'The Construction of a Dish'

Written by Melissa McCart on

From chef  Brandon Baltzley

Letting the season dictate what you use for a dish is what separates some cooks from so many others. I like not having a choice, at least at the beginning of composition.

Whether it's something my forager sends me or something I pick up at the market, the construction of a dish usually begins with a solitary ingredient. 
Take sunchokes.  Last week, we did a dinner in Chicago, and I picked some up at the market with really no idea about how we were going to use them. The standard flavor pairing for sunchokes is hazelnut and lemon. I've never been a fan of the standard.

After some discussion, we thought it would only make sense to use sunflower seeds. After all, a sunchoke is the root of a sunflower. 

We made a vinaigrette from burnt lemons that we pureed whole in order to add a bittersweet note to the bite -- often the most overlooked taste.

After roasting the sunchokes hard in a high oven, we dipped each individual piece into the burnt lemon dressing and then rolled it in crushed sunflower seeds seasoned with brown sugar and an aggressive dose of black pepper.

The brown sugar lends itself to the umami taste chefs outside of Japan are starting to search for. It may have been my favorite dish of the evening, and it wasn't even planned.
Letting your palate and mind do the legwork in the construction of a dish will get you further than any book or blog. The next time you think to yourself, "What can I pair with this?" Just eat the damn thing already and let your mind wander.

(Brandon Baltzley is a chef behind Crux, a mobile collaborative currently based in Pittsburgh. His book "Nine Lives: A Chef's Journey from Chaos to Control" will be released in May 2013.) 

Anna Laero photo

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