Jensen Cummings, exec chef of Row 14, on the one ingredient that tastes like "burnt toenails marinated in Kroger brand vegetable oil" and "nooders"
Most overrated ingredient: Ground cayenne pepper. I use quite a few spices and spicy ingredients in my cooking, but they're always balanced. Cayenne always seems like an easy fix, and just because something is spicy doesn't mean it tastes good. Cayenne is the zero-to-sixty spice -- and it's far too easy to abuse.
Most underrated ingredient: Fennel. It's the only ingredient that can be utilized as a vegetable, herb and spice. I chop the vegetable, grind the spice and pick the herb, and then put it in my cereal in the morning...or I would if I was ever actually awake in the morning. Truth be told, I usually eat cereal around 11 p.m. just so I can remember what it was like back when I used to eat breakfast. Sorry, what was the question?
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: Hybrid striped bass from Colorado Catch in Alamosa. My good friends at Seattle Fish are my connect, but if you want to get it for yourself, you can try finding it at Tony's or Marczyk's -- and tell them Tito sent you. It's a really tasty fish, and the Faucette family, who owns the fishery, is amazing, plus they use a really cool sustainable farming process. In Alamosa, the fish live better than the people.
One food you detest: The only food I really detest is bad food, and by bad food, I mean uninspired, unmemorable and unseasoned food. Some people would disagree with me, but there's just something about the way bad food looks, smells and tastes that I just can't learn to love. Call me crazy.
One food you can't live without: Noodles...or "nooders," as my four-foot-tall Japanese grandmother calls them. I always tell her just to say "udon" or "ramen" so she can pronounce them properly. "Bachan," I tell her, "you don't have to call them 'nooders.' Your people created the real word for them, so just use that." Noodles are just the peanut butter to my jelly, and that's all I have to say about that.
Favorite music to cook by: Led Zeppelin. There's just something about those guys that makes me feel like I'm ready to go to war.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: How you slice your chives is just as important as how you sear your foie gras. That little fortune-cookie philosophy means that everything we do, from slicing chives to wrapping product to sweeping the floor to searing foie gras, holds the utmost equal importance. Great food is the accumulation of all the little things -- not just the sexy ones.
What's never in your kitchen? You won't find flaxseed oil in many kitchens, but I came across it in a kitchen not too long ago, and that's why I'm bringing it up. It tastes like burnt toenails marinated in Kroger brand vegetable oil. I can't say any more about it, and I think I just vomited a little in my mouth.