Kahan serves dishes like spicy pork rinds at his Chicago restaurant, The Publican, but he was game to create a healthy alternative. His idea: a focaccia made with spelt flour, which is high in protein. He tops the focaccia with tangy marinated kale, sweet slices of winter squash and shavings of nutty pecorino cheese.
Dried porcini mushrooms flavor these crisp, creamy-centered croquettes, which Traunfeld serves in walnut-size balls. An easier way: Use shiitake mushrooms in place of porcini, and make the croquettes larger for a vegetarian main course.
One of Andrés's favorite American sweets is pecan pie. "We love nuts in Spain too, but I confess I find pecan pie a little heavy. This version is my attempt to lighten it up a little." This twist was inspired by tocino de cielo, a rich, eggy cousin of flan.
Crispy Vietnamese Crêpes with Shrimp, Pork and Bean Sprouts
Outstanding Chef semifinalist: Charles Phan
Phan, the chef and owner of San Francisco's Slanted Door, thinks banh xeo (a.k.a. "happy pancakes") should be lacy thin and crackly crisp. After years of obsessive experimentation, he recommends refrigerating the batter overnight, so the starches have time to relax, then cooking the crêpes in a nonstick pan.
Mina invented this soup in the early days of Aqua, the San Francisco restaurant where he rose to fame in the '90s. He started playing with the combination of black truffles and caramelized onions and went crazy for the mix of earthiness and sweetness. This version of the soup calls for truffle-infused pecorino cheese (sold in any good cheese shop), which is melted to form a marvelously gooey topping for the oniony broth.
Hayward prefers cooking with pork from small farmers who raise heritage breeds, such as Berkshire, Gloucestershire Old Spot or Duroc. This pork is deeply colored and often as marbled as high-quality beef, and Hayward treats it with the special care it deserves. His two-day curing process is worth the time because it allows the spices to penetrate these thick and juicy chops.