The Toqueland Ten: David Burke (David Burke Group)

The Restlessly Inventive Chef Tells Us His Ten Favorite Ingredients and Why He Chose Them

David Burke (photo by Anthony Garito, courtesy David Burke Group)

The always entertaining David Burke rose to prominence at New York City’s River Cafe before moving on to Park Avenue Cafe, and then to the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group. These days, he’s at the helm of David Burke Group (visit their site, for a limited time they’re giving away snacks to Facebook fans, as well as a chance to sit down with Le Burke himself).

Via his namesake corporate entity, Burke lords over restaurants in New York City, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Chicago.  He’s also the restlessly inventive mind behind Flavor-Transfer Spice Sheets and Flavorsprays, to name just two of his unconventional concoctions. Given that buildup, the ingredients he chose below might seem anticlimactic, but his explanations are vintage Burke. We always enjoy catching up with David: he provided a hilarious story for Don’t Try This at Home, and can free-associate with the best of them. Accordingly, we didn’t ask too many questions during this interview; instead, we just let him go.

This is turning into quite a collection of Toqueland Tens–previous installments feature Harold Dieterle, Emily Luchetti, Michelle Bernstein, and Sean Baker. And, now, ten from David Burke:

1. BUTTER. “It’s delicious, it’s natural, it’s versatile. I was trained in France and butter was a key ingredient in sauces, pastries, mousses. I don’t use it as much as I used to because we don’t make as many sauces that are that enriched, but butter on bread, or butter on a good piece of toast is heaven.”

2. EGGS. “Eggs are the thing that, if I had to take one thing to an island, that’s what I would take. The versatility, the comfort of an egg. Egg is my go to. I know it’s not junk food, but it’s my guilty pleasure. When I’m not feeling good, I get the urge for eggs. I liked poached eggs, but I like them all ways: I like them whipped, like a whipped scramble. I could do an omelet. I like over easy, Jersey-diner style. At home I just microwave them: I throw them in a coffee cup, scramble them up, throw a pat of butter in, I microwave them and eat them right out of the cup. It’s a quick method for me; there’s no clean up. I have coffee and a coffee cup of eggs.”

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The Toqueland Ten: Michelle Bernstein (Michy’s and Sra. Martinez, Miami, Florida)

One of the Southeast’s Most Accomplished Chefs Shares Her 10 Favorite Ingredients and Why She Chose Them

Michelle Bernstein of Michy’s and Sra. Martinez (photo by Michael Pisarri, courtesy Michelle Bernstein)

At her Miami restaurants Michy’s and Sra. Martinez, Michelle Bernstein seamlessly combines a world of influences—French, Italian, Cuban, South American, and modern American—into a cohesive personal style. (Full disclosure: I coauthored Michelle’s book Cuisine a Latina, and she’s a friend.)

Because Bernstein is so skilled at explaining exactly what appeals to her about ingredients, as both a chef and an eater, we couldn’t think of a better toque to ask to submit to our next Toqueland Ten. (Our first three featured Harold Dieterle, Emily Luchetti, and Sean Baker.)

Herewith, Michelle’s revealing picks:

1. FENNEL. “My mother would shave fennel on salads when I was growing up,” says Bernstein, whose mom was a key culinary influence. “Later, I learned to beautifully braise and caramelize it in restaurants.” For this chef, there’s nothing with more applications: “I think it goes in, on, or under anything. It’s super versatile and my safe go to: Sometimes I can’t come up with a dish, but I have a beautiful piece of fish, or whatever, and I’m just kind of stuck. At those times, my safety is fennel.”  Her customers don’t always recognize the vegetable:  “When I hard braise it with a tiny pinch of sugar to help the caramelization process and then add wine and chicken stock, then bring it down and finish it with a little bit of butter so it’s super-glazy, salty, and sweet, and it has that good balance, that’s when people say, ‘What is that delicious vegetable that I’m going crazy over?’”

2. (REALLY GOOD) SPANISH EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL. “I love Arbequina olives and I love using that really good Spanish extra virgin olive oil as a finish to a plate, giving whatever it is you’re finishing that little bit of spiciness, that good mouthfeel, that glaze.” Where most chefs don’t actually cook with the top-shelf oil, Bernstein makes exceptions: “I do spend a lot on my Spanish extra virgin oil, and [generally speaking]  it’s too costly to use it to sauté. But if I’m going to make a great piece of chicken or piece of fish, I’m going to sauté it in that stuff.”

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The Toqueland Ten: Sean Baker (Gather, Berkeley, California)

One of the West Coast’s Rising Stars Tells Us His Ten Favorite Ingredients and Why He Chose Them

Sean Baker, pondering the plate, at Gather. (photo courtesy Carmen Troesser)

Sean Baker, executive chef of Gather restaurant in Berkeley, California, has caught a lot of people’s attention in recent years, most notably when Esquire magazine named him Chef of the Year in 2010. At Gather, omnivore, vegan, and gluten-free items peacefully coexist on the menu, in dishes that Baker dreams up largely based on treasures presented to him by area farms.  Toqueland caught up with Baker in Northern California recently, and asked this thoughtful young talent to become the third chef to share a Toqueland Ten. (Our first two came from Harold Dieterle and Emily Luchetti.)

1. SEAWEED. “I cook vegan food and I can use a lot of different seaweeds. There’s so many different varietals and so many things I can do with them. It’s just a real versatile ingredient.” Some ways Baker deploys seaweed include a vegan tonnato sauce, and a smoked seaweed-fried oyster puree, which brings us to Item No. 2 . ..

2. OYSTERS. “Just because I enjoy eating them so much, with lemon or maybe some shallot. They have a lot of possibilities: They’re a great emulsifier, and I like to use them with meat dishes that need the briny acidity that some oysters possess.” By way of example, Baker offers up the (perhaps Portuguese inspired) pairings of oysters with sausage or pork belly…. 

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The Toqueland Ten: Emily Luchetti (Farallon and Waterbar, San Francisco)

One of the nation’s most influential pastry chefs names her ten favorite ingredients, and why.

Emily Luchetti rose to prominence as the executive pastry chef of San Francisco’s late, great Stars restaurant and now oversees the dessert programs at Farallon and Waterbar. She’s also the author of six cookbooks, most recently The Fearless Baker.

Toqueland has a confession to make: We don’t know as much about the sweet science of pastry as we do about what goes on over on the hot line. With that in mind, we picked Luchetti’s brain at length recently. (She also laid a copy of The Fearless Baker on us and we highly recommend it for its supportive tone and powers of demystification.)  A longer interview will follow before too long, but for the time being, here’s a little snack to hold you over, our sophomore edition of Toqueland Ten:

Emily Luchetti (photo by Gene Kosoy; courtesy Waterbar)

1. Caramel. “Caramel. Caramel sauce. Caramel anything. (You have to make caramel, but once you make it, I consider it an ingredient.) It’s a flavor that goes with every other pastry ingredient, whether it’s chocolate, whether it’s nuts, whether it’s citrus. It can be a subtle flavor or can be really strong, dominant, driving flavor.” You don’t have to change the recipe for to achieve the different effects, says Luchetti: “It’s how you deploy it.”

2. Bittersweet chocolate. “If I had to pick one, I’d pick something around 64 percent [cocoa], because that’s really generic and you can use it in just about anything.”… 

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The Toqueland Ten: Harold Dieterle

In the First Post of a New Recurring Feature, the Chef of Perilla and Kin Shop Shares his Favorite Ingredients, and Why They Make the Cut… 

Harold Dieterle (photo courtesy Perilla)

Harold Dieterle and I are in the early, kicking-it-around-in-coffee-shops stage of conceiving a book project that we hope to write together in the near future.  (Read a little about our backstory here). Originally, Harold wanted to do a book about Thai food, but we recently decided to write a more general cookbook putting forth the style of food he serves up at Perilla, which draws on American, Thai, Italian, and other influences… in other words, his own personal brand of that thing we desperately need a new name for: contemporary American cuisine.

The challenge at this stage of the process is coming up with what I refer to as the “bridge” between what home cooks do and what chefs do. One exercise I use to help get to the core of what a chef is all about on the plate is to ask him or her to name ten favorite ingredients and explain the choices. (Writing this post, it occurred to me that this is a revealing thing to do with any chef, so I’ll be sharing more Toqueland Ten interviews soon, and indefinitely.)

Herewith, the inaugural list, from Harold Dieterle:

1. SALT. Hadn’t heard this one before, and at Number 1, no less. Of course, salt might be the most important ingredient, but a favorite? Not only does Harold appreciate salt (“It’s what it all starts with,” he said.), but he enjoys using different salts for different purposes: Kosher salt on meat; fine sea salt on roasted fish; coarse sea salt on raw fish, and so on. He also has a special fondness for the ceremony of presenting whole roasted fish in a salt crust to a table of guests, and the cracking and portioning that follows.

2. CRAB. “When I was a kid on Long Island, we used to go crabbing,” says Harold. “On vacation, my parents would pick out restaurants based on which ones had crab on the menu. They always made me order from the kids’ menu in our hometown, but on vacation, they insisted I treat myself to the adult crab dishes. There’s just not another protein that makes me so happy.”  His favorite varieties, in order of preference: (i) King, (ii) Dungeness, (iii) A tie: Blue and Snow, (iv) Stone, and (v) Peekytoe…. 

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