Aimee Olexy

F&W Star Chef

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When Aimee Olexy opened Django in 2001, it quickly became one of Philadelphia’s favorite restaurants. In a city with many unexceptional BYOBs, the Society Hill spot stood out for its sophisticated, market-driven menu and fantastic cheese program. In 2006, Olexy took her food-sourcing expertise out of Philly, opening the market and micro-restaurant Talula’s Table in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Reservations are hard to come by—the restaurant seats just one party each night—but Talula’s food is once again available in Philly as well. Talula’s Garden, which Olexy opened with mega-restaurateur Stephen Starr in Washington Square West, is far larger but no less delicious.

Olexy chatted with Food & Wine about her love of avocados, the versatility of Worcestershire sauce and the ancient grains that are now coming into vogue.

Restaurants: Talula’s Garden, Talula’s Daily (Philadelphia)

Experience: Q’s (Boulder, CO); Panzano (Denver, CO); Victory Brewing Company (Downingtown, PA); Blue Angel (Philadelphia)

Education: St. Joseph’s University (Philadelphia); l'Université du Vin (Suze-la-Rousse, France)

What recipe are you most famous for?
Our mushroom carbonara. It’s made with homemade pasta, a fresh egg and a variety of cool mushrooms. This area is known as the mushroom capital of the world, so we try to really showcase them.

What is your favorite cookbook of all time?
Chez Panisse Vegetables. The book focuses on technique and on high-quality ingredients, and the food really has a sense of place. There’s a very famous lemon verbena panna cotta recipe in there that I love.

What is one cooking technique that everyone should know?
How to make an omelet. I think it’s a skill that requires a lot of restraint, delicacy and patience. A good omelet shows that you understand protein and how to choose great ingredients.

What is your secret-weapon ingredient?
Worcestershire sauce. You can add it to anything, and it will transform the flavor.

Name one indispensable store-bought ingredient.
I really love Tabasco. I’m tasting complex dishes and sauces all the time, but when I am not working I crave very clean flavors. I am very satisfied to go home and eat a piece of fish with Tabasco and a slice of lemon.

What ingredient will people be talking about in five years?
Lately I’ve noticed that things like kamut, spelt and amaranth are more appealing on the dining room floor than they used to be. I see people becoming much more receptive to healthy grains and things like that in the future.

What is your favorite type of wine?
I like dirty white wines from the Rhône, like Grenache Blanc, and wines that show some savory flavors to drink with my food.

What is your current food obsession?
I tend to be very particular about seasonality and locality, but I am pretty obsessed with avocados, which have neither of those things in Pennsylvania. I can’t really function without them. I need to know I have avocados at home. I need to know they are available to me at all times. I don’t know if there is a vitamin in avocados that my body just craves, but I need them every day. I like them in a lot of different applications, but I will also eat them with a spoon and some salt.