Top Chefs' Tips to Spice Up The Kitchen

Ingredients to turn your hum-drum cooking into haute cuisine.

Ingredients to turn your hum-drum cooking into haute cuisine.

Has the distance between your old standby recipes and fine dining widened into a chasm? Take some chances during the holidays and follow the lead of top chefs into new territory by sampling these exotic new ingredients—and using old ones in new ways.


  • Start by adding a little color. Clear cupboard space for pretty pink Hawaiian salt and smoky Indian black salt, along with grayish French fleur de sel. Use them as pastry chefs do, on top of dessert. Sprinkled on a warm chocolate soufflé—or even a brownie—a few grains of salt add a crunchy taste explosion.

  • Columbus sailed west to find exotic spices, but maybe he should have gone south, to Africa. Discover what he missed. Tunisian harissa—a fiery paste of ground hot peppers, olive oil, garlic and spices—can take chili's place in tomato sauces and barbecues.

  • Or substitute tiny Grains of Paradise from West Africa for black pepper. It has a hint of sandalwood and a hot kick. In mulled wine it'll warm up a crowd. (Make it a South African Pinotage to stay in theme.)

  • To cool things down, dust off your ice cream machine, but put the sugar away. Baskin-Robbins hasn't joined the trend to iced savory treats, so it's do-it-yourself time—and anything goes. Imagine Roquefort ice cream on a baked potato, or seared tuna garnished with wasabi-cucumber sorbet.

  • For salads, go for subtlety, with oils pressed from avocados, pistachios, macadamia nuts or pine nuts. In place of vinegar, use verjus, unfermented sour grape juice. This ancient Roman ingredient is enjoying a revival. Its mild, mellow, slightly fruity flavor elevates fresh greens—and doesn't clash with wine.

  • Speaking of wine, be the first on your block to experiment with a brand-new product—flour made from grape skins. This purplish powder promises to redefine "cooking with wine," imparting a wine flavor and dark pumpernickel color to breads and sauces.

  • Finally, finish off a dinner party with drama. Crème brûlée is so last year. Instead, sprinkle sugar on pineapple rings, break out the kitchen blowtorch and turn your guests loose to "brûlée" the fruit themselves, then serve the caramelized slices topped with dolce de leche.

Don't be alarmed if the fire department shows up. They're coming to check out the hottest table in town.

Salts and spices:; Ice cream maker:; Nut oils, verjus:; Wine flour:; Kitchen blow torch:

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