So, what do top chefs keep in their everyday ingredient arsenals? We asked one of our favorites, Chef Hari Pulapaka, Executive Chef & Co-owner at Cress Restaurant, 2015 Farm to Table Experience Chef’s Taste Challenge Winner, and featured speaker at this year’s Farm to Table Experience August 18-20 in New Orleans.
Here’s what Chef Hari had to say:
Certainly pantry ingredients like bacon, truffles, foie gras, Kobe beef, caviar, chocolate, etc. promise decadent and delightful dishes year round. But this exercise is about “must have” ingredients in an everyday pantry, in an everyday household. These “must have” ingredients are the building blocks of good flavor, and are affordable and accessible. You will notice that I do not include stocks or animal proteins because stocks can be made as needed and animal proteins leave out millions of individuals as potential guests at your dinner table. No one ever said, “I’m sorry. I can’t eat that vegetable dish.”
Must have (in no particular order)
1. Fresh Ginger: In my view, fresh ginger, more than even garlic, provides a flavor which allows one to travel to great and faraway places, gastronomically speaking. The well-documented health benefits are an added bonus.
2. Onions: In India, we have a saying. While preparing to make a savory meal, one starts by dicing some onions before thinking about what to make for dinner. The depth of flavor, ability to control the viscosity of a sauce, versatility of texture, and natural residual sugar and pungency make the onion perhaps the single most important vegetable in a cook’s pantry.
3. Kosher or Sea Salt: What is food without salt? The ability to taste other ingredients and develop deep flavor makes this an essential ingredient. Naturally, for guests with low/ no salt needs, fresh citrus, salt substitutes, and vinegars are good alternatives.
Great Supporting Cast (in no particular order)
4. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Starting with a good extra virgin olive oil allows ingredients (like onions and ginger) to do their thing.
5. Rice, Grains, or Pasta: Having these allows one to create complete and substantial meals or dishes.
6. Butter, Buttermilk, Heavy Cream, or Yogurt: Dairy, in general, has the ability to make sauces and dishes more decadent while also balancing flavors.
7. Fresh Citrus: Whether using the zest or the juice, brightness and acidity is very important as a taste bud exciter, to provide fragrance, and as a counterpoint to monotonicity.
8. Fresh Herbs: I love herbs. The ones you cook with: Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, etc. and ones you use to finish dishes with: Cilantro, Basil, Parsley, Chives, Tarragon, or Dill (The list is long). The use of fresh herbs is generally what differentiates predictable from elevated cooking.
9. (Hot) Peppers: In addition to their known health benefits, peppers, especially the pungent ones, titillate the taste buds and can provide excitement to a boring dish.
10. Assorted Spices: My first book was titled, Dreaming in Spice so that should tell you how I feel about spices. Using them requires knowledge because using them incorrectly can ruin a dish. But, in the hands of an expert, they provide magical complexity to dishes and sauces.
Don’t miss Chef Hari at this year’s Farm to Table Experience on August 18 at his cooking demonstration as he explores global flavors using Louisiana’s best locally sourced ingredients. You can also catch Chef Hari on August 19th as he explores food innovations and trends at his session on a traceability index for food.
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