District Meats exec chef Jeff Russell on food trends, Paula Deen and spring
Most underrated ingredient: Parsley gets a bad rap, but it's such a fresh ingredient that can add a lot of depth. One of my favorite side dishes is tabouleh, a Mediterranean salad that's mainly composed of parsley. It's bright and fresh and adds an element of refreshment to your meal.
Food trend you wish would go away: I don't really mind food trends, because I think they keep the food industry fresh and interesting. The public seems to enjoy grasping onto a certain item, so chefs can choose to ignore it or embrace it and have some fun with the trend it before it fades out. It's our jobs as chefs to introduce innovative ideas to the public to see what sticks. That's the foundation on which our progressive American food culture is built.
Favorite spice: I really like piment d'Espelette. I appreciate the uniquely light and sweet spiciness that it holds, plus it's such a versatile ingredient that can match up with so many different foods. We use it here in our house-cured meats, pâtés, soups, salads and pickled vegetables. I think my favorite application is just a light sprinkle on a thick, seared piece of foie gras.
One food you detest: Acorn squash. I have bad childhood memories of being force-fed the stuff by my grandmother, who's a big proponent of finishing your vegetables. I remember one day at her kitchen table when I left a generous portion of acorn squash on my plate and she made me eat the whole piece. I did what I was told, eating every last bit of it -- and then about thirty seconds later, the squash was back on the plate.
One food you can't live without: Carrots are the one vegetable that I've always loved, mainly because they can be prepared in so many different ways that you can eat them every day and never get tired of them. That said, my favorite way to eat carrots is in their simple raw form. If the carrot is grown correctly and taken care of, then it really needs no help; it's just fine on its own.
Favorite childhood food memory: I used to always make tomato sauce with my mother with this really old food mill that had so many different parts. We would grow our own tomatoes, stew them, and then place them in the top of the food mill. When you crank the handle, a spiral rod would move them through the sieve, pushing them down the chute and into the pot. It was such a fun experience for me as a kid -- and it sparked my passion for food and made me what I am today.
Favorite dish on your menu: We just changed our menu this week, and I love our new duo of pork. It's a slow-braised shoulder paired with crispy cheek croquette over cauliflower variations and preserved cherries. It's full of lots of layers of textures and flavors that scream "Order me!"
Biggest menu bomb: Crispy chickpeas. They're great for a bar snack, but I think guests were looking for something a little bit more substantial.