Look in the refrigerator. What’s lurking on the door or on the top shelf? Are there three varieties of mustard? Four different brands of hot sauce? Hellman’s and Miracle Whip? Enough barbecue sauce to make a whole pen full of pigs nervous?
Congratulations. You’re a condiment junkie.
Condiments are the statement accessories in the culinary world. These additions add spiciness or sweetness, creaminess or texture to a sandwich, side dish or main course. When you purchase horseradish mustard in the grocery store, it’s a condiment. When you drench French fries in Heinz, it’s a condiment.
But what about that homemade beer mustard that arrives with the cheese and charcuterie plate at Atwater on Gore Creek?
That’s an accompaniment.
“There’s a difference between a condiment and an accompaniment,” said chef David Sanchez, executive chef at the Osprey Lounge. “A condiment is something that you put into a container and serve pre-made; an accompaniment is something a chef makes that accompanies a dish.”
Dipping sauces, salad dressings, chutneys, relishes and other elements that are added to elevate or heighten the taste of a dish can be purchased at the store, but many chefs around the Vail Valley are making their own condiments and accompaniments, from the poblano chile tartar sauce at Maya to the zesty onion ring sauce at Mountain Standard to peach vinegar at Grouse Mountain Grill.
The reasons are extensive.
“We’re crafting the mustard ourselves, so we can hit a flavor profile to accentuate the main components of the dish,” said Jay Spickelmier, chef de cuisine at Atwater on Gore Creek. “We can make something unique to Colorado that you don’t see everywhere else.”
Crafted for cuisine
In addition to creating a distinct taste for the diner, many chefs prefer to have control over all of the ingredients that are served.
“Making my own steak sauce was a no brainer for the concept in 8100,” said Executive Chef Christian Apetz. “Grilled, hand-cut dry aged steaks cooked over white oak need justice, right? It’s all about cooking in levels; maximizing flavor profiles from every ingredient added to achieve a perfectly balanced steak sauce. It has more than 15 ingredients and, when they’re all combined just right, the resulting sauce is a winner.”
Chef Jay McCarthy, corporate chef for Group970 Restaurants, including the Chophouse in Vail and Beaver Creek, agrees that he likes to control what goes into his sauces.
“I decided to make my own barbecue sauce because I was finding corn syrup as the main ingredient on most barbecue sauces,” McCarthy said. “I thought, ‘Cowboys did not have corn syrup back in the day!’ Plus, I like my barbecue sauce a little more peppery and well-balanced, sweet and sour and smoky.”
“Freshness is a major player in why we like to make our own condiments,” said Paul Anders, executive chef at Mountain Standard and Sweet Basil. “If we make it, we know what is in the sauce and where it came from. For me personally, I like the challenge of taking a classic type condiment/sauce and making it better.”
Anders makes a wide variety of sauces and dips for both Sweet Basil and Mountain Standard, such the house Thai chili sauce paired with the blue crab fritters. The Standard ranch dressing, an accompaniment for the onion rings at Mountain Standard, was an experiment — Anders wanted to see if he could replicate the flavor using his own fresh ingredients.
“I think having our own versions of condiments definitely enhances the guests’ experience,” Anders said. “They have the opportunity to try something new, yet hopefully familiar. People go to restaurants to try things that they can’t cook at home or don’t have the time or ability to do at home. So, we provide that ‘wow factor’ or extra special experience for them.”
In some cases, making certain items is almost a necessity, like the peach vinegar at Grouse Mountain Grill.
“I had been looking for peach vinegar and couldn’t find it anywhere,” said David Gutowski, executive chef at Grouse Mountain Grill. “At the farmers market I saw the stand with Colorado peach juice so I bought a few gallons and gave it a shot. We use it on certain dishes where we want to showcase that ingredient.”
It’s also a matter of quality. The chefs at Grouse Mountain Grill make almost everything in-house, with the idea that if you can make it in-house, why wouldn’t you?
“Guests, now more than ever, are really concerned with where their food comes from, so the more products we produce in house the closer we are to it,” Gutowski said. “With the increase in allergies it’s important to know what exactly you’re serving your guests and, at our level, we shouldn’t be reading a label to see what we are serving our guests. It really demonstrates the thought and time that goes into dining at Grouse.”
Taste of homemade
For others, it’s an emotional connection.
“If I’m cooking for someone, I cook everything because food is family, food is love,” said chef Adam Roustom, of Blue Plate Bistro. “People show you how much they love you by what they cook for you, how much time went into it, how much labor went into it.”
Chef Roustom certainly loves his guests: he makes all of their sauces, such as a homemade ketchup for the cheddar jalapeno tater tots and a Chinese New Year sauce, as well as other accompaniments such as pickled veggies including carrots, turnips and kimchi, a spicy pickled cabbage.
Finding homemade accompaniments on menus in the Vail Valley is now the norm, rather than a rare occurrence. However, making condiments and accompaniments from scratch is not a newfangled phenomenon, explains Chef Michael Joersz, executive chef at the Wolcott Yacht Club.
“This is nothing new,” Joersz said. “More than 20 years ago, the slow food movement started in California; restaurants like the Fog City Diner were the first to have locally produced, artisan condiments on the table. It made you wonder, ‘where has this lingonberry stone ground mustard been all my life?’”
For at-home chefs interested in experimenting with homemade condiments and accompaniments (remember, there is a difference), the best advice is to start simply.
“The simple ketchup recipe is a tomato product and aromatics and patience,” Joersz said. “Put it on the stove, stir it, let it do its thing for a few hours, then cool it and jar it and put it in the fridge. It’s about a 5 or 6 out of 10 on the difficulty scale for a home chef.”
Want something even less complicated? Take a neutral base, such as ketchup or mayonnaise, and embellish it. Condiments can act as an ingredient for an accompaniment. Traditional cocktail sauce, for example, is simply ketchup with horseradish and lemon juice added. Most tartar sauces use mayonnaise as the base and add pickle relish.
Even chefs often use existing condiments to make specific accompaniments. Radames Febles, Maya’s executive chef, begins his poblano chile tartar sauce with Kewpie mayonnaise, a type of Japanese mayo and then other ingredients are added.
“Start with ketchup,” McCarthy said. “It’s simple, yet you can see the impact of the different spices quickly and then you can see the opportunities to get creative. I like to add roasted bell peppers, or horseradish, or oranges or coriander seeds.”
When experimenting at home, be adventurous.
“Making your own accompaniments is a very, very exciting and creative way to gourmet up a dish,” Sanchez said.
But, at the end of the day, there’s only one thing to consider:
“Obviously, the most important thing is that it tastes good,” Gutowski said.