"From about 10:30 p.m. until 1 a.m., I'm seated at the bar with a whiskey and short rib nachos. I jot down notes."
Ask a chef what they get into after work hours and the response will most likely be a shot of Fernet or a glass of whiskey, which apparently gets the creative juices flowing. So much so, in fact, that new, best-selling dishes are often the result of a few too many drinks.
Here, eleven chefs talk about late nights that led to now-popular menu staples.
Chocolate ganache waffles with Old Bay meringue
“I bought these fancy new silicone waffle molds, but I didn't like how they baked savory waffles. I had these expensive molds that were collecting dust, so I took them home. One night after a birthday party for a friend, I had many rounds of bourbon and we had leftover chocolate mousse cake after everyone left. I kept looking at that leftover cake falling over, and I guess I thought it would be good for breakfast as a waffle because I stuffed the chocolate in the mold, put them in the freezer and went to bed. I didn't remember what I did until the next morning when I opened the freezer and found the molds in there. When I unmolded them, the waffles came out perfectly. That became the basis for my chocolate ganache waffle with bananas, blackberries and Old Bay meringue that’s on the Succotash brunch menu.” – Chef Edward Lee of Succotash (Washington, D.C.)
“Cooking at home since opening a restaurant involves the handful of things I have in our otherwise barren fridge. We had a couple of friends over for a nightcap, and we were suddenly starving. I had the end of a jar of kimchi, leftover Korean rice, chicken soup and eggs. I sautéed up onions, ginger and sliced kimchi in more butter than I would normally use, added cold rice with kimchi juice, deglazed it with white wine and tossed it around. In went in the cold soup and once it was all boiling, some beaten eggs finished the whole thing, plus a little cheddar on top, and we were all silent for the next few minutes. Later that week, we developed the recipe for our ‘evening’ congee for our opening menu. We added braised short rib and a soft cooked egg and a small Lazy Susan of four to give condiments for extra heat, pickles and texture. I loved that dish for winter. It was the first time I realized that menu development didn’t have to be so stiff and cerebral.” — Chef Cheetie Kumar of Garland (Raleigh, NC)
Tator tot breakfast casserole with pimento cheese
"It was a long night–a couple of chefs hanging out at the Thirsty Beaver Saloon (a real bar’s name!). Somewhere between the beer, whisky and honky tonk music came the need for solid (and sobering) food. But we were a house divided, whether to go for a late night snack or early breakfast? We ended up answering ‘yes’ to breakfast and the tater tot casserole was born. Imagine eggs, sausage, bacon, pimento cheese and, of course, tater tots. It was heaven. Pure smokey, gooey, chewy, crunchy heaven. This was right around Mother's Day and we knew we had to put it on the Mother's Day brunch menu. It's been brought back by popular demand for every Mother's Day brunch menu since.” – Chef Blake Hartwick of Bonterra Dining & Wine Room (Charlotte, NC)
Asian fried cauliflower
“While finalizing the menu for GoroI knew I wanted cauliflower but I was stumped on how I wanted to prepare it, so I called in some help: booze. After several glasses of sake and hours of skimming The Flavor Bible one night I got the drunk munchies. I started snacking on furikake seasoned Japanese snacks, instant ramen and wishing I had some delicious bagna cauda that a chef friend made for me some time ago. In that very moment, it finally dawned on me how I wanted to execute it. I quickly started scribbling it in my notebook so that I didn’t blackout and forget. The next night I invited my best friend over to try this new dish with my wife and me. Of course, we had to try it both sober and buzzed to make sure that the alcohol wasn't clouding our judgement (it didn't)–so, a drunken night gave birth to flash-fried cauliflower tossed in an anchovy vinaigrette inspired by that memorable Italian dipping sauce I had. It’s then topped with toasted furikake panko for crunch and finished with chives, pickled fresnos and a squeeze of lemon to brighten it up.” – Chef Jeff Chanchaleune of Goro Ramen (Oklahoma City, OK)
Scallops with smoked leeks, watercress and pickled mushrooms
"At the end of each dinner service I grab my notebook, MacBook and motorcycle helmet and head out from Cielo, heading west for The BBQ Saloon and their selection of 800 whiskies. After a 14-hour day, pour me a stiff glass of Whistle Pig and make it a double. The high alcohol content and smooth taste of this whiskey help me unwind and get the creative juices flowing. From about 10:30 p.m. until 1 a.m., I'm seated at the bar with a whiskey in hand and an order of short rib nachos. I jot down notes, thinking about seasonal ingredients, and make quick sketches before transferring them to my laptop. A recent favorite includes scallops with smoked leeks, fresh watercress and pickled mushrooms. This dish is home on a plate. From wild watercress to the leeks, reminiscent of marsh-land cattails, this dish highlights the local parts of Jersey for me–those typically not shown on MTV." – Chef Michael Fricker of Cielo Restaurant (St. Louis, MO)
Yellow curry and tomato sauce topped with chèvre, served with eggplant fries
“Elizabeth and I love our merlot. After a few glasses at my bar, we’re always considering what we should be eating with our drink, and one day she said, ‘I’ve had this awesome caprese dip of fresh marinara sauce and mozzarella with crostini for dipping—you should make that.’ Since my job is to be creative and not do what others are doing, I made a yellow curry and tomato sauce, topped it with Vermont Creamery chevre, broiled it and served it with eggplant fries for dipping. It’s been an appetizer on my menu ever since, 20 years and counting.” —Chef Amy Chamberlain of The Perfect Wife Restaurant & Tavern (Manchester Center, Vermont)
Thai curry poutine
"On a warm day last summer after several games of Drunken Masters, I found myself at home late in the evening, super hungry. I only had leftover curry and leftover French fries, so I combined them in a bowl and went back to the fridge–whoa, cheese curds! I threw them on top and into the oven, resulting in pure heaven. I begged the chef, and he perfected my drunk creation into Thai poutine. The curry is the color of the light bulb in the bar, changed nightly, and you can top it with bacon or pulled pork. Selling around 30 a night, it seems like it was a no brainer to let everyone enjoy our decadent, drunk discovery." – Kevin Gannon of Thai Me Up Restaurant and Brewery (Jackson, Wyoming)
Bacon jam with baked brie
New Year’s Eve 2013 I was hosting a dinner party for some good friends and as always, when cooking at home, I was drinking a little wine (maybe a bottle or two) and decided to make a hot app with a bunch of bacon I had in the fridge. I knew I wanted something salty, smoky, sweet and spicy all-in-one and to speed things up, I grabbed the bacon out of the oven, threw it in the blender and started mixing sherry vinegar, brown sugar, onions garlic and chili peppers on the stove. I realized I had created the most amazing jam I’ve ever tasted, so grabbed some crusty bread with a little cheese to cream out all the spice and flavor. My guests loved it, and the bacon jam and baked brie became one of Carson Kitchen’s signature dishes and even won a 'Best New Appetizer' award in 2014.” – Chef Cory Harwell of Carson Kitchen (Las Vegas, NV)
Bourbon bacon peanut butter chocolate chip cookies
“We were sitting around drinking and hungry, and talked about how good fresh, hot cookies would be. More and more goodies were added and eventually the idea made its way to work and I developed a real recipe for it. They’ve been paired with High Road Ice Cream and Burnt Salted Caramel Sauce. The only way to top them off is to add pecans from Texas. That's what my grandmother would have done.”— Chef Eric Fulkerson at Bald Headed Bistro (Cleveland, TN)
"Three years ago, when we were building the restaurant and preparing for the opening, we did a wine tasting as a team and no exaggeration had 52-70 bottles of wine. None of us were okay, if you know what I mean, and we had to go to a dinner that night for ‘research’ and needed a snack beforehand. There wasn't much in the kitchen, but there were some lemons, thyme, shallots and mussels and white wine. I started messing around with a mussels recipe and brought it out as a snack for a few of us. We were all buzzed and were saying, ‘Oh my god this is really good.’ The recipe that was made after many glasses of wine was never supposed to hit the actual menu. Well, it did, and it's still one of the most ordered items on the menu, for both lunch and dinner service. It's one of my favorite memories because it was a great jumping point with the entire team prior to opening, since everyone had a say in the recipe. It wasn't just my knowledge in the kitchen, it was everyone collectively (drunk) that created the staple item.” – Chef Matt Ayala of Cochon Volant Brasserie (Chicago, IL)
Salmon belly musubi
“I'll skip the juicy details of the drunken debauchery that took place prior to making this ‘drunk food’ item and just get to the good part. Salmon is a popular protein for us at TikiFish, so our supply of salmon belly can start to pile up some days and on occasion I'll take some home. It was one of those days that I later found myself with a few hungry friends over at my apartment after the bars closed. Having worked in Japanese restaurants and now TikiFish, I always have Japanese/Asian staples in my cupboard like nori, soy sauce, bonito, sesame seeds, ponzu and furikake. Looking at all the ingredients and the salmon belly, I whipped everything together into a musubi to create an easy handheld snack for all my drunken guests that would help soak up the booze and help with the hangover the next day. Plus, no plates meant less dishes for me the morning after. It was such a great after booze snack that we've since added the item to our off-menu offerings for special events and have also made it into a hand roll version that we did at Arroyo Seco and FYF music festivals.” —Chef Lionel Killens of TikiFish (Los Angeles, CA)