Part of the fun of the annual StarChefs International Chef Conference (www.starchefs.com/cook/icc) is centered on the food carts and this year’s series of dishes had attendees chewing, sampling, snapping and posting so those who were not there could still get a “taste.”
Day One: Scrap Happy
Day One’s food carts featured chefs turning by-products into must-try dishes and drinks.
Among some of the items served: Fried chicken strips, candied jalapeño, crunchy slaw and a buttery bun served with a candied jalapeño margarita by Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp of the fast-casual eatery Honey Butter Fried Chicken in Chicago, IL. The two say they serve meals people crave and enjoy while remaining thoughtful in preparation and locally sourced. “Reducing waste has been an important goal for us,” says Cikowski. “We are committed to using every bit of the ingredients we receive and using them creatively in our cooking. Also, fried chicken nachos are pretty trendy!”
Another comfort food that wowed: fried bologna waffle with sharp cheddar and jalapeño served by John Vermiglio of Grey Ghost in Detroit, MI. Vermiglio said this was a dish he woke up one morning and craved. It’s now become a popular staple on his menu.
Fried anchovy anyone? Joe Cicala of Le Virtù in Philadelphia, PA offered the Mediterranean fish with sardine bones and garlic peel aioli. Among the food scraps he loves to use: potato peels, cresto di gallo, braised meat in whey, toasted squash seeds, mushroom stem broth, and organ meats.
Hari Cameron of Rehoboth Beach's innovative a(MUSE.) served up a Maine Casco Bay Scallop, Textures of Scoby, Mid-Atlantic Scallop Abductor Katsuobushi and a Seaweed Kombucha Bouillon “Vinegar” Kombucha Pie with Boiled Apple Cider. Being that his restaurant is located in a beach town, Cameron says he’s very cognizant of the sea, the fishermen he’s built relationships with and what’s available seasonally. Among his favorite ingredients: white soy, koji spores and triggerfish. When it comes to scraping, however, he’s all about vegetable trim. “There’s so much flavor in the peel, stem, root, core, seed—the offal of the plant world.”
Apples, sweet potatoes and pumpkins—it’s autumn, after all—are what’s driving Edward Martinez at Lazy Bear in San Francisco, CA at the moment. He served roasted sweet potatoes with chicory and coffee grounds and says he likes to use obscure ingredients people don’t normally use in certain applications—and add them to desserts (think bitters, pumpkin miso and sweet potatoes).
Apples are an easy food scrap and one he relies on; others cited include cooked rise for bisque, corn husks and cobs, veggies into soups, fennel tops, carrot tops, and cheese rinds.
Day Two: Mainstream Milling
The milling movement is quickly following on the coattails of the local sourcing movement, a trend which proved strong this year. With chefs and farmers working more closely together to improve the quality of both crop and meal, the conversation has shifted to grains. With fresh-milled grains at their fingertips, chefs are creating everything from fresh breads for the table to mainstay entrées to delicious desserts.
“We only serve dishes using fresh-milled grains at the restaurant,” says Jake Novick-Finder of Gristmill in Brooklyn, NY, who served his signature Garlic Knots two ways—with Cacio e Pepe or Everything Butter. “We use small flour farms to mill to order for us. We also don’t use any instant yeast. We specifically use wheat flour for the garlic knots. Everything is locally sourced, including the garlic, which is from my mom’s garden.”
John Little of Denver, CO, served a dish that stemmed from a different farm-linked movement—craft beer. His Stout Gnocchi with housemade short rib kielbasa, brussels sprout leaves, charred turnips and dill crème fraîche was created for his love for home brewing. “One day, when I was milling grains for beer production, I started thinking about grains differently. I thought I could use them for different cooking applications.”
Grains were also showcased in sweeter dishes like Melissa Denmark’s (Gracie’s in Providence, RI) Buckwheat Cruller with goat milk custard, blackberry compote, and honey-miso butterscotch. “Buckwheat is my favorite of the alternative wheat flours. It has this really wonderful floral aroma and a sweet, nutty flavor.”
Day Three: Alternative Proteins
Cricket flour reigned supreme on Day Three where the Food Cart theme was alternative proteins. Here, vegetables, grains and beans were touted as “clean eating” with chefs including these options to attract those looking for healthier protein powerhouses. Among the choices: A wood-fired sourdough pita and lentil tacu tacu taco: Poha-Lentil-Urad Dhal, served with a coconut patty, sumac yogurt, coriander, pumpkin and sunflower seeds from Jason Bond of Bondir in Cambridge, MA.
A vegan merguez sausage with butternut squash rillettes, micro red sorrel, crumbled “feta” and crispy papadam was, admitted Chef David Kuzma of Yale Hospitality in Newhaven, CT, the 12th version of a dish his kitchen had tested over (and over) before getting it right. The plant-based protein program at Yale has earned an “A” grade by PETA2 for its vegan-friendly approach, but that doesn’t meant it doesn’t take a lot of experimentation. Inspiration, says Kuzma, often comes from the students, many of whom prefer vegetarian and vegan dishes.
And, at Benjamin Lambert’s cart, of 701 Restaurant in Washington, D.C., the dish of the day was cauliflower shawarma with miso sesame hummus and lavash. Lambert says cauliflower has increased in popularity, even over Brussels sprouts. He’s also a huge fan of Jerusalem artichokes.
Hazelnuts rank among the favorite ingredients of Joe Ritchie of the Four Seasons Hotel in Seattle. Their flavor, he said, can complement anything from appetizer to entrée to dessert. Black cod and farro are two other ingredients he relies on—his ICC pop-up included black cod with chanterelles, chorizo bacon, apple cider sauce and apple crisps. He also served braised and fried duck leg with hazelnuts, tart cherry sauce and smoked celery root puree.
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