Kate Heyhoe

Kate's Global Kitchen


Focus on Flavor:
When Less Is More

by Kate Heyhoe


The charismatic master chef Jacques Pepin tells a story in which he was asked to consult on the menu for a very fancy restaurant in New York.

Assisting him was a young chef that would take command after Jacques developed the menu. One of the first dishes Jacques served was an uncomplicated fish dish. "Very simple," he says to the young chef, "we are going to put up a fillet of striped bass or red snapper. A bit of oil on top, salt and pepper, on the grill, just a minute on each side is fine, and sauté a bit of spinach, with just a hint of garlic. We set that on the plate and put the fillet on top. That's it. We are going to do that for lunch."

"There, that is it? Two ingredients?!" cried the young chef, incredulously. "It cannot be good!"

Jacques served the dish as it was and of course, it was perfect. The flavors complimented each other without overpowering, the balance of color, texture and taste was most elegant and sophisticated. After getting the new menu off the ground, Jacques' duty was done, and he turned over the kitchen to the young chef at hand.

"Well," says Jacques, "he had do it that day because I wanted to do it. Then, I go there a month later. They are still doing the same dish, but they are putting a little cordon of beurre blanc around it and a little slice of mango, some tarragon or chives—because our young chef thinks it cannot be good with just two things! Hey, I think, why do you want to put that stuff on?! By the time you end up with sesame oil and olive oil and walnut oil and cilantro and tarragon and chives, you have nothing."

The moral of the story: More ingredients do not mean more flavor. They just mean more work. A very skilled chef can combine seemingly different ingredients and sometimes produce a superb dish, but in my experience, all the great chefs agree: there is no replacement for simplicity. Knowing the right combination of just a few flavors, ones that complement and contrast, is more skillful than amassing many ingredients that overwhelm both each other and the palate.

Classic Flavor Combos

For today's busy cooks, some of the quickest and most satisfying meals you can make are uncomplicated ones, with only a few ingredients, but flavors that contrast or compliment each other. For a fast but elegant dish, try grilling or sautéing a chicken breast, pork or fish fillet with one of these classic flavor combinations:


* tarragon, white wine, garlic
* garlic, tomatoes, basil
* cumin, ground chiles, lime juice
* rosemary, lemon juice, olive oil
* soy sauce, ginger and sesame
* caraway seeds, cheese, beer
* curry powder, yogurt, lime
* olives, tomatoes, peppers
* paprika, onions, sour cream
* cumin, coriander, cinnamon
* fennel, orange, red onion

For more simple dishes that focus on flavor, try the recipes below. A crisp green salad, a steamed vegetable, roasted potatoes, or a side of fresh, rustic bread are all perfect accompaniments, equally simple yet perfect.




Kate's Global Kitchen for March 2002:
03/01/02     Salt: The World's Biggest Shaker
03/08/02     Irish Recipes: Old and New
03/15/02     Parsley: The Emerald Herb
03/22/02     Easter: My Ham Glazes Over
03/29/02     Focus on Flavor: When Less Is More


Copyright © 2002, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.

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