keto approach. This sexy version of what healthy food might look like if you want to try something different. For the second book, I was like, I want to do something completely different. I think a lot of authors would automatically think, well, let’s make a volume two. Since I had a bestselling book the first round, why do something different?
As a chef, I think there are times where food should be fancy, and there are times where it should be comforting. Like a warm bowl of goodness. So, I had this idea of doing a comfort food book, but immediately, I’m like, what is considered comfort food? My brain immediately started to lean on southern influences like fried chicken and mac and cheese, but that is not true for everybody. I’ve moved around a lot in my life, so I have influences from different parts of the country and the world, and I think a lot of it has to do with our own individual childhoods. What that looked like for each of us.
I actually surveyed family, friends, and different people on Instagram, and every time I would ask what comfort food is to them, it was something totally different. I thought I was going to get macaroni and cheese on repeat, but I didn’t. I almost never got that answer. I received answers that were very surprising, some of them were very specific, and many of them were recipes that came from their mom or dad. Something they ate a lot as a kid. For me, comfort food is sitting on the couch with a bowl of cereal watching a good TV show. Obviously, I can’t put a bowl of cereal in my book [laughs].
So, I don’t think there’s an exact answer. By definition, comfort food should give you a smile. It should make you feel good. Before anything else, before you worry about creativity, innovation, modernism, and fanciness, all that goes out the window with comfort food. It comes down to food that gives us a smile after a crappy day. If you’re having a great day, comfort food can be for celebration. It’s just good that makes you happy on a very simple level, but with a dash of childhood and the past.
Are all the dishes in this book keto as well?
It is all keto friendly, but it’s not like a dietary book. These recipes are not designed for weight loss, but they are designed for somebody who wants to take some of their favorite comfort foods and make them a little bit better. They are gluten free, sugar free, and everything has a little twist because I want to help people find new surprises in the food that I make. For example, I have a chicken parmesan dish where it’s baked in a sheet tray, and I use fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes instead of just marinara sauce. It is so good. Subtle little twists. No matter what diet you are on, you could certainly use this food if you want to lose weight.
I think this book is really designed to help somebody make positive changes with what they eat, but without feeling like you’re giving something up. It’s just good food, and it’s mostly family style. It’s very family friendly and for people on the go. I know my first book had a chapter on fancy date night dinner, but this book is just easy, yummy, cheap comfort food you can make at home. Kids, no kids, single, huge family, it all works. The type of food in this book is a catch all.
Thanks to keto, you lost over 80 pounds in one year. How do you respond when people say keto is just a fad diet and should not be trusted?
That is something we hear a lot. I did not lose weight by eating salads and little, plain pieces of chicken. My belief in getting healthy, you need to eat real food and cook food at home in a healthy way. I understand there are a lot of associations with keto that it is a fad diet, but is anyone going to argue that cutting sugar out of your life is going to harm you? In my opinion, eliminating sugar and flour as a formula has only helped me find health and wellness. Not only with just how I feel, but also medically, which I think is important for any diet. You need to know that what you are doing is healthy.
The key to any diet is eating the whole time, never starving yourself, and staying away from unhealthy patterns. Also, never say that keto is for every single person. Everybody is different, and I do not think that there is a one-size-fits-all-model here. That is why I focus my recipes on tasty food that is whole, real, satisfying, and comforting. Not these little dainty, bite sized portions or asking anybody to restrict how much they eat or how much they love eating. That is what worked for me. For my weight loss journey, I ate well the whole time. When you get into diets where you are counting calories and restricting yourself, you are in a very negative space, and food should not be a punishment.
You have said that your mom is one of your biggest influences, and she helped you discover your passion for cooking. What are some dishes in the book that she made a lot while you were growing up?
There are a few recipes from my mom in the book. The first one that comes to mind, it’s called Mom’s Chicken Soup. That’s the official title. She made it for holidays, when one of us was sick, you name it. It’s very straightforward in the book. I didn’t mess with it. I said most of the recipes have a twist, but not my mom’s chicken soup. That is the real deal. She actually flew to Austin for a week and helped me develop a few of her recipes because her written versions are not usable in this setting [laughs]. A dash of this, put that in, stir, and done.
To make a usable recipe for the cookbook, I had to watch her cook it and take notes. I included her oven baked brisket, which she would also make for every holiday, her barbeque baked chicken, and a couple desserts. There’s one that’s called the Magical Strawberry Pie, which is basically a strawberry mousse icebox pie, and we keto-fide her coconut cake. Her cooking definitely played a lot into this book. She sparked my joy of cooking when I was young because it was just a big part of life with her.
When I first started writing, she found recipe boxes that belonged to both of my grandmas. Boxes with hand-written recipes on index cards. She sent them to me, and I even included a picture of those recipe boxes in the book. A little nod to my grandmas.
You began to make a name for yourself in the culinary world after competing on MasterChef. What did you take away from that experience?
What a great question. Obviously, I learned a lot in the culinary space just by working with Gordon Ramsay. He really pushed me to be a better chef. What surprised me about the experience was what I learned about myself. It was so challenging and the hardest thing I’ve ever done. So much happens before the show even starts. Around 15,000 people auditioned, so there were rounds and rounds, going from 15,000 to 20 before we started filming. So, getting onto the show in the first place was a marathon. Then once you’re in it, it’s the craziest food competition. It was so intense, and I was way out of my comfort zone.
I never wanted to be on TV or be a celebrity chef at that point. I had given up being a chef for a few years and was working as a real estate agent. Flipping houses and stuff. It wasn’t even on my radar. When I got to Hollywood and started filming, I felt so out of place and uncomfortable, but being out of my comfort zone changed my life. It changed my perception of myself because what I was able to accomplish gave me confidence. It gave me a sense of belonging. It re-inspired my love for cooking. That experience empowered me, and I left completely recharged and excited to get back into the culinary world.
Do you still also offer private classes and one-on-one coaching for those interested in learning how to become a better cook?
Yes! I try to do at least one class a month, and every class is different. Some are free while others cost money. It depends how in-depth we go. I charge for the smaller classes because I really want it to be a very personalized experience. You can go to my website, and there’s a mailing list. Anyone who signs up for my mailing list, which I send out weekly with free recipes and stuff, gets first dibs at tickets to the class, whether they are free or cost. People on my mailing list will be notified first before I post to social media.
Before we wrap up, are there any upcoming projects or anything else you would like to mention or plug?
Oh, gosh. I have a couple big things coming up this year, but it pains me that I can’t talk about them yet. So, just keep an eye out and stay tuned!
In addition to his official website, stay up-to-date with Silverstein by following him on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. New Comfort Cooking is now available to purchase on Amazon and all other book retailers.