These days we love our foods spicy, smoky and salty — with the confluence of flavors inspired from other cultures. In other words, “savory” rules as evidenced by both the chef presentations and the inventive dishes created by StarChefs Rising Stars during the three-day International Chefs Congress (ICC).

Hari Cameron of a(Mus) (Rehoboth, DE) was just one example with his Hayden Mills Purple Barley Gnocchi Sardi with Elysian Fields Lamb Neck Ragout; Nick Stefanelli of Masseria (Washington, DC) was another with Linguine Masseria with Spicy XO Sauce, olive oil and garlic while Nathanial Zimet of Bourree (New Orleans, LA) unabashedly paired Smoked Chipped Beef Toast with Mahón, and Marjorie Meek-Bradley of Ripple (Washington, DC) created a Walnut-Concord Grape Gazpacho.

One should never stop asking “why,” said Jose Andrés of Minibar by Jose Andrés (Washington, DC) as that is how progress is made and indeed, chefs at ICC managed to dig deeper into savory than ever before, using seasonal ingredients with enhancers like vinegars and spices to ramp up flavors and create dishes that proved powerful and refreshing.

Gavin Kaysen of Spoon and Stable (Minneapolis, MN) said for him, staying current is very simple: “Ask yourself, ‘is it delicious?’” he said.  “And taste your food.” Among the savory items on his fall menu: Bacon Wrapped Monkfish with lentils, carrot purée, Tuscan kale, and tarragon jus and Tamarind Glazed Pork Chop with delicata squash, peanuts, and endive.

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For Marjorie Meek-Bradley of Ripple (Washington, DC), different spice blends she makes herself like coriander, cumin, turmeric and star anise help change the tone of a dish. “It really depends on what I’m making,” she said. She is also inspired by unexpected combinations. Her current menu features such strange bedfellows such as bacon and pear in a stuffed bone marrow with chimichurri, and pear butter and a roasted and fried Amish chicken parried with pastrami and maple glazed Brussels sprouts.

Bill Kim of Belly Shack (Chicago, IL) knows all about savory choices. His beef hotdogs with egg noodles and pickled green papaya were a hit at ICC and he said he likes to use his Korean background and his wife’s Puerto Rican one to change people’s interpretation of, say a hot dog or hamburger. His restaurant goes by the motto, “Take a Joyride Through the Flavors of Our Youth” and features such combos as a Lemongrass Chicken Gyro with cucumbers, tomato, caramelized onions and yogurt sauce, a Pork Banh Mi with Daikon-Carrot Slaw, Hoisin BBQ Sauce & Cilantro and Quinoa Bibimbap with Black Bean Salsa, Marinated Tofu, Fennel-Asian Pear Kimchi, Fried Egg and Arugula.

But it’s not just about creating a marriage of unexpected flavor profiles to create winning combinations. Technique is also key. Michael Brewer of The Sammich (New Orleans, LA) said it’s how you put ingredients together in different combinations that makes things work. In his Sweet Potato Gnocchi, showcased at the Chefs Products Fair, he roasted a Louisiana sweet potato, then pureed white shrimp into it, and baked it again to boost the flavor. To Robert Legget of The Guerrilla Truck (Philadelphia, PA), infusing a tea flavor into his smoked Pork Pastrami—served with soy sauce, Sriracha and rice vinegar—only enhanced the flavor of the final dish.

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“When you think about creating a dish, you have to think from the kitchen all the way to the table,” said Brian Voltaggio of Volt (Frederick, MA) and Range (Washington, DC). “[When playing with technique] you have to understand classical cooking and make sure you don’t jeopardize the process. Dishes have to evolve as they go through concepts.”

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