What's your favorite new ingredient?
I'm in the process of expanding my cheese selection, so I'm tasting different domestic cheeses from Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana. John Folse is an old Creole and Cajun cook whose Bittersweet Plantation Dairy, outside of New Orleans, has been winning many awards. He makes a triple-cream cow's-milk cheese.
What's the most versatile spice?
Pepper. I don't do spice blends. I spent eight years in New Orleans, and New Orleans is the king of spice blends. They've got one for fish, poultry, everything. I cook with a kosher salt that's fine enough to crush in your fingers, so it's good for salads and entrées. I mix black pepper and salt and use that for my meats, and I use white pepper and salt for my fish and starches—potatoes or grits.
What's the most underused spice?
I guess my answer would be crushed red pepper and hot sauce. I guess people are afraid of pepper—they think it just makes everything too spicy. I use peppers and pepper sauces in my smoked salmon eggs with Arkansas White River caviar; something about the pepper in a hot sauce brings out the flavor in the salmon and the salt and the mayonnaise. I also marinate my onion rings in a little bit of buttermilk and hot sauce.