David Payne, exec chef of Jelly, on losing your authority, Rick Bayless and gross sticky goo
What are your ingredient obsessions? I love using thyme. My favorite foods are often found in the fall, and the earthy, brown essence of thyme makes my tastebuds wiggle on my tongue. I also love using pickled vegetables, and while they aren't easily used in breakfast cooking, I try to drop them into things that you might not notice.
Favorite local ingredient: Polidori sausage. I use it in so many recipes at Jelly, and not just as a main ingredient, but also as a flavor enhancer, to make foods richer and more intense.
What are your kitchen-gadget obsessions? I do love me a microplane, yes I do. A great way to add a punch of flavor is by adding a fresh grating of nutmeg or lemon zest on top of something -- anything. Try making whipped cream with a little orange zest in it. My other favorite tool is actually a home gadget that's a pepper-grinder box with a hand crank handle on top; I use it almost every night to grind fresh pepper. The cool thing is that it's quick and easy but still allows me to "pinch" my pepper into food instead of grinding it directly out of a traditional pepper grinder. Keeping my fingertips on my seasonings is something I love.
Food trend you'd like to see make a splash in 2013: Southern cooking has its heart on the farm. Immigrants from around the world picked up local ingredients and applied foreign techniques to them to create amazing flavors, and I feel like that inspiration has been rebounding for the past few years -- possibly much longer. The drive to choose local foods over industrialized, processed foods has driven many chefs to start researching food history, to learn about how food was used to its maximum nutritional potential, and to think outside the box when it comes to how food is presented in a restaurant. I'd love to see chefs think about how food was prepared on the farm, or in small communities, and to remember the home-cooking style of old Americana not so long ago -- and make that a part of how they build their menus.
Food trend you'd like to see disappear in 2013: Nothing -- I love it all. I encourage all chefs to continue to cook what you love to cook. Don't let anyone tell you to stop doing what you're doing. Personally, I love the new street-food ideas that are taking hold, and I also love the continuing evolution of Asian-inspired foods. And while bacon seems to be one of the foods that people wish would disappear, I'd never, ever want to see bacon go away. Yeah, so it's overused and played out, but I don't care. Just give me more bacon.
One food you detest: Okra. When I was a kid, we lived outside of San Antonio on several acres of land, which was just screaming for a garden. My mom and dad were crazy for two things: jalapenos and okra, and even though it's been more than twenty years since I touched my last piece of fresh, homegrown okra, I still remember it like it was yesterday. The plant was taller than I was at that age, and when I picked it, I seemed to always be looking up into the sun, no matter what side of the plant I was on. It had these small, hairy, prickly spines on each piece that would irritate your fingers during the picking, and the plant would ooze this gross sticky goo, kinda like sap, onto your fingers, and it always seemed like I had to scrub my hands forever to get it off because it would adhere to you like industrial Elmer's glue. I laugh now at how my memories are so big and dramatic, but to this day, those memories, still strong in my mind, keep me from wanting anything to do with that poor, harmless, benevolent vegetable, despite knowing that anything fried is delicious.
One food you can't live without: Different varieties of vinegar. I use balsamic vinegar for our oven-dried tomatoes and to roast portobello mushrooms; I use champagne vinegar in dressings and for pickling asparagus and other various vegetables; I use rice vinegar to pickle the green beans that we use in our bloody Mary; the jalapeno jelly is made with apple cider vinegar; and we add white vinegar to our poaching water to help coagulate the egg whites into a nice shape.