He began cooking as a way of coping with an overseas move. Now, food is Dave Walsh’s passion.
Bad day at work? Nothing helps like ice cream. Home sick with a horrible cold? Time to bust out Mom’s classic chicken noodle soup recipe. When the going gets tough, it is human nature to turn to food for the comfort it provides. That’s what Dave Walsh did when he and his wife Niki moved from Ireland to the U.S. in 1999 so Dave could take a job at Microsoft.
New to the country, the Walshes knew only each other. “It generated a great deal of stress for me,” Dave Walsh says. “I filled my downtime with endless cooking shows on Cooking Channel and Food (Network).”
Eventually, Walsh decided to put his growing food knowledge to practice at home. “It was still wall-to-wall cooking channels, but I started experimenting in the kitchen, too,” he says. “I would drive my wife crazy messing up the kitchen, but I had some good results.”
Fifteen years later, Walsh is director of service engineering for Microsoft’s Office 365 team and a part owner of the Bellevue Brewing Company. And he is more passionate about cooking — and the escape it provides — than ever. Walsh leads a team of 200 people worldwide running the cloud-based file-management service for
Microsoft’s enterprise customers. His duties include dealing with major customer issues and working with his engineering team to make design improvements
for future versions of the service.
His customers are worldwide, and downtime is sparse. “I like to tell people that, for me, Thanksgiving is just called Thursday,” Walsh says. “The business doesn’t take a day off, and when a large portion of your customers are worldwide, a U.S. holiday doesn’t allow you to take your foot off the gas.”
Office 365 has hundreds of thousands of users representing manufacturers, pharmaceuticals, federal agencies, and more. Dealing with such an array of customers can provide its own challenges.
“It doesn’t matter if they’ve got 300,000 users or 10, I have to deliver the same service to all. It can be tricky to balance,” he says.
And though calls can come from anywhere around the globe at just about any time of day, Walsh occasionally escapes to his home kitchen to forget about work while he immerses himself in a complicated recipe.
“Usually when I’m cooking it’s an event,” he says. “I want the dishes to be spectacular and have it be momentous when it’s delivered. … It doesn’t leave much time for email.”
Walsh loves process-heavy cooking. His current methods of choice are smoking and sous-vide, a cooking method in which foods are placed with seasonings in vacuum-sealed plastic bags and cooked at a very low and controlled temperature in a special water bath for a long time (upwards of 90 hours in some cases).
“I love to geek out on the science of food. What makes a good flavor? What’s the best cooking technique for a given food? What’s a great way to do an unusual dish that will have a spectacular presentation and hopefully still taste good?” he says.
Walsh has a sous-vide short ribs recipe he loves that requires the meat to cook for 72 hours in its water bath. He says the controlled temperature allows for incredibly consistent texture, perfect levels of doneness and tenderness you cannot get with other cooking styles. Walsh’s favorite part of sous-vide comes after the dish is cooked: He hits it with a chef’s torch so it doesn’t look like “a gray lump of dead meat.”
“I love to get out the blowtorch at the table and add some fire,” he says. “It creates a big show, kind of like Cirque du Soleil at your table.”
Beyond the satisfaction he finds in making complicated meals, Walsh loves cooking because it brings people together.
“I can get my friends and family involved. Sometimes we like to make homemade pasta together. Other times, I plan an extravagant 12-course meal and we each have different roles for the different courses,” Walsh says. “It’s a great way to get everyone together and work toward a common kind of goal. Plus, you get to sit down and eat some very nice food.”
Walsh also relishes showing off when he’s cooking for others. “I’ve had friends borrow some of my equipment after they’ve eaten a meal at my house so that they can go and impress their friends. It’s very gratifying.”
Ronan, Walsh’s 13-year-old son, hasn’t picked up cooking just yet, but he likes to help by acting as head chef and directing activities in the kitchen. “Like a typical 13-year-old, he likes to tell me what to do,” Walsh says. And though Ronan isn’t cooking, his dad is proud that a life around food has helped him develop a sophisticated palate. “We encourage him to try everything we create. He actually likes to eat food that normal teens wouldn’t, like Moroccan, Indian — things that are slightly spicy.”
Walsh’s food science fascination was inspired by Nathan Myhrvold, the Intellectual Ventures founder and a former Microsoft CTO who wrote Modernist Cuisine, a six-volume encyclopedia that delves into the science of contemporary cooking.
“He’s the ultimate food geek. I always wonder if I (would) walk in his footsteps — give up the technology life and take up the science of cooking. I don’t think my work will let me,” Walsh says with a laugh.
We asked Walsh if he would be willing to tell us exactly how to create the dish we photographed him making in his home. He agreed. We tasted it when he was finished — and it was fantastic.
MOROCCAN CHICKEN COOKED UNDER BRICKS
• 1 whole fryer chicken, about 3 pounds
• 1½ cups Moroccan spices from cuisinementor.com
• 1 medium onion
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• ½ teaspoon pepper
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• 2 bricks, wrapped in heavy foil (or use a cast-iron skillet instead)
• 1 cup couscous
• 1 cup dried fruit
• 1 cup assorted nuts (cashew, pistachio, almonds)
• ¼ cup Greek yogurt
• 2 teaspoons honey
• ¼ cup cilantro
• Butterfly the chicken and remove excess skin. In a bowl, combine the Moroccan spices with olive oil and balsamic vinegar into a paste. Loosen the skin around the breast of the chicken and spoon some of the paste under the skin. Rub the remaining paste over the bird and set aside to marinate (3-4 hours minimum).
• Set the oven to 450 degrees and ensure the rack is set to the lowest point of the oven.
• Place the chicken skin-side down in the pan and place the bricks or second pan on top. Move to the oven and cook for 45 minutes.
• Prepare 1 cup of couscous with 1 cup of boiling water, salt, and a little olive oil. Cover the couscous and remove from heat, let sit for 10 minutes.
• Dice the onion, and in a large pan, sauté with some olive oil until soft and translucent over low heat. Add dried fruit, nuts, and cook on low for 1-2 minutes. Combine with the couscous.
• Add Greek yogurt, salt, pepper, and honey in a blender and set to high speed. Once combined, add the cilantro and blend until a smooth consistency is achieved.
• Remove chicken from oven and transfer to cutting board to rest. Meanwhile, in a large serving bowl, create a base layer of the couscous mixture. Carve the chicken into individual portions and place on top of the couscous. Finally, pour the Greek yogurt sauce over the top and serve.