You might find this hard to believe, but chefs don’t make everything from scratch. Here, seven culinary stars reveal the store-bought condiments they'd never dream of trying to improve.
1. Curried Ketchup
When in Europe, chef Tiffani Faison of Boston’s Sweet Cheeks Q always stocks up on curried ketchup. “I prefer the European versions to American,” she says. “There’s less sugar, but the ketchup also has this darkness—it’s almost an aged quality, with more cinnamon and mace-y notes that I love.”
2. Fat Uncle Farms Almond Butter
Chef Vinny Dotolo of L.A.’s Animal loves the California-made Fat Uncle Farms almond butter. “They make one with honey and sea salt. It’s not cheap, but it’s good,” he says. “The kids who sell it at the farmers’ market look like they’ve been eating almonds their whole life—their skin glows, they’re good-looking, quintessential California kids. It’s like they wear almond masks on the way to the market or something.”
Legendary Boston chef Lydia Shire is hooked on neonata. “It’s a spicy, oily, fishy condiment made from infant fish,” she says. “We do an antipasta of capicola (cured pork shoulder) with neonata on toasted bread.” She buys it from an Italian grocery in Boston’s North End.
4. Kewpie Mayonnaise
“I have a weakness for Kewpie,” says Charleston chef Jeremiah Bacon. “I like to finish a stir-fry with it. Try mounting a sauce, like a little pork sauce, with a couple of teaspoons of Kewpie mayonnaise instead of butter. It’s a nice way to cream it out a bit. It thickens it just a little—but not like cornstarch.”
5. Yuzu Kosho
Seattle chef Brian McCracken likes to add spice and salt to dishes like soups with yuzu kosho, a yuzu chile paste. “It’s yuzu with chiles and these big crystal pieces of salt still in it,” he says. “The flavors work so well. There’s a red one and a green one, but we prefer the red one because it is much more citric, and it’s fermented.”
6. Frank’s RedHot
“We can’t live without Frank’s hot sauce,” says chef Michael Hudman of Memphis’s Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. “We use it as a base for our hot wings, we make agrodolce out of it and vinaigrettes.” “And brines and marinades,” says Hudman’s co-chef and partner, Andy Ticer. “It’s super,” Hudman says. “It’s the best,” Ticer agrees.
7. Huilerie Beaujolaise
Frank Stitt, the chef and owner of multiple Birmingham, Alabama, restaurants, loves this lemon vinegar. “It has a sweetness and tartness,” he says. “I’m really excited about that. I used that vinegar for everything from dressing crab to making reductions for seafood to making vinaigrettes for vegetables.”