Across America, chefs are using Nutella, the hazelnut spread created in 1944 in Italy, as the foundation for creative dishes that go beyond breakfast to include savory entrées and gourmet desserts.
Chef Lucero Martinez of Pampano Restaurant in New York City grew up in Mexico City. Her family makes 10 different moles back home. Folding Nutella into a house-made trio-pepper mole with pan-seared duck breast—Pato Con Mole, $29—was a no-brainer. She introduced the dish to Pampano’s menu last fall. “Your typical mole dish in Mexico will be chicken with mole and rice. Instead of chicken, I serve the duck. Instead of rice, I serve farro,” Chef Martinez says.
Similarly, Nutella has been in the diet of many Italian-American chefs since their childhood. “It’s the Italian peanut butter,” says Rosario Procino, a founder of Ribalta Pizza in New York City’s Greenwich Village. His popular Nutella Pizza ($10) was introduced in 2012. Pizza dough is baked at a high temperature, stuffed with Nutella, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. “It becomes like a pizza sandwich,” he says.
Pino Luongo, a chef at Morso Restaurant on New York City’s Upper East Side, also grew up with Nutella—sometimes eating it twice daily. “Nutella today (in America) is what Nutella was in the ‘60s in Italy,” Chef Luongo says. Spread on bread, Nutella was a breakfast staple, and his mother would also fill homemade doughnuts with the hazelnut/chocolate delight. But for his American audience, the chef wanted something distinctive. The Foccacia con Nutella ($12), introduced a year ago, is topped with ricotta, poached pears, warmed Nutella, and raspberries.
Italy also provided the inspiration for executive chef Chris D’Amico’s Calzone Di Nutella ($15) at Gemma inside The Bowery Hotel in New York City’s Lower East Side. “It’s a dish I had in Italy,” he says, about the flaky calzone dusted with powdered sugar and stuffed with Nutella and ricotta.
Marketing the dish in New York City has been easy. “What happens is one table will order it and then other people see it and order it, too,” he says.
Nutella is also becoming a key ingredient for pastry chefs. Among the most popular dishes at Del Frisco’s Grille, which has 18 locations across the U.S., is Nutella Bread Pudding ($8). “I wanted to twist it up a bit,” explains Thomas Dritsas, corporate executive chef for Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group. “I grew up in the Bronx and Little Italy (in New York City). Back before it was even well-known, I used to eat Nutella as a kid,” Chef Dritsas says. Bread is soaked overnight with Nutella, eggs, and milk in a muffin mold. “It looks kind of like a cupcake when it comes out, and we top it with coffee ice cream to give it some earthiness,” he says.
When Scott Green, executive pastry chef at Travelle in Chicago, opened the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant in 2013, he knew he had to serve baklava. “I don’t like baklava in the traditional sense; it’s too sweet and too rich,” he says. Instead of nut filling, Chef Green uses Nutella and roasted nuts in Travelle’s Nutella Baklava ($9). Honey syrup is reduced to tone down the sweetness, and each piece of baklava is studded with balsamic seeds and paired with a reduction of orange.
“You can tell it’s Nutella, but it’s not like you’re slathering Nutella in there and calling it a new thing,” Chef Green explains.