News & Politics

Chefs’ Secret Ingredients

Spices, sauces, and other tricks for making dishes stand out

Chef Daniel Bortnick of Firefly uses this mildly spicy sauce in place of black pepper.

Hon-dashi is a powdered Japanese fish stock made from bonito. When I worked at Aquavit in New York, I found that it was vital to rounding out dishes and adding umami [the fifth taste element] and depth to stock, sauces, and soups. We use Ajinomoto brand.”
—Antonio Burrell, chef de cuisine, Masa 14

“I add crystallized ginger to salads, desserts, and sauces. It gives a zing to carrot cake, and it’s mellow, not a full-on ginger flavor. You can get it from the Whole Foods bulk section.”
—Glenn Babcock, executive chef, Nage

“I use sumac the same way you might use lemon, to season fish or in salads. It comes as a ground berry with a little salt and is available at Middle Eastern specialty stores.”
—Andy Bennett, chef de cuisine, Lyon Hall

“We use pickled Szechuan peppers from Gao Fu Ji Food Company in barbecue rub for pork and in a sauce for gnocchi. It adds some heat but doesn’t numb the tongue.”
—Jeff Heineman, chef/owner, Grapeseed

“I love to garnish with celery leaves. A lot of times, people throw them away. But I love the flavor. They’re tender and good.”
—Steve Mannino, executive chef, Rustico

“I like to combine some of Bluebird Grain Farm’s whole-grain cereal with wheatberries, barley, quinoa, and Israeli couscous for a pilaf at dinner. The leftovers are perfect as breakfast cereal with fresh or dried fruit, toasted nuts, and yogurt.”
—Mark Furstenberg, founder, Marvelous Market and Breadline

“With green Tabasco sauce, you can add a little heat without blowing the dish out. I often use it in place of black pepper when a wee bit of acid might help balance the dish.”
—Daniel Bortnick, executive chef, Firefly

“Madagascar vanilla-bean paste from Nielsen-Massey. Beyond the classic, creamy flavor, it boasts a fantastic visual: all those pretty flecks of vanilla bean. And I would go for a swim in Piemont Lenôtre hazelnut-praline paste if I could. The taste is divine. King Arthur sells a good one, too, at a more palatable price.”
—Maggie Austin LaBaugh, owner, Maggie Austin Cake

“We use Polyface farm eggs for sandwiches and baked goods. Once I used them to make my muffin base, and it was unbelievable, like God came down and kissed the muffins. There’s just a richness they add. It’s night and day.”
—Rob Valencia, pastry chef, Northside Social

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Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.