By Linda Domingo and Neal Webster Turnage
The phrase “secret ingredient” is generations old, often a way to politely deflect a recipe request. It’s nothing unusual—but consider for a moment that such an ingredient actually existed. Moreover, that it was something you could get your hands on to elevate your own cooking. Loews chefs have good news: There are such things. And they’re more than happy to tell you what they are.
As you may imagine, each kitchen has its own tricks of the trade. While most special ingredients aren’t necessarily hard to find or particularly exotic, here, you’ll learn what several Loews chefs consider their culinary secret weapons. When employed, these products never fail to evoke raised eyebrows and the question: “What is it that makes this so good?”
“My secret ingredient isn’t much of a secret ingredient,” says Louis Goral, chef de cuisine at Loews Madison Hotel’s Rural Society. “I truly believe that salt can make or break a beautifully crafted dish. It has been my best weapon in 15 years in the industry.”
Although it might seem simple enough, Goral takes salt seriously. “One thing I find the hardest to forgive when I go out is bland, under-seasoned food,” he admits. The chef uses different kinds of salts for different occasions, including kosher for the most standard cooking and Maldon sea salt (an English coarse salt) to take steaks grilled on the wood-fired grill “to the next level.” He and the culinary team also use pink curing salt for the restaurant’s famous morcilla sausage, made in-house.
And the seasoning is one of his top priorities for life, he says. “I even have a tattoo of the Morton salt girl on my leg to remind me.”
Nicolas Bour, executive chef at Loews Coronado Bay Resort in Coronado, Calif., brings in a personal collection for the kitchen’s arsenal: “I always keep a small variety of my homemade mustards in the kitchen, from purple mustard (made from black grapes and violets) to a standard spicy hot Dijon,” he says. “Mustard is a condiment that can be used in a multitude of recipes and adds depth, heat, acidity or just a mellow background to almost any dish. Mustard can even be made into ice cream.”
And the not-so-secret ingredient is used in special menus at the resort. The restaurants’ lineups change seasonally, but diners can request a dish that features Bour’s favorite condiment from the rotating menu. For those who are interested in bringing Bour’s flair into their own recipes, he suggests using mustard in homemade vinaigrettes and marinades.
At Loews Regency New York Hotel, Executive Chef Brian Kevorkian of The Regency Bar & Grill always keeps some fragrant fruit on hand to flavor his dishes.
“I use acidity, like citrus, in small amounts in dishes to help brighten up the dish and enhance the flavors that guests are tasting,” he explains, noting that he loves all variations equally—from grapefruit to lime to lemon.
Diners can experience Kevorkian’s enthusiasm for the tart fruits in some of The Regency Bar & Grill’s entrees, such as the swordfish served with white beans and broccoli raab. “In this dish I finish with Espelette pepper, and the vinaigrette is a lemon-herb mixture that also has white balsamic vinegar to help round out the dish.”
He applies a similar technique to the Dover sole with brown butter and capers, introducing a sweet and citrusy brightness to the plate with the addition of Meyer lemon.
At Loews Hollywood Hotel’s H2 Kitchen & Bar, Executive Chef Mark Ching likes to spice things up. “I’m originally from San Francisco, but I spend a lot of time in the Southwest,” he explains. “I take that with me. When I think something needs a little pop, I default to using chilies.”
Those chilies have even made their way into sweet treats. “I’ll use chili powders and other spices, like Chinese five spice, and I’ll put them into dark chocolate to make chocolate bark,” he says. “It pairs incredibly well with pinot noir.”
These chocolates are sometimes sent to guest rooms as an amenity, or Ching will make them as a special amuse-bouche on occasion.
Because he uses dark chocolate that contains over 70 percent cacao, the flavors are extremely intense. “The saying, ‘A little goes a long way’ is really true,” he adds.