Karen Hatfield

F&W Star Chef

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Restaurants: Hatfield’s, The Sycamore Kitchen

Experience: Spago Beverly Hills (Los Angeles, CA), and also worked at Spago Hollywood (Los Angeles, CA), Gramercy Tavern (New York, NY), Mercer Kitchen (New York, NY), Cortez (Los Angeles, CA)

Education: Los Angeles Culinary Institute

Pastry chef Karen Hatfield is the co-owner of Hatfield’s and The Sycamore Kitchen in Los Angeles, along with her husband, chef Quinn Hatfield (read Quinn’s tips here).

What is the recipe you are most famous for?
I’m best known for my Sugar and Spice Beignets, which always include a drink as well, whether it’s an Earl Grey milk shake or a vanilla milk eau-de-vie. My feeling is, if you’re going to have doughnuts, you might as well have a drink. The recipes we use at the restaurant are fairly complicated, but a good trick for home bakers is to use a baked potato. Just mash it into the dough, and it adds a layer of moisture. I got this tip from old Pennsylvania Dutch recipes.

What is your favorite cookbook?
We have hundreds and hundreds of cookbooks, but one we both constantly refer to is Culinary Artistry, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. It’s a great reference source for seasonality and ingredients that go great together. It’s a staple for chefs, and also a terrific book for the home cook because it’s like an encyclopedia and it helps get the creative juices flowing.

What is your secret-weapon ingredient?
Celery root: its versatility is unmatched. We use it in gratins, soups, fried into chips, grated raw and for a slaw. We also always have it in puree form and add small amounts to deepen the flavor of sauces.

What’s your dream restaurant project?
We have a popular vegetarian prix fixe at Hatfield’s, but we’d love to expand that into a full vegetarian restaurant. It’s fun applying the same techniques that you use for meats, like braising or smoking, to turn seasonal vegetables into great entrées. We do a roasted cauliflower dish—cauliflower florets roasted in butter, and served with plumped golden raisins, celery root puree and roasted plantains’that would be perfect for this concept. Every time we’ve taken it off the menu, people ask for it. That dish has piqued our curiosity, and things like that can easily inspire a new concept.

What food will everyone be talking about in five years?
Hopefully, in five years, we’ll have won the fight against foods derived from GMOs (genetically modified organisms), so we’ll be talking about pure ingredients: heirloom and organic products and grains.

What’s your favorite new store-bought ingredient?
This ground ginger from Fiji called Wakaya. It is far and away the best ground ginger I have tried. It’s not cheap but it is amazing, a completely different aroma from the standard ground ginger. It has a much purer ginger flavor, almost like using freshly grated ginger, and it comes in a gorgeous little glass jar.