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The Condiments Restaurant Chefs Can't Live Without — And You Shouldn't Either

April 11, 2022

We asked some of the nation's leading chefs for their secrets to cooking with condiments — and their favorite brands. Here's exactly what you should be stocking in your fridge.

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Photo: Magone/Getty

Spreads, Dips, Sauces and Everything in Between

It may seem like magic the way chefs are able to transform meat, seafood and vegetables into the magnificent dishes served at restaurants. But the truth is, some of their secrets just might include select condiments that anyone can buy. By stocking a few pantry staples, it’s a cinch to replicate restaurant-worthy dishes in your home kitchen. But where to start? Perusing products blindly at the grocery store can seem daunting, so knowing what’s what (and how best to use it) makes all the difference. Whether it’s something as simple as a top-tier salt you or a savory mix-in for marinating meat, here is a look at the condiments some of the nation’s best chefs swear by.

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Lee Kum Kee Chiu Chow Chili Oil

Adding a little spice (to anything!) is nice, and using chili oil is a great way to do it. Executive chef David Rose of Omaha Steaks in Atlanta favors Lee Kum Kee’s Chiu Chow chili oil and incorporates it in much more than stir-fry and noodles. "Chiu chow is a spicy, sweet, and savory chili oil, loaded with umami and packed with flavor," he says. Made with preserved chilis and fermented soybeans, the condiment immediately elevates a dish — and just a bit goes a long way. "It adds great flavor to my soups, sauces, and meat. And it provides an instant flavor bomb to my takeout. Definitely one of my favorite condiments!"

$5.99 at lee kum kee

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Kewpie Mayo

Instead of American-style mayo like Hellmann's, chef Aaron Bludorn of Bludorn in Houston prefers Kewpie mayonnaise. The time-honored Japanese condiment contains more egg yolk than traditional mayo, resulting in a thick, velvety finish, well-suited for spreading on sandwiches and making homemade aioli. "I love it because it is a little creamer and it has MSG," says Bludorn. "I put it on everything I would put mayonnaise on — hot dogs, hamburgers, fries."

$8.99 at amazon

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Maldon Sea Salt

It’s no secret that better ingredients produce better food, and beginning with quality salt will give you a great start in the kitchen. Chef Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto and Jams in New York City and Baffi in Atlanta recommends stocking Maldon sea salt. "Maldon is my go-to salt," he admits. "We use it exclusively at Barbuto for my roasted chicken, for all fish and meat, and I use it to season vegetables and pasta alike." The multi-generational, family-owned business has been favored by chefs for more than a hundred years for its naturally-formed pyramid crystals packed with intense flavor. And Waxman shares that it isn’t reserved for the savory, suggesting a pinch of the artisan salt on something sweet. "For something unexpected, sprinkle a touch on caramel ice cream."

$5.99 at maldon sea salt

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