The Big Chill: How Chefs Are Embracing Fall Ingredients

What tomatoes and corn are to summer cooking, squash and pumpkin are to the autumn palate. Now that cooler days are here, we checked in with local chefs to see what ingredients they’re most excited about using this season.
Vidalia's venison tartar is accented with cranberries.
Vidalia's venison tartar is accented with cranberries.

• R.J. Cooper, Vidalia

Favorite fall ingredients:
Chestnut, kuri squash, huckleberry, maple, pear, beet, fennel.

Fans of this modern Southern dining room know that the menu is constantly updated. And that’s a good thing, especially with Cooper’s love of all things fall. The smoky sauce on a red-tail-venison carpaccio is made with cranberries, and a pumpkin soup uses chestnuts grown at Pennsylvania’s Toigo Orchards. Kuri squash—a sweet, dense winter variety—becomes the base for a dessert custard with five-spice marshmallow and walnut brittle.

• Heather Chittum, pastry chef, Hook

Favorite fall ingredients:
Butternut squash, pumpkin, apple.

Chittum, known for her unusual ice creams (she’s done flavors with Gorgonzola and Taleggio cheeses), has a slew of savory desserts in mind for this Georgetown seafood restaurant’s fall menu. We like the sound of her butternut-squash ice cream, which will be served with spiced pumpkin seeds and a hot-buttered-rum sauce. To go with it, she’s deciding between either pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust or sweet-potato pie, although she's leaning towards the latter. “I thought it’d be kind of cool to do a sweet gaufrette, which is a fancy French way to say potato chip.” She’s also planning a sweet apple-and-currant bread pudding, which she’ll pair with bourbon ice cream and gooey caramel sauce.


• Tony Conte, the Oval Room

Favorite fall ingredients:
Butternut squash, Granny Smith apple, carrot.

Downtown DC’s Oval Room isn’t known for conventionality, and the dessert menu, crafted by newly appointed pastry chef Cara Reilly, follows suit. The seasonally changing vacherin takes an autumnal turn with a layering of house-made Granny Smith apple sorbet and cinnamon meringue studded with red-hot candies. On the savory side, Conte shows his love for rabbit food with a cut of prime beef sided with red, yellow, and white carrots from Pennsylvania and served with multigrain risotto flavored with passion-fruit mustard.

• Shannon Overmiller, the Majestic

Favorite fall ingredients:
Chestnut, beet, butternut squash, maple, apple, celery root.

At this retro comfort food spot in Old Town Alexandria, the Maryland-bred Overmiller puts a number of nostalgic fall foods on her menu, such as a candied-chestnut soup, butternut-squash ravioli, and tart apple strudel. Beets turn up in a more unusual way—she incorporates them into a vinaigrette that accents salmon tartar with bleu cheese.

• Barry Koslow, Mendocino Grille & Wine Bar

Favorite fall ingredients:
Butternut squash, turnip, celery root, pear, almond.

Koslow appreciates the heartiness of autumn cooking, so his menu is filled with such robust offerings as mushroom soup with a ricotta potsticker; butternut-squash ravioli with Robiola cheese and sage; and braised wild boar with roasted turnips and celery root over black-pepper pappardelle. For dessert, Koslow whips up a pear-and-almond tart with brandied-fig ice cream.

• Matt Hill, Charlie Palmer Steak

Favorite fall ingredients:
Porcini mushroom, apple, butternut squash, pear, gingerbread.

At this contemporary Capitol Hill steakhouse, Hill’s fall menu is mostly inspired by game. He pairs squab with porcini mushrooms, and duck confit with apples. The butternut-squash soup is jazzed up with roasted bananas and mascarpone dumplings. For dessert, he flavors ice cream with gingerbread and dollops it onto pear-and-cranberry cobbler.

• Morou Outtara, Farrah Olivia

Favorite fall ingredient:
Butternut squash.

Outtara, chef/owner of this forward-thinking Old Town restaurant, has traded in the summer squash of his goat-cheese gnudi—airy Italian dumplings—for a more autumn-appropriate butternut squash. It’s blended with onion, garlic, and mascarpone and Parmesan cheeses to make a creamy sauce, then topped with arugula, onions, and tomatoes.

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