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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Cooking with Carls; Buttermilk Pie from Bob Dobrow

<ay, Bob Dobrow is an unassuming Carleton Professor of Mathematics. His research interests include probability and statistics, Markov chains, and random combinatorial structures. The probability would have been zero that anyone in our Statistics 115 class could have guessed that last Saturday night, Chef Bob Dobrow fought for the title of “Iron Chef” against his most fierce and ruthless contender—his 13-year-old son, Danny. Tommy, Danny’s twin, single-handedly took on the role of cameraman, commentator, and most importantly, judge. Tommy was also responsible for picking the secret ingredient. I declare him one lucky lad. Dinner in the Dobrow household on this particular Saturday night consisted of dishes prepared by both contestants with the secret ingredient of the night: pineapple.

Professor Dobrow did not elaborate too much upon his own pineapple-inspired creations which consisted of pineapple fried rice and cashew soup (he lost the battle because his “soup just didn’t work”), but he proudly raved about his son and competitor, Danny’s dishes—banana and pineapple crepe and pineapple pie. After acknowledging Danny’s rightfully earned title as Iron Chef, Professor Dobrow proved himself a most gracious opponent, and proceeded to commend Danny for an elaborate, five-course dinner that Danny prepared that same weekend which featured a most impressive pumpkin-filled ravioli. “He made it all from scratch! He even made the dough for the ravioli himself!” boasts Professor Dobrow. In an age when most boys his age have acquired scrupulous taste buds for discerning the not so subtle differences in pizza flavor between Pizza Hut and Domino’s, Danny, Professor Dobrow implies, is clearly an outlier among his peers.

Professor Dobrow’s culinary interests are indeed inspired by his son’s talent. However, Professor Dobrow also provides a nurturing environment for Danny to develop his skills in the kitchen by sharing in his son’s passion and turning the act of cooking into a family- centered enterprise. The whole family, including Professor Dobrow’s wife Angel and his two other sons Tommy and Joey, are “super into cooking,” says Professor Dobrow. The Food Network is everyone’s favorite channel on television, and the kitchen, though small, is always bustling with activity. Cooking dinner is usually a cooperative effort between all members of the family with certain themed dinners calling for a more elaborate preparation. On sushi nights, for example, they buy sushi-grade fish, cut it themselves, and place all the ingredients in an assembly line with everything from the “mundane” avocado, to the not-so-mundane mango.

The passion for food and cooking instilled in each of Professor Dobrow’s sons clearly has its roots in their parents love for all things culinary. Both he and his wife are Slow Food organization members and active supporters of local, organic, and homegrown foods. His wife is one of the principal founding organizers for Northfield’s very own Just Food Co-op, and was also very involved in a committee to implement healthy food at high schools. Professor Dobrow himself grew up in a stereotypical middle-class Jewish household in which meals were a major family event. He loved to eat, but his transition from being a mere “gourmet” to “gourmet chef” did not occur until much later while he was living in New York City for several years and experiencing its incredibly diverse and wide-ranging food scene. Currently, as a devoted chef of the Dobrow household, he loves to cook different ethnic foods such as Ethiopian food and Chinese food.

Though Professor Dobrow cooks all kinds of exotic ethnic cuisine characterized by bold and complex flavors, one of his favorite recipes is for buttermilk pie, a very simple and modest southern dessert given to him by Carleton alumni Jennifer Below ’03. Professor Dobrow’s first, and very memorable, taste of this “super sweet and delicious” pie was when she made it for a math department picnic. He describes the dessert as similar to crème brûlée in its custard-like consistency and the caramelized sugar on top, which creates a hard, burnt sugar topping. There are only seven ingredients in this dish, all of which can be found in almost any kitchen cabinet: sugar, flour, butter, eggs, buttermilk (can also be made using 1/8 cup lemon juice and 2 cups of whole milk), nutmeg, and vanilla. The ingredients may seem ordinary, but Professor Dobrow declares, “I’ve cooked this dish several times and it’s always a huge hit”.

Not surprisingly, Danny was able to create his own unique version of this very pie on last Saturday’s episode of “Iron Chef” in the Dobrow home with the secret ingredient pineapple. He diced up freshly cut pineapple and added it into the buttermilk batter before baking. The experimental addition of the secret ingredient in an old-time favorite that Professor Dobrow, himself was hesitant to modify in any way, was more than successful. The pineapple added a welcomed zing of fresh sweetness to the pie. Though his son may be the reigning Iron Chef, Professor Dobrow holds his own with his own kitchen creations and passion for delicious, eco-friendly food. Indeed, after realizing that Professor Dobrow is a true foodie in every sense of the word, it would be truly misleading, statistically or otherwise, to assume that the never depleting bowl of skittles and packaged Oreo cookie taste-test experiments he brings to class are a true reflection of his kitchen prowess. Come sample a piece of decadent buttermilk goodness on Sunday night at Burton or the LDC!

Buttermilk Pie


2 cups sugar
2 rounded tbsp flour
1 stick butter (1/2 cup) softened
3 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla
1 frozen deep dish pie crust


Cream sugar, flour and butter in large mixing bowl. Add eggs, mixing well after each one. Add buttermilk, nutmeg, and vanilla. Pour filling into pie crust. Bake 60 minutes at 400 degrees.

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