Let Jenna Lyons Teach You How to Make Her Family's Favorite Dish
When Jenna Lyons left J.Crew last April after 26 years, the creative director needed a break. “I really retreated into myself for a while and hibernated,” she says, leaning against the kitchen counter in her loft in N.Y.C.’s SoHo. “I needed to. But now I want to learn something new and conquer something I’m afraid of. And cooking, I’m afraid of.”
VIDEO: Jenna Lyons and Missy Robbins Make Spaghetti Carbonara
So Lyons turned to her friend Missy Robbins, chef and co-owner of Lilia, the celebrated Italian restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for private cooking lessons. This particular afternoon Robbins is in Lyons’s kitchen teaching her how to master one specific dish: spaghetti carbonara, the favorite food of Lyons’s 11-year-old son, Beckett.
On the day of the lesson—and our shoot—the ingredients are laid out and Lyons’s ’80s-inspired new wave playlist is selected, but before the duo gets cooking, Lyons needs to make a few adjustments to Robbins’s outfit. She fluffs the chef’s apron into a paper-bag waist, ties the straps in a bow off to the side, and pushes up Robbins’s sleeves in that classic Jenna Lyons style—rolled, with the cuffs peeking out rakishly.
The chef nods her approval. “I like fashion,” Robbins says. “But when you change into an ugly chef’s coat for most of your life, it gets away from you.”
Now, it’s Robbins’s turn to take charge. She and her pupil start cracking eggs, grating cheese, and slicing guanciale (cured pork jowl). “It looks like it’s all fat,” Lyons says. “It kind of is,” Robbins admits. “But fat is good. Fat is flavor.”
The thin ribbons of meat are rendered in a pan on Lyons’s dark gray Lacanche range stove. As the dish quickly comes together and Robbins tosses spaghetti straight from the boiling water into a bowl with the sauce, she ladles in a bit of pasta water.
“That’s the key to good pasta,” she explains. “The starch in the water helps thicken the sauce. But if you put in too much and it gets too loose, you can add more cheese to tighten it.”
Lyons laughs. “Cheese tightens? I wish that worked on my ass.”
This story has been modified from the print version (p. 211 in the April issue) to correctly identify Jenna Lyons’s stove as a Lacanche range. For more stories like this, pick up the April issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download March 16.
Missy Robbins's Spaghetti Carbonara
1/2 pound guanciale, finely sliced (you can substitute bacon)
1 pound spaghetti
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for serving
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano, plus extra for serving
1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper, plus extra for serving
How to Make It
1. Cook the guanciale in a large pan over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally.
2. When the guanciale begins to crisp, remove from heat.
3. Separate the guanciale from the rendered fat and set both aside.
4. Bring water to a boil in a large pot and lightly salt the water before adding the spaghetti.
5. Mix the egg yolks, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, and black pepper in a large bowl.
6. Take ¼ cup water from the pasta pot and slowly drizzle it into the egg-cheese mixture while quickly whisking to prevent the eggs from scrambling.
7. Repeat until you’ve used all the water, and then mix in ¼ cup rendered guanciale fat.
8. When the pasta is al dente, drain, making sure to save the water, then immediately add the pasta to the sauce bowl.
9. Toss the spaghetti and the sauce with tongs or two large serving forks.
10. If the sauce is too thick, add a little pasta water and toss again; taste and adjust if necessary with more Parmigiano-Reggiano, pepper, and/or pasta water.
11. Add half the guanciale, and toss. The sauce should be glossy and coat every strand.
12. Serve with a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano, more pepper, and the rest of the guanciale.
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