NJ’s Top Chefs Reveal the Most Overrated (and Underrated) Ingredients and Techniques

by Peter Candia

Chefs: they’re the driving force behind all of our favorite restaurants. Oftentimes, the work of a chef is under-appreciated. They develop menus, bounce between stations, teach, among hundreds of other unseen tasks. Their work can differ heavily from restaurant to restaurant, but the one thing all chefs seemingly have in common is that they have opinions. A lot of them. 

As someone who is truly enamored by this industry—and the people who make it run—I am always looking to hear about a new technique, or an under-utilized ingredient that a chef may keep up their sleeve. It’s a chef’s passion for what they do that fuels my addiction to restaurants—and great food in general. It’s why I can’t seem to get away from it, even years after my last shift in a kitchen. 

To feed my curiosity, I asked some of NJ’s best chefs to tell me about the ingredients they can’t seem to get enough of and the ones they’d be happy to never see again. Whether it is their love for quietly impactful ingredients like celery or their true disdain for summer truffles, I wanted to hear it all. Don’t just take it from me, though—take it from the chefs themselves. Hear directly from NJ’s top chefs as they lay out what they feel to be the most overrated and underrated ingredients and techniques. 

Chris Calabrese – Nettie’s House of Spaghetti, Red Gables

Chris and Tania Calabrese | Photo by Ciara B Perrone

Overrated 

I went down a rabbit hole when you asked me this. What’s my answer here? At the end of the day, I think I have a solid answer. I have a big problem with raw truffles being shaved on stuff. Especially black truffles. I think they need to be activated with some heat. Maybe some butter, Parmigiano cheese, I don’t know. Again, black truffles especially. I don’t love the tableside aspect of it, either. Gold flake. You know? Just like on a steak? It doesn’t make sense to me.  

Underrated

People don’t use salt enough—does that count? I think sugar is one too. For our New Years Chinese food pop-up at Nettie’s, we were adding sugar to everything. Chinese food is so balanced; it’s salty, sweet, acidic, savory. It’s a great template to apply to all cooking. Celery is totally underrated too. I use it to finish stocks, my egg rolls, sausage and peppers. I love the salinity and fresh celery flavor. It can add a ton of depth to nearly anything. I use celery a lot at Nettie’s. 

Leia Gaccione – South + Pine

Chef Leia Gaccione | South + Pine

Overrated

I think over-the-top dinners are overrated. Some of these people out here charging way too much for an entrée. Make smaller portions and make it more accessible. Black truffles. Overrated. I kind of love truffles, but they aren’t an everyday situation. They’re Instagrammable. That’s one too. Instagrammable food is too much now. Beef is overrated (gasp) it’s just not my favorite protein. One more, chocolate desserts are overdone. It’s so hard for me to put a chocolate dessert on my menu, because I just don’t like it. Goat cheese, too. Ok, I’m done now. Actually, add overpriced charcuterie boards.

Underrated

Celery is totally underrated. It’s salty and crunchy. I put a salad on my menu for fall that had celery in it and it added so much. Some people are really averse to celery for whatever reason. Cabbage is completely underrated. It’s beautiful in a salad, to char, braise… I just love it. Vegetables and fruit in general. I’m not plant-based, but vegetables should be utilized more as the main item in menus. Last one. Simplicity is underrated. I know that’s not an ingredient, but Coco Chanel said it best: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off,” so that’s how I roll with my food.

AJ Sankofa – ESO Artisanal Pasta

Chef AJ Sankofa | Photo by Andrew Bui

Overrated

I think the problem with sous vide is that it should be treated as the “final boss” in the kitchen. But, you should master the traditional techniques before you go to sous vide. You have to learn how to actually cook first. This one might be controversial, but cast iron is overrated. There’s nothing cast iron can do that stainless steel can’t. It has limitations. I can sear a steak in stainless and simmer a pasta. Cast iron seems a bit one-dimensional to me. 

Underrated

I really, really feel—and I feel like because of the time I spent in Italy—it is very underrated to just use the best ingredients you can get your hands on. I see a lot in the states that everybody tries to innovate. There’s a reason why something like spaghetti with tomato, olive oil, basil will never go out of style, though. So, I think simplicity in general is underrated. As far as ingredients go, I would say pork neck is underrated. Back in the day, I would roast pork neck for cappellacci filling and I would just rip pieces off as it roasted. So delicious. 

Chuck Cruz – @chuckycruz 

Chuck Cruz | @chuckycruz

Overrated

Alright, so, I would say sous vide-ing proteins is super overrated. I don’t like the texture it gets when you hold it at a controlled temperature for too long. It gets hammy. I’ve seen it done well, here and there, but usually it’s just not for me. Liquid smoke, too. I just don’t like it. It tastes gross to me and not like smoke at all. I can instantly tell when it’s in a dish. 

Underrated

Steaming things. Seafood, vegetables, anything. The texture is so nice and it’s super fast. It stays moist and juicy. I love steaming squash, lobster, scallops. Squash is actually my current favorite. The flavor is intensified [when steamed]. Chicken feet, definitely. They’re filled with collagen, so they’re perfect for stocks or to snack on even. At Dim Sum, I love nibbling on the little fingers. Hands? Feet? White rice, obviously. Always. Bay leaves, for sure. Rutabaga and turnips—those types of root vegetables are always put on the back burner, but they have great flavor and texture. 

Antonio De Ieso – Fiorentini 

Chef Antonio De Ieso | Photo by Arielle Figueredo

Overrated

What makes an ingredient overrated is the use of it. Food is becoming fashion. Burrata in the past two-three years boomed, and now everything has burrata. So, it’s not the foods that are overrated, it’s the use and the copying. Chefs should not be afraid to push themselves and cook what they believe in. As long as you have a good basis, you can cook something delicious. You must understand the ingredient. The industry finds a profit with something, and then they kill it. White truffles don’t start in October, but you see them now because it sells. It makes money. When it’s in season, it’s a good product. Outside of that, it’s not. That’s the major problem for me. I think there’s a lack of information surrounding certain ingredients, and that’s when you see them become overrated.

Underrated

Of course, simplicity is underrated. Leonardo da Vinci said “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Everyone knows what they know based on how they were brought up. Everyone does what they do with the knowledge that they have. Seasonal ingredients are very underrated. A majority of restaurants in the USA—particularly Italian food—you always find the same ingredients. Caprese, mozzarella, chicken parmigiana… always the same ingredients, no matter the time of year. Unless it’s summer, for example, there’s no tomatoes on my menu. Salsify is absolutely outstanding in the winter, so I have that on my menu right now. Rutabaga, celery root—you can never have too much of a peak-season ingredient. You have to use the ingredients that nature provides. Once you dip into this industry, you have to understand that the best ingredients in front of you are simply what’s best. 

Rafael Ruiz – Emilio’s Woodfire Pizza

Rafael Ruiz | Photo by @trbo_media

Overrated

Pepperoni is the fucking worst topping. When people ask me what to get at the pizzeria, I say, “Not the pepperoni.” Just use soppressata, it’s so much better. The flavors in Neapolitan pizza are delicate, so why smother it with pepperoni? The wood you use in a wood-fired oven can be overrated. Believe me, I’m a fucking nut bro, but people take it too far. All these pizzaiolos believe in a specific species of wood, but it’s been proven that it has minimal effect on the end product. The water you use for dough, too. It just doesn’t matter. 

Underrated

I think the most underrated thing in Neapolitan pizza-making is the finishing oil. People look past that and try to save a couple bucks, but it’s the most important thing to me. Simplicity is underrated. That’s just the truth. If you can make simple ingredients good, then you’re good at what you do. I also have this sick obsession with garbage food, especially at night. Ellio’s frozen pizza is the fucking best. Ellio’s slaps. Wanna hear something else fucked up? Go to 7/11 and order a whole pie. In a pinch, it smokes Domino’s and Pizza Hut. 

Felix Gonzalez – Viaggio, Osteria Crescendo

Chef Felix Gonzalez | Photo by Romisa Salem

Overrated

Pork chops are overrated. Is that crazy? They’re delicious, don’t get me wrong, but everyone is doing them now. There are better cuts of pork you could use—the ribs, the tenderloin, for example. The same old bread service you see everywhere is overrated. A nice compound butter with a fresh Parker House roll? Now, that’s bread service. 

Underrated

Thyme, oregano and parsley I really love. I think people like to use dried herbs in certain situations and I don’t think that’s as pretty or as tasty. It’s not as authentic either. When you use a fresh herb, you get the flavor as it’s meant to be. A good salad is definitely underrated. I did one with charred little gem, pecorino, shaved fennel and apple cider vinaigrette for the fall and winter. I think a lot of people look at a salad as one-dimensional, but there’s really so much freedom you can have with it. 

Justin Lee – Fat Choy

Chef Justin Lee | Fat Choy

Overrated

For us [at Fat Choy], it’s meat, right? It’s overutilized. Daily meat seems like the wrong way to be approaching the world right now. I look at tasting menus and it’s like: “Oh, great, Kobe beef again.” Not that these aren’t wonderful ingredients. For fish, turbot is overused sometimes and I fucking hate halibut—I’ll tell you that much. I think people undercook food too. Duck breast should probably be medium, right? Yet, you always see it medium-rare because that’s what’s expected. It’s not its best at that temp, though. Ribeyes are overrated. I like the spinalis, I love the triangle up top, but it’s overused. It’s the “show steak.” Caviar bumps are definitely overrated. Why are we doing that? Instagram food porn is getting way too creepy also…

Underrated

Mushrooms. There’s a variety of flavors and textures that can be had with mushrooms. Oils aren’t utilized enough for flavors, either. We started Fat Choy with an electric kitchen and we still don’t have woks today. In Cantonese food, we are always chasing that wok hei (smoky flavor achieved in wok-cooking), so we infuse oil with charred aromatics to get that flamed oil flavor. We char ginger, scallion, garlic and infuse it into oil. It adds so much. Steaming is underrated. Every high-end kitchen now has some type of hibachi grill and that’s all well and good, but old-fashioned steaming needs to be used more. We use a lot of tofu too, obviously, but it’s great when used to thicken sauces, which we do a lot of. Whole utilization of plants, even. Underrated. We are always environmentally-minded, but also economically, it just makes sense. Seaweed and kombu we use in a lot of stocks, but it’s also used as a thickening agent in our house hot sauce to create a rich, velvety texture.

Kristina Sankofa – ESO Artisanal Pasta

Kristina Sankofa | ESO Artisanal Pasta

Overrated

I personally never understood why everyone is so obsessed with truffle oil. Nowadays wherever you go out to eat you can always find menu items that say “Truffles”, but it’s just oil that tastes nothing like real truffles. I feel like some chefs use these ingredients to attract people or to make something fancier, but in reality you are just ruining something that’s already good. I would not order truffled tots over regular tater tots, but if you shave some real truffle on it that is a completely different conversation.

Underrated

I see so many recipes using soy sauce or fish sauce, but somehow everyone forgot about Worcestershire sauce. It is probably my favorite ingredient in the kitchen. There is so much umami going on in this one bottle. I love how balanced the sweet, savory and tangy flavors are—it can be added to basically anything that’s lacking a flavor. One of my favorite ways to use it is adding it to braising liquids and marinades. I also very often season my vegetable dishes with a touch of Worcestershire.

Joseph Tartamella – Felina

Chef Joe Tartamella | Photo by @thebacyard

Overrated

Gold leaf. I don’t know why chefs use it. It doesn’t add any nutritional value, flavor or texture to a dish. To me, I think it’s used to overcompensate for lack of creativity. Adding it to steaks or desserts. Why? I don’t believe in using an ingredient that doesn’t add anything. Uni is a little bit overrated. Uni is good, but I think it’s another one of those things that’s usually trying to overcompensate. When I was a kid, I would crack open fresh uni in Sicily and eat it right out of the shell. It’s illegal to fish uni there now, though. I don’t see the value in it anymore. Sous vide is overrated. It’s useful, I do it, but it’s overused nowadays. 

Underrated

Anchovies. I know people get freaked out, but they really have a lot of uses. That umami that it brings—the saltiness. It’s a bomb of flavor when used the right way. I use it in salsa verde, lots of different sauces. [They’re] fatty, creamy, great spread on toast—anchovies don’t get enough credit. Gastrique. You know? Basically the same thing as agrodolce, but I came up in French kitchens so it’s gastrique to me. It’s all over my menu. I’m doing it with a burrata and pear right now. Proteins, cheeses—it’s just an all-around player. It can be used anywhere. Old-school braising is totally underrated, especially with the popularity of sous vide now. You take the romance out of cooking when you throw meat in a bag and press a button. The aromatics, the wine, the tomato paste—it helps you develop a relationship with your food. It’s like making a baby. Is that weird? 

Cedric Gayon – Five Tastes

Chef Cedric Gayon

Chef Cedric Gayon | Photo by Pete Bonacci

Overrated 

Dude, this is kind of tricky. I’m from the West Coast, what is everybody’s shit with burrata on the East Coast? I’ve had it multiple places and it’s never been memorable. I always wish I had ordered something else. I don’t hate it, but it doesn’t do anything for me. You can do anything you want to it. It’s still just meh. 

Underrated 

Salsify is one of my favorite vegetables of all time. The complexities of it… I love that it’s super starchy. You can purée it, roast it, whatever you want to do. At my last job, we would brine and fry them and they’d come out looking like sticks—like, straight from a tree. But, then you cut into it and it’s creamy and sweet. I don’t see anybody using them. They’re so dynamic, though. You can char it pretty well and it never gets that acrid, astringent flavor to it. You can take it really far. I don’t know why more people don’t eat salsify, maybe they’re scared of it? I don’t know. I love it.

James De Sisto – Laboratorio Kitchen 

Chef James De Sisto | Laboratorio Kitchen

Overrated

I would say truffle oil, you know? It’s so overused nowadays. Even fresh truffles seem to be all about clout now. Filet mignon is an overrated piece of meat. You pay a high price for it, but it’s tasteless. Texture wise, it’s a great cut, but it needs a sauce, or another added flavor. Everything else is fair game though. 

Underrated

Being simple and approachable is definitely underrated. Salt doesn’t get enough love as a seasoning. It’s the main player in food. Take a tomato for instance—the most beautiful tomato in the world—just a touch of salt and olive oil is all you need. Go to other countries like Argentina, for example, and they’re really keeping their beef simple with just salt. I like to keep things as simple as possible on my menu. Harvest Drop is huge for us in that regard to get local, seasonal produce. It’s picked the day before from a local farmer and it’s in our kitchen the next day. A great product allows simplicity to shine. 

Lawrence Talis – Blue Steel Pizza Co., 7 Doors Down

Chef Lawrence Talis | Photo by Leigh Soriano

Overrated

Overrated? So, you have to say truffles, right? I’m not sure it’s even overrated, but everybody is so lazy with it. Caviar too. It’s not overrated—it’s a delicious ingredient, but now it’s just everywhere. It used to be a whole service and now you just see it so much. I went to a tasting menu last night and caviar was served four separate times. I love it all, but it’s overused. A lot of it has to do with Instagram. Burrata is just an overrated item. As it is—on its own. I don’t care if you bread it and fry it, it’s always better smashed up as stracciatella. Bacon is a big one for me, too. It’s had its time. It’s always there. I like the fat, but I’m just not a big bacon guy. I don’t want it on my cheeseburger.

Underrated

Look at my menu and you see black garlic. Huge one for me, I sneak it in everywhere. Not the oil, but the real, fermented stuff. I use a lot of nutritional yeast—love to hide it in places. It goes way past just vegan Caesar. I’ll do demi glace with it, I’ll even add it to classic Caesar dressing for an extra pop. Liquid aminos are underrated. Anything that promotes umami and I can hide in places, really. MSG is a huge one, too. Say whatever you want about it—I know when I eat it, I feel no different. It makes everything better. I’m just gonna keep naming umami stuff. Anchovies get hidden in my dishes. Kombu. Nori. Those Japanese ingredients are just too good. Luis [Blasini] got me hooked on all these chili pastes. So much better than, say, a Sriracha. Fish cheeks are underrated. That’s the best meat on the animal.

Chelsea Frost – Pie Girl 

Chelsea Frost | Pie Girl

Overrated

Uni is great in the right way. Caviar is great in the right way. But, when you just start spooning it on top of shit, it’s not gonna fly. Overrated things are almost always [to me] just used in the wrong way. You see miso and ube a ton now in baking, but they are being used correctly so it doesn’t bother me. Overused is not overrated to me. Gluten free, as a choice, is overrated. Not if you’re actually allergic to gluten, though. I hate soup. Can I say that for overrated? 

Underrated

I think I have a few that we use a lot of here. One of them is turmeric. I feel like turmeric doesn’t get any appreciation, it makes things a beautiful color and adds a great earthiness. We use it for pies, scones—really anything. I add it to my pineapple pie and it adds a vibrant color—extra sunshine-y. Tea is the other one. I love using any kind of tea as flavoring. Lots of tea-custard pies. I make a black tea and mint custard, earl grey, matcha… a lot of tea cakes and glazes. Tea has a different depth because it has that level of bitterness, it helps to balance it out when you have things that are really sweet. 

Steve Mignogna – Talula’s, Alternate Ending Beer Co. 

Steve Mignogna | Photo by Michael Persico

Overrated

If I say something is overutilized, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a place. There’s always a use for something. But, balsamic glaze is a big one for me—see it all over the place. I think it’s used to cover up things like out-of-season tomatoes. We don’t use it at the restaurant. We like to use pomegranate molasses, or maybe even date syrup, in its place. Way more complex and unique. It kills me when I see everyone putting balsamic glaze on stuff. So, we are always trying to distinguish ourselves from others. Another one would just be “overly-refined” ingredients like shit flour, commercial yeast, refined sugar—things like that. You only see that stuff in the US, but around the world it’s more stone ground flours, cane sugars and overall better ingredients. A lot of places just mix a dough with a ton of commercial yeast and bleached flour—then, four hours later they are making bread with it, but there’s no flavor. Hot honey too.

Underrated

I’m gonna be broad here. Fermented ingredients. The bulk of restaurants around don’t use enough fermented ingredients. Of course, all of the best restaurants do though. Almost everything I cook at home has fish sauce, miso, fermented soybeans—things like that. A lot of times you won’t even taste it. I’ll put fish sauce in my tomato sauce even. We make a homemade fermented chili paste that gets used for hot sauce—you see it in our fermented chili carbonara at Talula’s too. Black garlic, koji, kimchi, sauerkraut—we make it all in house. 

Nick DeRosa – Black Sheep Bar & Provisions 

Chef Nick DeRosa | The Black Sheep

Overrated

I really only have one thing for overrated. I think you can make anything work, but truffle byproducts are the most overpriced and overused ingredient across the board. The oils, honeys, pastes—I just don’t get the crazy intensity of the flavor. It’s never good. Actually, I have another one. Honestly, some microgreens. The ones that don’t taste like anything or the ones that are so powerful they blow out the dish. Horseradish shoots? Too much. I do like pea tendrils though…

Underrated

I can give a couple. Smoked and dried chilis are great to achieve depth of flavor and spice in a lot of my dishes. My favorite right now is aleppo. Even a smoked and dried chipotle is awesome when used properly. Eggs are underrated in a way. A high-quality egg specifically can enhance a dough, cake, budino, anything of that nature. Good eggs make things last longer, too. I also think cheeks, from any animal, are underrated. Cod, beef, pork, whatever. There’s so much flavor and natural gelatin. Anything that pushes natural gelatin, I’m all about. I preach about processes more than specific ingredients. Agrodolce, for example. That sweet and sour flavor. Roasting vegetables whole and then cutting them. You lose all the sugar and natural water content when you cut them first, which I see too many cooks do. My last is brining. Underrated. I believe big pieces of meat should be brined. 

Brad Rodriguez – Spring Lake Seafood

Chef Brad Rodriguez | Photo by Oscar Ruiz

Overrated

Truffle oil. Easy. Truffle oil is actually a perfume—it’s not even real and people don’t understand how to use it at all. They throw it on top of a dish to make it more “decadent.” They don’t understand the ingredient, though. Truffle fries with some sprinkled parm used to be cool… maybe 10 years ago. I see these places with “truffles” on the menu and they’re not even real! Wasabi powder, too. People just make a slurry with it and serve it with fish. It’s made of horseradish and food dye!

Underrated

Aging [fish] is so underrated. There’s this misconception of “fresh fish.” It’s so misunderstood. It’s a matter of how the fish was caught and killed, then brought to the restaurant. Aging it maximizes the eating quality of that fish. I can give you a 10-day dry-aged baja kampachi that will taste better than one that was just killed and delivered fresh from the boat. I think soy sauce is over-utilized but misunderstood. People buy low-sodium soy sauce or whatever and just use it. But, there’s beautiful light and dark soy sauces with different uses [that have] 1000-year recipes behind them, so those are definitely underrated. People think a bunch of standard soy sauce on sushi is fine, but that’s not the case. On Omakase night, when we make nikiri (a house-brewed mixture of light soy, sake, mirin, kombu and katsuobushi), we use a very light soy sauce and combine it with other ingredients to enhance the fish. Fresh wasabi, too. Underrated. Wasabi is completely fucked everywhere. Use real wasabi.  

AJ Capella – Summit House

Summit House

Chef AJ Capella | Summit House

Overrated

Truffle oil, I guess, but I’m sure everyone is saying that. Oh, I got a good one. Dry-aged meat. I would much rather eat an un-aged wagyu or prime steak than a dry-aged cut of lower quality. It’s not worth the money. Foams are overrated. It’s the first toe people dip into the molecular gastronomy pool. They’re easy to do, so I get it. But, every spring, it’s inevitable that you’ll see green foams on everything. 

Underrated

I’m gonna say that sous vide is underrated, actually. It gives you the most consistency and you don’t need a rockstar cook on the line to put out a perfect product every time. I would also say the use of certain additives like xanthan gum, agar and versa whip—they’re not harmful, they just have scary names. They really improve your end product if you know how to use them.

Jamie Knott – Cellar 335, Saddle River Inn, Madame, Kinjo (and more)

Chef Jamie Knott Madame JC

Chef Jamie Knott | Photo by Pete Bonacci

Overrated

I don’t know man, I think caviar. I hate to say it because I fucking love caviar service, but in the last year it’s just gotten to be too much. I’ll eat caviar six days a week, but it’s in places where it doesn’t belong. I feel like I see it on everything. Over-plating something, too. Taking two minutes (or more) to make a plate that’s a pain in the ass and hard to eat. I think a lot of modern food is more about looks and less about flavor. I did this a lot when I was young. Now, I have a simple philosophy: guests come to eat and we come to cook. That’s why the relationship has synergy.

Underrated

I think pickling is underrated. Acidity in general. I really need that pop in all of my food. Finishing a dish with segments or zest. Adding zest to a stuffed pasta filling. I like to use the whole fruit—I’ll zest it first then juice it. Total usage [like that] is underrated. There’s a use for everything. I find heat to be underrated. Not everyone likes spicy, but even as an undertone. Pickled chilis you get a pop of vinegar, followed by warmth. I just love chilis. They’re important and add complexity. Let’s say you’re making lentils. Shallot, garlic, then toast some dried chilis. It’s not necessarily “hot” but it rounds it out. It doesn’t have to knock your socks off. Whole-picked herbs too. Mint, cilantro, tarragon, chives—they bring a freshness to the dish. Not every herb has to be super finely chopped. I like to double up on flavors too. Let’s say I’m braising fennel, I’ll sear them off, then braise in orange and fennel pollen… maybe even a little sambuca. Layers of fennel flavor. 

Jonathan Kavourakis – Fanny’s, The Brookdale, Ladyfingers

Jonathan Kavourakis | Photo via The Brookdale

Overrated

Edible gold leaf. There’s zero value in adding gold leaf to a dish. Frankly, I think gold leaf on a  steak just looks silly. Sometimes, maybe on a dessert, I guess I can kind of get on board with it. It adds no flavor and people charge exuberant amounts of money for it. Not my style. Microgreens, too. I’d rather use fresh herbs. Throwing a bunch of micro basil on a bowl of pasta just doesn’t make sense to me. Chop basil up and incorporate it into the dish as you’re cooking it! Taking the easy way out to try and make something look pretty. “This needs color, let’s throw microgreens on it,” instead of coming up with an oil or something that can enhance the dish and add color. I feel like following a recipe is overrated. For savory cooking, obviously, but when you follow a recipe exactly out of a book, you lose creativity. Let’s say I want to make chicken marsala, I’ll look up 10 recipes and pull methods from each. Recipes should be a tool, but not an end-all. Make things your own. 

Underrated

Anchovies bring salty, briny and umami to anything you add them to. Add them to pastas, braises, dressings—you don’t see it, it just disappears, but you still get the flavors. Or, leave them whole. Put them on pizza, salads, crostini. It’s a great ingredient. They’re so versatile. Maybe I’ll get bashed for this, but I don’t care: the microwave is underrated. It’s a great tool and has its place in the kitchen. Especially at home. In a time crunch? Eggs, potatoes, bacon, steamed veg—you can make this stuff quick, easy and clean in the microwave. I’m a big microwave guy. 

David Viana – Heirloom Kitchen, Lita, Heirloom at the St Laurent

David Viana of Lita

Chef David Viana | Photo by Arielle Figueredo

Overrated

First thing that came to mind is uni. I get it. I’ve had it straight from the ocean in Spain. It’s beautiful, salinic and delicious, but I haven’t found anything in Jersey, or on the East Coast, that’s as beautiful. It just seems like a buzzword to me. It’s always muddy and salty and inadequate. Definitely summer truffles, too. Truffles should not have a summer adjective to it in my opinion. Alba, Burgundy, other winter truffles—those are truffles. Like uni, it’s just become a food buzzword to me. 

Underrated

Soffrito is underrated. It’s the building block in so many dishes at Lita. We make massive amounts at a time. It’s a simple answer, but it’s so integral and important to my cooking. Whether it be a stew, sauce or something else, a great sofrito is an amazing way to start. I also think garlic is the most underrated thing of all time. You can never have too much garlic. Can you? 

Logan Ramirez – Gioia Mia

Overrated

This is hard. There’s so much. Truffles and truffle oil are definitely overrated. Gold leaf. I hate that stuff. Quinoa is overrated, but you don’t see as much of it these days. Ribeyes. Steak is expensive everywhere you go. A lot of times with ribeye, nothing special is done with it. Sometimes that quarter size eye of fat is too much. It’s hard to get a good sear and proper render. The meat-to-fat ratio is usually off. I like to separate the spinalis and remove the thick fat from the middle to make it more palatable. “Trendy” steak cuts in general are overrated. 

Underrated

Garlic is the most underrated ingredient ever. Without garlic, I wouldn’t be a cook. It’s not underused, but it’s still underrated because people don’t appreciate it enough. Something else I notice myself using a lot of and I can’t seem to get away from are chilis. Chilis are all over every menu I make. Sweet, pickled, spicy, powder—there’s always a chili factor. For cuts of meat, pork tenderloin is delicious and underused. Skirt steak is my favorite cut of steak, so that’s definitely something I think is underrated, too. 

Richard Cusack – June, Café le Jardin

Chef Richard Cusack | Photo by Dan Heinkel

Overrated

I put truffle risotto on my menu and it eats at my soul, but I know it’s gonna sell. Yeah, truffles are so overrated. Fermentation is a little overrated. Everyone jumps on the bandwagon now. It’s a great technique, but chill… Work on the basic shit. I used to work with a guy that would ferment everything and it would drive me crazy. Right now, I see branzino a lot and it’s definitely an overrated fish. I use it, but only because it sells. Black bass, snapper—they’re all better. Veal can be overrated sometimes. I feel like veal is for my grandpa. A veal chop is good, but I’m not jumping up and down for it.

Underrated

Caviar is underrated. I know everyone would say the opposite, but I just fucking love it. If you tell me it’s gonna be on everything, I’ll be like “Yes.” One time, I sat down, spread a whole tin of caviar on a bagel with cream cheese and watched the Eagles. It was fucking perfect. Expensive doesn’t always mean overrated. One of the best dishes I’ve ever had was caviar ice cream with potato chips at Laurel. I asked for a second portion. Sweetbreads. Like a good, crispy sweetbread. People just don’t like offals, though. Chicken is definitely underrated. No one ever orders it because “I can make that at home,” or “I can get chicken anywhere,” but ever have it made by a great chef? Even a simple chicken with red wine vinegar is so good. Every time I put chicken on my menu, it doesn’t sell. I just don’t get it. 

Chris Pietrowicz – Brick + Dough

rodolfo ruiz on left and hris pietrowicz on right

Left: Chef Rodolfo Ruiz, Right: Chef Chris Pietrowicz | Photo by Sabrina Palko

Overrated

It’s probably pretty cliché to say it, but truffles are definitely overrated. I think there’s a “boujee-ness” to them and they make you feel like a baller. Shaving raw truffles on top doesn’t do much for me, though—really fatty cuts of Wagyu. I like Wagyu steak, I think there’s a time and a place for it, but sometimes, especially with A5, it’s like you’re eating a stick of butter. 

Underrated

I grew up on this shit, so number one is white bread. My grilled cheeses, my peanut butter and jelly—anything like that—has to be on white bread. It’s definitely frowned upon and it’s definitely not the most nutritious bread you can get, but white bread is classic. It’s king. It’s timeless. I’m also on a big pickle kick. I’m not sure if they’re necessarily “underrated,” but I think a lot of people aren’t super into them. Lately I’ve just been pickling so much and putting them on everything. You can extend the season of a vegetable by pickling too. Ramps, rhubarb, we even did apples this year. We were doing a pork belly dish with apple mostarda—oh, yeah, mostarda too. We’ve been doing a lot of those and they’re definitely underrated. Meat-forward jams, even. We do a pepperoni jam for a salad on the menu, we messed around and made a Taylor Ham jam. It’s fun and it adds a lot of depth. 

About the Author/s

Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.

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5 comments

Renni January 17, 2024 - 6:11 pm

Of course, the thing to remember is – these are opinions -. What should be considered is, have you eaten at any restaurant the chef who is voicing an opinion has worked/owned? Have you eaten their food? Did you like it?
Only then can you really decide how important their opinion. I like shaved black truffles, I like them cold, and gently heated, either way I won’t turn them down. I don’t like having a production made over having them shaved on my food. I don’t think anyone should pay too much attention to “someone’s” opinion, not unless they are known to you. That’s my opinion.

Reply
randy ungerleider January 17, 2024 - 6:18 pm

Great frigin’ article….very interesting!!!!

Reply
LizM January 18, 2024 - 12:42 pm

Really enjoyed this article! Made me very hungry … and very curious to visit more of the mentioned restaurants. 🙂

Reply
Karen C January 18, 2024 - 6:56 pm

The article on Overrated/Underrated with all those great chefs was phenomenal!!!! Thank you.

Reply
bob January 20, 2024 - 7:29 pm

Overated: Using the words shit and fuck while you’re talking about food. And you are a chef for God’s sake. Cool it.

Reply

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