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Key Ingredient

Monday, June 25, 2018

Momotaro chef Mark Hellyar deconstructs the tuna hoagie

Posted By on 06.25.18 at 06:00 AM

"A lot of people hate canned tuna," says chef Mark Hellyar of Momotaro. "It gets a bad rap." He himself hated it growing up, he says, "because tuna casserole, that’s disgusting." He thinks that Jimmy Papadopolous, chef at Bellemore, was trying to trip him up by challenging him to create a dish with canned tuna. "Little does he know that I eat canned tuna a lot—had some yesterday."

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Jimmy Papadopoulos of Bellemore poaches fish in the world's most expensive edible oil

Posted By on 05.18.18 at 06:00 AM

Argan oil—which comes from the kernels of the Moroccan argan tree—is the most expensive edible oil in the world, but it’s more widely recognized as a hair and skin care product. Chef Jimmy Papadopoulos of Bellemore, challenged by C.J. Jacobson (Ema) to create a dish with the oil, says, “I didn’t even know it was edible.”

Tasting the argan oil didn’t impress him much. “It tastes like dried Sicilian cured olives. Imagine that meaty fruitiness you get, the salinity, but then this weird—it kind of reminds me of plastic and cardboard with undertones of olive oil,” he says. Papadopoulos compares the smell to Limburger and funky blue cheese and the flavor to petrol and burnt plastic. “Personally, I don’t really care for it,” he adds.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Dried scallops the key ingredient in chef C.J. Jacobson's 'Mediterranean XO sauce' [VIDEO]

Posted By on 04.16.18 at 06:00 AM


When Brent Balika (Margeaux Brasserie) challenged C.J. Jacobson of Ema to create a dish with dried scallops, Jacobson knew what he wanted to make. First, though, he had to get his hands on the scallops (also called conpoy). "It's been a journey," he says. "H-Mart didn't have them, so I had to go to Chinatown, and finally I called Brent." As it turns out, Balika dries his own scallops in-house and offered to drop some off for Jacobson. "Who just has dried scallops on hand that they do themselves?," Jacobson asks. "He does. I don't know why. I don't think it’s on the menu at Margeaux."

Jacobson says the flavor of the dried scallops is "superdank, musty umami . . . very caramelly seafood flavor. It’s really cool, adds a lot of flavor." Traditionally, dried scallops are used in XO sauce, a spicy seafood sauce popular in China that also includes dried shrimp, garlic, ginger, chiles, and spices. Because Ema is a Mediterranean restaurant, Jacobson added tomatoes and herbs to his sauce to give it a Mediterranean flair.


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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Duck a la Vegemite? Watch chef Brent Balika invent a new classic

Posted By on 03.21.18 at 02:44 PM


Vegemite, ubiquitous in Australia, its country of origin, is barely known elsewhere. Brent Balika (Margeaux Brasserie) was aware of the existence of the savory spread, which is made from leftover brewers' yeast extract and various flavorings, but had never tried it before Christopher Thompson of Coda di Volpe challenged him to cook with it. "It's straight umami, superintense," he says. "Like bouillon: super intense savory."

It's similar in flavor to the British spread Marmite, and was developed in Melbourne after World War I interrupted British imports, leaving Australia with a Marmite shortage. Kraft, which has owned Vegemite since the 1930s, has incorporated it into products like Vegemite CheesyBite (Vegemite with cream cheese) and the now-discontinued Vegemite Singles (the same but with Kraft Singles), while Cadbury once released a Vegemite chocolate bar. Mostly, though, Vegemite is eaten on toast with butter.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Watch chef Christopher Thompson create the most expensive pizza ever made with Chef Boyardee ravioli

Posted By on 02.20.18 at 05:41 PM


Chef Boyardee's line of prepared pasta is not a standard to which most chefs aspire. That includes Christopher Thompson of Coda di Volpe, who was challenged by Kevin McCormick (Beacon Tavern) to create a dish with Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli in Tomato & Meat Sauce. "It's kind of the antithesis of my philosophy on Italian cooking," Thompson says. That philosophy includes "buying amazing ingredients and processing them as minimally as possible, leaving them true to their natural form," he says. He doesn't even have fond childhood memories of Beefaroni or any of the other Chef Boyardee products: "Fortunately, my parents never cooked this for us."

Trying the ravioli as an adult did not leave Thompson impressed. "I think the sauce is way too sweet," he says. "I also find the texture of the pasta to be unpalatable." He solved the issue by disguising both the flavor and texture as much possible: his finished dish was a meatball pizza without a single mushy raviolo in sight.

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Watch a Beacon Tavern chef make eggplant cake for a sweet-savory dessert

Posted By on 01.29.18 at 10:00 AM

Botanically, the eggplant is a berry, but culinarily it resides firmly in vegetable territory. That makes it challenging to incorporate into a dessert, says Beacon Tavern pastry chef Kevin McCormick, who was tasked with just that by Kymberli DeLost (the Gage, Acanto, the Dawson). "It doesn't have a lot of flavor on its own, but you can manipulate it in a million different ways," McCormick says. "Every manipulation gives us a different quality of the eggplant itself."

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Watch pastry chef Kymberli DeLost create a Korean-Italian dessert using fermented bean paste

Posted By on 01.04.18 at 01:54 PM

Kymberli DeLost uses doenjang at home in ramen, sauces, and marinades, she says, but she's never experimented with the Korean fermented bean paste at the Gage, Acanto, or the Dawson, the three Billy Lawless restaurants where she runs the pastry programs. At least, she hadn't until David Park (Hanbun) challenged her to create a dish with doenjang. The bean paste is similar to miso (both are made from soybeans), DeLost says, but with more fermented flavor and less sweetness.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Watch Hanbun chef David Park turn a spicy, fermented condiment into dessert

Posted By on 11.22.17 at 07:15 PM

Yuzu kosho is a sour, spicy, fermented Japanese condiment made from yuzu zest and juice, salt, and chiles (usually green bird's eye or Thai chiles). It's commonly served with meat or fish—and David Park, chef at Hanbun in Westmont, has used it that way before. But when Joshua Marrelli of Bakersfield W00d-Fired Grill (also in Westmont) challenged him to create a dish with yuzu kosho, he wanted to push himself a little. The most challenging application, he thought, would be dessert.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Cooking with a hard-to-find Peruvian pepper

Posted By on 10.25.17 at 06:48 PM

Aji amarillo is a South American pepper that's essential to Peruvian cuisine; though the name translates to "yellow pepper," fully mature peppers are a deep orange. Joshua Marrelli, chef at Bakersfield Wood-Fired Grill in Westmont, who was challenged to create a dish with aji amarillo by Bill Walker of the Kennison, describes it as "not super spicy . . . more of a mild, fruity pepper." Compared to hotter peppers like the jalapeño or Fresno, he says, the flavors are more complex.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Food for thought: deep-fried pork brains

Posted By on 09.27.17 at 09:31 PM

Bill Walker, chef at the Kennison, has nothing against offal. He's even open to brains as long as they're fresh. But when Stephen Hasson of Ugo's challenged Walker to create a dish with Rose Pork Brain in Milk Gravy, Walker struggled with fact that the product comes in a can. For one thing, its smell and taste reminded him of another canned meat—namely, cat food. "[The brains are] just off-putting in a pink paste of milk gravy in a can," he says.

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