WE talked to celebrity chefs around the country to find out what single ingredient they rely on to ensure their dish goes from simple to spectacular. While their choices range from butter to Gochujang, they all had one thing in common: the promise that these ingredients can make your dishes sing, too.
“Passion fruit! You can use it to make a cocktail, a ceviche, a sauce for fish, or a sorbet. It has acidity, unique aroma and flavor." –Chef Jose Andres runs ten restaurants around the U.S., including Zaytinya (Washington DC), The Bazaar By Jose Andres (LA) and China Poblano (Vegas).
“Hands down, my favorite ingredient is lemon. I love a good pucker for dessert, and the brightness it gives savory dishes.” –Top Chef’s Carla Hall is getting ready to launch her own line of sweet and savory cookies and is currently appearing in the “Top Chef All Stars” competition on Bravo.
“My cooking takes me all over the world and today I am in San Jose del Cabo. My favorite ingredients reflect the location I’m currently at: Today is Tequila, Mexican limes, cilantro and chilies. Cook locally, think locally.” –Chef Art Smith is Oprah Winfrey’s former personal chef. He runs Art & Soul in Washington DC and Table Fifty Two in Chicago.
“My favorite ingredient is black truffle. I love the flavor. It always brings earthiness and complexity to a dish, and it really is a magical ingredient. Since it’s wild, no two ever taste exactly the same. Dishes with truffles make for a great wine pairing too.” –Superstar Chef Eric Ripert is the host of the TV show “Avec Eric” and Chef and Co-owner of Le Bernardin.
“I love cooking with cinnamon. We grew up with just a touch of cinnamon in almost every dish! It’s a key component in our Garam Masala, and I can’t tell you how good a cinnamon stick smells as it sautés alongside some sliced red onions. I even use it in a rub for my fish tacos. This spice has a whole life outside of my morning oatmeal and chai!” –Aarti Sequeria won “The Next Food Network Star” and now hosts her own show on Food Network called “Aarti Party.”
“Even after all these years, my favorite ingredient to work with in the kitchen has to be butter, and particularly Kerrygold for its rich, creamy flavor and clean palate. Butter is an amazing, versatile ingredient to work with from the simple beauty of beurre monte, to its function in puff pastry and to what it does in cakes. The effect that just a small fingertip-full can have on a sauce—the sheen that it offers and the texture—it is just a beautiful marvel of nature.” –Chef Cathal Armstrong owns some of Virginia’s best restaurants, including Restaurant Eve. He was the Best Mid-Atlantic Chef nominee by the James Beard Foundation in 2009.
“Choosing only one favorite ingredient is next to impossible for a chef. However, I have been using a Korean Chili Paste called Gochujang a lot lately. Gochujang is a spicy, salty, earthy, fermented soy bean and chili paste. It has a great depth of flavor combined with subtle chili heat.” –Chef Scott Drewno, Regional Executive Chef at The Source By Wolfgang Puck, has won several awards.
“One of my favorite ingredients to cook with is verjus. It’s a fermented grape juice somewhere in between wine and vinegar. I love the acidity it brings to a dish while still allowing the natural flavor of the grape to come through. It’s extremely versatile and I use it on everything, from pickling vegetables, to braising meats, to making vinaigrettes and finishing sauces.” –Chef Michael Psilakis, Executive Chef/Owner at FishTag, has taken his Greek cuisine to dizzying fame at his NYC restaurants. He has also cooked Greek dishes for the Obamas at the White House.
“Whether I’m cooking on the road, at my restaurant, or at home, I always come back to two basic ingredients: Rice wine vinegar and stone-ground mustard seem to always give me the base components for a great marinade, vinaigrette or pan sauce. With the acid, natural spice and blended texture of these two ingredients, the combination pairs well with a range of wines from a Chardonnay, White Burgundy to Pinot Noir or Sangiovese.” –Chef Robert Irvine is the host Food Network’s “Worst Cooks in America” and “Restaurant: Impossible.”