Chefs' Picks: Pumpkin Spice
Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.
With the arrival of autumn comes the annual craze for the PSL (pumpkin spice latte), whose avid fan base just can't seem to get enough of the seasonal beverage. Its star ingredient is much more versatile than many people realize, however. Innovative chefs around the country are elevating the status of pumpkin spice by taking it out of the paper cup and incorporating it into dishes that are far from basic. Read on to find out the surprising ways the pros are using the flavor of the season.
Jeremy Rock Smith, Executive Chef, Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health
In addition to filling your home with that distinctive autumnal scent, pumpkin spice actually has many health benefits. Though the ingredient inevitably conjures up images of overly sweet beverages and treats, Smith weighs in on how he brings pumpkin spice together with better-for-you ingredients at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Mass. "Pumpkin spice has really become synonymous with being unhealthy — [because] it's often paired with a ton of white sugar," Smith explains. "My favorite way to use pumpkin spice is by pairing it with healthy fall items, such as apples. When used this way, its flavor takes center stage and is highlighted, rather than smothered, without canceling out any of the benefits by adding the processed sweeteners."
For some people, fall is their favorite season — be it for the food or nostalgia. It's a scientific fact that certain aromas can trigger the deepest memories, and Bignelli taps into this idea via pumpkin spice at newcomer Sons & Daughters in New York City. "I love pumpkin spice. It triggers all of those familiar fall feelings and nostalgic embraces," says Bignelli. He incorporates the ingredient into the restaurant's dessert menu by way of a seasonal spin on churros that features pumpkin spice. "It draws out the recollections of corn mazes, haunted houses, tricks, treats, misfit Thanksgivings, foliage and homecomings," Bignelli says of the autumnal ingredient. "It makes you want more — and helps you to never forget those memories."
When it comes to baked goods and pumpkin spice, Scherber is churning out a new favorite — Pumpkin Pecan Sticky Buns — at her popular New York City bakery. "Chewy and crusty, our Pumpkin Pecan Sticky Bun is made with white and whole-wheat flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, spices, toasted pecans, and plenty of butter to make it rich and decadent," Scherber says, noting that her sweet creation can be enjoyed in more than one way. "Depending on your mood, you can have it with a smear of cream cheese frosting or just plain, so you can savor all that wonderful pumpkin and spice."
Rebecca Weitzman, Executive Chef, Chalk Point Kitchen
There's farm-to-table, there's sustainable, and there's multicultural; Chalk Point Kitchen in New York City is known for the trifecta. The restaurant's global influence comes into play in Weitzman's spin on pumpkin spice that takes it in a different direction than pie or sweets. "I think that fall pumpkin spices, if you remove the maple sweet factor, are very similar to madras curry seasonings with the ginger, allspice and cinnamon," she says. "I really like to use them with lentils, as well as other legumes like chickpeas, during this time of year. Look ... for a spiced heirloom pumpkin hummus coming to our new fall menu at Chalk Point!"
Kelly Liken, Executive Chef and Owner, Harvest by Kelly Liken
In Edwards, Colo., just down the street from Vail, Harvest by Kelly Liken is known for its unique yet approachable menu. You can count on Liken, then, to incorporate pumpkin spice into her seasonal fare in a rather creative and unexpected way: "I love to use pumpkin spice in pickling," says Liken. "I'll pickle pumpkin with a sweet and tangy liquid infused with pumpkin spice. The pickled pumpkin makes a great addition to an arugula salad dressed with a little extra virgin olive oil."
Photography courtesy of Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, Sons & Daughters, Amy's Bread, Chalk Point Kitchen and Harvest by Kelly Liken