Best New Chef Traci des Jardins
Best New Chef Traci des Jardins

Traci Des Jardins

F&W Star Chef » See All F&W Chef Superstars Restaurants: Jardinière, Mijita Cocina Mexicana (San Francisco) Recipe you’re most famous for? Scallops with truffle mashed potatoes. I think it’s something rather dated, but people love that dish. What was the first dish you ever cooked by yourself? I started baking when I was like three, with my mom. So the first thing I made was chocolate chip cookies. I grew up in a rural town in the Central Valley, and I got very bored in high school, so by that time I took up cooking as a hobby. We had subscriptions to all the food magazines and I would drive 45 minutes to Fresno to get ingredients, and that’s when I got really interested in cooking. Who is your food mentor? Joachim Splichal. I started working for him when I was 17. I think the lessons were really the basic tenets of executing great food—flavor balance, seasoning, taste, taste, taste. Favorite cookbook of all time? I think the cookbook that I’ve used my whole life that I still use is probably the Joy of Cooking. There’s a reference point for almost everything in there. And it’s encyclopedic. I still pull it out once in a while and check, how long do you cook an 18-pound turkey? Is there a culinary skill you wish you were better at? If I had to do it all over again, restart my career, I probably would have studied Japanese food rather than French. What is the best-bang-for-the-buck ingredient? Good olive oil, you get a lot of mileage out of that. What is your current food obsession? Tacos. I’ve been kind of a traditionalist when it comes to Mexican food, but now I’m thinking maybe I should expand my horizons. You have to start with a good tortilla and balance crunch, acid, salt. The best one I’ve had recently I made at home: duck and black mole with duck cracklings. That was pretty amazing. Favorite souvenir? When I was in Paris years ago I got this crazy thing that was probably a spice holder. It’s a wooden structure with six little drawers at the top and six larger drawers below it. The drawers are made out of glass with a handle on it, and a pour at the end. It’s just totally amazing. I use it for salts and I’m always terrified I’m going to break one of the glass inserts because I would never be able to replace it. If you were facing an emergency and could only take one backpack of supplies, what would you bring? Coffee beans and a coffeemaker. It’s pretty important for me to have a great cup of coffee to start every day; I would be greatly hindered by not having that. How do you make coffee at home? I have a collection of espresso machines. La Pavoni is my first love, and I have a machine that I’ve actually had since I was 16. I keep it in shape, it’s my baby. It’s sort of my backup one if another one has to be repaired. I also have a subscription to Craft Coffee, and they send me three different coffees every month. I love the variety, and you get to check out new roasters from across the country. Favorite snack? Salsa and chips are my downfall to fitness. Really good chips—there’s nothing better. I have to keep them away from me. Hidden talent? Skiing. I probably ski about 20-30 days a year, which is a lot if you don’t live in the mountains.1995 Best New Chef Bio Won Best New Chef at: Rubicon, San Francisco
Pepita-Sesame Salsa Macha
Rating: Unrated
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Classic salsa macha is a combination of dried chiles, garlic, and peanuts. For her version, des Jardins pairs sweet guajillo chiles with sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds, giving this salsa a subtle nuttiness and crunchy texture. Serve this versatile condiment with tortilla chips, or spooned over quesadillas or the Achiote-Marinated Quail with Grilled Peaches.
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Mexican Chocolate Sorbet
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While other types of cinnamon and vanilla will do, des Jardins highly recommends seeking out Mexican vanilla, which has a creamy flavor with warm spice notes, and Mexican cinnamon, or canela, which is sweeter tasting and softer than cassia cinnamon.
Jalepeño-Lime Pepitas
Rating: Unrated
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As pepitas toast, they puff up, forming a light, crisp outer shell and a slightly chewy center. The floral notes of the lime balance the spicy jalapeño, making this a great bar snack to pair with Mexican lagers or tequila-based cocktails.
This fresh cocktail balances light citrus and herbal notes from the infused syrup with bubbly club soda and smooth blanco tequila. Substitute gin for a more prominent botanical flavor.
Traci infuses her tonic syrup with fresh lemon verbena for several weeks, but you can get the same bright and citrusy flavor in a fraction of the time by using high-quality dried lemon verbena tea leaves. Be careful not to overheat the syrup; a temperature of 185°F is ideal for extracting oils in the leaves without imparting bitterness. Use the syrup in this Verbena-Infused Tequila and Tonic recipe.
Hot off the grill, charred sweet corn gets slathered in tangy lime mayonnaise and topped with extra-large crunchy quicos, or corn nuts, in des Jardins’ version of elote. For a plated version, cut the kernels from the cobs and toss with lime mayo and quicos, then scoop and serve.
Lightly curing the trout in salt, sugar, and crushed spices firms the fish, and infuses it with flavor before its served with a bright and tangy lime juice dressing. Substitute the spring onions with thinly sliced red or white onions, rinsed in cold water to mellow their sharper bite.
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These demure birds get a punch of bold flavor and crimson color from the annatto seeds in the flavorful marinade; also known as achiote seeds, they’re available at most Latin markets. Choose firm peaches for this recipe; they’ll hold up best on the grill and soften nicely as they cook.
Traci des Jardins’ take on a classic, produce-forward summer salad features juicy tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, and lightly sweet slices of jicama. The simple lime dressing gets a hit of fresh, herbal brightness from plenty of cilantro leaves.
Lightly curing the trout in salt, sugar, and crushed spices firms the fish, and infuses it with flavor before its served with a bright and tangy lime juice dressing. Substitute the spring onions with thinly sliced red or white onions, rinsed in cold water to mellow their sharper bite.
These demure birds get a punch of bold flavor and crimson color from the annatto seeds in the flavorful marinade; also known as achiote seeds, they’re available at most Latin markets. Choose firm peaches for this recipe; they’ll hold up best on the grill and soften nicely as they cook.
Traci des Jardins’ take on a classic, produce-forward summer salad features juicy tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, and lightly sweet slices of jicama. The simple lime dressing gets a hit of fresh, herbal brightness from plenty of cilantro leaves.
Epazote is a leafy herb with a pungent, bright flavor, with notes of citrus, mint, and oregano. It lends a savory depth to the summer squash, and pairs particularly well with dairy. Leaving the queso fresco in larger chunks allows it to soften slightly, but not completely melt into the dish.
At Jardinière in San Francisco, chef-owner Traci Des Jardins is constantly looking for dishes with a balance of sweet, acid, and salt. This recipe hits all those notes for a crunchy, salty, sweet, bitter winter salad. A mix of young chicories, like endive, frisée, and radicchio, make for a blast of color welcome during colder months. If kumquats are unavailable, use paper-thin slices of unpeeled clementines.
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Shrimp and Avocado Salad
Rating: Unrated
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Traci Des Jardins created this refreshing salad to showcase one of her favorite Latin ingredients, the avocado. She tasted her first avocado during a visit to her Grandma Salazar in Mexico; she would snack on it at taco and fruit stands on the street, where it is typically served with fresh lime juice and chile salt. More Salad Recipes
Use best-quality fish and cook it so the center remains rare. Chef Traci Des Jardins likes to buy her tuna in Japanese markets, where it is also sold for sushi.Plus: More Seafood Recipes and Tips
Pan-Roasted Lobster
Rating: Unrated
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Pre-cooking the lobsters for 1 minute makes the job of cutting them in half easier. Alternatively, have your fishmonger split the live lobsters in half and don't blanch them.
Chips in Salsa
Rating: Unrated
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In this best possible version of flavored tortilla chips, Traci Des Jardins tosses the just-fried chips with homemade salsa, then sprinkles them with a little Mexican Cotija cheese. Slideshow: More Great Salsa Recipes