chefs

The Reader on The Year in Weird Ingredients

Matthias Merges' ingredient, sea cucumber.

Matthias Merges' ingredient, sea cucumber.Photo: Sky Full of Bacon

At the Reader, Julia Thiel looks back at the past year of the chef challenge series Key Ingredient (for which we are the videographer). We have also heard the complaint that the out-there ingredients are unrealistic or gross for grossness' sake, yet the fact remains that they're nearly always something somebody somewhere eats:

No matter how odd some of these ingredients may seem to the average Chicagoan, many of them are common in other countries and cultures. In 2011 we had balut (fertilized duck egg, a popular snack in the Philippines), bamboo worms (served fried as street food in Thailand), and natto (fermented soybeans common in Japan); this year there's been huitlacoche (corn fungus, considered a delicacy in Mexico), chicken gizzards (available right here in Chicago at Harold's Chicken Shack), dende oil (common in Brazilian and West African cuisine), and bee pollen (which herbalists believe will cure pretty much whatever ails you).

And the chefs do seem to enjoy that part, stretching themselves to use something (even if what they learn is not to use it again)— as evidenced by the fact of how few times the challenge has been turned down. Anyway, find out more about the behind-the-scenes of persuading chefs to work with crazy stuff in her blog post. [Reader]

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