DISH OF THE WEEK: Puffs at Staplehouse
There’s no surprise at this point that brilliance is coming out of chef Ryan Smith’s kitchen at Staplehouse. The restaurant has earned high marks from every critic in town , and Staplehouse was a James Beard Foundation award finalist in the Best New Restaurant category this year .
When I tell people about the tasting menu that Staplehouse serves, I tend to say how it reminds of me the best Michelin-starred meals I’ve had in Europe, but with a better soundtrack. I talk about the way Smith is mining the terroir of familiar Southern ingredients and coming back with legitimately new culinary experiences. That’s all rather sophisticated stuff. I also tell them that Smith makes some of the best chips you’ll ever taste in your life.
Don’t underestimate that accomplishment. There’s a multi-billion dollar global chip business trying to make the best chips in the world and Smith’s chips make them look like amateurs. The first time I tasted his vandouvan-dusted puffs, I thought that this would be what sour cream and onion chips would taste like if God passed down a bowl from heaven.
As it turns out, God isn’t involved in the process. In fact, the idea came from the most humble of ingredients: kitchen scraps. In the early days of the restaurant, root vegetable scraps were piling up from preparation for the tasting menu and Smith decided to do something with them.
In typical Smith style, that “something” meant a half-dozen steps, including: pureeing, straining, long, slow cooking to work out the starch, another long rest in the dehydrator and then a trip to the deep fryer. The resulting texture is a dream, a vegetable-based crisp that puffs as lovely and satisfying as a chicharrón.
Of course, he wasn’t done yet. Staplehouse makes a vandouvan spice blend in house, which includes a whole other set of dehydrated ingredients, that gives the puffs their addictive taste. Lately, they’re served with a pickled green tomato aioli. But, like the rest of the menu, they’re always changing.
“We try to keep things as difficult as possible. I don’t know why,” Smith said, laughing.
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