Building Blocks: Tips for Taking Your Cooking Up a Notch


Are you ready to take your cooking to the next level, but don’t know where to start? Mastering a few small details can elevate even the simplest of dishes and boost your confidence in the kitchen. Read on for inspiration as local chefs share their expertise on everything from mastering flavor combinations to creating the perfect foundation for a dish. 

sujata signh


“Various techniques can enhance the flavors of spices, and one method I find exceptionally straightforward is chhaunk. This technique is ideal for savory dishes like lentils and soups. During this process, you temper whole spices of your choice – such as cumin, mustard seeds, dried chiles, and cloves – in smoking hot oil. As the spices release their aromatic oils and become fragrant, they’re added to the dish, infusing it with rich, complex flavors. I often incorporate fresh herbs into my chhaunk after the spices and right before adding the whole mix to the dish, making this process simple, versatile, and yet very effective to enhance flavors of any dish.”

– Sujata Singh | Founder, Spice Trail


bailey cole


“One of my favorite and most reliable ways to elevate a drink or cocktail is by incorporating aromatic elements. Our sense of smell is a huge part of the overall experience of tasting food and drinks. So, thinking about how all of your senses experience the cocktail and adding something aromatic like fresh herbs or an atomized spritz of a fragrant oil is a great way to elevate your cocktails into something special and memorable.”

– Bailey Cole | Owner, Broads Lounge 

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philippe gehin


“A roux is nowadays an old-fashioned thickening agent used to give substance to your sauces. Very easy to achieve, it is butter and sifted flour in equal weight cooked slowly together until you obtain a blonde color. Very convenient to have on hand, it will keep several days refrigerated, but if you substitute a neutral oil for the butter, you can keep it for months unrefrigerated. Happy cooking.”

– Philippe Gehin | Chef, La Cabriole


amanda trotter and cory trotter


“A great example of balancing flavors is my recipe for gazpacho, a cold soup made from blended raw vegetables. My three must-have ingredients are: olive oil, which gives the soup a glossy, creamy flavor; sherry vinegar adds an acidic element, but complements the fresh vegetables; and fino sherry wine adds an umami flavor, giving the soup a nutty, almond finish. You can achieve this flavor build with any crisp white wine and balsamic vinegar. I also use this combination of ingredients for tomato sauces, as a base for soups, or to elevate a side of plain sautéed vegetables. After sweating your vegetables in oil, add the sherry wine and allow it to reduce before seasoning with a splash of sherry vinegar and salt.” 

– Amanda Trotter and Cory Trotter | Executive Chef & Owner and Sous Chef, Amada Tapas & Wine

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david sherrill


“Kimchi is a common side dish in Korean cuisine and a great way to use hearty vegetables like cabbage, radishes, asparagus, or cucumbers. To make kimchi, start by preparing a combination of coarse sea salt, sugar, and new sugar (allulose) to draw out the moisture from the vegetables. Instead of vinegar, traditionally used for pickling, use a fish sauce, either anchovy or tuna, which will reduce the fermentation process from a day to two hours. Pairing these vegetables with a protein, such as pork belly or short ribs, enhances the flavor of the fermented vegetable. Also, it may assist in breaking down the fatty proteins and making them easier to digest (says my grandmother).” 

– David Sherrill | Owner, Han-Mi


daniel starkey


“Soup broth consists of a few different things, building blocks of sorts. Overall it takes quite a few things to put together a delicious bowl. For our ramen, first there is our tare. This is the smallest part in amount, but is jam-packed with flavor and seasons the broth. Then you have your fats; this will give you some flavor but also great mouth feel. We also use a variety of aromatic oils – these add more flavor and give a great aroma so you’ll want to dig in even more. And finally you have your stock. If you take a look in our kitchen you can always see us simmering bones for hours, all to make the best stocks for our ramen.”

– Daniel Starkey | Chef, Attack of the Tatsu

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brion voges


“There are so many variables that go into a perfect pizza dough, and for most home chefs it’s worth focusing on the basics and ignoring the rest. Hydration (liquids : flour) in dough is especially critical. Using a scale to weigh all ingredients will help you avoid most dough issues. I prefer not to use heat in aiding the rise as it will often result in dry, yellowish dough. Instead, I rely on time. Your dough balls should appear smooth and shiny with a soft, airy feel. When you touch the dough, it should not bounce back nor should your finger poke a hole in the dough. Perfecting a pizza dough takes trial and error. Keep notes and make adjustments, and you’ll land on a good recipe in no time.” 

– Brion Voges | Chef, Fiamma


steve gatlin


“One saying in a professional kitchen is ‘get your mise en place in place,’ which means gathering all the things together that you will need to execute a task, such as a recipe, cleaning a station, and so on. When I first started out in kitchens, it was common to see line cooks holding the bottoms of their aprons creating a basket to carry all their vegetables back to their station to prep. This was their mise en place to stock their station with. Get all your stuff together to complete your task in a timely manner.”

– Steve Gatlin | Corporate Chef, Café 7 at See Rock City, Inc.

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