By Alison Bailin Batz
We all play favorites now and then – even chefs! As such, we asked some of the Valley’s top culinary creators to share one of their favorite ingredients and how they’re incorporating it into a dish or multiple dishes on their current menus.
Chef Justin Macy, Terras at Civana
Macy loves the earthy richness of heirloom beets and the color they bring to any plate. Currently, Macy lets them serve as the star of the dish rather than a side item in his appropriately-named heirloom beet appetizer. Macy slow-roasts the root vegetables before plating them with a drizzle of cold-pressed olive oil and pairing them with goat cheese coulis, fresh lemon, and micro arugula. The combination results in deliciously interesting textures and flavors that contrast. $13. www.civana.com.
Chef Dejan Djukic, Meritage, an Urban Tavern
Beyond the gorgeous color, Djukic names purple sweet potatoes as his favorite because he was first inspired to get into the kitchen when he saw them at a restaurant at age 18. He now pays homage to them daily at JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge in his fall halibut with sweet potatoes. In the dish, the halibut is poached in white wine and butter to ensure tenderness, and the sweet potatoes are paired with other seasonal vegetables and topped with a Thai basil beurre blanc sauce to give it a rich kick. $32. www.jwdesertridge.com.
Chef Mike Bouwens, Modern Oysterbar Chophouse
According to Bouwens, this small-batch vinegar is made without oak aging, and actual aromatic hops – as in beer hops – are incorporated before bottling it to enhance the tanginess and tartness of the vinegar. It’s among the secret ingredients in his Modern creamed corn, which also features cotija cheese, smoked mascarpone and chiles. A twist on the rich classic, this version is just as decadent, but with a distinct zip of delightful zest in every bite. $10. www.modernoysterbarchophouse.com.
Chef Andrew Holowicki, Garden Court Cafe
When Holowicki moved to Arizona in the late 1990s, he stumbled on the then-relatively unknown ingredient of mesquite flour, which is indigenous to Arizona. Quickly falling in love with its local heritage and its hints of nuttiness, Holowicki has used it in his dishes for two decades, including pairing it with bananas and pecans his mesquite pancakes. They are available at The Scottsdale Plaza Resort’s Garden Court Cafe, which is open to locals and hotel guests daily. $14. www.scottsdaleplaza.com.
Chef Adam Jaramillo, Eddie Merlot’s
According to Jaramillo, you’ve not truly had bacon until you’ve had it smoked over the embers of cherrywood, enhancing both the smokiness and saltiness of the pork while also bringing out its sweet notes. His favorite way to utilize this bacon is by offering it in his bacon gorgonzola cheese crust, which is available as an enhancement atop any of Eddie Merlot’s steaks, notably on the 10-ounce filet mignon. $51.90. www.eddiemerlots.com.
Chef Nate Larsen, Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen
Larsen is a longtime fan of this spice, which is often used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. He likes that it offers moderate heat to any dish, yet is balanced with notes of fruit and cumin. Currently, the spice is front and center in his chili-rubbed prawns. Once plated, the prawns are complemented by slices of citrus, locally-sourced olives, and a beurre blanc sauce. Then, the entire dish is topped with Aleppo pepper as the pièce de résistance, bringing together the spicy, sweet and earthy elements of each component. $21. www.andazscottsdale.com.
Chef Joaquin M. Estolano Jr., SWB, a southwest bistro
Estolano loves playing up his South American roots in as many dishes as possible, especially using cancha, a Peruvian take on corn nuts and one of his favorite ways to add texture and a hint of salt to any dish. He especially loves incorporating cancha in his ceviche peruano – a riff on classic ceviche – along with fresh hamachi, grilled baby yams, red onions, and leche de tigre, which is the Peruvian term for the citrus-based marinade that cures the seafood in a ceviche. $17. www.scottsdale.hyatt.com.
Chef Jeremy Pacheco, Lon’s at The Hermosa Inn
An advocate of sourcing as locally as possible, Pacheco loves Peoria-based McClendon’s Select Organic Farm’s squash blossoms due to their versatility and vicinity. Each summer and into the fall, Pacheco offers Bob’s squash blossoms on the menu in homage to the farm’s founder. This year, the blossoms are stuffed with housemade chorizo and a blend of pepper jack and cheddar cheeses before being delicately battered and fried. They are served atop a corn pudding that is made from McClendon’s corn and garnished with slices of pickled peppers. $15. www.lons.com.
Chef Marcellino Verzino, Marcellino Ristorante
Verzino grew up harvesting (and enjoying) this member of the mustard green and turnip family while on his family’s farm in Italy. He loves its combination of savory and pungent flavors and uses it in his strozzapreti con broccoli di rape to pay homage to his childhood while giving the handcrafted pasta a flavorful zip. A side benefit, according to Verzino, is that the healthy vegetables are good sources of vitamins A, C and K as well as calcium, folate and iron. $24. www.marcellinoristorante.com.