Like a magician, chef Steve Schimoler uses sleight of hand and misdirection to con his guests into thinking they are eating something they are not. No, he isn’t passing off carp roe for caviar. He’s using humble ingredients to camouflage the reduction or elimination of sugar, salt and fat from his dishes.
“These are what I call ‘distractionary flavors,’ ” says Schimoler. “Chili powder can be used to amplify flavor just like salt. Onions, when cooked down really slowly, take on the same sweetness as caramel. Parsnips poached in skim milk impart the earthy richness of heavy cream.”
Schimoler opened his first restaurant 25 years ago, so he’s seen food fads come and go. These days, the chef steers clear of the peaks and valleys. “When creating a new dish for the restaurant, I start at the center of the plate: the protein,” he explains. “Then I delve into my inspirational banks, using seasonality as my guide.”
A dish is done, he notes, when all the flavors are in perfect harmony. “It comes from years of cooking and tasting,” he says. Consider Crop’s spring vegetable risotto: When most chefs might reach for the butter and heavy cream to finish this Italian classic, Schimoler uses scalded skim milk. “Scalded milk is one of those primal flavors we recall from childhood. And since there is less fat, you get bigger flavors.”