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Two Chefs, Same Ingredients: Two Deliciously Different Dishes

How do the pros create a new dish? To find out, we gave two innovative chefs the same shopping list and asked them both to improvise

Fine Cooking Issue 35
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Maybe this happens to you. You’re wandering through the supermarket, farmers’ market, or produce store, eyeing the wares. The fennel looks great, there’s beautiful pork loin on sale, and heads of delicate, leafy Napa cabbage that just got unloaded are calling your name from across the aisle. You’ve got some potatoes at home already, and you’d love to use up some of those chives that are still going strong from this summer’s garden….

So how do you transform market inspiration into delicious dishes? We gave two of our favorite Fine Cooking authors the same market basket of ingredients and asked them to show us how they improvise. Here are the delicious—and completely different—dishes that Katy Sparks, the chef at Quilty’s in New York City, and Alan Tardi, the chef and owner of Follonico (also in New York City), came up with, along with the technique and reasoning they applied.

Rules of the game

Katy and Alan started with the same five market ingredients. They were allowed to drop one of those ingredients, to use unlimited ingredients from a basic pantry, and to choose up to three “wild-card” ingredients.

Market ingredients
Boneless pork loin, Napa cabbage, fennel, new potatoes, chives

Basic pantry items
Butter, vegetable oil, olive oil, cream, milk, eggs, flour, garlic, onions, pepper, salt, stock (beef, chicken, or vegetable), sugar, vinegar, water, white wine

Wild cards
Any condiment, flavoring, fruit, herb, meat, spice, starch, or vegetable

Katy Sparks calls on autumnal flavors

I love to cook seasonally, and I had fall flavors in mind while creating this dish. To start, I picked up on the pork’s earthy flavors by studding it with garlic. In autumn, I love the way the market smells like apples, and I love apples paired with pork (that’s probably because of my mother’s pork with applesauce). So I made an apple cider glaze and added ginger (using two wild cards) because ginger’s spicy warmth really awakens fruit flavors. The glaze gives an appealing sweet-tart counterpoint to garlic’s earthiness. So far, the mix of market ingredients has a traditional, hearty, northern European feel. Cabbage would fit right in, but I decided to drop it to lighten the dish up and to make it feel more modern because that’s more my style.

I chose to roast the pork loin whole, rather than cut it into chops, because I love the ratio of caramelized exterior to juicy interior that you get by roasting a whole loin. Roasting a loin whole keeps it moist, too. And because pork needs moisture, I wanted to make a sauce in addition to the glaze. At home, I don’t have an array of reduced stocks and demi-glaces ready to use, the way I do at the restaurant. So instead of doing a big-deal reduction sauce, I decided to use the fennel as a sauce base. I like fennel’s delicate flavors: browning only intensifies them, and then you can extend the whole thing with wine, stock, and butter. For silky contrast, I made mashed potatoes. My third wild card—heady, extravagant white truffle oil—is the crowning touch, if you choose to use it.

“As soon as I put this dish together, I knew it was something I’d want to eat with friends at home,” says Katy Sparks, the chef at Quilty’s in New York City.Amy Albert

Alan Tardi chose a rustic braise

I decided to create a dish that reflects the way I’d cook at home on a Sunday night in the fall. Except for the chives, all the ingredients take well to long cooking. I used everything in the basket and added two wild cards: fennel seed to accent the fresh fennel, and toasted breadcrumbs, which provide both textural counterpoint and eye appeal. I decided to cut the pork into medallions rather than leave it as a whole roast because, with medallions, more surface comes in contact with the flavors in the braising liquid.

 For this type of a slow-cooking cool-weather dish, I like to use a traditional Italian method of braising pork in milk. Milk’s lactic acid is a good tenderizer, but it seems to need heat to activate it. (I’ve tried soaking the pork in milk overnight ahead of time, but this doesn’t seem to have any tenderizing effect.) The resulting milk curds in the finished dish may look a little strange if you’ve never tried milk-braising before, but don’t worry—you’ll be rewarded with a flavorful, rustic, one-dish meal.

 The vegetables in the market basket are a natural for a pork braise because they all turn velvety-tender when cooked low and slow, and they contribute a lot of flavor to the cooking liquid. Braising also makes for a streamlined process, and at the outset, I’d decided to make an unfussy dish. I do take an extra step with one ingredient, however: I parboil the potatoes before I add them to the pan to make sure they’re done at about the same time as the cabbage and the fennel. Cooking time can vary with potatoes, depending on their size, age, and variety, so I get more control this way. Finishing the dish with a breadcrumb-chive mixture gives a golden topping that provides a good crunch and completes the homey feel.

“This is how I’d cook at home on a relaxed Sunday night when the weather’s turning chilly,” says Alan Tardi, the chef at Follonico in New York City.Amy Albert


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