In the kitchens of top Strip restaurants, chefs rely on trusted distributors to ensure they have access to the finest ingredients. But where do they get the good stuff when they’re cooking at home? We asked a few to share their tips for acquiring and preparing some key items at home.
No self-respecting Cajun would use any sausage other than Andouille in their red beans and rice. The Louisiana version is coarse-ground pork with lots of garlic, and it’s spicier than its French cousin. Lola Pokorny, chef-owner of Lola’s, says to get the good stuff, you should order online, such as Savoie’s brand (SavoiesFoods.com). “A lot of people think Louisiana food is just about the heat,” she says. “It’s really about the layers of flavor. Savoie’s has a really great smokiness to it. When you make something with it, render the meat first—sauté in a skillet over low-to-medium heat to release the oils until it caramelizes a bit.”
An expanding middle is an occupational hazard for chefs. Society Café executive chef Kim Canteenwalla turned to juicing to trim down, and then brought his fruit and veggie concoctions to the restaurant. If you’re ready to experiment, your second stop (after buying a juicer) is Thursday’s Bet on the Farm! farmers market at Springs Preserve or Friday’s Downtown 3rd Farmers Market in a former bus terminal. “Seasonality is key. In August, look for stone fruits. The sweet corn will be getting better and better, and we’ll start seeing fall apples and pears. The food really sells itself. Does it have a vibrant color? Pick it up and smell it. How does it feel? Use your senses, and you’ll know what to buy.”
Border Grill executive chef Mike Minor doesn’t have the time to make tortillas from scratch, so on his way home he stops by Mariana’s Supermarket (multiple locations, MarianasMarkets.com). “But any little Latin American market will have good ones. They’re usually family owned and operated, and put their own twist on things. I love how, unlike American grocery stores, everything isn’t perfectly [laid out].” He looks for small packages (“Who eats five dozen tortillas?”) and picks the store brand or a Las Vegas-based company such as Los Arcos, so long as they’re made with lard. “It’s maybe not the healthiest choice but lard is what makes flour tortillas taste so decadent.”
We Americans just don’t do cheese like Europeans. There, frommage is so prized it’s saved for the end of the meal; here, we relegate the cheese plate to party appetizers. No matter when you serve it, Dave Middleton, executive chef at Marche Bacchus, recommends heading to Michael’s Gourmet Pantry (6265 S. Valley View Blvd.) or Valley Cheese & Wine (1770 W. Horizon Ridge Parkway). The key, he said, is to include a mix of milks—cow, sheep and goat—and textures from soft to hard. “I love Époisses, a washed rind cheese from the Cote d’Or region of France. It’s nutty and salty and going to smell like stinky feet. Don’t let that scare you.” And you can’t go wrong with a classic Roquefort. “That must be imported. Look for a yellow tinge to the veining and holes to show that it’s ripe and properly aged.” Pair it with some fruit, nuts and Middleton’s favorite accompaniment, membrillo, Spanish quince paste.
If Gordon Ramsay Steak executive chef Kevin Hee is going to grill at home, he stops at the Butcher Block (7625 S. Rainbow Blvd.), and picks out a ribeye or skirt steak. “I just stumbled in there one day and realized they consistently have good beef with nice marbling.” The biggest mistake home grillers make, he says, is taking the steak straight from the fridge to the barbecue. “You need to give the meat a chance to air dry. Unwrap, season it, and let it sit for an hour. You’ll get a beautiful char on the edges and a center that turns pink without all that gray.”
Offal is the collective term for organ meats. Ears, hearts, tongue, tails, brains … For most people, it’s not the flavor but the texture that turns them off offal, says Comme Ça executive chef Brian Howard, who features a different offal dish each Wednesday. Sweetbreads (thymus glands from a young pig, calf, or lamb) is a good starter offal for the home chef and is readily available in ethnic markets such as 168 Market (3459 S. Jones Blvd.). “The key to sweetbreads is to make sure they’re nice and opaque in color and clean, without much sinew or bloodlines.” Then he recommends finding a recipe that seems familiar. Comme Ça, for example, offers sweetbread ‘McNuggets.’
At Mizumi, executive chef Devin Hashimoto uses the super-premium Koshihikari rice from Tamaki Gold. At home he mixes a short-grain Calrose brand with Diamond G brown rice and experiments with the Korean brands available at Greenland Supermarket (6850 Spring Mountain Road). No matter what you buy, don’t forget to rinse, repeat and then soak for 15 minutes for rice that’s moist throughout the grain and not too sticky. “Everyone has their own little technique. I learned mine from my mom. You cover the rice with water and use a circular hand motion to stir, and then drain it. Growing up I had to do this seven times.” He only does three or four rinses now, but don’t tell his mom.