Third Coast Chefs Preach Perfect Pairings

Chefs and Restaurateurs Share
which Foods Partner Best on the Plate
With the approach of St. Valentine’s Day, the chefs of simoneink have perfect pairings in mind – and we don’t mean their wives and sweethearts!  Just like human couples, some are successful for obvious reasons, and others are a complete mystery.  Some are classic food combinations that have stood the test of time; others are more inventive and will make you want to explore the new possibilities

Ralph Brennan, Owner of Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group: Fried Shrimp Po’boy
“There is nothing more New Orleans than fried shrimp piled high on classic Louisiana French bread. Usually you find these two joined at the hip with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo for a typical New Orleans dressed sandwich.  But the two make such a dynamic duo on their own, why even bother interfering with a good thing?  The softness of the bread on the inside, the flaky crust on the outside, and the soft crunch of the lightly breaded shrimp with cornmeal batter are all so wonderful that I can’t even imagine a better team.”

Chris Clime, Chef de Cuisine of PassionFish: Ceviche and Cancha Corn
“It’s all about the texture.  A classic Peruvian style ceviche features fresh white-style fish for a silky texture, delicately seasoned with leche de tigre, red onion, garlic, lime juice, aji amarillo, habañero peppers, cilantro, and extra virgin olive oil.  Paired with the crunch of Peruvian toasted cancha corn, your mouth will go ‘pop’ with joy.”

Brendan Cox, Chef de Cuisine of DC Coast: Duck and Turnips
“I love pairing duck and turnips.  The richness of the duck is cut by the subtle and pleasant bitterness of the turnips.  In turn, the earthiness of the turnip anchors the duck and allows me to play with flavor variations and bring in other elements, such as Brussels sprouts, pears, and balsamic vinegar, but why ‘turn-it’ around or ‘nip’ the flavor when a good thing’s goin?”

David Guas, Pastry Chef and Owner of Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery: Red Beans & Rice
“Louis Armstrong said it all—‘Red Beans & Ricely Yours.’  I’m a Southern guy born in New Orleans, so tradition is in my DNA.  Red beans & rice goes beyond the perfect pair, it’s a marriage made in heaven.  Every Monday it was love on plate for my family, and now, Bayou Bakery is stirring the pot.

Baruch Rabasa, Executive Chef of Mesón 923: Steak Frites
“The frites have to be in the French style—very skinny and very crispy.  The steak has to be ruby red [medium rare].  The juices of the beef spill out onto the plate, just waiting for a fingerful of fries to lap up the flavor. Ça c’est bon!”

Greg Rhoad, Executive Chef of Aurora Inn and E.B. Morgan House: Romance and…
“When I think of food pairings, my thoughts immediately go to romance.  All relationships start out sweet—raspberries and dark chocolate is the classic decadent combination.  But then, the more you get to know each other it always gets a little salty—so go for an aphrodisiac kick with some oysters.  This little bivalve pairs with everything—oysters and veal, oysters and beef…oysters and oysters! Then you can pair the oysters with Sambuca, but now I am getting ahead of myself…”

Jeff Tunks, Executive Chef of Passion Food Hospitality: Virginia Ham and Sweet Corn
“When I think of the perfect pairing, there has to be some sort of mistress involved.  In the world of food, that mistress is Virginia Ham, which when paired with sweet corn, is a tease to the taste buds.  To make things really sexy, I like to add crab, which makes for a perfect Mid-Atlantic ménage à trois.”

Robert Wiedmaier, Executive Chef of Marcel’s, Brasserie Beck, Mussel Bar: Pork Belly and Lentils
“Being a hunter, there is nothing more satisfying to me than a dish with some gusto.  Puy lentils and braised pork belly present the perfect balance of flavor—the saltiness and smokiness of the pork belly with the earthiness of the lentils.  A stick to your ‘belly’ kind of dish.”

Tucker Yoder, Executive Chef of The Clifton Inn: Bacon and Eggs
“It’s simple and comforting, but can be featured as an upscale dish.  At the moment, we have a dish on the menu with Braised Pork Belly, Slow Cooked Farm Egg, Fennel Broth, Green Lentils and an Apple Chip.  It is very elegant but also incredibly satisfying.”

Joe Yonan, Food Editor of The Washington Post Author of Serve Yourself, Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One: Cabbage and Pear (Kimchi)
“Like many food oriented folk, I have a serious kimchi obsession going on.  But I don’t always want just any old kimchi recipe.  So I thought, why not try a kimchi with cabbage and pear together?  Look for Korean chili powder, which has a distinctive heat but a mellow, sweet undertone, in Asian supermarkets; for kimchi, there really is no substitute.  Once you have your ingredients, this kimchi could hardly be simpler to make, and the light sweetness and crunch it gets from the pear makes it positively haunting.”

Whether you try this at home or leave it to the professionals, it bears thinking about optimal ingredient pairings within any dish.  Why do they work so well?  What’s their secret?  As with so many great pairs, sometimes the answer is just “Because.”
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