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Way back in March when Los Angeles ordered the pandemic-induced lockdown, I made myself a quarantine meal game plan; I’d cook three times a week, order take out two times a week, and have leftovers on the weekend. Things were going great at the beginning, however, nearly seven months later, my recipe list has grown old and repetitive, and I have found myself in dire need of ingredient suggestions to spice up mealtime again. Who better to ask than the experts?
Departures spoke to some of the world’s best fine-dining chefs to check-in and see what dishes they’ve been cooking at home recently, and what specific ingredients have packed a punch for them during the pandemic. Here’s what they had to say:
David Chang—Momofuku Savory Seasoned Salt
Chef and restaurateur David Chang had one ingredient immediately come to mind when asked what he’s been leaning on for his at-home meals these past six months. “I might be biased, but Momofuku Savory Seasoned Salt has been my go-to ingredient while cooking at home,” Chang told Departures. “It's our secret seasoning at our restaurants, especially when cooking meats. I haven't been using salt and pepper at home; I've been using this instead.”
Chang uses the savory seasoned salt to enhance dishes for his family, whom he’s loved getting to spend more time with these last few months. The restaurateur noted that he feels especially lucky to be able to spend more time with his son Hugo, saying “I was on the road a lot before the pandemic hit, so it's nice to be able to spend as much time with him—and cook for him—as I have been able to.”
Niki Nakayama—Ponzu and Rice
Chef Niki Nakayama of Los Angeles’ Michelin-starred n/naka revealed that ponzu and rice are what she’s been using nonstop these past few months. “During lockdown we’re eating at home a lot, and my favorite thing to eat is shabu shabu,” Nakayama told us. “And my favorite dipping sauce for that is ponzu.”
Nakayama explained that she dabs the dipped meat and vegetables from the shabu shabu onto rice to avoid dripping ponzu onto the table. “The result is the rice gets a nice seasoning from the food and it is, to me, a perfect combination.”
Nicolás López—Bomba Rice, Escalivada, EVOO
The top three ingredients that chef Nicolás López of Mercado Little Spain has been leaning on for his home-cooked meals are “Calasparra” bomba rice, escalivada and José Andrés Extra Virgin Olive Oil. “Extra virgin olive oil is the base of Spanish cuisine, so it is present in almost all of my cooking,” López said. The chef revealed that he most frequently uses these ingredients at home to make Arroz a la Cubana for himself—“It’s a very simple but delicious dish.”
Angie Mar—Duck Confit
Owner and Executive Chef of The Beatrice Inn in New York, Angie Mar credits the resilience of New Yorkers and her restaurant’s supporters as what’s kept her motivated through the pandemic. Even though she never fully shut down operations at The Beatrice, Mar notes that for the first time in her career she has been able to enjoy a two-days-off work week, and has loved spending that extra time in her home kitchen. Mar’s go-to dish during quarantine is a nod to her restaurant’s signature roast duck flambé. “Our duck flambé is truly what everybody comes to The Beatrice for,” Mar said. “It’s a personal dish for me, because it’s my version of a dish that my father used to make for us for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and during the pandemic that dish is very much at the base of what I crave.”
Mar said that even though she doesn’t typically cook at home, since the pandemic and quarantine began she’s found herself enjoying cooking in her own kitchen more than she ever expected. “I found myself on Sundays making confit duck legs just to have around the house,” Mar revealed. “Duck confit became my essential ingredient and go-to comfort food over the past six months.”
Marcelle Afram—Ground Sumac, Pomegranate Molasses, Labneh
Chef Marcelle Afram lists three ingredients as their must-haves during quarantine: ground sumac, pomegranate molasses, and labneh. While Afram uses sumac to enhance citrus in dishes at their Michelin-starred D.C. restaurant Maydan, at home they use the spice as a way to perk up breakfast, stating “I love to use sumac on my eggs in the morning, bringing a fun complexity while still leaving it simple.” Marcelle adds that they use pomegranate molasses as a marinade for flank steak, and labneh as an accompaniment to vegetables.
The events of 2020 have created a uniquely frustrating conundrum to chef Edouardo Jordan, who has always thought of himself as a problem-solver. “There are so many directions that I’m being pulled in, and I can’t even develop a proper answer that will solve these issues,” Jordan told Departures. However, the chef and restaurateur is still seeking solutions, and notes that because of the pandemic he’s been able to put more energy towards ideas he’s had in the back of his head including retail stores, creating a bigger online presence, and working with his community more.
Jordan has also been able to spend more time at home with his family, and highlighted the Nigerian suya spice, or yaji, as what he’s been seasoning his meals at home with. “I’d been aware of suya spice for a while, and when I had the opportunity to visit Nigeria, I grabbed some authentically-made spices to bring home with me, and yaji became my go-to spice for everything,” Jordan said. The chef adds the spice into ramen noodles, steak, eggs, and vegetables to take his meals to another level. He continued, “It’s so delicious and it has so much flavor. It really enhances dishes to the next level.”
The highlight of chef Ludo Lefebvre’s three months quarantined at home was the weekly Instagram Live series he and his wife Krissy created, called Ludo Chez Moi. Lefebvre loved both the freedom the show gave him to cook whatever dishes he wanted, as well as the opportunity to interact with fans and followers from around the world who could cook at home alongside his live sessions. “It was just amazing for me to connect with people on Instagram Live, and I loved it so much,” Lefebvre said.
The acclaimed chef explained that in addition to the Ludo Chez Moi series, Lefebvre also loved being able to reconnect and spend so much time with Krissy and their two children, twins Luca and Rêve. Lefebvre enjoyed getting to cook old and new dishes for his kids, including onion tartes and cheese soufflé, but his favorite dish to make for them by a landslide was pasta carbonara, or “bacon pasta” as they call it. “I made it for them once a week,” Lefebvre revealed. “We would watch Little House of the Prairie every night and, it was a scary time of course, but an amazing time to spend time with my wife and family.” As for the one ingredient Lefebvre could not go without during the quarantine? “Eggs—I use a lot of eggs,” he said. “For my cheese soufflé, for omelets, for baking, I love eggs!”