At The Pearl in Columbus, Ohio, Executive Pastry Chef Summer Schott incorporates her childhood love for the Midwest’s maple candy in her maple pecan pie. Pure maple syrup replaces the usual corn syrup in her recipe, blended with butter, brown sugar, whole pecans, and a hint of vanilla. It’s all poured into a flaky, lightly browned crust and almost always served with ice cream. Schott gives her bakers a bit of creative license with accompaniments, letting them choose to accent the sweet maple flavor with salty bits of candied bacon or complement it with chocolate chunks.
Seungjoon Choi, executive chef at New York’s Hortus, uses black lime, the briny, sundried ingredient often found in Middle Eastern cooking, to add an extra layer of dimension to his coconut rice pudding. Sugar, sticky rice, and coconut milk are simmered together until soft and creamy. Fresh mango is then cooked down with sugar, white balsamic vinegar, and mango soda. Choi layers the pudding and mango glaze in a bowl, and then tops with drizzles of sweetened condensed milk and black lime shavings.
“People that rave about the texture of tenderloin would have their hair blown back by heart,” says Elise Wiggins, chef and owner of Cattivella in Denver. She loves incorporating the flavorful, tender muscle into a variety of dishes, including her Sicilian lamb heart stigghiola. Strips of heart are skewered and laid atop pork caul fat with scallion, parsley, and sage, then grill over indirect heat until the caul is golden brown on all sides but the lamb remains rare. Wiggins serves the skewers with fresh lemon wedges to finish.
The Calabrian chilies in ‘nduja, a spreadable salami from Italy, give it a tangy heat that executive chef and partner David Bancroft loves. At Acre, his restaurant in Auburn, Alabama, the kitchen ages the sausage for up to 18 months to give it even more character and depth, then they use it in a butter to serve over grilled oysters. Butter, garlic, Pecorino Romano, and lemon zest are puréed together, and the ‘nduja folded in. After chilling briefly, he adds a dollop to the oyster shells and roasts them on a charcoal grill. After letting the butter drip and flame a bit, the oysters are served with fresh lemon slices.
Tomatoes may seem like a staple, but Francis Gonzalez, corporate executive chef for growing Chicago-based chain The Hampton Social, loves how many shapes, colors, and flavors they come in, and how they adapt to any type of cuisine. “I like how they live a double life,” he says. “They’re a fruit but commonly mistaken for a vegetable.” Gonzalez roasts roma tomatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and raw sugar until they’re brown and the flavor is concentrated. He toasts and butters sourdough bread, which is then topped with avocado hummus, olive relish, and fresh burrata. Warm roasted tomatoes are placed on top and seasoned with salt and pepper, garnished with lemon zest and arugula, and finally drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.
Aji amarillo, a bright yellow Peruvian chili, is almost always featured on chef and owner John Manion’s Argentine-influenced steakhouse menu for Chicago’s El Che Bar. “It’s strange to me that aji amarillo is considered exotic here in the U.S. when it’s really one of the cornerstones of Andean cuisine,” Manion says. The warm, fruity flavor of the pepper makes it an ideal match for a wide range of dishes, like his roasted branzino. Fresh, whole branzino are seasoned and roasted on the chapa, which is a steel, flat-top open-fire grill fueled by oak. The fish is filleted and topped with roasted tomatoes confit, watercress, and salsa verde. Finally, aji amarillo is whisked with oil, vinegar, and spices to finish.