Five Ingredients Worth Traveling For

Borough food pros love local food — but also scour the globe for ingredients and inspiration.

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We caught up with chefs from all over Brooklyn to talk about signature ingredients they discovered abroad. Here are some of their surprising responses.

  • The Ur Basil: Before founding the Ger-Nis Culinary Center on Union Street, Nissa Pierson built a career sourcing herbs for restaurants and grocers.

    So on a trip to Italy this summer, her personal mecca was the Ligurian Coast. “Ligurians specialize in herbs, especially Genovese basil,” says Pierson of the broad leaves first grown on those hills. On the trip, she ate hand-pounded pesto with nearly every meal; back home, she’s teaching brooklynites the technique, too. We might have to kick the Cuisinart to the curb.

  • Get Your Goat: Jacques Gautier of Park Slope’s Palo Santo has eaten his way down the hemisphere but traces two of his go-to ingredients to a single trip to Guatemala City. At a market there he watched a farmer milk goats to order, selling the still-hot dairy in Ziploc bags, and spotted unlaid chicken eggs, plucked from the bodies of harvested hens before the shells could harden. Gautier’s menu now showcases fresh (though not that fresh) goat’s milk, as well as unlaid eggs, both sourced from Greenmarket farmers.
  • Ancient Cacao: Tim McCollum and Brett Beach didn’t just found Madecasse to make killer chocolate. They were determined to help people in Madagascar, where they’d both served as Peace Corps volunteers — so they arranged for Malagasy people to make fine chocolate, not just export raw materials. McCollum, who was in Madagascar this August, says life there involves lengthy trips by oxcart and doing business by hand-delivered letter — “it’s like going to the 13th century.” But the region’s remoteness held one wonderful surprise: the existence of pure Criollo cacao plants, long thought lost. McCollum hopes the news will make life a little sweeter on both sides of the ocean.
  • Olives at Origin: As a buyer for the beloved specialty shop Bklyn Larder, Sergio Hernandez takes regular tasting trips to farms and factories. A recent visit to Puglia landed him in an olive orchard where no one spoke a word of English — and then the owners’ kitchen. “There was a pot of white beans in this amazing coal hearth,” recalls Hernandez, “drowned in the familiy’s own olive oil.” Eaten with crusty bread baked over the same fire, he says, the simple meal was spectacular. Hernandez is working to import the excellent oil — we hope it will soon bathe our beans, too.
  • In Paris, Cross-Pollination: When Andy Laird and Justine Pringle, owners of Nunu on Atlantic Avenue, were invited to host a pop-up shop in Paris, they weren’t sure how Parisians would receive American chocolate. “But we were overwhelmed by how welcoming they were,” says Laird. “They said, ‘We’ve seen Belgian chocolates and French chocolates and German chocolates, but never Brooklyn chocolates.'” They made fast friends with their beer chocolates, prized in their Boerum Hill store but new to Paris, where craft brew is still overshadowed by fine wine. The couple brought back a few bottles of sour French brew called “Bulles de Vignes”  to make beer bon-bons here in Brooklyn.

Photo credit: Madecasse Chocolate.

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