Food News

Burning Question: Which Ingredients Do Chefs Hate To Work With?

How would you like to slice into these everyday?

Lobsters are easy.

We mean that in a culinary sense. Bind up the pincers, drop them in water and commence to melting some butter. Likewise steak: a dash of salt, another of pepper and a crackling grill—that’s all there is to it, pretty much. In fact, when you think about it, some of our most account draining meals require about as much effort as Waffle House hash browns, maybe even less.

Yep, chefs love surf and turf. But which ingredients do they really, really hate to work with?

“I could think of several, but I won’t mention all of them,” says Richard Triptow, sous chef at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, stuffing several folded pages back into his pocket. Clearly we’ve hit a sore point. Indeed, some chefs hold onto their private little kitchen grudges for decades. “It took me awhile to learn to like tomatoes,” admits Jeffery Hobbs of Suze. “As a kid, raw tomatoes made me retch.”

Tomatoes? Really?

“I’ve learned to use them,” he adds, grimacing slightly.

Jim Severson, chef and owner of Sevy’s, cringes at the thought of cooking lima beans for much the same reason. “I had a bad experience with them as a kid,” he says, refusing to elaborate. Maybe a rancid can exploded, turning an otherwise happy family reunion into a scene of Omaha beach carnage, maybe they, too, sent him into dry heaves—we’ll never know. Fortunately, he continues, “I like to cook what the public likes and there’s not too many lima bean likers out there.”

We know how they feel, kind of. The Burning Question crew had a bad night—bad morning, really—with a case of Mad Dog once. But after a few weeks of detention, repayment of damages allegedly caused and a bit of community service, we hopped right back on the horse.

“It comes down to things I know I have to do but don’t want to,” Triptow says, sounding much like our editor during one of his lectures. “I’m making rabbit terrine right now. I like the result, but it’s such a thought out process—if you mess something up, you have to start over.”

Nick Badovinus, whose Neighborhood Services restaurant just opened, agrees. “I like things you don’t make better by over-accessorizing,” he says. “I’m a meat and potatoes guy.” He hates, therefore, anything that must be “tricked up.”

That’s a long list: tilapia, risotto, Sarah Palin…

When we first asked this question, we expected responses such as pineapple or fugu, items demanding some fuss or highly specialized skills. Yes, we heard some of that. Yet a surprising number of chefs mentioned everyday ingredients—lima beans, tomatoes and the like. Of course, most chefs manage their fears quite well, as we discovered while trying to drive Hobbs away from the restaurant’s wine rack by brandishing some ripe San Marzanos. Eventually, he explains, chefs learn the joy of “taking something like a Brussels sprout and turning it into something that tastes good.”

Now that’s asking the impossible. --Dave Faries