Copyright © 2017 by Karen Page
Photographs © 2017 by Andrew Dornenburg
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THE CREATIVE PROCESS STAGE 1 MASTERY acquiring knowledge, skill, and control
Mastering the Fundamentals
Studying the Past
Learning by Copying
STAGE 2 ALCHEMY converting the common into the precious
The Evolution of Classics
Converting Food through Flavor
The Flavor Equation
STAGE 3 CREATIVITY making something new and valuable
Cooking with All Your Senses
The WhoWhatWhenWhereWhy&How of Creating a Dish
Evolving to Interdependence
A WORLD OF INFINITE CULINARY POSSIBILITIES: THE LISTS (A-TO-Z)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND THE PHOTOGRAPHER
BOOKS BY KAREN PAGE AND ANDREW DORNENBURG
ABOUT THE EXPERTS
For the Creative Force in the universe—which is known by many names, including consciousness (neuroscience), the Unified Field (physics), and God (religion).… May everyone who buys and reads this book be blessed with extraordinary creativity for good.
a room in which food and drink are prepared and cooking is done
the ability to conceive ideas and/or make things that are original, meaningful, and surprising
WHY CREATIVITY MATTERS
Food is our common ground, a universal experience.
Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives… Most of the things that are interesting, important, and human are the results of creativity.
positive psychologist and bestselling author of Creativity and Flow
The only thing as fundamental as food to our lives—our pleasure as well as our survival—is creativity. We must eat to live, but our ingenuity in generating solutions is arguably the single most important ability human beings possess.
This is true not only personally but professionally. Creativity was cited by 60 percent of CEOs polled as the single most important leadership quality for success in business, ahead of even integrity (52 percent) and global thinking (35 percent), according to a study cited in Fast Company. Only one in four people believes they are living up to their creative potential, according to a 2012 Adobe study.
Beyond being a tool for survival and a source of meaning, the act of creation is a source of meaning that can bring us our greatest joys.
During graduate school, my then-boyfriend, Andrew, was working in the restaurant business—which I made the focus of my independent studies. I was fascinated by restaurants, and especially by professional chefs, whom I saw as unique hybrids of artists, entrepreneurs, and activists. By the late 1980s, I came to recognize the emerging cultural importance of chefs as among the most influential creative professionals of our time. This inspired me to radically change my life path to study chefs and their work in depth. My obsession was so all-encompassing, I even married one.
As I interacted with the world’s leading chefs, I saw brilliance. I tasted genius. I sensed mystery. Among the most remarkable gifts of great chefs, I discovered, is exceptional sensory acuity—extraordinary senses of taste and smell, to be sure, but also finely honed senses of touch, sight, and hearing. New Orleans chef Susan Spicer shared:
I’ve really developed my eyes so that I can look at something three feet away and say “that needs rinsing off” or “that doesn’t look fresh to me.” I know when someone puts something in a sauté pan and it doesn’t make a noise that the pan wasn’t hot enough. I listen when someone is chopping an onion and it’s going “crunch”—I know without looking that that person needs to sharpen their knife. I listen when I’m making a sauce in a blender, and I know if the sauce has broken by the sound.
But in addition to developing these powers of sensory perception, there seemed to be something more going on—something Andrew and I were at a bit of a loss to describe in our first book. We wrote in Becoming a Chef (1995):
An experienced chef’s greatness is often evidenced by his or her development of a “sixth sense” when it comes to cooking, and many of the chefs we interviewed alluded to this ability in some regard. Over time, they have developed the ability to cook at a more intuitive level, for lack of a better description.
We referred to leading chefs’ “extrasensory perception,” which allowed them to “taste” with their other senses.
Even at that time, it was clear that there were forces at work beyond our full comprehension that resulted in leading chefs’ extraordinary talents in the kitchen. Their experiences had honed not only their five outer senses. I came to believe the very best to be masters of their inner senses—their ability to see without actually seeing, to smell without actually smelling, to taste without actually tasting, and to bring an extraordinary breadth, depth, precision, immediacy, and intensity of perception to their cooking that I hadn’t known was possible.
Besides the five senses and the central sense, Aristotle recognizes other faculties [including imagination] that later came to be grouped together as “inner senses.”
—from the book Ancient Philosophy, edited by Brian Duignan
Philosophers, starting with Aristotle, have enumerated and characterized the inner senses differently. However, centuries later, the concept of “inner senses” serves as a metaphor for the interior capabilities that allow us to perceive that which is too subtle to be grasped by the outer senses. Simply put, they suggest direction for our creative attention, energy, and will.
Sense data alone do not produce insight or understanding of any kind. Ideas produce insight and understanding, and the world of ideas lies within us.…
Inner individual authentic perception… is the only source of real knowledge.
A Guide for the Perplexed
Chefs may be the most perceptive professionals I have encountered. They can learn to harness their inner senses to fuel extraordinary creativity in the kitchen. This book shares the secrets of tapping those “inner senses”—as well as marshalling the power of finely honed “outer senses.” This one-two punch can unlock your abilities as a cook to perform kitchen alchemy—turning common ingredients into something precious. Even now, knowing many chefs’ secrets, it still strikes me as magical.
Andrew’s photographs of chefs and their kitchens, creations, and inspirations are a necessary and most welcome collaboration for this book. Given that the genesis of creativity is preverbal—emerging as emotions, feelings, images, intuitions—sometimes concepts are more readily captured in pictures than in words, and I am awed by his gift for doing so.
This book is meant for you to dip into when seeking wisdom, ideas, and inspiration in the kitchen. It’s presented in four primary sections. The first three address a triad of aspects of creativity: First comes Mastery, or the acquisition of knowledge and experience; followed by Alchemy, or the understanding of flavor synergy; which leads us to Creativity, which brings everything together. The A-to-Z section of the book can be flipped through whenever you’re seeking ideas on a particular aspect of a dish or dessert or drink—or something to spur your next culinary creation.
I hope that this book will provide you with techniques, tools, and resources that you can put to work immediately at your own stove, not to mention wisdom from some of the world’s best chefs and other experts that can help you be more creative in the kitchen—and beyond.
Learning to think creatively in one discipline opens the door to understanding creative thinking in all disciplines.
—ROBERT AND MICHÈLE ROOT-BERNSTEIN, Sparks of Genius
Creativity means not copying.
—JACQUES MAXIMIN, during the 1987 lecture (attended by Ferran Adrià) that changed the course of modern gastronomy
This simple sentence was what brought about a change in approach in our cooking, and was the cut-off point between “re-creation” and a firm decision to become involved in creativity.
—FERRAN ADRIÀ, whose elBulli was named number 1 on the 2002 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and then again every year between 2006 and 2009, and held the title longer than any other
The most extraordinary 30-year era of kitchen creativity the world has ever seen—with more new culinary concepts, techniques, and styles developed than at any other point in history—can be traced to a single moment: In 1987, when 25-year-old Spanish chef Ferran Adrià visited one of the most creative chefs in the world at the time, 39-year-old French chef Jacques Maximin.
Maximin had earned two Michelin stars for Le Chantecler at Nice’s Negresco Hotel, where Jacques Torres then served as the pastry chef. After Ferran Adrià enjoyed a meal of lamb stomach and feet, pork belly, and asparagus ice cream, Maximin invited him to attend a chefs’ conference he was hosting.
At the conference, Maximin was asked, “What is creativity?”
Maximin’s reply: “Not copying.”
Adrià returned to elBulli inspired to innovate. He experimented with countless new techniques, creating countless new dishes and flavors and textures. And the world of gastronomy has never been the same.
In 2002, elBulli came out on top of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list as the best restaurant in the world.
While Thomas Keller’s Napa Valley–based French Laundry took the world’s number 1 spot in 2003 and 2004, Adrià had created a stir. In 2003, The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story, “How Spain Became the New France,” that sent shock waves through the world of gastronomy, which had long assumed France’s preeminence in all things culinary.
elBulli regained the number 1 title in 2006, and held it through 2009.
During elBulli’s heyday, until it closed in 2011, Adrià was not only the most copied chef in the world, but the most inspirational. His work encouraged others to develop their own creativity—adapting his ideas to their own cooking, innovating their own creations, or even rebelling against his style.
In 2010, the Copenhagen restaurant Noma, whose kitchen was helmed by René Redzepi—who first visited elBulli in 1998 and worked there in 1999—took the top spot. Noma held the title through 2012, and regained it in 2014, through Redzepi’s culinary philosophy:
For me cooking is something that is completely transparent and without pretense, that is honest and generous and has something true and original to it.
The number 1 restaurant of 2013 and 2015 was Spain’s El Celler de Can Roca, run by a triumvirate of brothers: sommelier Josep, pastry chef Jordi, and chef Joan. Joan had worked in elBulli’s kitchen in the late 1980s. While naming his mother as the chef he admires most, Joan has acknowledged that “Ferran Adrià has influenced my cuisine and that of many of my peers.”
Pastry Chef and Chocolatier Jacques Torres on Being in the Room Where It Happened
Jacques Maximin is one the most genius chefs I have ever known. We used to serve asparagus ice cream with candied asparagus on top, and it was actually good! In Maximin’s [cook]book, a lot of dishes were inspired by pastry. We used to make a tart based on an apple tart, but it was a savory lamb tart.
He freed me to open my mind.
Watching the show Mad Men, you see them torturing themselves until they come up with an idea. That was Maximin. He would spend hours and hours and days and days to come up with his menu. Every item on the menu had to be innovative.
We were not allowed to say the word “impossible” or the phrase “I cannot do it.” If you said that, he would kill you! He would just ask, “How do we accomplish this?”
Maximin was asked to give a demonstration in Cannes. I was his pastry chef, so he asked me to make the dessert. Jacques asked me to serve a dessert in the style of painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who created paintings of people with their faces created from food. He asked me to cut fruit and fill a mask then put a cake on it, so that when you unmolded the cake you’d see all the fruits for the eyes, cheeks, etc. and yet it is still a cake. It took a couple of tries, but I did it.
Maximin was always innovative. At the end of the demonstration in Cannes, someone with a very thick Spanish accent asked Maximin what innovation meant to him.
At the time, Maximin was the most innovative chef in the world. He asked, “Are you from Spain?” The reply was yes. So Maximin said to him, “If you make a paella, you will always be compared to someone else—someone’s mother, or grandmother, or another restaurant that makes paella. Because you are going to be compared, there is always someone who is going to be better than you. However, if you do something that nobody else has ever done, that is yours 100 percent, you will be the best.”
The man with the Spanish accent was Ferran Adrià.
Years later, I was having lunch at elBulli and Ferran came out with his brother [Albert, elBulli’s pastry chef] and sat down and told me, “Maximin changed my life that day.” Ferran said, “I was working here, doing Spanish food, and came back from that demo and said [to my kitchen team], “That is it—we are changing everything! From now on, we do only our things, our recipes.”
That was the beginning of it all.
One of the chefs in elBulli’s kitchen during the summer of 2000 was Italian-born chef Massimo Bottura, who has said of that experience:
It wasn’t just about technique.… What changed me was the message of freedom that Ferran gave me, the freedom to feel my own fire, to look inside myself, and make my thoughts edible.
In June 2016, Bottura’s Modena, Italy–based restaurant Osteria Francescana was named the Best Restaurant in the World.
• • •
So what is kitchen creativity? For now, let’s think of it as “bringing into being something new and useful to eat or drink.”
As Lidia Bastianich of Felidia in New York City has observed, “Today’s innovation is tomorrow’s tradition.” Because we assimilate new ideas, they soon become old (passing) or classic (enduring). Part of the secret of being creative is keeping up with what’s new—and combining old or classic elements in a new and useful way.
The goal of Kitchen Creativity is to do what Jacques Maximin did for Ferran Adrià in 1987: inspire you to tap your uniqueness, and start cooking in a way that expresses who you are and allows you to connect with and please others through your food.
It starts the same way it started for Maximin, Adrià, Redzepi, Roca, Bottura, and countless other culinary artists:
Decide not to copy. Decide to create your own food, your own way. Feel your own fire, look inside yourself, and make your own thoughts edible.
So, how does one get to be a great, creative cook—the kind who can walk into a kitchen without a recipe and create a dish from scratch and know exactly how to make it taste delicious?
First comes a period of receptivity—where the cook learns and absorbs expertise from those whose knowledge exceeds their own, whether in a classroom or through a stint in a restaurant kitchen. At this stage, the cook learns by imitating what s/he sees and tastes.
Ferran Adrià on Creativity
[My cuisine] searches for ways to trigger emotions through new techniques, concepts, and products. To me, cuisine is about the flavors, textures, visuals, and aromas that activate the senses when we eat—plus a sixth sense, which is the magic, the surprise, the culture.
I always try to ask myself the “why” of things, and never to do things just because they have always been done that way. Otherwise, we would never evolve.
I believe what we have achieved is to demonstrate that there are other ways, and other things, still to be created in cuisine. What really pleases us is that this is encouraging other chefs to look for new ways as well.
There is a generation of chefs that is looking for new things, and who, in short, will be the world’s avant-garde.
Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and, at last, you create what you will.
—GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, playwright
Yes, that’s right—it’s one of the paradoxes of creativity: The first stage of creativity (i.e., not copying) is copying.
In Stage 1 (Mastery), a cook copies the masters—their dishes, their techniques, their seasoning—to develop a knowledge and skill base.
During Stage 2 (Alchemy), new knowledge and experience are integrated and applied to the process of converting ingredients and classic dishes into something fresh.
By Stage 3 (Creativity), one’s own novel ideas are applied to the process of connecting and combining elements into a new creation.
And the ongoing cycle of copying, converting, and connecting and combining continues.
Three Tips for Using KITCHEN CREATIVITY
You can’t be creative if you don’t do something.
—SIR KEN ROBINSON,
author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative
1. Keep a kitchen creativity journal. Whether it’s a notebook or a dedicated file on your phone, have a designated place to store thoughts, feelings, daydreams, photos, and other ideas for reference later. Take your ideas seriously, and write them down. As Getting Things Done author David Allen says,“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”
2. Pay attention to what you pay attention to. Amid all the distractions we’re faced with, certain things still grab your attention. Notice which chefs, restaurants, dishes, and other ideas captivate you (versus the countless others you skip over, unmoved). If you track them, you can analyze them to discover the patterns that unite them, and learn about what’s important to you.
3. Finally, take action on your best ideas, and make them a reality. After you start using this book to help multiply the quantity and quality of the ideas you generate, never forget the end game is to create the future. Don’t just write your best ideas down. Do the work. Make them happen! The world is waiting to taste what you create next.
There is never “no reason” that you are noticing what you notice.… Once you become aware of it, what you begin to notice is how much you know that you didn’t know you knew.
—LAURA DAY, author of Practical Intuition and The Circle
THE CREATIVE PROCESS IN THE KITCHEN
You need classic technique. You need to know everything, then forget everything.
—MASSIMO BOTTURA, Osteria Francescana (Italy)
The difference between what is good, very good, and exceptional can be found in repetition. A chef must master the basics before he can create something that is truly exceptional, and the only way to master something is to repeat the process many times, honing your skills and making slight changes to your methods until you have reached your own version of perfection.
—ALEX ATALA, D.O.M. (São Paulo)
Even an artist as creative as Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a professional, so you can break them like an artist.” You can’t break the rules if you don’t know what they are to begin with.
To understand what’s new and what’s useful, you must first learn what’s old and what doesn’t work—which is the perspective you’ll gain from getting grounded in culinary fundamentals. Expertise also enables efficiency: You’ll stand on the shoulders of giants instead of having to re-discover that which others spent centuries figuring out.
“Kitchen creativity” is a relatively new concept in some regards if you consider that we’ve been cooking for two million years and yet it was just 200 years ago that the world’s greatest chef’s focus was systemization (that is, Auguste Escoffier’s turn-of-the-19th-century codification of French cuisine). After decades of faithfully reproducing Escoffier’s classic recipes, French chefs finally dared to depart from them, modifying and lightening their dishes in a movement that became known as nouvelle cuisine. As a result, there has been more creativity in food in the past 50 years than in any other period in world history.
Up until that point, classic dishes generally evolved from local ingredients in harmonious combinations that caught the fancy of locals, achieving popularity and becoming part of the culinary canon. The role of restaurant critics was initially to judge whether a restaurant’s version of a classic dish was authentic and well-executed or not.
THE GAULT & MILLAU* TEN COMMANDMENTS OF NOUVELLE CUISINE (1973)
1. Avoid unnecessary complications.
2. Shorten cooking times.
3. Shop regularly at the market.
4. Shorten the menu.
5. Don’t hang or marinate game.
6. Avoid too-rich sauces.
7. Return to regional cooking.
8. Investigate the latest techniques.
9. Consider diet and health.
10. Invent constantly.
* The influential restaurant guide founded in France in 1965.
American chefs—many of whom had served apprenticeships in France where they were exposed to these “new, radical” ideas—returned to the United States with these “commandments” in mind. The melting pot of America became a hotbed of culinary change. The boundaries of creativity expanded—including new combinations of ingredients (from the farthest reaches of the world, as well as untapped hyperlocal sources of foraged ingredients), new techniques (from sous-vide to spherification), and new presentations (from snacks to small plates to pre-desserts).
The culinary world saw innovations in codification (via Escoffier) at the turn of the century, and in the lightening of cuisine [via nouvelle cuisine] in the 1970s, and in the expansion of techniques and presentation (via Adrià, et al) since. Today, we’re in the midst of an elevation of “goodness” in cuisine, as chefs strive to create the most delicious dishes with the best-available ingredients that do the least harm—to both sentient beings (e.g., healthful, unprocessed or minimally processed, non-GMO, humanely raised) and to the environment (e.g., local, sustainable, organic, biodynamic).
As our awareness of food and the myriad implications of growing it, cooking it, and consuming it continue to expand, our creativity with food is in turn continuing to expand.
We forget that during the “nouvelle cuisine” wave of 35 years ago, we never talked about produce. Creativity was the sole requirement. A chef as respected as Pierre Troisgros could not have cared less about knowing whether his salmon came from Scotland or Norway, or whether it was wild. Alain Chapel was a forerunner of the new movement because during the 1980s he was obsessed with the quality and freshness of the produce. Today we have 50 butters that are better than the best butters available 35 years ago. Each restaurateur has become an expert in dozens of products and can recognize the difference among varieties and the excellence of each.
—ALAIN DUCASSE, as quoted in the Harvard Business Review
STAGE 1 MASTERY: acquiring knowledge, skill, and control
Great chefs don’t ask “Why?” They ask “Why not?” They aren’t afraid of a challenge and they aren’t afraid to break the rules. But they also have the technical training necessary to play with recipes while intuitively knowing which crucial steps should not be sacrificed.
—DANIEL BOULUD, The Dinex Group (New York City)
If you’re reading this book, you no doubt have a passion for food and drink, and likely have more than a passing interest in learning to prepare them more creatively.
But if you question whether you have any natural talent for it, take heart. Alain Ducasse, the first chef in the world to hold nine Michelin stars at his restaurants, estimates that talent is responsible for a mere 5 percent of great cooking.
Another 35 percent is technique, and fully 60 percent is the quality of the raw materials.
You can learn technique: in books (in addition to this one, see The Chef’s Library here), in the classroom, in a restaurant kitchen. And you should.
But the most important thing you can do to master cooking is to develop your palate and your ability to both 1) determine the excellence of your ingredients, and 2) make them taste delicious, even when they’re imperfect.
Some believe that the process of mastery of any field demands a “10,000-hour” threshold of deliberate practice. In cooking, however, mastery involves gaining knowledge through not only the hands, but also the head and especially the palate—which involves a combination of practice (cooking), reading, and tasting (both while cooking and while shopping and dining). The Mastery section provides a broad-brush overview of some of the knowledge and skills to be mastered during this stage.
The whole movement that Ferran Adrià started in cuisine was possible because he knew classical cooking better than anyone.… How far you can take creativity is a function of the products you understand and techniques you’ve mastered.
Gabriel Kreuther (New York City)
MASTERING THE FUNDAMENTALS
Learn foundational techniques and recipes.
Classical Western cuisine once required a foundation in French technique, just as classical Eastern cuisine did a foundation in Chinese technique. Both still provide a valuable foundation. However, you can also benefit from studying the classic ingredients, techniques, and dishes of many different cuisines. It’s up to you what you feel most drawn to—whether learning to toast and temper and blend spices through studying Indian cuisine, or learning to toast hand-crafted marshmallows for perfect s’mores in the spirit of American campfire “cuisine.”
If you learn the masters’ recipes for building blocks, you can later build your own dishes from them. Mark Levy of Magdalena at the Ivy Hotel in Baltimore doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge that he uses Alain Ducasse’s gnocchi recipe. (Levy channels his creativity into his accompanying mushroom brodo, which he makes by deeply caramelizing mushrooms and deglazing them with a red wine syrup and adding a tiny hint of bird’s eye chiles, which enhance the other flavors.) Nor does Levy hesitate to share that he uses the recipe for Dominique Ansel’s Chocolate Pecan Cookies for the ones he serves with his own version of crème brûlée. “They’re baked to order, and gluten-free,” says Levy.
Read the gastronomic literature. It will be hard to talk your way convincingly into top chefs’ kitchens if you’ve never even cracked the spine on their cookbooks. At the very least, make your way through some or all of the basic foundational texts.
THE CHEF’S LIBRARY
Top Books Recommended by Chefs
Employ your time in improving yourself by others’ writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for.
No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.
Cookbooks were my mentors.
Top chefs and restaurants have long believed that food lovers shouldn’t waste a moment not reading great books about food. Eric Ripert owns more than 1,000 cookbooks, including a 1907 first-edition of Gastronomie Pratique, which is also a beloved favorite cookbook of chefs Michel Richard and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. (Vongerichten has described Henri Babinski’s imaginative yet technically precise book, written under the pseudonym of Ali-Bab, as “ahead of its time,” and more interesting than Escoffier.) Ripert keeps many of them in a conference room under Le Bernardin in New York City. His sous chefs are required to review every single one.
Having interviewed leading professional chefs extensively about their most-loved and most-used food books, I’m very familiar with their top picks. They’re listed chronologically. “Everybody knows that” the new generation sometimes scoffs about the contents of a decades-old book. Well, everybody didn’t know that back then—and these are the books that created culinary “common sense.”
A large cookbook collection allows you to research trusted sources regarding different ways to prepare a particular ingredient, apply a particular technique, or make a particular dish. When the approach you choose is informed by the wisdom of multiple experts that came before you, how can your version help but be better?
Read an inspiring book, then close it and really think about it—so its lessons become more intuitive.
Gramercy Tavern and Untitled (New York City)
Leading Chefs’ Top 20 Culinary Books
1. Le Guide Culinaire by Auguste Escoffier (1903) | codification of classical French cuisine that has won the admiration of chefs like Scott Conant, Jason Neroni, Rich Torrisi, and Ming Tsai
2. Encyclopedia of Practical Gastronomy by Ali-Bab (1907; first English edition in 1974) |
classic treatise on gastronomy that is beloved by chefs like Daniel Boulud, David Kinch, Michel Richard, Eric Ripert, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten
3. Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer (1931) | codification of American cuisine; a favorite of chefs like Traci Des Jardins, Bobby Flay, Anita Lo, Emily Luchetti, and Christina Tosi
4. Larousse Gastronomique by Prosper Montagne (1938) | the A-to-Z French culinary encyclopedia that Daniel Boulud described as “the only [one] that is always up to date” and also counts as fans Dan Barber, Marcus Samuelsson, Mario Batali, Thomas Keller, Vitaly Paley, and Charlie Palmer
5. Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck (1961) | the classic that brought French cuisine to American kitchens; a favorite of Lidia Bastianich, Ris Lacoste, Emily Luchetti, Patrick O’Connell, Barton Seaver, and Nancy Silverton
6. Ma Gastronomie by Fernand Point (1969) | philosophy from the influential
French restaurateur behind the long-time Michelin three-star La Pyramide, and a favorite of chefs like John Besh, Thomas Keller, Ludo Lefebvre, and Jasper White
7. Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco (1973), The Cooking of Southwest France (1983), World of Food (1988), and other books by Paula Wolfert | a personal way with words, whether writing about rustic (and lighter) French cuisine or couscous, that has “mentored” chefs like Hugh Acheson, Jody Adams, David Lebovitz, Tony Maws, Nancy Silverton, and Susan Spicer
8. La Technique (1976) and La Methode (1979) by Jacques Pépin | illustrated guides to cooking fundamentals that are favorites of chefs like Andrew Carmellini, Roy Choi, Tom Colicchio, and Michel Nischan
9. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee (1984) Mark Levy | how-to on enhancing food through science from the Yale-educated PhD; taught readers like Dan Barber, Matt Dillon, Michael Laiskonis, Ivy Stark, and Paul Virant
10. Chez Panisse cookbooks (Chez Panisse Desserts, 1985; Chez Panisse Cooking, 1994; Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, 1995; et al) by Alice Waters, Paul Bertolli and/or Lindsey Shere | local/regional/farm-to-table cookbooks that count chefs like Matt Dillon, Wylie Dufresne, Suzanne Goin, David Lebovitz, and Nancy Silverton as fans
11. White Heat by Marco Pierre White (1990) | the bad-boy-chef-as-rock-star’s first cookbook, with black and white photos of kitchen life juxtaposed with four-color photos of his vibrant food, that inspired chefs like Chris Cosentino, Paul Liebrandt, Michael Mina, and Rich Torrisi
12. Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page (1996) | insider guide to culinary composition and flavor pairings that is a favorite of Grant Achatz, Hugh Acheson, Timon Balloo, John Fraser, Will Goldfarb, Michael Laiskonis, Michael Mina, Jesse Schenker, Ivy Stark, and Ethan Stowell
13. The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller, Michael Ruhlman, and Susie Heller (1999) | California-style haute cuisine cookbook that influenced Justin Aprahamian, David Chang, and Marc Forgione, as well as notable alums like Grant Achatz
14. Le Grand Livre de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse by Alain Ducasse (2001) | culinary encyclopedia created by one of France’s greatest contemporary chefs
and admired by chefs like Carrie Nahabedian, Alison Vines-Rushing, and
15. River Cottage cookbooks (The River Cottage Cookbook, 2001, The River Cottage Fish Book, 2007, The River Cottage Meat Book, 2004, and River Cottage Veg, 2011) by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall | authentic, locavore, sustainable cookbooks that have inspired chefs like Justin Aprahamian, Dan Barber, April Bloomfield, and Brad Farmerie
16. Essential Cuisine by Michel Bras (2002) | a visual-feast-inspiring presentation that is a favorite of David Chang, Dominique Crenn, Curtis Duffy, Daniel Humm, Gavin Kaysen, and David Kinch
17. Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers (2002) | cooking philosophy from the late San Francisco chef, which Mike Anthony considers a foundational text that has inspired some of his own kitchen creations, and also counts as fans Anne Burrell, Suzanne Goin, Alex Guarnaschelli, Nigella Lawson, David Lebovitz, Bryant Ng, and Barton Seaver
18. Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli (2003) | cooking philosophy book by the former Chez Panisse chef that is a favorite of chefs like Justin Aprahamian, Jeremy Fox (who counts it as one of his two most-used books), Ben Ford, and Blaine Wetzel
19. The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg (2008) | A-to-Z guide to flavor pairings and affinities that counts as fans Nina Compton, Jared Gadbaw, Gunnar Gislason, Carla Hall, Josh Habiger, Timothy Hollingsworth, Hung Huynh, Matthew Kenney, and Michel Roux
20. elBulli books by Ferran Adrià (1994–2011) | books that expanded the boundaries of food through science and art, earned fans like Grant Achatz, José Andrés, David Chang, Eric Ripert, Damian Sansonetti, and Michael Voltaggio
Daniel Boulud, whose personal favorite books include Le Repertorie de la Cuisine by Louis Saulnier (1914)
Pick chefs and food worth copying—study the greats,
and emulate their standards.
The ultimate way to learn from a master is to spend time in his or her kitchen. Not so many years ago, ambitious cooks looking to work in a restaurant kitchen might simply drop off their résumé at every four-star or three-star restaurant in town, as guided by the local newspaper’s reviews. Today, the most ambitious cooks might be guided to work at restaurants that have been recognized on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, or with chefs who have distinguished themselves via recognition through the James Beard Foundation Awards. (See the Appendix for listings of named restaurants, here, and JBF-recognized chefs, pastry chefs, and rising stars, here.)
Today, those restaurants are so diverse that you’ll want to do your homework in advance. As a first pass, you can research restaurants online, reading about their cuisines and chefs, and seeing which dishes appeal to you and whose philosophies you’re most drawn toward. As a next step, you could visit for a meal, or sit in the bar and order a drink and an appetizer or two to get a sense of the restaurant’s vibe. Or you could attend a lecture or cooking class or volunteer at a charity event where you’re able to taste the chef’s food and interact with the chef.
Somebody once said to me that you have to be as excited about mashed potatoes or a PB&J sandwich as you are about a dish with truffles. And I think it’s true. If you look at it and think, “Eh, it’s just mashed potatoes…,” then it is just going to be mashed potatoes. But if you look at it and think, “I’m going to make the best mashed potatoes I possibly can,” and you get it down to the type of potato you’re going to use, and down to the gram how you’re going to season them perfectly, then it changes your approach. And you can approach everything that way.
ink (Los Angeles)
Having a compelling reason to want to study with someone, and a sense that there’s already a fit between the restaurant’s style and your own interests, can help you land a stint in a coveted professional kitchen.
Cooking at Melisse with [chef-owner] Josiah Citrin is where I learned so many fundamentals—like making sauces, and making smooth pureed soups, and roasting mushrooms. Working the meat station at Melisse, we’d have eight different jus on hand—including chicken jus seasoned with dried orange zest, duck jus finished with caramelized sugar and star anise, and beef jus finished with herb butter. Josiah and [chef de cuisine] Ken Takayama were constantly creating new dishes, inspired by their visits to the market.
—Katianna Hong, The Charter Oak (Napa Valley)
Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo on Changing Influences
Cooking was different when we started cooking together in the late 1990s: Chefs were all about “the best” ingredients [and flying them in from wherever they were sourced, whether Thailand, North Dakota, or South Africa]. That was the mentality. When we moved to California in the early 2000s, we really adapted a lot of its philosophies, stemming from Alice Waters, obviously, and it became about “hyper-local.” We didn’t want to fall into that mix of just California-based cuisine, but we wanted to respect it.
We worked in Miami for Michelle Bernstein, which is where we first started cooking together. You still had to use your imagination then. Like, a cook would go to New York and bring back copies of the menus of the restaurants they ate at, and you had to use your imagination to figure out what these dishes were actually like. Now, there’s Instagram, so you feel like you’ve already been to all these restaurants in your mindspace.
A year or two ago, we wanted to hire some culinary students, so we had a questionnaire, and one of the questions we asked was “What’s your favorite cookbook?” And 90 percent of the people cited a website (e.g., Epicurious.com). Shocking. The irony was that we were doing the interviews in a library. We went to school at the beginning of the end. Now, some [culinary students] don’t even know guys that were key to American cooking. If you walked down the line and asked, “Who was Charlie Trotter? Who was Jean-Louis Palladin?,” they’d be scared. Everybody knows René Redzepi, but that’s it.
Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook
Remember that there’s also much to be learned from those who have studied under great chefs and soaked up their lessons, but whose own still-rising star status may make their kitchens more accessible to mere mortals. You’ll read about a few of them in this book, and the lessons they’ve been able to absorb during their time in top kitchens across the country.
LEARNING TO TASTE
Just as there is more to a song than its sheet music, there is more to a dish than its recipe. Chefs’ know-how with regard to seasoning and flavoring gives them the power to make crucial creative decisions in the moment regarding a dish-in-progress.
You can follow a recipe perfectly, yet still end up with a dull, listless dish. Why? Recipes can’t account for every possible variable—in ingredients (the age of your spices, the strength of your herbs, the ripeness of your fruit; not to mention that the same six-ounce fillet can be thick or thin), in equipment (an oven running hot or cold), in weather (that day’s humidity), and so on. Luckily, you can develop the ability to taste and to adjust a dish’s flavor as you go—which is the fundamental skill for anyone looking to master cooking.
Flavor is more important than technique.
—GAVIN KAYSEN, Spoon and Stable (Minneapolis)
In music, there’s such a thing as perfect pitch—or you can simply use a pitch pipe to tune your own instrument to the same musical scale as every other musician. However, in food, we haven’t yet invented a “flavor pipe” to be able to tune our own dishes to perfection. That’s why “Taste, taste, taste” has become the mantra great chefs teach their cooks—and why learning to imitate an expert’s palate via cooking classes or stints in professional restaurant kitchens can be invaluable. You’ll learn how to make each carefully chosen ingredient through perfect cooking and seasoning reach its peak of perfection—something the French refer to as à point. While in time you can and should develop your own individual palate, you’ll want to learn to season with a master whose palate and seasoning techniques you can imitate. And you’ll learn that the quality of the dish you’re creating will never be better than the quality of the ingredients you put into it—so you’ll learn to shop where the best chefs shop, and to patronize the same producers the best chefs do (see Set Your Standards: Choosing the Highest Quality Ingredients, here).
When I first opened Public [in 2003], food was more about whiz-bang technology—circulators, sous-vide, bendable solids, liquid nitrogen. But now that’s gone into the background. Today, it is much more about ingredients and flavor.
Saxon + Parole (New York City)
Having a trained palate allows you to take any ingredient and know how to enhance its flavor—or when to leave it alone. It also serves as the foundation of creating a dish from start to finish—or of rescuing one that’s falling flat.
Cooking begins with getting to know your ingredients every single time you use them—that is, tasting them at the very beginning, and during the entire cooking process, all through to the very end.
You have to have an attention to detail and a knowledge of what is good and what is possible. You have to know how to work with textures, or what salt or lemon will do to your food. You have
to understand balance.
—JEREMY FOX, Rustic Canyon (Los Angeles),
on the necessary foundation for creativity
STRIKING A BALANCE
Everything changes; everything stays the same.
Balance is one of the central tenets of great food, and one of the most frequently cited characteristics of great cooking among the best chefs we’ve interviewed over the years.
Understanding when a dish is in balance is one of the most essential aspects of mastering flavor. A feeling of completeness is achieved by the embrace of opposites within a dish—whether hot and cold (e.g., hot chocolate with whipped cream), crunchy and soft (e.g., nachos with melted cheese), or spicy and sweet (e.g., Thai sweet potato curry).
Balance is fundamental to creative individuals as well. Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, scientific director of the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, sees two opposing super-factors in the personalities of creative individuals: divergence and convergence. Divergence is non-conformity and out-of-the-box thinking related to impulsivity. Convergence is the ability to be practical, and to bring ideas into reality. Given the definition of creativity as the ability to make new things that are both novel and useful, it’s clear how creative types need both.
According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, creative individuals also have a predisposition to psychological androgyny: “Creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers.”
So the most creative people tend to be “both/and” people: paradoxically, both masculine and feminine, extroverted and introverted, imaginative and realistic, playful and disciplined, humble and proud.
The chef’s profession is a messy set of contradictions that fits right in: Chefs at the highest levels of the profession have taken their rightful place among so-called right-brain conceptually driven (culinary) artists, even as they must think like left-brain analytically driven managers or entrepreneurs who must keep an eye on costs in order to be profitable and to keep their doors open.
It’s crucial to taste as you go. Analyze what’s going on in your dish, and what the objective is. Start by identifying the dominant taste: sweet? salty? sour? bitter? savory? Is it appropriately balanced? If not, you’ll be able to work with the other tastes to find a better balance.
Think about the context of what it is you’re tasting. What is its intended final format? A hot soup that will be garnished with other ingredients? A room-temperature dipping sauce for something more neutral-flavored? Imagine it in that context, and at that temperature, and adjust appropriately. Take what you know or can intuit about your guests’ palates into account.
And if wine is part of the equation at the meal, try to taste the sauce alongside the wine the dish will be served with.
Cooking at Charlie Trotter’s, I learned to taste things over and over again. Even though you tasted it at 2 pm when you made it, this afternoon it changed—and at 7 pm it’s different, and at 9 pm it’s different from what it was at 7 pm. Oxygen affects it, reduction affects it, time affects it—all these things affect it. So you’ve got to taste it, and fix it, and make it right again.right again.
—CURTIS DUFFY, Grace (Chicago)
LEARNING TO SEASON
One of the most important things you’ll learn as you imitate the masters is how to season a dish to deliciousness. Embedded in classic recipes is information about recommended proportions of various ingredients. While you’ll develop your own palate so that you can “season to taste,” you’ll have to learn to taste first—and there’s no better place to start than by having a benchmark in your taste memory of some of the best versions of particular dishes. Eating at the best restaurants—as a guest, while cooking in their kitchens—is an invaluable part of this process.
In the kitchen at Coi, it struck me how much we tasted the food. You tasted what every other person there was working on. You only had two dishes, and every day you brought them to the chef to taste for consistency. You would taste it five or six times and talk about it every day for 20 minutes. Daniel [Patterson, the chef] would tell you, “You need two drops of this or two grams of that”…But you learn to trust certain people’s palates. Every night [at Natalie’s], we will hand each other a spoon and ask, “What do you think?” At Coi, there was an acceptable range of salt or acid, and we could just look at each other and know.
—SHELBY STEVENS, Natalie’s at the Camden Harbour Inn (Maine)
Seasoning makes an ingredient taste like more of itself. An asparagus spear will still taste first and foremost of asparagus, for example, once it’s been sprinkled with just the right amount of salt. Strawberries will taste more like strawberries, once they’ve been hit with just the right amount of sugar.
Salt is the single most important flavor enhancer for savory foods, and sugar the single most important for sweet foods such as fruit. Acidic ingredients—such as citrus juice, or vinegar—are the second-most-important flavor enhancers. And while a pinch of sugar in a savory dish can serve the role of balancing flavors as a flavor enhancer, once that sweetness is noticeable, it’s wrong. The dish should taste better, but not salty or sweet.
Seasoning Savory Dishes
Saltiness is the first place to start in any savory dish, as it’s the most important taste. You’ll want to taste your ingredient(s) first, and determine whether a bit of salt might add value as a flavor enhancer. The key is to learn to add just enough to enhance the flavor of the ingredient without being detectable—and no more. Salt slowly and gradually.
Seasoning and spicing is the first thing a young cook needs to learn, and it’s the hardest thing to teach. There’s no miracle recipe to follow.
The Dinex Group (New York City)
The most important thing for a chef to know? Seasoning.… How to use salt.… Salt really is what enhances flavor.
The French Laundry (Yountville, California) and Per Se (New York City)
Once you’ve reached an optimal level of saltiness, check to see whether adding a hint of acidity—e.g., a squeeze of lemon or lime, or a dash of vinegar—would enhance the dish’s flavor further. A bit of brightness can make a dish that’s flat or heavy start to sparkle. You’re looking to bring out the dish’s flavors—not to mask them with acidity.
This is the point at which experienced chefs can learn to finesse even further. Perhaps you’re making a tomato sauce that’s now beautifully balanced in saltiness and acidity, but would still benefit from a rounder flavor. You might consider adding a bit of sweetness through a pinch of sugar. Or perhaps you want to heighten those flavors even further—in which case you might add piquancy through a pinch of cayenne instead.
Flavor enhancement can also take place through adding an ingredient rich in umami to a dish. However, this is a bit more complex, given that many ingredients that add umami also simultaneously add another taste, such as salt (as in miso paste or Parmesan cheese); this will be addressed further during Stage 2.
It’s easier to add more than to remove seasoning. Don’t believe you must season the whole pot of soup at once—remove a cup for your seasoning experiment, and once you achieve your desired flavor, season the entire pot that way. From time to time as you taste and adjust a dish, be aware that you will want to cleanse your palate (e.g., with a sip of water, or a bite of bread or cracker—Eric Ripert tastes bites of cheese between spoonfuls during his daily sauce tasting).
Don’t hesitate to seek another opinion to counterbalance your own. Married chefs de cuisine Katianna Hong of the Charter Oak and John Hong of The Restaurant at Meadowood go to each other first to taste each other’s dishes. (Katianna says she’ll ask, “Am I crazy, [or does this need something]?”) Of the couple and their executive chef Christopher Kostow, Katianna characterizes Kostow as having the strongest preference for acidity in food, herself as having the strongest preference for pungency and stronger flavors, and her husband as having the strongest preference for restraint and subtlety. “We balance each other well,” says Katianna. “John will keep me from adding too much, and I’ll keep him from being boring.”
It’s mandatory that cooks bring every [element on their stations] for me to taste, every day. It’s not so I can judge it, but because it makes them taste it. I hardly ever corrected anyone near the end [of her term as chef de cuisine at Manresa]. If something needed correcting, I’d ask, “Did you try this?” Then they’d go back and taste it and fix it, and if they brought it back and it still wasn’t correct, we’d work together to fix it.
Simone (Los Angeles)
Seasoning is like tuning: You taste and adjust your ingredients to get them perfect. If you oversalt something, you can’t redo it. With too much acidity, you can add sweetness to bring down the acid.
—EDDY LEROUX, chef de cuisine,
Daniel (New York City)
Meg Galus, pastry chef of Chicago’s Boka, notes that it’s important to get feedback, because when you taste dishes too many times you lose any kind of objectivity. “Lee [Wolen, Boka’s chef] is a more collaborative chef, so we’ll taste together,” she says. “I like a hint of salt in desserts, while Lee likes acid in desserts. Citrus is my go-to, and I’ll also use fruit vinegars and ‘drinking vinegars,’ either to macerate berries or straight on the plate. I try to make every component in a dessert as light as it can be.”
Seasoning Sweet Dishes
Sweetness is the first place to start in any sweet dish. If your strawberries are perfectly ripe and sweet, there’s no need to add sugar. In fact, following a recipe blindly and adding sugar to strawberries when it’s not needed can destroy a dish.
After a dish’s sweetness is optimized, see whether some acidity might enhance the flavor further—just as with a savory dish.
This is the point at which experienced chefs can finesse even further. Perhaps you’re making a lemon sauce for a dessert that’s beautifully balanced between its sweetness and acidity, but would still benefit from a rounder flavor. That’s the time you might consider adding a bit of salt through a pinch of salt or another salty ingredient.
Sugar enhances flavor—up to a point. Too much sugar dulls flavor.
—EMILY LUCHETTI, chief pastry officer of The Cavalier, Marlowe, and Park Tavern (San Francisco)
Jean-François Bruel on Seasoning to Taste
You can’t season if you don’t know how to taste.
You learn the most when you’re a young cook and, early on, it’s hard to learn to control salt. Once you add too much, it’s too late!
[Bruel shares the expert tip of using two, three, or four fingers to grab a pinch of salt, in order to deliver a consistently small, medium, or large pinch of salt, respectively, as needed.]
We only use two kinds of salt, which we never, ever change. We use classic French sea salt [sel de mer] from La Baleine for cooking, and fleur de sel for finishing a dish when we want a bit of crunch.
You have to think about the dish, and understand what it is you’re seasoning. You’ll want to season a tiny accent of coulis very differently from an entire bowl of soup. A few drops of coulis should be tart and spicy so it makes an impact—but if you’re eating an entire bowl of soup, it should be flavorful with enough acidity and salt without being overpowering (and wearing out the palate).
You taste, and taste, and taste—and add what’s missing, adjusting the flavor. You’ll want to make sure the spice and seasoning and acidity are all in balance. Acidity adds a nice pop to a dish, and can cut the fat. Bitterness often needs a bit of sweetness to balance it out.
You want to think about where the kick is in your dishes—in the spice? in the acid? in the sauce? Or in a pureed vegetable on the side?
Even traditional French dishes like a velouté sauce will have a dash of Tabasco or cayenne pepper to push the other flavors forward. Michel Guérard would say, “It’s the ingredients you can’t see that boost the other ingredients.” Things like cayenne, espelette, mustard, and vinegars all serve this function. Even in France, chefs will add a dash of soy sauce to enrich a consommé. Orange zest will be added to braised veal—and while you won’t see it in the dish, its flavor makes a big difference.
ENHANCING FLAVOR VS. ADDING FLAVOR
The minute the taste of salt or sugar or acid or anything else is apparent on the palate, that’s not enhancing flavor, that’s adding flavor. Key sources of added flavors are herbs, spices, and other flavorings (such as garlic).
Certain ingredients play different roles at different times. Capsicum-dominant ingredients (e.g., chile peppers) are so strongly flavored that their heat is typically thought of as an added flavor. But cayenne pepper can be used in miniscule amounts such that it’s not noticeable by itself, yet it quietly boosts the flavor of the other ingredients. In those cases, it is a flavor enhancer.
A spice is anything and everything I can use to flavor food. In my spice blends, I use everything I can dry, embracing the notion “Reuse before Recycle.” And that goes for herbs, peppers, and citrus. I’ll grate a whole dried lemon. If I have leftover herbs, I’ll dry them—dried herbs serve a different function than fresh. Fresh, a tomato is a vegetable—but dried, it is a seasoning. Tomato powder, cheese powder, bonito flakes—I think of them all as spices.
—LIOR LEV SERCARZ, La Boîte (New York City)
Lior Lev Sercarz
When Andrew cooked in the kitchen of Lydia Shire in Boston, her motto was, “Don’t spare the fat, dear.” “Fat equals flavor” was pounded into many cooks’ heads. And when fat—such as butter and cream—were added in judicious amounts, their richness could indeed enhance mouthfeel and thus flavor. When cooks went overboard and the presence of butter and cream became dominant, the balance—and the flavor of what should have been the “star” ingredient—was lost. When you’re making cream of tomato soup, you want to be able to taste the tomato and its acidity and other properties.
When you actually want to add flavor to a dish, there’s another huge world of possibilities available to you. Understanding what herbs, spices (and spice blends), and other flavorings (from garlic to zest) best enhance a particular ingredient can give you a huge advantage in the kitchen.
Jessica Largey of Simone on Seasoning and Adding Flavor
You want to have your salt, acid, and sugar ready in order to balance flavors. At Manresa [where Largey served as chef de cuisine under chef-owner David Kinch], I think both David and I saw acid as equal in importance to salt when seasoning food. LEMON JUICE IS MY GO-TO ACID—one of my friends says my middle name is “Lemon Juice” because whenever I’m asked to taste a dish, I almost invariably say it needs lemon juice. I love citrus in general, but I especially love lemon juice for the acidity and brightness it gives. When I dress salads, I’ll be asked what kind of salad dressing I used, and I’ll say, “None—just lemon juice and olive oil.” Not everyone loves all the other citrus fruits, but virtually everyone loves lemon.
I have an entire selection of vinegars. Champagne vinegar is the lemon juice of the vinegar world. It has higher acidity [typically 7 percent] versus other vinegars, like cider vinegar [typically 5 percent]. White balsamic vinegar is one of the most neutral types, so it marries well with flavors like fennel or herbs. I love making my own infused vinegars, especially at Manresa with produce from the farm.…
When something is too salty, you can sometimes fix it with acid or with sugar. You don’t want to add enough sugar to make it sweet—you just want to add it until the dish’s flavor hits equilibrium without its sweetness being noticeable. If it’s a hot dish and the sugar will melt easily, you can use granulated sugar—otherwise, if it’s a cold dish [or iced tea], you can add simple syrup. But the syrup contains water, so it’s diluted—and you don’t want to risk diluting flavor.
When I was in China, I visited a Szechuan cooking school that was training cooks not to use MSG, and to use sugar instead. Apparently MSG breaks down into sweetness, so sugar can serve the same function.
If I were making an onion sauce and wanted more sweetness, I might substitute shallots—which are naturally sweeter—in order to increase the sauce’s sugar content.
SET YOUR STANDARDS: CHOOSING THE HIGHEST QUALITY INGREDIENTS
Do you know the resource sections that typically appear at the end of leading chefs’ cookbooks, listing their suppliers of the specialty ingredients mentioned in their recipes? These compilations are too often overlooked, but they’re pure gold: a database of where the best chefs source the best ingredients. Use them to stock your own pantry, realizing that no dish can ever be any better than the ingredients you put into it.
While many produce suppliers are local farmers and greenmarkets, others ship cross-country and beyond. The trusted food sources listed below provide high-quality ingredients to some of America’s best restaurants.
AmadeusVanillaBeans.com for vanilla beans
Amoretti.com for flavor sprays, nut flours
AnsonMills.com for beans, Carolina Gold rice, fine-ground polenta, grits, heritage grains
Asiachi.com for bitter almonds (aka apricot seed)
AsianFoodGrocer.com for dried bonito flakes, kombu, yuzu
AUISwiss.com for chocolate, rose petals
BaldorFood.com for finger limes, hearts of palm
BellaVado.com for avocado oil
BlisGourmet.com for barrel-aged products (e.g., fish sauce), maple syrup, sherry vinegar
BobsRedMill.com for flours (e.g., almond, hazelnut, semolina), grains, other ingredients (e.g., dried sour cherries)
BoiledPeanuts.com for green peanuts
BoironFreres.com for cherry puree
BourbonBarrelFoods.com for Bluegrass soy sauce, bourbon-smoked black pepper, bourbon-smoked paprika, aged vanilla extract
BulkFoods.com for apple pectin powder
BuonItalia.com for Italian foods (e.g., dried pastas, olive oils, truffle oil, truffle paste, white truffles)
ChefRubber.com for cocoa butters, Pop Rocks (aka pastry rocks)
ChefShop.com for French olive oils
Chefs-Garden.com for baby herbs, baby turnips, edible flowers, micro-greens
ChefsWarehouse.com for Banyuls vinegar, brik dough, flavored olive oils, Korean dried chili threads, liliput capers, pastry cream powder, pistachio paste, strawberry puree, Valrhona chocolate, white balsamic vinegar
CookingDistrict.com for Huilerie Beaujolais vinegars, Melfor vinegar, Orleans mustard, pistachio oil, walnut oil
Dartagnan.com for dried and fresh mushrooms, Perigord truffles, truffle juice
DeanDeluca.com for honey, pastas, salts, vinegarsDespanaNYC.com for aged sherry vinegar, pimentón, piquillo peppers
Our suppliers also supply inspiration.… For two years, we’ve been working with Daniel Leiber, a CIA graduate who has StarDust Farm in Pennsylvania….And we get Castle Valley Bloody Butcher Red Grits, which comes in a fine flour and a coarser grain. For the best texture, I combine both with mascarpone and butcher-cut black pepper into a creamy polenta-like dish. It’s a very pinky color, and I’ll pair them with nettles and asparagus.
—EDDY LEROUX, chef de cuisine,
Daniel (New York City)
Eataly.com for pastas
FarmersDaughterBrand.com for pickles, preserves
Freddyguys.com for hazelnuts
Guittard.com for bittersweet chocolate, cocoa powder
Gustiamo.com for artisanal, authentic Italian products (e.g., olive oils, Sicilian pistachios)
KALUSTYAN’S in New York City is frequented by countless chefs and culinarians including Padma Lakshmi and Martha Stewart, and even actor Richard Thomas, who turned us on to its medjool dates during one visit.
HaydenFlourMills.com for durum flour, farro flour, polenta, semolina
Huilerie-Beaujolaise.com for Huilerie Beaujolaise nut oils
ImportFood.com for betel leaves, coconut cream, coconut milk, fresh Thai chiles, makrut limes and lime leaves, Pandan leaves, pad thai noodles, tempura flour
Kalustyans.com for spices and other flavorings from more than 75 different countries, including Aleppo pepper, argan oil, bitters, black garlic, chile pastes, dried apricots, dried chiles, five-spice powder, ghost peppers, Hawaiian sea salt, lemon confit, Madras curry powder, orange blossom water, peperoncino, pimenton, pomegranate molasses, spices, Thai tamarind concentrate, umeboshi vinegar, vandouvan curry spice, vinegar powders
Katagiri.com for kombu, shiro dashi, white miso paste
KingArthurFlour.com for flours
KingOfMushrooms.com for dried mushrooms (e.g., candy cap)
KLWines.com for Boker’s baked apple bitters
KodaFarms.com for sweet rice flour
KoppertCress.com for purple shiso
LaBoiteNY.com for Lior Lev Sercarz’s spices and spice blends
LaTourangelle.com for pistachio oil, truffle oil
LEpicerie.com for Banyuls vinegar, bitter almond extract, chestnut honey, cocoa butter, edible gold dust and leaf, egg white powder, frozen fruit purees, La Baleine salts, pink salt, Valrhona chocolate, violet mustard [moutarde violette]
Le-Sanctuaire.com for carnaroli rice, Szechuan peppercorns, spices
LeVillage.com for Edmond Fallot mustards, Le Puy lentils
LocalHarvest.org for honeys (e.g., acacia, lavender)
Manicaretti.com for black olive paste, pastas
McEvoyRanch.com for extra virgin organic olive oil, olio nuovo
Melissas.com for Brussels sprouts on the stalk, cherimoya, dragon fruit, finger limes, mangosteens, morels, passion fruit, Ruby Gold potatoes, starfruit, truffles (black, burgundy, white)
MikuniWildHarvest.com for vinegars
Minus8Vinegar.com for 8 Brix red and white verjus, ice wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar
MELISSA’S in Los Angeles provides hard-to-find produce for James Beard House and Foundation events such as Chefs and Champagne (in the Hamptons) and Taste America (chefs on tour).
Mitsuwa.com for bonito flakes, kombu, ponzu, shiro dashi, soy sauce, wakame seaweed, yuzu, yuzu juice, yuzu kosho
ModernistPantry.com for agar-agar, xantham gum
MurraysCheese.com for cheese, Marcona almonds
Mycological.com for chanterelles, morels, Oregon truffles, porcini
NielsenMassey.com for vanilla extract, vanilla paste
OliverFarm.com for benne oil
Pastaworks.com for pastas
PerfectPuree.com for apricot puree
PollenRanch.com for fennel pollen
RanchoGordo.com for heirloom beans, posole
RareSeeds.com for seeds
RockRidgeMarketHall.com for Espelette and piquillo peppers, pink salt, verjus, walnut oil
If angels sprinkled a spice from their wings, this would be it.
— PEGGY KNICKERBOCKER in Saveur, on the fennel pollen at Chicago’s SPICE HOUSE, the store Julia Child called “a national treasure”
RoveySeed.com for dried corn, pickling lime
Saffron.com for saffron, vanilla beans
SaltTraders.com for Viking sea saltSaltWorks.us for espresso salt, Maldon smoked sea salt, Murray River sea salt
SantaBarbaraPistachios.com for pistachio flour, pistachio oil
Seaweed.net for bladderwrack, dulse seaweed
SeedSavers.org for seeds
SpanishTable.com for Spanish foods (e.g., chickpeas, smoked paprika, white beans)
Starwest-Botanicals.com for fennel extract, orange blossom water
TempleOfThai.com for galangal, fresh Thai chiles
TennesseeTruffle.com for Tennessee truffles
TerraSpiceCompany.com for beet powder, chicory root granules, dried chiles, freeze-dried fruits and vegetables, piment d’espelette, roasted barley powder, seaweed powder, tonka beans, yogurt powder
TheSpiceHouse.com for adobo seasoning, aleppo pepper, black garlic, Ceylon True cinnamon, fennel pollen, grains of paradise, habanero powder, Indonesian cassia cinnamon sticks, maple sugar, molecular gastronomy ingredients, Saigon bark, spices, star anise, toasted sesame seeds, Vadouvan curry powder, vanilla beans, za’atar
Tienda.com for Spanish products (e.g., Calasparra rice, capers, piquillo peppers, saffron)
TrueFoodsMarket.com for almond flour
Truffe-Plantin.com for black truffles, truffle juice, white truffles
Urbani.com for truffle juice, truffles
Valrhona-Chocolate.com for chocolate, cocoa nibs
Verjus.com for red verjus, white verjus
Zingermans.com for olive oils, vinegars
TRAINING YOUR PALATE: ONLY THE BEST WILL DO
You can follow chefs’ recipes or advice on compatible pairings (e.g., sherry vinegar + walnut oil), but your version will never taste as good as theirs unless you’re willing to invest in the same high-quality ingredients.
Train your palate to be able to taste the quality differences between various ingredients. Once you’ve done your homework and tasted some of the benchmark versions, if you still prefer a different producer of course you should go with your own favorite. But never settle for less until you’ve tasted some of the best versions out there of various ingredients, which may be versions from a specific region or specific brands.
Below, you’ll find a list of chefs’ recommended ingredients, which you can track down to use as a flavor benchmark against locally available or other versions:
The heart of good food is to start with the most delicious ingredients you can find.
—MICHAEL ANTHONY, Gramercy Tavern and Untitled (New York City)
Adobo paste: Doña Maria
Almonds, Marcona: Murray’s Cheese (New York City)
Anchovies: Agostino Recca, Scalia
Beans, heirloom: Rancho Gordo
Butter: Beurre Echiré (84%+ butterfat), Jonathan White’s Bobolink Dairy butter, Diane St. Clair’s Animal Farm in Vermont (87% butterfat); David Kinch’s housemade butter at Manresa in California (local cream broken in a Mennonite churn); Norman butter, Plugrá (82% butterfat)
Cheese, feta: Pastures of Eden
Cheese, Parmesan: Di Palo (New York City)
Cherries, preserved: Fabbri (Amarena/sugar syrup), Luxardo (Maraschino/liqueur)
Chickpeas: Matiz Navarro, Rosara
Chiles, Calabrian: Tutto
Chili flakes: Hatch (New Mexico)
Chocolate: Amedei, Cacao Barry, Callebaut, Chocolates El Rey, Felchlin, Grenada Chocolate Factory, Guittard Chocolate Company, Kellari, Luker, Scharffen Berger, TCHO, Valrhona
Chocolate, white: Cacao Barry, Guittard, Valrhona (Ivoire)
Cocoa powder: deZaan, Valrhona
Fennel seeds: Lucknow (region of India)
Fish sauce: BliS barrel-aged Red Boat fish sauce (Vietnamese, via Michigan); Delfino Colatura di Alici di Cetara (Italian); Red Boat 40°N or 50°N (Vietnamese)
Flour: King Arthur
Flour, chestnut: Allen Creek Farm
Grits: Anson Mills, Geechie Boy Mill
Hot sauce: Crystal, Texas Pete
Lentils, French green: Du Puy
Maple syrup, Indiana: Burton’s Maplewood Farm
Maple syrup, Michigan: American Spoon, barrel-aged BliS
Maple syrup, New Hampshire: Fadden’s
Maple syrup, Ohio: Pappy & Company (barrel-aged Bissell’s)
Maple syrup, Quebec, Canada: Remonte-Pente Sirop d’Erable
Maple syrup, Vermont: Hartshorn Farm
Mustard, Dijon: Fallot, Maille
Mustard, spicy brown: Gulden’s
Mustard, whole-grain: Tin (Brooklyn)
Nut oils: Hammons Products (Missouri: black walnut), Huilerie Beaujolaise (France: almond, hazelnut, pecan, pistachio, walnut)
Olive oil, extra-virgin, California: Arbequina, California Olive Ranch, DaVero, McEvoy Ranch Organic
Olive oil, extra-virgin, Greece: Naturally Greek
Olive oil, extra-virgin, Italy: Agrumato (lemon-pressed), Capezzana, Castello di Ama, Fontodi, Frantoio, Laudemio
Olive oil, extra-virgin, Spain: Miguel & Valentino, Valderrama
Paprika, smoked, Spain: La Chinata
Pasta, dried, Italy: Afeltra, De Cecco, Latini Senatore Cappelli, Martelli, Rustichella d’Abruzzo, Setaro (e.g., porcini)
Pasta, dried, New York: Sfoglini (Brooklyn)
Peanut butter: Koeze’s Cream-Nut and Koeze’s Sweet Ella’s Organic (Michigan)
Peppercorns, black: Tellicherry (India)
Rice, carnaroli (for risotto): Acquerello
Rice, short-grain: Koshihikari
Rose water: Cortas, Mymoun
Salt, kosher: Diamond Crystal
Salt, local (U.S./Mid-Atlantic): J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works
Salt, local (U.S./Pacific Northwest): Jacobsen Salt Co.
Salt, pink (Australia): Murray River Gourmet
Salt, sea: La Baleine, Maldon
Salt, smoked: Danish Viking, Maldon
Sorghum: Muddy Pond Sorghum Mill
Soy sauce, China: Koon Chun Sauce Factory Thin
Soy sauce, Indonesia: Conimex
Soy sauce, Japan: Kamebishi
The 40°N [fish sauce] is perfect for everyday use; the 50°N is wonderful for last-minute seasoning. Think of 40 as extra-virgin olive oil and 50 as cold-press extra-virgin olive oil, or fleur de sel: just a light sprinkling to finish a dish will do.
—CORINNE TRANG, author of
Essentials of Asian Cooking
We have a scallop dish on the menu with a squash brandade, fried Brussels sprouts, pomegranate seeds, and spiced pecans. The dish has been on the menu for three years and we have adjusted the brandade every time. This year, we did a blind taste test of nine different squashes from our farmer, because everybody typically gets the same butternut squash or pumpkin. When we tasted them, we found that the butternut squash and the pumpkin were the least flavorful. Pumpkin doesn’t taste like anything! So this year we are making the dish with delicata squash, which is fantastic. We are also using these huge banana squashes, which were my second favorite. This was a squash I had never seen before and did not know where else to get them, so we asked our farmer to only sell them to us so we can use them all year.
Girl & the Goat (Chicago)
Soy sauce, thick: Koon Chun
Soy sauce, thin: Wan Ja Shan (aged)
Soy sauce, U.S.: Bluegrass (Kentucky)
Spices, whole: Kalustyan’s (New York City), La Boîte (New York City), Spice House (Chicago, Milwaukee)
Tahini: al wadi (Lebanon), El-Karawan (Middle East), Soom (Philadelphia)
Tomatoes, canned, California: Bianco DiNapoli (from Chef Chris Bianco), Muir Glen
Tomatoes, canned, San Marzano (whole): La Bella San Marzano, La Valle
Tomatoes, preserved: Mount Vesuvius, Mutti, Pomi, San Marzano
Tomato paste: Muir Glen, Mutti
Truffles, black: Plantin (which also makes black truffle products, like mustards)
Truffles, white: Urbani
Vanilla and vanilla extract: Nielsen-Massey
Verjus: Fusion Napa Valley, Minus 8 Brix
Vinegar, artisanal: Jean-Marc Montegattaro (e.g., honey, quince)
Vinegar, balsamic: Aceto Manadori; Giusti’s Aceto Tradizionale, La Vecchia Dispenza, Villa Manodori
Vinegar, drinking: Pok Pok
Vinegar, flavored: Jean-Marc Montegottero (e.g., honey, lemon), Pok Pok (e.g., black pepper, pomegranate)
Vinegar, ice wine: Minus 8
Vinegar, sherry: BLiS barrel-aged 9-year-old, BLiS Extra Old Fine Solera Aged Sherry Vinegar, Noble XO refined finishing vinegar
Yeast, fresh: Red Star
Yuzu juice: Yakami Orchard
Just because two components are amazing doesn’t mean that combining them will work. I have learned this lesson over and over.
Coi (San Francisco) and LocoL (Oakland and Watts)
FLAVOR COMPATIBILITY (e.g., X + Y + Z)
Beyond choosing the highest-quality ingredients available to you, you’ll want to cook with those that have a natural affinity for one another.
When you combine different ingredients, sometimes 1 + 1 does not equal 2—but it equals 3 or more. Think of the magic of tasting the first basil + tomatoes of summer—or the first beets + cheese + walnuts of winter. You can achieve these synergies between food and wine as well, as in the case of oysters + Sancerre, or mushrooms + pinot noir, or Roquefort + Sauternes.
Once you understand time-tested flavor pairings (two ingredients that are a match made in heaven) and flavor affinities (groups of three or more ingredients that harmonize well), you can use them as the building blocks to creating new dishes, new cocktails, and more.
Dominique Ansel [Boulud’s former pastry chef] approached classic American flavors with the naive curiosity of a student in his first cooking class: WHY do the combinations of peanut butter and chocolate—or Key lime and graham cracker—get people so excited?
—DANIEL BOULUD, The Dinex Group (New York City)
Each gin is as different as a different cut of steak or type of fish. Plymouth Gin is soft and delicate, so I’d never pair it with a bold flavor like ginger or chartreuse, but it would work well with Lillet. Tanqueray is a big, bold gin, on the other hand, so it could stand up to ginger or chartreuse. Beefeater has the largest array of botanicals, which pair well with citrus, like lemon and orange. Just as in food, you want to keep everything in balance and MAKE SURE YOUR INGREDIENTS DANCE WELL TOGETHER.
—AUDREY SAUNDERS, mixologist and owner, Pegu Club
(New York City)
But how on earth can you possibly know what flavors go well together? Isn’t that a lifetime’s worth of work to discover?
It used to be. Rocco DiSpirito wrote in his book Flavor that he remembers begging his instructors at the CIA for insights into what ingredients go well together before discovering our 1996 book, Culinary Artistry, our first book to chronicle classic flavor pairings.
Later, we expanded our exploration of food and drink synergies in our 2006 book, What to Drink with What You Eat, and then modern flavor synergies in 2008 with The Flavor Bible, and in 2014 with The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. Today, some of the world’s best chefs and cooks and sommeliers and mixologists turn to them to leverage centuries of historic wisdom in order to make better choices.
STUDYING THE PAST
How do new dishes come into being?
I remember reading an interview with rising star chef Jeremiah Langhorne of the Dabney in Washington, D.C., on his “aha” moment of first realizing that kitchens could be a place of creativity. Having previously cooked only at McDonald’s, his job at a modest Italian pizza place was the first time he’d seen guys in the kitchen coming up with a dish. “I don’t know why, but it shocked me that you could actually create new dishes,” he’d told Washington Life’s Laura Wainman. “I literally thought that all dishes were just recipes that already existed, and the idea of making something new was mind-blowing to me at the time.”
Given our culture’s overwhelming focus on published recipes, with little attention paid to the process of creating them or of cooking without them, this made perfect sense to me.
Some dishes are so ever-present in our culture that they seem to take on a life of their own, making it hard to imagine a time when they didn’t exist. It’s too easy to forget that each of them began with a human being (or team of them) and a spark of inspiration—inevitably a desire or need (which is simply desire in a pressure cooker).
Through the examples that follow, you’ll see that some of the dishes you might take for granted each started with a spark of inspiration. Some of the most common sparks include pressure, product placement, pleasure, even providence—though they are by no means mutually exclusive.
Every great and iconic American dish has a STORY TO TELL.
—MICHAEL LOMONACO, Porter House
(New York City)
Italian native Caesar Cardini found himself at the end of an especially busy July 4th weekend at his restaurant Caesar’s at the Hotel Caesar in Tijuana, Mexico, where he was able to escape the restrictions of the Prohibition era. His kitchen was caught short on ingredients, and with VIPs in the house (including the entourage of the Prince of Wales, according to folklore), the pressure was on. So he threw together a salad based on what he had on hand, including Romaine lettuce + grated Parmesan cheese + coddled egg + garlic croutons + olive oil + vinegar + mustard + Worcestershire sauce, finished tableside with a dramatic flourish. Cardini’s customers loved the show and the salad so much that, since that day in 1924, word has continued to spread about his Caesar salad.
Girl Scouts have been selling cookies to finance troop activities for the past century. In the 1930s, the Camp Fire Girls were looking for something they, too, could sell to raise funds. Kellogg’s home economist Mildred Day and her coworker Malitta Jensen were inspired by the popularity of popcorn balls held together with honey, maple, or molasses, the first recipe for which appeared in the 1860s. Day and Jensen substituted Rice Krispies (which Kellogg’s debuted in 1928) for popcorn, and concocted a melted marshmallow + butter + vanilla mixture as the edible “glue” to hold it together, pressing it into buttered sheet plans so it could be cut into squares when cool. The treat proved so popular that the recipe was printed on the sides of Rice Krispies boxes starting in 1941.
Michelin three-star chef Michel Bras loves to run, something he counts as a source of endless inspiration to his cuisine. He was running in the French countryside one particularly fragrant and flower-filled day in June 1978 when he was inspired to re-create the beauty of the moment on a plate. The result was an ever-changing signature dish he called a gargouillou [gar-goo-YOO] of young vegetables, which features a colorful array of as many as 80 different raw and cooked vegetables, flowers, fruits, herbs, leaves, sprouts, and seeds showcasing the local seasonal terroir and accented by spices (and a dry-cured slice of country ham), arranged on the plate in a way that suggests movement. His salad-as-seasonal-mosaic has since become one of the most imitated dishes in the world, inspiring customized offerings in Denmark (at René Redzepi’s Noma), Spain (at Andoni Luis Aduriz’s Mugaritz), and the United States (including at David Kinch’s Manresa).
Long runs in open space bring an amazing sense of well-being and fluidity. Aubrac is inhabited by silence and saturated with light, a perfect setting to feel the ever-changing cycle of nature. Sounds, colors, fragrances fill each moment with wonder, and every run takes me on an “inner trip.”
—MICHEL BRAS, Bras (Laguiole en Aubrac, France)
Sure, maybe there are even examples of dishes that were created when the hand of God intervened. There’s no telling whether all of these examples might have had a touch or more of providence behind them. But remember that each of these creations started with a human being—just like you—with a wish to create something new and delicious.
While the creative process can seem obscure or mysterious, it’s also very human—people like you, dealing with everyday life, including sparse refrigerators coupled with hungry guests. So don’t sell yourself short. You never know what you’ll be able to create until you try.
YESTERDAY’S AVANT GARDE, TODAY’S TRADITION
Today’s classic dishes were the cutting-edge of creativity at another point in history—so they’re worth studying. It can be surprising to realize how long some dishes and techniques have been around—and how relatively new others are. Many origin stories of dishes are unknown or contested. Precious few are crystal clear. But all of them can provide food for thought when creating your next dish. The proof of flavor affinities is in the tasting.
The culinary world learned a lot before—and since—the nouvelle cuisine revolution of the 1960s and 1970s and the molecular gastronomy movement of the turn of the 21st century, and we shouldn’t let the lessons of centuries of trial-and-error go unheeded. If we’re smart enough to learn from our ancestors’ mistakes, we can free ourselves to make new ones!
And most importantly, you’ll want to internalize the principles of—and be on the lookout for—the patterns of creation, including necessity (which can indeed be the mother of invention, as exemplified through the origins of many classic dishes, from Buffalo wings to nachos), accidents (like chimichangas, which were thought to be the result of knocking a burrito into a deep-fat fryer), and mere happenstance.
The avant garde of today will be tomorrow’s tradition.
—ALBERT ADRIÀ, Tickets (Barcelona)
In cuisine as well as in design, architecture, and art, what survives is timeless. You can’t define it in the moment—it must be defined later, in time.… In the same way, you don’t decide what is your signature dish—your guests decide.
Gabriel Kreuther (New York City)
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to certain aspects of cooking. Someone’s already figured out the basics of sauces and stocks, and pancakes and ramen, and a lot of other dishes. So, learn how to make the classics—not because you’ll want to always serve them in their original form, but to be able to apply the knowledge embedded in them.
For example, to make a classic Eggs Benedict, you’re not just learning a single dish—you’re learning about baking (English muffin), classic sauce-making (hollandaise), poaching (eggs), sautéing (Canadian bacon), seasoning, plating, garnishing, and more. You can apply that knowledge to countless other dishes (including Eggs Florentine, asparagus hollandaise, ramen with a poached egg, etc.).
Classic dishes did something right to have withstood the test of time. Eventually, rather than copying them blindly based on nostalgia, we can turn a critical eye toward them, asking the question, What can we learn? This information about ingredients and techniques will serve your creativity.
Some of the wisdom they contain has to do with pleasing combinations of ingredients. Other lessons may have to do with flexible platforms or appealing presentations of dishes. Think about what made them successful in the first place, and what aspects—if any—are worth keeping.
Those lessons can be learned via deconstruction: breaking down a dish into its component elements and concepts and ideas, which we’ll explore in greater depth in Stage 2.
Sometimes you don’t want too much creativity. Steak frites are steak frites. Quenelles—fish pudding with lobster sauce—have a spongy texture that’s soothing and comforting and delicious. It doesn’t need a crunchy element. I love cooking to satisfy people; I never wanted to be a scientist.
—DANIEL BOULUD, The Dinex Group (New York City)
FLAVOR AFFINITIES OF CLASSIC DISHES THROUGH TIME
There are lots of history books detailing the stories behind how various classic dishes came to be. This isn’t one of them.
Rather, you’ll find just enough information to give you a general sense of when and where and how and through whom various dishes likely made their earliest appearances—although as previously mentioned, there are often conflicting claims of authorship made. You’ll also learn the underlying flavor affinities that helped turn them into classics.
[KEY = Origin / City or Region / Creator / Circa]
BAKLAVA [Assyrian/ 8th century BC]
(ground) nuts + phyllo dough + syrup (or honey)
MOCK ANCHOVIES [Apicius]
Part of a long tradition of dishes that pretend to be other foods.
fish (sprats) + bay leaves + lemon peel + salt + sugar
bread + eggs + milk + fried
CHEESECAKE [Greek / Aegimus / c. 230 AD]
The Greek physician wrote the first known cheesecake recipe.
cheese + honey + sesame + wheat flour
Part of a very long tradition of stuffed dishes.
grape leaves + rice + stuffed
béchamel sauce + eggplant + lamb + tomatoes + baked
Credit for innovation in American cuisine must be given to PRESIDENT THOMAS JEFFERSON (1801–1809), who appointed a French chef to cook at the White House to teach French techniques to African-American cooks. He also introduced the WAFFLE IRON from Holland and the pasta maker from Italy.
batter + waffle-ironed
PESTO [Italian / Rome]
Though created in the 1400s, pesto didn’t hit the American mainstream until the 1980s.
basil + cheese + garlic + olive oil + pine nuts + mortar & pestle
avocado + (fresh) chiles + cilantro + lime juice + onions + salt + tomatoes
ZABAGLIONE [Italy / Bartolomeo Scappi / c. 1570]
Found in The Works of Bartolomeo Scappi
cinnamon + egg yolks + spirits/wine (Malmsey, marsala) + sugar
TIRAMISU [Italian / Treviso / Le Beccherie]
Carminantonio Iannaccone credited with later version in the early 1970s.
(shaved dark) chocolate + coffee/espresso + ladyfingers/sponge cake + (sweet) Marsala wine + mascarpone + sugar + chilled
INDIAN PUDDING [American / New England]
Thought to be an adaptation of England’s hasty pudding, which is made with milk (or water) + wheat flour.
cornmeal + milk + molasses
PUMPKIN PIE [Europe / c. Medieval times]
Today an icon of American Thanksgiving tables, a crustless pumpkin pie was eaten in 1621 at Plymouth Plantation.
Amelia Simmons includes a recipe for a pumpkin pie baked in a crust in her 1796 American Cookery: cream + pumpkin + spices (allspice + cinnamon + cloves + ginger + nutmeg) + sugar + baked in pie crust
NEW ENGLAND CLAM CHOWDER [American / New England]
Served at Boston’s Union Oyster House since 1826.
clam juice + clams + potatoes + roux + salt pork
FRENCH ONION SOUP [French]
Gallic lore suggests that French onion soup was created when King Louis XV (1710–1774) found himself at a hunting lodge late one night when there was nothing in the pantry but butter + Champagne + onions. A version with croutons and melted cheese became popular in the United States starting in the 1960s.
(melted) cheese + croutons + (cooked) onions + stock
First recipe appeared in Juan de la Mata’s Arte de reposteria (The Art of Pastry) in 1747, although the dish may date back to the Middle Ages.
anchovies + bread + garlic + oil + vinegar + “vegetables of the Royal Salad”
Evolves into bell peppers + bread + cucumbers + garlic + olive oil + salt + (raw) tomatoes + (sherry) vinegar
Or simply: garlic + sherry vinegar + tomatoes
Parisian patissier Pierre Hermé credits his contemporary success with MACARONS to “constant experimentation,” starting his process with a drawing inspired by something he has tasted, read, or seen.
After Hermé’s three attempts to create a chestnut + pear macaron were unsuccessful (as the flavors of each were not distinct), he instead decided to create two separate macarons which he then sold together.
MACARONS [Italian / Venice / monastery / c. 1700s]
The almond-flavored meringues are believed to have been brought to France by Caterina de Medici in the 1500s, and popularized by nuns in the 1790s. It wasn’t until the 1830s that macarons were sandwiched around jams and other fillings.
almond flour + egg whites + sugar
lychee + raspberry + rose (called Ispahan, after the Iranian city),
macaron + milk chocolate + passion fruit (called Mogador, after the
Moroccan city), olive oil + vanilla
APPLE PIE [American]
First recipe appears in Amelia Simmons’s 1796 American Cookery, which forged indigenous American ingredients with European cooking
allspice + apples + cinnamon + dough + nutmeg + sugar
STRAWBERRIES ROMANOFF [English / Carlton Hotel / Auguste Escoffier—who called the dessert “Strawberries Americaine Style,” before a similar dessert was popularized at Romanoff’s in Hollywood]
cream + orange + strawberries
CHERRY CLAFOUTIS [French / Limousin]
black cherries + flan batter + powdered sugar
While BEEF STROGANOFF is traditionally served with crispy straw potatoes in Russia, when it came to the United States in the 1940s, Stroganoff was served on egg noodles.
BEEF STROGANOFF [Russian]
Named for 19th-century Russian diplomat Count Pavel
beef + mushrooms + onions + sour cream
SOUFFLÉ [French / Antoine Carême / c. early 1820s]
Carême invented the classic soufflé by taking advantage of the advent of new (non-coal) ovens heated by air drafts.
egg whites + baked
SACHER TORTE [Austrian / Franz Sacher, while working for Prince Metternich / c. 1832]
apricot jam + chocolate cake + chocolate icing
PAELLA, VALENCIAN [Spanish / Valencia / c. 1840 (its first appearance in a newspaper)]
butter beans + olive oil + paprika + (short-grain) rice + saffron + snails + tomatoes + cooked in paella pan
DOUGHNUT HOLES AND RING DOUGHNUTS [American / New England /Elizabeth Gregory and her son Hanson Gregory / c. mid-1800s]
In response to their wish to eliminate the uncooked center of fried doughnuts.
KEY LIME PIE [American / Florida / c. mid-1800s]
(whipped) cream + eggs + graham cracker crust + Key lime juice + sweetened condensed milk + chilled
STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE [American / c. mid-1800s]
biscuits + (whipped) cream + strawberries + sugar
BOSTON CREAM PIE [American / Boston / Parker House Hotel / c. 1850s]
Joanne Chang soaks her cake for BOSTON CREAM Pie in coffee syrup, and lightens her custard with whipped cream at Flour Bakery + Café in Boston.
cake + chocolate + custard
WELSH RAREBIT [British]
First recipe appeared in Charles Elme Francatelli’s A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes in 1852.
(toasted) bread + butter + cheese + mustard
BAKED ALASKA [American / New York City / Delmonico’s / Charles
In 1894, chef Charles Ranhofer published his 1,100-plus-page cookbook, The Epicurean, which caused an uproar among his fellow professional chefs for sharing secrets behind popular dishes like BAKED ALASKA and Eggs Benedict.
Ranhofer / c. 1876]
Following Alaska’s admission to the Union in 1867.
ice cream (frozen hard) + cream or meringue + baked or flambéed (to brown)
SHEPHERD’S PIE [English / c. 1870s]
(minced) meat + (mashed) potatoes + vegetables + baked
CHILI [American / c. late 1800s]
Inspired many regional variations, and many regional chili cook-offs.
beans + chili powder + cumin + garlic + ground meat + onions + tomatoes
TARTE TATIN [French / Lamotte-Beuvron / Hotel Tatin / Stephanie Tatin / c. 1880s or 1890s]
Created after the chef was either slammed, distracted by flirting, or resourceful when faced with a broken oven—in any case, she created this legendary tarte accidentally.
apples + butter + pastry crust + sugar + caramelized
In music, as in life, there are no mistakes—just chances to improvise.
—MILES DAVIS to Herbie Hancock
HOT DOG [American / New York / c. late 1800s]
bun + hot dog + mustard (+ sauerkraut)
LOBSTER NEWBERG [American / New York / Delmonico’s / Charles Ranhofer / c. 1876]
Captain Ben Wenberg is said to have brought in the recipe from his travels and given it to the restaurant, which reproduced it and added it to the menu as Lobster Wenberg—but after Ranhofer and Wenberg had a falling out, it was renamed “Lobster Newberg.”
butter + cayenne + cognac + cream + lobster + sherry
RAMOS GIN FIZZ [American / New Orleans / Imperial Cabinet Saloon / Henry C. Ramos / c. 1888]
The drink’s proper execution originally called for 12 to 15 minutes of shaking to achieve its creamy richness.
cream + egg white + gin + lemon juice + lime juice + orange flower water + simple syrup + soda water
PIZZA ALLA MARGHERITA [Italian / Naples / Pizzeria Brandi / Raffaele Esposito / c. 1889]
Inspired by the colors of the Italian flag upon a visit by Queen Margherita
(green) basil + (baked) dough + (white) mozzarella + (red) tomato sauce
OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER [American / New Orleans / Antoine’s / Jules Alciatore / c. 1889]
In honor of John D. Rockefeller, then the richest man in the world: The dish was billed as the richest dish in the world.
butter (and/or cream) + greens + oysters
The original OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER, on which many interpretations have been based, did not feature spinach; the recipe remains a family secret.
Many interpretations contain: breadcrumbs + butter + oysters + spinach
EGGS BENEDICT [American / New York City / Charles Ranhofer of Delmonico’s or Oscar Tschirky of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel / c. 1890s]
In both versions of the story, a hangover spurred the dish’s creation.
(poached) eggs + English muffin + ham/Canadian bacon + hollandaise sauce
WALDORF SALAD [American / New York City / Waldorf-Astoria Hotel / Oscar Tschirky (formerly of Delmonico’s) / c. 1890s]
Created for the hotel’s inaugural dinner.
apples + celery + mayonnaise (+ walnuts were added in the early 1900s; other later additions have included citrus juice and/or rind + grapes + raisins)
CRACKER JACK [American / Chicago’s World Fair / Frederick William Rueckheim / c. 1893]
caramel/molasses + peanuts + popcorn
EGG-IN-A-HOLE (AKA HUEVOS HIGH-LIFE) [Spanish]
The first known recipe of the classic dish with an egg fried in a yolk-size hole in the middle of a slice of bread was published in the 1894 cookbook El Practicon by Angel Muro.
bread + butter + eggs + fried
HOT FUDGE SUNDAE [American / c. 1880s–1890s]
Folklore attributes the creation to the so-called Blue Laws of the time restricting certain behavior (ranging from fornicating to selling ice cream sodas) on Sundays.
hot fudge + vanilla ice cream
PEACH MELBA [England / London / Savoy Hotel / Auguste Escoffier / c. 1890s]
Inspired by hearing Dame Nellie Melba sing at Covent Garden in 1892 or 1893.
(poached and halved) peaches + raspberry sauce + vanilla ice cream
CREPES SUZETTE [Monte Carlo / Café de Paris / Henri Charpentier / January 31, 1896]
Created for Prince of Wales Edward VII and named after his female companion.
butter + crepes + Grand Marnier + orange juice + flambéed
CHERRIES JUBILEE [English / London / Auguste Escoffier / c. 1897]
Created in honor of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee celebration.
cherries + cherry brandy or Kirsch + vanilla ice cream + flambéed
BLACK FOREST CAKE [German]
cherries + chocolate + whipped cream
EGG CREAM [American / Brooklyn]
chocolate syrup + milk + seltzer
REUBEN SANDWICH [American / New York / c. early 1900s, although the exact origins are contested]
corned beef + Russian dressing + rye bread + sauerkraut + Swiss cheese
HAMBURGER [American / New Haven, CT / Louis’ Lunch / c. 1900]
Created when a customer in a rush requested something he could eat on
bun + burger patty (+ optional cheese + onion + tomato at Louis’ Lunch)
PB&J (PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH) [American / c. 1901]
The first reference appeared on the heels of a St. Louis doctor’s making peanut butter in 1890.
bread + (grape) jelly + peanut butter
ICE CREAM CONE [American / St. Louis World’s Fair / Ernest Hamwi /
The Syrian entrepreneur sold crisp waffled pastries next to an ice cream vendor; one day, Hamwi rolled some of the pastries into cones to help the ice cream vendor when he unexpectedly ran out of bowls.
ice cream + waffled pastry
Ice Cream Cone
PIZZA, AMERICAN [American / New York City / Lombardi’s / Naples native Gennaro Lombardi / c. 1905]
cheese + dough + tomato sauce + baked in a coal-fired oven
CANDY APPLE [American / New Jersey / William Kolb / c. 1908]
The confectioner experimented by dipping apples into a melted red cinnamon candy syrup.
apples + cinnamon + sugar syrup
FETTUCCINE ALFREDO [Italian / Rome / Trattoria Alfredo / Alfredo Di Lelio / c. 1910s–1920s]
Created for his wife who had just given birth and had fussy food cravings, but popularized by Hollywood celebrities like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, who loved Fettuccine Alfredo so much they dubbed Alfredo “King of the Noodles.”
butter + fettuccine + Parmesan cheese
BLOODY MARY [France / Paris / Harry’s New York Bar / Fernand “Pete” Petiot / c. 1920, or 1940s after the bartender moved to the St. Regis Hotel’s King Cole Bar in New York City]
The celery stick stirrer used in a BLOODY MARY is believed to have gained popularity in the 1960s.
(canned) tomato juice + (Russian) vodka (+ various seasonings, e.g., horseradish + lemon + salt + Tabasco sauce + Worcestershire sauce)
FRENCH DIP SANDWICH [American / California / Philippe’s or Cole’s, both of which opened in 1908 / c. 1910s–1920s]
The legends of this sandwich’s origins vary, but include 1) a sandwich accidentally fell into some jus; 2) a customer requested that a sandwich be dipped in jus (either due to receiving a stale roll, or simply seeing the juice at the bottom of the pan of meat); or 3) a customer with sore gums requested that a sandwich be dipped in jus.
(thinly sliced) beef + jus + roll
Whatever the origins, the FRENCH DIP SANDWICH was not thought to be the case of a chef proactively thinking, “How can I make this sandwich even better?” It happened either by accident, or by listening to a request. So, pay attention to your accidents—as well as to your guests’ special requests!
VICHYSSOISE [American / New York / Ritz-Carlton / Louis Diat / c. 1912]
(chopped) chives + cream + potatoes + stock
CROQUE MONSIEUR [c. 1915]
First known recipe by E. Defouck in The Belgian Cookbook by Mrs. Brian Luck.
bread + butter + egg (beaten) + Gruyère cheese + ham + fried
Variations include: Croque Madame (+ fried egg) and Croque Provencal (+ tomatoes)
TURTLES [American / DeMet’s Candy Co. / c. 1918]
caramel + chocolate + pecans
NEGRONI [Italian / Florence / Caffè Casoni / c. 1919]
Created by a bartender after a suggestion by Count Camillo Negroni to fortify his Americano cocktail.
bitters + gin + vermouth
OMELETTE ARNOLD BENNETT [England / London / Savoy / c. 1920s]
Named after the writer and critic staying at the hotel while writing his novel Imperial Palace.
eggs + hollandaise sauce + smoked haddock
PAVLOVA [Australia or New Zealand / c. 1920s]
Inspired by Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881–1931), the meringue and fruit dessert was said to be “light as Pavlova.”
fruit (e.g., kiwi, passion fruit, strawberries) + meringue (egg whites +
CHIMICHANGAS [American / Tucson, Arizona / El Charro Café / Monica Flin / c. 1922]
As the story goes, the chef-owner accidentally knocked a burrito into the deep-fat fryer.
beans + cheese + tortillas + fried
GREEN GODDESS SALAD DRESSING [American / San Francisco / Palace Hotel / Chef Philip Roemer / c. 1923]
In honor of actor George Arliss, who starred in the play The Green Goddess.
anchovies + chives/scallions + parsley + mayonnaise + sour cream + lemon juice + white wine vinegar
CAESAR SALAD [Mexican / Tijuana / Hotel Caesar restaurant / Caesar Cardini / c. 1924]
Cardini’s brother Alex has his own claims to the salad, and is sometimes credited for the addition of anchovies.
(anchovies) + croutons + (coddled) eggs + garlic + lemon juice + olive oil + Parmesan cheese + Romaine + Worcestershire sauce
MIMOSA [France / Paris / Hôtel Ritz Paris / Frank Meier / c. 1925]
Champagne + orange juice
COBB SALAD [American / Hollywood/ Brown Derby / Bob Cobb / c. 1926]
Created as a late-night snack for himself to use up leftovers, and worked on before adding to the menu in 1929.
chicken + Romaine lettuce + chopped (1926 version)
evolved into 1929 version:
avocado + bacon + blue cheese + chicken + chicory + chives + French dressing + hard-boiled eggs + iceberg lettuce + Romaine + tomatoes + watercress + chopped
S’MORES [American / Girl Scouts / c. 1927]
Possibly inspired by the commercially produced Mallomars of 1913 or Moon Pies of 1917 featuring the same flavor affinities.
chocolate + Graham cracker + (toasted) marshmallow
ROCKY ROAD ICE CREAM [American / Dreyer’s and Edy’s Ice Cream / William Dreyer and Joseph Edy / c. 1929]
The ice cream maker and confectioner who teamed up to form Dreyer’s and Edy’s claim to have invented this popular ice cream flavor.
almonds + chocolate ice cream + marshmallow
RED VELVET CAKE (aka Hundred-Dollar Cake or Waldorf-Astoria Cake) [American / New York City / Waldorf-Astoria Hotel / c. early to mid-1900s, or possibly 1959]
buttermilk + cocoa + flour + sugar + vanilla + vinegar
Red Velvet Cake
RATATOUILLE [French / Provence / c. 1930]
The first citation to describe this particular dish was in 1930, although the term had been around years longer to refer to stews.
bell peppers + eggplant + garlic + herbes de Provence + olive oil + onions + (stewed) tomatoes + zucchini
PHILLY CHEESESTEAK [American / Philadelphia]
(sliced) beef + onions + roll
Later add-ons: cheese (Cheez-Whiz, American, or Provolone) + ketchup + mushrooms + sweet peppers
MANHATTAN CLAM CHOWDER (aka Coney Island Clam Chowder and Fulton Market Clam Chowder) [American / New York / c. 1930s]
Maine Congressman Cleveland Sleeper introduced legislation in the late 1930s that would “make it an illegal as well as a culinary offense to introduce tomatoes to CLAM CHOWDER.” Eleanor Early wrote in her New England Sampler cookbook that “Tomatoes and clams have no more affinity than ice cream and horse radish. It is sacrilege to wed bivalves with bay leaves, and only a degraded cook would do such a thing.”
This version, which was popularized by New York chefs, was inspired by the huge rise in popularity of tomatoes in the mid-1800s.
clams + tomatoes
RUM RAISIN ICE CREAM [American]
cream + raisins + rum + sugar + vanilla + frozen
TOASTED RAVIOLI [American / St. Louis / Angelo Oldani’s]
A German staff member named Fritz is said to have thrown fresh ravioli into the deep fryer by accident—and it was discovered that guests loved them.
ravioli + deep-fried
SHIRLEY TEMPLE [American / Hollywood/ Brown Derby or Chasen’s restaurant]
The famed mocktail was created so the child star could drink alongside her adult peers.
ginger ale + grenadine + maraschino cherry
LOBSTER SAVANNAH [American / Boston / Locke-Ober restaurant]
After Andrew’s former boss Lydia Shire took over Locke-Ober in 2001, her version of LOBSTER SAVANNAH replaced the pimientos with red bell peppers and lightened
béchamel sauce + lobster + mushrooms + Parmesan + pimientos + sherry + baked in lobster shell
BELLINI [Italian / Venice / Harry’s Bar / c. 1934–1948]
peach puree + prosecco
RICE KRISPIES TREATS [American / Kellogg’s / home economist Mildred Day and her coworker Malitta Jensen / c. 1939]
butter + marshmallows + Rice Krispies
The Texas State Fair version of CORN DOGS was popularized as “Fletcher’s Original State Fair Corny Dogs,” while those introduced at the Minnesota State Fair were called “Pronto Pups.”
CORN DOGS [American / Minnesota or Texas State Fair]
cornbread batter + hot dog + deep-fried
MAI TAI [American / California / Trader Vic’s or Don the Beachcomber]
Curaçao + lime juice + rum
PAD THAI [Thai]
Prime Minister Phibun mandated the creation of a Thai national dish to inspire national pride.
bean sprouts + chiles + egg + fish sauce + lime + palm sugar + (chopped) peanuts + (fried) shrimp + rice noodles + tamarind + tofu + stir-fried
KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN [American / Colonel Harland Sanders / c. 1940]
The Colonel built his popular fried chicken business on a recipe made in a fast-cooking pressure fryer with “11 secret herbs and spices” which are thought to include flour combined with:
basil + black pepper + celery salt + garlic salt + ginger + mustard powder + oregano + paprika + salt + thyme + white pepper
CHICAGO-STYLE DEEP-DISH PIZZA (WITH BISCUIT-LIKE CRUST) [American / Chicago / Pizzeria Uno / Rudy Malnati / c. 1943]
cheese + (thick) pizza crust + tomato sauce + toppings
NACHOS [Mexican / Piedras Negras / Victory Club / Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya / c. 1943]
Created by the Club’s maître d’ who threw them together as canapés for a group of wives of military officers when he couldn’t locate the chef; the dish was a hit and Nacho was named the Club’s chef.
Cheddar cheese + jalapeño peppers + tortilla chips + melted
BLACK BEAN SOUP WITH MADEIRA [American / New York City / Coach House / c. 1949–93]
black beans + hard-boiled eggs + Madeira
CARAMEL APPLES [American / Kraft Foods / Dan Walker]
The Kraft employee experimented with surplus caramels post-Halloween and invented it in time for the holidays.
(raw) apple + caramel [+ (chopped) peanuts, when they’re often called
WEDGE SALAD [American]
bacon + blue cheese dressing + iceberg lettuce (+ scallions) + tomato
CARPACCIO [Italian / Venice / Harry’s Bar / c. 1950]
SANDWICHES: WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Two centuries after avid gambler Earl of Sandwich—wishing to have a meal brought to him at the gaming table—asked in 1762 for a thin slice of meat between two slices of buttered bread, which was named the first “sandwich,” American regions name their own:
1952: po’ boy (New Orleans)
1954: grinder (New England)
1955: submarine (Connecticut)
1955: hero (New York City)
1956: hoagie (New Jersey and Pennsylvania)
Created while artist Vittore Carpaccio’s exhibit was in town in response to a guest who said she’d been advised by her doctor not to eat cooked meat; the dish was said to be named for the artist’s paintings’ characteristic red and white colors.
(raw, sliced) beef + mayonnaise sauce
BANANAS FOSTER [American / New Orleans / Brennan’s Restaurant / Chef Paul Blangé / c. 1951]
Owen Brennan challenged his chef to include bananas in a new dish, which he then named after Richard Foster, a regular customer.
banana + banana liqueur + brown sugar + butter + cinnamon + rum + vanilla ice cream flambéed
GERMAN CHOCOLATE CAKE [American / Texas / c. 1957]
The cake is not German; the name comes from that of chocolate maker Samuel German, who developed Baker’s sweet chocolate for Baker’s Chocolate Company; 1957 was the first publication of a recipe in a Texas newspaper.
(Baker’s German’s Sweet) chocolate + coconut + pecans
POUTINE [Canadian / Warwick / Quebec / Café Ideal / c. 1957]
Truck driver and patron Eddy Lainesse suggested that owners
Fernand Lachance and Germaine Lachance mix their fries with cheese curds.
cheese curds + French fries + gravy (the original gravy was brown sugar + ketchup + Worcestershire sauce)
CHOCOLATE VELVET CAKE [American / New York City / Four Seasons / Albert Kumin / c. late 1950s]
amaretto + chocolate + heath bars + rum
SPAGHETTI ALLA CARBONARA [Italian / c. 1950s–1960s]
black pepper + cream + (Parmesan and/or Pecorino) cheese + (raw) egg + pancetta (or guanciale) + spaghetti
White House Chef Cristeta Comerford served her own elegant take on POUTINE—smoked duck and cheese curds with a red wine gravy served on wafer fries—as a canapé at a White House State Dinner in honor of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife in March 2016.
NEGIMAKI ROLLS [American/Japanese / New York / Restaurant Nippon / Nobuyoshi Kuraoka / c. 1963]
Created after New York Times restaurant critic Craig Claiborne wrote that a Japanese restaurant based in New York must serve beef.
beef + scallions + soy sauce
BUFFALO WINGS [American / Buffalo, New York / Anchor Bar / Teressa Bellissimo / c. 1964]
Created out of leftovers she had on hand for her hungry sons and his friends after a late-night movie.
chicken wings + garlic + hot sauce (e.g., cayenne / red peppers +
salt + vinegar)
later accompanied by: blue cheese + celery
-TARTS [American / Kellogg’s / c. September 1964]
The original flavors were apple + currant, blueberry, brown sugar + cinnamon, and strawberry.
filling + pastry + toasted
CALIFORNIA ROLL [American / Los Angeles / Tokyo Kaikan restaurant / chef Manashita Ichiro and his assistant Mashita Ichiro / c. late 1960s]
Created the “inside out” roll to hide the nori on the inside and subbed avocado for raw tuna.
avocado + crab + cucumber + nori + sushi rice
Don’t underestimate the power of a catchy name, such as POP-TARTS, in the success of a new product. Post actually beat Kellogg’s to market with toaster pastries in February 1964, but had the misfortune
of naming theirs
ALMOND TORTE [American / Berkeley, California / Chez Panisse / Lindsey Shere]
almond paste + butter + flour + sugar + vanilla
STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING [England / Sharrow Bay hotel]
custard or ice cream + sponge cake + toffee sauce
ORANGE BEEF [American / New York City / Shun Lee Palace / Michael Tong / 1971]
beef + (bittersweet preserved) orange
CHICAGO-STYLE STUFFED PIZZA (WITH FLAKIER CRUST) [American / Chicago / Giordano’s or Nancy’s / c. 1974]
CHICAGO-STYLE STUFFED PIZZA is said to be based
on traditional Italian Easter pies called scarciedda, which were made in Turin and featured cheese, meat, and other ingredients—but no tomato sauce.
SPAGHETTI ALLA PRIMAVERA (AKA SPRINGTIME PASTA) [American (Italian) / New York / Le Cirque / Sirio Maccioni, c. 1975]
Created with ingredients in the refrigerator while visiting Prince Edward Island and served to New York Times critic Craig Claiborne.
cream + Parmesan + spaghetti + spring vegetables (e.g., asparagus + broccoli + mushrooms + peas + zucchini) + toasted pine nuts
GARGOUILLOU [France / Laguiole / Michel Bras / c. 1978]
flowers + fruits + herbs + sprouts + vegetables
BAGEL, EVERYTHING [American / New York / c. 1970s–1980]
bagel + caraway seeds + garlic + onions + poppy seeds + salt + sesame seeds
BEGGAR’S PURSES [American / New York / Quilted Giraffe / Barry Wine]
Said to have been inspired by un aumoniere served by Chef François Clerc of La Vieille Fontaine in Maisons-Laffitte, France.
(melted) butter + caviar + chive (for tying the crepe into a bundle) + crème fraîche + crepe + gold leaf
PUT YOUR HANDS BEHIND YOUR BACK, LEAN FORWARD, AND SCOOP IT UP IN ONE BITE.
—BARRY WINE’S STAFF’s instructions to guests at the Quilted Giraffe, for eating
BEGGAR’S PURSES off the candlesticks or candelabras upon which they were served; some guests were handcuffed to their chairs for the $50-a-pop experience.
SALADE GOURMANDE [French / Eugénie-les-Bains / Les Prés d’Eugénie / Michel Guérard]
black truffles + chervil + chives + foie gras + green beans (haricots verts) + lettuce + vinaigrette
RED MULLET WITH ZUCCHINI “SCALES” [Swiss / Frédy Girardet]
herbs + olive oil + red mullet + zucchini
RED MULLET WITH POTATO “SCALES” [French / Paul Bocuse]
red mullet + potato
LOBSTER CLUB [American / New York City / Arcadia / Anne Rosenzweig]
bacon + brioche + lobster + mayonnaise
MACARONI AND CHEESE WITH COUNTRY HAM AND SHAVED BLACK TRUFFLES [American / Virginia / The Inn at Little Washington / Patrick O’Connell / c. 1980s]
black truffles + cheeses + ham + macaroni
PENNE ALLA VODKA [American / c. early 1980s]
cream + penne + tomato + vodka
BAKED GOAT CHEESE WITH GARDEN LETTUCES [American / Berkeley, CA / Chez Panisse / Alice Waters / c. 1981]
breadcrumbs + garden lettuces + (baked) goat cheese
COULANT AU CHOCOLAT [French / Laguiole / Bras / Michel Bras / c. 1981] chocolate [biscuit dough + frozen ganache + baked]
We still remember our first life-changing bites of Jean-Georges Vongerichen’s own version of this molten-centered cake at Manhattan’s Jojo shortly after we were married in 1990—which, under various names including “Chocolate Lava Cake” and “Chocolate Truffle Cake,” went on to inspire other versions from coast to coast and around the world (see here).
GRILLED PIZZA [American / Providence, RI / Al Forno / George Germon and Johanne Killeen / c. 1981]
The chef-couple misheard of a technique being used in Italy, which inspired them to start cooking their pizza doughs directly over an open grill.
cheese + pizza dough + scallions + tomato sauce + grilled
BLACKENED REDFISH [American / New Orleans / K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen / Paul Prudhomme / c. 1982]
Said to have been created because Prudhomme didn’t have a grill, so he had to crisp his fish in a large black skillet instead.
butter + redfish + spices (cayenne + onion powder + oregano + paprika + salt + thyme) + blackened
Inspired: Other “blackened” dishes, including other fish (e.g., salmon), shrimp, chicken, steak
If the original Spago had never run out of bread in 1982, who knows how long it might have taken for the kitchen at Wolfgang Puck’s and Barbara Lazaroff’s Los Angeles restaurant to think of serving chilled smoked salmon and two caviars (milder black, and stronger red salmon) with crème fraîche, dill, and sweet red onion (not to mention a squeeze of lemon juice to counterbalance the salmon’s richness, plus a sprinkle of chives) on hot baked pizza dough instead? Time, by the way, is also a key ingredient of this dish (as it is of many): The pizza must be served quickly so the crust stays hot while the salmon and caviar stay cold, achieving that all-important balance of opposites.
SMOKED SALMON PIZZA [American / Los Angeles / Spago / Wolfgang Puck / c. 1982]
caviar + crème fraîche + pizza dough + smoked salmon
GUALTIERO MARCHESI was the first Italian chef (and non-Frenchman) to receive three Michelin stars.
RISO ORO E ZAFFERANO (SAFFRON RISOTTO WITH GOLD LEAF)
[Italian / Gualtiero Marchesi / c. 1984]
gold leaf + risotto + saffron
BEETS AND LEEKS [American / Thomas Keller / c. 1980s (at Rakel) and
c. 1990s (at the French Laundry)]
Inspired by a combination Keller had tasted at Jean-Louis at the Watergate.
beets + leeks (+ lobster + potatoes)
CHICKEN FOR TWO ROASTED IN THE BRICK OVEN [American /
San Francisco / Zuni Café / Judy Rodgers / c. 1987]
(salted) chicken + panzanella (bread salad) + wood-fire roasted
MAINE SEA SCALLOPS “IN BLACK TIE” [American / New York / Le Cirque / Daniel Boulud / c. mid-1980s]
Inspired by his first New Year’s Eve dinner at the restaurant.
(alternating layers of) black truffles + scallops + wrapped in spinach
1990s and beyond
BACON ON A CLOTHESLINE [American/ Chicago / Alinea / Grant Achatz]
apple + bacon + butterscotch + thyme
BEEF CHEEK RAVIOLI [American / New York / Babbo / Mario Batali]
beef cheeks + ravioli
BLACK COD WITH MISO [American / New York / Nobu / Nobu Matsuhisa / c. 1994]
black cod + (sweet saikyo) miso
BOUQUET OF ROSES [French / Paris / L’Arpège / Alain Passard]
apple + berlingot + puff pastry + sugar
CANARD APICIUS [French / Paris / Lucas-Carton / Alain Senderens]
A remake of an earlier version made in 1970, inspired by Apicius’s original version published in the world’s oldest cookbook, De re Coquinaria.
apple + dates + duck + honey + caraway + coriander + mint + oregano + pepper + saffron + vinegar
CAPPUCCINO OF WHITE BEANS WITH GRATED TRUFFLES [English / London / Gordon Ramsay]
cream + truffles + white beans (e.g., canellini) + wild mushrooms
CAULIFLOWER IN A CAST-IRON POT [American / Napa Valley / Ubuntu / Jeremy Fox]
brown butter + cauliflower + cilantro + citrus + curry
CRACK PIE [American / New York City / wd-50 / Christina Tosi]
Inspired by Joy of Cooking to create a rich and buttery filling for an oatmeal cookie crust for family meal that became one of her signature dishes.
butter + oats + sugar
CRISP PAUPIETTES OF SEA BASS IN BAROLO SAUCE [American / New York City / Daniel / Daniel Boulud]
Boulud says the dish was inspired by Paul Bocuse’s and Frédy Girardet’s red-mullet-with vegetable-scales dishes—and which has inspired other dishes in Daniel’s kitchen starring those ingredients.
leeks + potatoes + sea bass + thyme + (red) wine (e.g., Barolo)
CRISPY CREPE [American / Lummi Island, Washington / The Willows Inn / Blaine Wentzel / c. 2013]
crepe + (grilled) scallions + (preserved) smelt
CURRIED TUNA TARTARE [American / New York City / Le Cirque / Daniel Boulud] Came about after the sushi craze opened Americans’ minds to eating
curry + tuna + raw + chopped
DB BURGER [American / New York City / db bistro moderne / Daniel Boulud]
beef + bun + foie gras + short ribs
EGG CAVIAR [American / New York City / Jean-Georges Vongerichten]
caviar + (scrambled) eggs + vodka + whipped cream
THE FOREST [French / Menton / Mirazar / Mauro Colagreco / c. 2011]
mushrooms + parsley (“moss”) + quinoa (risotto)
Crispy Crepe, being spread with scallion jam
WHO CAN BE CREATIVE WITH FOOD? EVERYBODY!
Maize (which we now call corn) is believed to have existed for 7,000 to 10,000 years. The technique of deep-frying is thought to have existed for nearly that long, with the Egyptians deep-frying in 5000 BC.
But it took until 1992 for a janitor named Richard Montañez to propose to Frito-Lay’s president (after receiving his video memo encouraging all employees to “think like owners”) coating Cheetos in chili powder, which eventually became Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, one of Frito-Lay’s bestselling snack items—and led to his new career as the company’s executive vice president.
How did some of these popular snack foods first come into being?
late 1920s / early 1930s: Mexican native Gustavo Olguin sells deep-fried extruded masa called fritos (“little fried things”).
1932: San Antonio confectioner Charles Elmer Doolin seeks a new treat to diversify out of the ice cream business, and hopes to find a corn snack that won’t go stale like tortillas. He discovers Olguin’s fried corn chips, and buys the original recipe plus a converted potato ricer and 19 retail accounts for $100. He starts to make Fritos corn chips in his mother’s kitchen, and he and his family experiment with other uses for Fritos as well as other snack foods.
1947: Doolin expands into other snack foods, including roasted peanuts, peanut butter crackers, potato chips, and fried pork skins.
1948: Through ongoing kitchen experiments, Doolin creates Cheetos, a cheese-flavored puffed snack:
cheese powder + cornmeal + deep-fried
1949: Doolin’s mother, Daisy Dean Doolin, is said to have poured some leftover chili onto Fritos, creating the original Frito Pie. The recipe appears in a 1950s-era cookbook:
(grated) cheese + chili + Fritos + onion + baked
1966: Doritos tortilla chips are introduced.
1969: Fun-Yuns onion-flavored rings are introduced.
1977: Tostitos tortilla chips are introduced.
1992: Richard Montañez, a janitor at the Rancha Cucamonga plant in California, comes up with the idea of adding chili powder to Cheetos—creating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos:
cheese powder + chili powder + cornmeal + deep-fried
2002: The introduction of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos con Limon:
cheese powder + chili powder + cornmeal + lime + deep-fried
2000s: Frito Pie is such a ubiquitous dish in the South that leading chefs such as Dean Fearing and Emeril Lagasse share their own recipes for the dish.
Daniel Boulud ushers in 2012 with his first taste of Frito Pie at a tailgate at MetLife Stadium, telling FoodRepublic.com: “That was my first Frito Pie experience ever. You talk about technique. You just rip open the bag and pour the chili right on top with sour cream and jalapeño. It is something. The chili was fantastic.”
“FOURPLAYS” [American / New York City / Jean Georges / Johnny Iuzzini]
Four miniature desserts served on one plate, each representing a different take on the same theme.
GEORGES V CAKE [American / New York City / François Payard]
caramel + (dark) chocolate + (roasted) peanuts + vanilla
JASPER HILL FARM CHEESECAKE [Spanish / Barcelona / Tickets / Albert Adria / c. 2015]
cheese + cookie + hazelnut + white chocolate
“LE KIT CAT” [American / Washington, D.C. / Central / Michel Richard]
corn flakes + milk chocolate + peanut butter + semisweet chocolate
MUSCOVY DUCK [American / New York City / Eleven Madison Park /
duck + figs + honey + lavender + turnips
OYSTERS & PEARLS [American / California / French Laundry / Thomas Keller]
caviar + oysters + tapioca
PHEASANT + SHALLOTS + CIDER GEL + BURNING OAK LEAVES [American /Chicago /Alinea / Grant Achatz]
burning oak leaves + cider gel + pheasant + shallots
POTATO PULP [American / Los Angeles / Trois Mec / Ludo Lefebvre]
bonito flakes + browned butter powder + (grated) cheese + potato puree + (riced) potatoes
ROAST BONE MARROW WITH PARSLEY SALAD [British / Smithfield /
St. John / Fergus Henderson / c. 1994]
Inspiration: Henderson watched 1973’s La Grande Bouffe, which he called “the greatest food film ever,” and saw a character played by Marcello Mastroianni suck the marrow from bones.
bone marrow + parsley
SAFFRON PANNA COTTA [American / New York City / Babbo / Gina DePalma]
cream + eggs + saffron + sugar
SALMON CORNETS [American / California / French Laundry / Thomas Keller]
(chopped and seasoned) salmon + tiny crispy cones
SAVORY RICE BOWL [American / Los Angeles / Sqirl / Jessica Koslow]
brown rice + (poached) egg + (creamy) feta + (fermented) hot sauce +
SEA SCALLOPS WITH CARAMELIZED CAULIFLOWER AND CAPER–RAISIN EMULSION [American / New York City / Jean-Georges Vongerichten]
capers + cauliflower + raisins + scallops
SOUFFLÉ SUISSESSE [British / Roux Brothers / Le Gavroche restaurant]
butter + cream + eggs + flour + milk+ cheese (Gruyere or Emmental) + baked
Jasper Hill Farm Cheesecake
Kyle Connaughton of Single Thread on Being Inspired by Tradition
Everyone organizes their creativity in a particular way. Having principles that guide your creativity is the most important part.
I had an awareness of this and observed a lot in the kitchens I was in, from the Fat Duck [in England] to Michael Bras [in Japan] to the elBulli Lab [in Spain]. I watched everyone’s creative process and how they went about it.
In the kitchens in Japan, it was not so much about creativity as about living within that moment: Here is what nature is giving us, and what are we going to do with it? But there was so much less discussion in Japan about “What should we do?” The sense was that “This is here, and this is obvious.” Every year, you come back to the same dishes where you improve or slightly modify them. The cuisine is from the 1500s, and the wheels of change turn much more slowly in that environment.
In the Western world, chefs are under a lot of pressure. It is all about what’s new, what’s never been done, who is the best new chef, and what is the best new restaurant? That is rewarded, and there is nothing wrong with that.
The tension between the two extremes is good. If all we did was copy, we would still be eating Escoffier.
Here at Single Thread, creativity is calculated. Nature dictates things to us, and we have to react to nature. Some people think creativity is blue-sky thinking, and sometimes it is and we let our minds go. But creativity is boxes: We have natural rules, aesthetic rules, and even the products we use dictate their own rules. While these may seem to be constrictions on our creativity, they are actually what guides us—what we do, when we do it, and how we do it.
Cuisine and culture went through a period that was just “go for it,” starting in the late 1990s with fusion cuisine, followed by the Modernist movement, which I was a big part of [as an editor and contributor to the Modernist Cuisine series]. A lot of great things came out of that, and a lot of bad stuff and bad food as well. What came out of it, ultimately, was a better understanding and reverence for cuisine from around the world: a better understanding of ingredients, of cooking techniques, and of the underlying science of cooking.
What we are trying to do here [at Single Thread] is respect all the things we know. Once you know something, you can’t un-know it, and you can’t ignore it. You understand how things work, and the connectivity of nature, cuisine, farming, and floral arrangement. We have all these opportunities to be creative.
We are so lucky to have this incredible platform that drives and dictates what we do. Since we are not beholden to anything, anyone, or any cuisine or culture in particular, we have ultimate freedom to do anything we want.
You need the avant-garde who push boundaries and explore things. What we do here is very slow and incremental progressions.
But you need the Heston Blumenthals, Ferran Adriàs, and Wylie Dufresnes who say, “I am going to put a flagpole over here.”
If someone didn’t do that in art, fashion, architecture, or food—with people willing to go way out on a limb to try something—you wouldn’t have big moments of progress.
LEARNING BY COPYING
Copying (or even just studying) classic dishes also teaches us what ingredients pair well together. That Pizza Margherita we enjoy with basil + mozzarella + tomatoes shows that those ingredients have an amazing affinity for one another. And the magic is that when ingredients work well together in one context (e.g., as a pizza), they’ll also work together in other contexts or flavor platforms (e.g., in casseroles, omelets, pastas, risottos, salads, sandwiches, soups, stews—possibly even cocktails and desserts).
Learning and memorizing classic flavor pairings (that is, two ingredients that represent a match made in heaven, such as basil + tomatoes or mushrooms + Pinot Noir or peanut butter + jelly) and classic flavor affinities (that is, three or more ingredients that work beautifully in concert, such as garlic + Parmesan cheese + Romaine or garlic + ginger + soy sauce), will give you a leg up in the next stages when you’re improvising a new dish on the fly, whether in your home kitchen, at your restaurant, or on the set of a televised cooking reality show racing to create a dish against the clock with a handful of oddball ingredients.
Jacques Torres was the pastry chef at the Hotel Negresco who created the asparagus ice cream that was served to Ferran Adrià in 1987. In his days as pastry chef at New York City’s Le Cirque (1989–2000), his whimsical chocolate stove dessert (which featured a cake served inside an edible chocolate oven, with tiny stovetop pots of mango and raspberry sauces meant to be poured on top of the cake) was legendary. But he recalls that his creativity manifested on a daily basis, sometimes based on practical considerations. “We used to serve chocolate-covered almonds as petit fours, and one day we unexpectedly ran out of almonds,” the native Frenchman recalls. “I came across a box of corn flakes, and asked someone, ‘What’s this?’ I tasted it, and liked the texture. So I covered corn flakes with chocolate, and found that our guests loved it.”
A “Kellogg’s paella” consisted of puffed Rice Krispies, to which the waiter added an intense seafood reduction; on the side was a small, flash-fried shrimp, a piece of shrimp sashimi, and an ampule containing a thick brown extract of shrimp heads that you were instructed to squeeze into your mouth.
—ARTHUR LUBOW, New York Times,
on Ferran Adrià’s dish at elBulli
Jacques and Hasty Torres
Patrick O’Connell on Creativity: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
In the old days, a French chef like François Haeringer would say, “You are in my kitchen, and you will do it my way…”… “There is my way, and the highway…” …“There are seven doors in my restaurant, and you can go out any one of them…” …“Young man, if my restaurant burns down and you open a restaurant, and I have to come and work in your restaurant, I will do it your way. But right now you are in my kitchen and you will do it my way.”
We’ve gone a complete circle from how the French originally taught us to think about kitchen creativity. They were indoctrinated with the formula, the recipe, the rigid way to do everything. But they were also constricted in their creativity by the rules. So when bright Americans entered the field and began rethinking some of the rules, or looking at them through a different lens, with a different perspective, everything changed. Now, we sometimes miss that training that [the French] may have had, but many of them couldn’t free themselves from it.
As Charlie Trotter seemed to extract [from his experiences in France], the universal idea was excellence—and that, in a word, is the theme. I think American chefs proved that excellence doesn’t have to be rigid. And then what we began to discover is that guests were feeling the energy coming from the newness and the freshness of the creative spirit. And so you’d sometimes go to a restaurant and be exhilarated by the imagination and the energy, and that became as powerful as a perfectly concocted coq au vin. Now, we’ve gone so far to the other extreme that now instead of “more imagination,” we crave the soulful, perfectly made French classic specialty that nobody bothers with anymore. It’s a pendulum swing.
Later, when Torres was running his own retail stores, a woman came in with a crying toddler. “I saw her give something to the child that made the cries stop immediately,” Torres remembers. “I was so impressed that I asked her what it was, and she told me: Cheerios.” This is how Torres came to cover Cheerios with chocolate. “When I saw how much people loved it, I knew we had our next new product.” Chocolate-covered Cheerios have been on offer ever since.
Since that time, pastry chef Christina Tosi, who was named the James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star in 2012 and Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2015, put herself on the map in part through celebrating her own—not to mention the influential millennial generation’s—love of breakfast cereals. She’s offered “cereal milk” as a flavor for panna cotta, ice cream, and ice cream pie at Momofuku in New York City, made from a base of toasted cereal that’s been steeped in milk.
From asparagus ice cream to cereal milk ice cream, creativity in the kitchen keeps unfolding in new and unexpected ways—fueled by individual chefs’ understanding of history and drive to re-create and re-interpret it, which is explored further in Stage 2.
STAGE 2 ALCHEMY: converting the common into the precious
I learned to cook in order to get away from recipes.
Riverpark (New York City)
A recipe is not meant to be followed exactly—it is a canvas on which you can embroider.
Alchemy is the stage at which you begin to impose your own will on ingredients, dishes, even cuisines.
First, we’ll take a look at how chefs today are revisiting classic dishes. Then, we’ll explore the subject of flavor—including flavor chords, flavor platforms, and enhancing and adding flavor—in greater depth, which is the secret to defeating an overreliance on recipes and being able to cook more improvisationally in the kitchen.
After mastering cooking knowledge and skills, you’ll know how that expertise can be applied to converting any ingredient or dish into a newer, better version
Alchemy is also the stage during which you develop your own style. Not every answer to every cooking question can be found in the pages of a book, so it’s up to chefs to improvise.
When Aaron Bludorn was named the chef at Café Boulud in New York, he realized he was stepping into some very big shoes. “Like [previous chefs] Daniel Boulud, Andrew Carmellini, Bertrand Chemel, and Gavin Kaysen, I want to be able to leave my own mark on the restaurant, the way that each of these chefs did,” he says. “Yet we’re all doing the same thing: interpreting and reinterpreting the idea of classic peasant dishes, elevated to a fine dining level.”
No two carrots taste the same. So you really can’t follow a recipe, because there’s no way to predict the amount of salt or acid you’re going to need. You’ve got to taste your ingredients, and taste throughout the cooking process so that you can create a consistent end product even though your ingredients taste different every time.
—JESSICA LARGEY, Simone (Los Angeles)
Bludorn inherited a restaurant menu with “four muses”: tradition (classic French cuisine), potager (the vegetable garden), saison (seasonal delicacies), and voyage (flavors of world cuisines). “I’m able to play around within the boundaries of the muses—and there are literally endless possibilities,” he says. “With the voyage menu, we can go anywhere in the world without leaving the kitchen—just by cooking. We have a new general manager, Cherif Mbodji, who’s from Senegal and who helped to inspire me to take on a Senegalese menu,” a daring challenge for an elegant French restaurant.
After grounding himself in the cuisine’s primary flavors—“We ate in Little Senegal on 116th Street between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevards to taste some classic Senegalese dishes”—Bludorn then trusted his own sense of what would work best with the restaurant’s style and clientele. The effort was so successful it spurred a menu kick-off dinner with Pierre Thiam (author of Senegal, and the first English-language book on Senegalese cooking, Yolele!), who cooked with the team.
Crosstown from Café Boulud, at Boulud Sud, colleague Travis Swikard faces similar challenges. “There are two sides to creativity: sort of an emotional creativity that is inspired by what’s going on around you, and a next-level creativity that is rooted in a mastery of techniques—which allow you to properly respect an ingredient and get out of its way—plus palate, flavor pairings, and the season,” says Swikard. “My creativity is focused on telling a story with our food. My goal in this [Mediterranean-inspired] restaurant is that a Moroccan grandmother in our dining room, who might not recognize a dish influenced by Moroccan flavors, will still feel the soul in our food. I don’t act on every single opinion of those who come into our restaurant, but I will listen with my ears wide open to that Moroccan grandmother. We are sincere in learning about the cooking that’s being done in the Mediterranean and paying homage to tradition, while adding our own interpretation.”
A recipe is like when you buy an Ikea closet with maddening instructions. You need to bring common sense to it. Cooking is about being aware, tasting constantly. We have recipes because we need to give the kitchen staff guidelines, we need to give direction, but ultimately, it is the chef cooking that makes the magic.
—RENÉ REDZEPI, Noma (Copenhagen)
Amanda Cohen of Dirty Candy on Vegetable-Based Dishes, Drinks, and Desserts
I want to be in the box—and then outside the box. It helps me be creative. By being in the box, I mean choosing an ingredient, and focusing on how to bring out its flavors. That’s something as chefs we have to do. But then I’m interested in the question, “What can I do?” Being outside the box is asking myself, “How can I push it in different directions?” I’ll play with different textures and shapes—why shouldn’t peppers look like Froot Loops? Breaking the rules is the fun part of what we do. When we’re in the box creating our Corn Boil, we stew and pickle corn to make it as delicious as we can possibly make it, serving corn smoked and grilled and as tempura. Then we go outside the box, giving everyone lobster bibs when we serve it, and give them fava beans to crack open like crawfish.
At our [meatless] restaurant, we don’t have the inherent umami of meat. So I’m always adding fermented black bean paste to dishes for umami. In our stocks, I’ll use sun-dried tomatoes for umami. Or olives. I’ll also use a lot of sea weeds, like dulse and kombu, and dashi stocks to add umami.
The X Factor
Veggie burgers are getting a lot of attention. There’s a new wave vegetable revolution, and now vegetable-driven food is being seen as worthwhile. While lots of veggie burgers are the same in terms of mimicking the texture of meat, our [Carrot Sliders on Carrot Buns] uses a vegetable you sink your teeth into with our play on Big Mac sauce—which together prove you can have the flavor of a burger without the texture. A veggie hot dog won’t have the same texture as a hot dog, but can it have everything else? The popularity of our Broccoli Dog seems to suggest the answer is yes.
Quiet vs. Loud Flavors
Most guests today don’t have an attention span beyond 25 bites. So you have to go BIG to get people’s attention, which results in the trend toward big, heavy flavors. Subtle dishes like my signature Portobello Mousse pale in comparison. If guests have a bolder dish first, we’ll change out their plates and silverware for that course.
The Flavors in the Glass
We’re in the process of switching all our cocktails to vegetable-based cocktails. I love our Smoked Tomato Margarita made with tomato water that is smoked, which is rimmed with tomato powder and salt. Our Zucchini Tini tastes just like zucchini, made from juice with either gin or vodka and a tiny bit of sweet vermouth.
Ending on a Sweet Note
Serving vegetable-driven desserts vs. entrées is harder, because you don’t want to overwhelm with the flavor of the vegetable. Carrots, corn, and onions are easy, because they’re sweet. But we had to add chocolate to our Onion Chocolate Tart with Smoked Almond Ice Cream to get guests to order it. Celery is not so easy—no one likes celery, and lots of guests hate celery and its bitterness. But once they try our Celery Cheesecake Roll with Celeriac Ice Cream, many are surprised by how much they like it. Eggplant doesn’t really taste like anything—it’s very subtle. But we found that juiced eggplant tastes like banana, and blueberry and eggplant tastes like a banana smoothie.
PASTRY CHEF GHAYA OLIVEIRA OF DANIEL REINTERPRETS CLASSIC DESSERTS
In the 1600s, kugelhopf, a sponge cake studded with raisins and baked in a fluted pan, is said to originate in Lemberg, Poland.
In the 1700s, the king of Poland, Stanislas Leszczyñski, finds his kugelhopf dry, providing the inspiration to pour rum over it. The king loves it so much he names it after the hero of the popular tale 1001 Nights: Ali Baba. It becomes known as baba au rhum. (Baba is the French word for babka.) Polish pastry chef Nicolas Stohrer introduces it to France when he accompanies the king’s daughter Marie to Versailles as her pâtissier (following her marriage to King Louis XV), and later through his own pâtisserie in Paris.
In the 1800s, a French pastry chef leaves the raisins out of baba au rhum and is so proud of the results he names his version after his own hero: Brillat-Savarin—or savarin, as the dessert is more commonly known.
So, savarin wouldn’t exist without baba au rhum—which itself wouldn’t exist without kugelhopf. Each owes a debt of gratitude to the creations that preceded them.
Ghaya Oliveira, executive pastry chef of New York City’s Daniel, continues the tradition. Each month, she takes on another classic dessert and reinterprets it through a contemporary, cosmopolitan lens. In her hands, baba au rhum becomes a cubic baba with Jamaican rum, exotic fruit, and coconut Chantilly.
Her starting point might be a French classic like tarte Tatin, or Escoffier’s own peach Melba (Chantilly cream + peaches + raspberries), or even a classic dessert from elsewhere—whether Italian tiramisu or American key lime pie. “But there’s always a big twist,” she explains.
Oliveira begins her process by researching each dish’s history, going deep inside the story of the dessert. “I learned that tiramisu was originally based on ladyfingers + mascarpone—and that the coffee flavor only came later,” she said. “That freed me to leave coffee out of my version,” a fruity interpretation that was instead flavored with apricots + fresh almonds + lemon verbena powder.
A favorite project was coming up with her spin on Black Forest cake—which, in the end, didn’t even turn out to be a cake: “I created a chocolate tube that was filled with the traditional flavors: cherry + chocolate + cream.”
Something that proved to be a challenge was cherry clafoutis, which is typically a homier, more rustic-style dessert that doesn’t immediately suggest haute cuisine. Oliveira got around it by creating a custard flavored with kirsch (cherry brandy), served with bing cherries and a lemon-vanilla Chantilly. “I can really do anything here, as long as it’s exceptionally elegant, with exceptional technique,” she says. “Of course, it’s best if it is done in more of a French style—and I like it best when it is also a reflection of me.”
Here are her takes on other classic desserts:
Mont-Blanc (Italian, c. late 15th century /French, c. 1620) chestnut paste vermicelli + meringue + whipped cream
Oliveira’s interpretation: A coconut meringue covering a tiered slice of dacquoise, mandarin gelée, and chestnut-cognac vermicelli
Lemon Meringue Pie (American / Philadelphia / Elizabeth Coane Goodfellow / c. late 17th century) lemon curd + meringue + pie crust
Oliveira’s interpretation: Tahitian vanilla sablé, light lemon cream, Italian meringue
Key Lime Pie (American / Key West, FL / late 1800s: William Curry’s cook, known as Aunt Sally, who used the sweetened condensed milk Curry brought to the islands, where fresh milk and cream were not available.) Key limes + sweetened condensed milk
Oliveira’s interpretation: Light key lime cream, graham cracker sablé, Italian meringue
Paris-Brest (French / Maison Laffitte / Louis Durand / c. 1910, in commemoration of the Paris-Brest bicycle race) choux pastry + cream + pralines
Oliveira’s interpretation: Crispy choux pastry with gianduja mousse and hazelnut praline coulant