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Boston chefs ask: 'Who was that masked man?'

Steve Raichlen has more pies in the oven than fingers to put in them. He teaches cooking in his home town of Cambridge and out of state in New Hampshire and has worked as a translator at La Varenne cooking school in Paris.

He has assisted foreign chefs traveling in the United States, written several books on restaurants plus a cookbook, and he is the infamous masked restaurant reviewer for a local magazine who sends chills up the spines of Boston chefs.

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Steve, who has the build of a jockey, doesn't have a white horse but does in fact don a black mask when a camera is pointed in his direction.

It's all part of his trying to remain anonymous when reviewing restaurants. But, he admits, ''I know of a couple of restaurants that have my picture, sans mask, on their refrigerator door.'' They're not about to tell Steve how they got it.

''It was a matter of self-defense,'' Steve reflects, speaking of his early interest in food. ''I couldn't wait for my parents to leave the house so I could raid the refrigerator.''

Young Steve and his parents were, and are, very close. But not in the kitchen. ''They were terrible cooks. They still are.''

If the '60s were the years of the flower children, the '50s had to be the ''Kraft generation.'' Steve, like many of that era, was weaned on Velveeta and teethed on half-full TV dinner trays.

Being born an Army brat in Japan didn't save him. ''I left Japan for Baltimore when I was eight months old and never even saw a piece of sushi until I was 20.''

For some years his interest in food lay latent. But when it developed, it burst like a popover.

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In his senior year - somewhere between Proust and Voltaire - he applied for, and surprised himself when he got, a $7,000 fellowship to study medieval cooking for a year in Europe.

After months of blowing dust off old cookbooks and touring cheese factories, he was hopelessly entrenched in food history. Six months in Paris at the Cordon Bleu and La Varenne cooking schools sealed his fate.

Now Steve teaches cooking techniques and keeps Bostonians informed about where to eat and where not to. Anyone spending any length of time in Boston would do well to peruse a copy of ''Steven Raichlen's Guide to Boston Restaurants.'' If you like what you eat, Steve's ''Dining In - Boston'' (Peanut Butter Publishing, $7.95) cookbook would make a memorable souvenir.

These days Steve is most excited about his ''Taste of the Mountains'' cooking classes in New Hampshire at the 100-year-old Bernerhof Inn. Classes run biannually in the autumn and spring.

Tuition with lodging for a five-day course runs about $500. There Steve dons his kitchen whites and teaches his method of classical and contempary French cuisine.

''Teaching cooking is like learning a language,'' says Steve. ''The techniques are the grammar; ingredients are the vocabulary.''

Any favorite foods? ''After a week of reviewing restaurants, I can't wait to rush home and make. . . .'' Steve Raichlen's Graham Cracker Mush 6 Honey Maid Graham Crackers 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 2 teaspoons sugar 1/2 cup cold milk

Arrange graham crackers in deep bowl. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Add milk. Let stand 5 minutes. Mush thoroughly. Enjoy.

What could be easier?

I arrived to review one cooking lesson in Cambridge and was immediately invited to put down my pencil and pick up a knife. So much for notes.

The lesson that night covered braising fish, and as I was doing double time mincing an onion with one hand and trying to bring back a curdled Hollandaise sauce with the other, Steve kindly slipped me his notes on the subject.

All About Braising Fish

Braising is a moist cooking method ideally suited to such delicate foods as fish and variety meats.

As with baking, the food is cooked in the oven; as with poaching, the food is cooked in liquid to cover.

The moist heat helps prevent delicate foods from drying out, but at the same time it will also tenderize tough cuts of meat and poultry.

Braising is probably the easiest, most reliable way to cook fish. Butter a shallow roasting pan, spread with chopped aromatic herbs and vegetables - carrots, celery, onions, and a favorite herb or spice. Cut fish into uniform pieces, season, and arrange on top of the vegetables. Add a liquid such as cream , fish stock, or soy sauce to moisten fish, then top with more aromatic vegetables and seasonings.

Cover pan with foil, bring liquid to a boil on stove top, then bake in oven until fish flakes when pressed with a finger.

Serve with poaching liquid, or thicken liquid to make a sauce.

Never braise fish in an aluminum or cast-iron pan, as the metal will react with any acid in the braising liquid.

Crumb Roasting

This technique is particularly well suited to rack of lamb, Cornish hens, or any other delicate roast.

First paint meat all over with a thick, flavorful condiment. Mustard, mayonnaise, pesto, or honey are often used.

Dredge in fresh, herb-flavored bread crumbs. Crumbs may be mixed with chopped parsley and garlic, for example.

Roast in a hot, 425-degree F. oven.

This coating forms a crisp crust, while keeping the meat inside moist and tender.

Crumb roasting can also be used on fillet of fish, and it makes delicious baked, stuffed tomatoes.

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