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The ingredients Philly chefs hate (and how they cook with them anyway)

Sometimes chefs just avoid ingredients they dislike. Sometimes they're forced to cook with them anyway.

Calves liver with an apple demi-glace sauce, made by Chef Patrick D'amico at Chez Ben.
Calves liver with an apple demi-glace sauce, made by Chef Patrick D'amico at Chez Ben.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

It’s an unpopular opinion among food people, but Stir chef Mark Tropea has always disliked raw tomatoes. Of course, being a chef, he can’t really avoid them.

“I’ll be honest. Even the ripest, most unusual heirloom doesn’t do it for me,” he says. “I’m fine with pico de gallo or bruschetta or a tomato salad with watermelon, but you will never see me eating a plain tomato sandwich. I know the majority of the world feels differently.”

Which is why, when he’s on the clock, Tropea has to work against his biases and face the tomato head-on. What diners won’t find on his menu is truffle oil, which he finds repulsive in most applications, a pale substitute for the luxurious fungus and even a “cheat,” particularly when used on pasta or risotto.

As a child, he couldn’t stand anchovies, but that’s something he’s grown to tolerate more over the years. He’ll use the oily fillets in salad dressings, tapenade, or bagna cauda (“hot bath”), an Italian dip for bread and crudités that ameliorates their strong fishy flavor with a heavy dose of garlic.

“Leftover bagna cauda also makes a decent quick pasta sauce with the addition of some parsley and lemon,” he says.

Also in the anchovy skeptic department is chef Bobby Surdam of Red Owl Tavern, though his aversion has a helpful backstory.

“It stems from my childhood of playing hockey,” Surdam says. “If you didn’t score during the shooting drills, you had to eat an anchovy, which, when you’re thirsty and hot, is not fun. You just can’t get the taste out of your mouth, even when you chug water. I tend to avoid them, though, of course, we do use them in the restaurant for Caesar salad.”

Co-op chef Paul Silva can’t stand horseradish. It didn’t help that as a practical joke a fellow chef once brought him a blitzed “smoothie” with the stuff, which made it so potent the aroma was practically toxic.

“It took my hatred of horseradish to a new level. I just can’t get over it. I love spice and heat, but I can’t process this particular flavor.”

Silva’s learned to work around the much-loathed root. He’ll add acid, umami, and lots of black pepper to the restaurant’s popular Bloody Marys so the sharpest edge recedes. Likewise, Silva says he has only grudgingly come to enjoy blue cheese after learning how to prepare it in an appealing way. His dip on the menu masks the intensity of the cheese with plenty of sour cream, crème fraiche, and fresh herbs.

“Sweetness helps, too. We put honey and corn syrup in the [chicken] wings, so that kind of cuts down on the pungency,” he says.

A similar approach works when incorporating blue cheese into baked goods, like Sweet author Valerie Gordon’s scones with hazelnuts and dates. Tempered with sugary dried fruit and a sweet dough, the cheese plays a supporting rather than starring role.

Chef Drew Abruzzese at the Pineville of Fishtown may well be one of those people genetically predisposed to hate cilantro. It didn’t help that when he worked at Tabla in New York City, he was “cilantro hazed” by a daily routine of picking it, pureeing it, and making oil from the herb, so that his hands perpetually smelled of it.

Rafael Rodgriguez of Sedition Restaurant would be perfectly fine if he never encountered another shrimp dish or mahi-mahi filet, and he wishes those ubiquitous sunchokes, darling of fall and winter menus, would go back underground whence they came.

Chez Ben chef Patrick D’Amico will not eat stinky or runny cheeses, or potato gnocchi, or less comprehensibly, matzo ball soup, which he says “sticks to his ribs.”

He realizes many customers are iffy about innards, but he’s single-handedly trying to bring calf’s liver back into culinary vogue. For a special he runs occasionally, he pan sears liver in bacon fat. He serves it topped with the traditional caramelized onions but gives it an upmarket twist with an apple brandy veal demi-glace

There really is no accounting for taste: Chef Derek Davis of Libertine won’t touch any liver except chicken liver. He dislikes dill, maraschino cherries, and will never deign to combine chocolate and peanut butter, which he thinks tastes like mud. On his too-trendy-to-enjoy list are grilled octopus, tuna tartare, avocado toast, and, à la Mark Tropea, white truffle oil.

La Scala’s Eric Hall would like to see pickled vegetables go away forever, as he says they’re usually not prepared well and are overused on menus. He has two foods he avoids as a rule: goat cheese and olives. That turns out to be a challenging feat in a Mediterranean restaurant.

“I realize most people like goat cheese, so I don’t discriminate against it on our menus due to my own tastes,” he says. “And since I know its flavor profile, I understand what will balance it. I grew up hating olives and I’ve learned to almost tolerate them. But if they’re in a dish I’m eating, I’ll still pick around them. Funny thing, though: I love olive oil.”

Bagna Cauda

Yields 1½ cups


9 cloves garlic

15 anchovy fillets

1 stick of butter, softened

1 cup olive oil

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste


1. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, then place in a small saucepan over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes until hot. (It is normal for it to separate.) Serve with bread and assorted raw and cooked vegetables.

— Mark Tropea of Stir

Calf’s Liver with Applewood Bacon, Caramelized Onions, and Apple Brandy Demi-glace

Serves 4


1 pound calf’s liver (½-inch thick), cut into 4 pieces

1 cup buttermilk

8 bacon slices, halved crosswise

3 medium onions, halved lengthwise, then cut lengthwise into ¼-inch slices

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper


¼ cup roughly chopped shallots

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

¼ cup red Burgundy wine

2 tablespoons dry sherry

2 quarts veal stock

1 Gala apple, small diced

2 teaspoons sugar

1 ounce brandy

1 tablespoon unsalted butter


1. Soak liver in buttermilk for 20 to 30 minutes.

2. While liver is soaking, cook bacon in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat, turning occasionally until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain and reserve 2½ tablespoons fat in the skillet, transferring remaining fat to a small bowl.

3. Add onions to the fat in the pan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer onions to a bowl and add bacon.

4. Make demi-glace: Spray a saucepan with canola oil and warm over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until shallots are translucent. Add wine and sherry and simmer, stirring and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan until liquid is almost evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add stock to the pan. Bring to boil and simmer until demi-glace measures about 2 cups. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Add apple cubes to a small sauté pan, and sprinkle with a little sugar. Cook over medium to high heat until golden brown. Pour in brandy and scrape up any bits with a wooden spoon. Add 2/3 cup of veal demi-glace and cook until reduced to ½ cup. Add butter and stir until evenly incorporated. Keep warm.

6. Pat liver dry and discard milk. Stir together flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl and dredge liver in flour mixture, shaking off excess.

7. Add 1½ tablespoons reserved bacon fat to skillet and heat over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté liver, turning once, until browned but still pink inside, about 4 minutes total. Serve liver topped with onions and bacon. Drizzle demi-glace over top.

— Patrick D'Amico of Chez Ben

Hazelnut, Blue Cheese, and Date Scones

Yields 12 scones


2 cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup light-brown sugar, plus more for sprinkling

2 teaspoons baking powder

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and chilled

½ cup crumbled blue cheese, preferably bleu d’Auvergne

2 large eggs

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup chopped raw hazelnuts

2/3 cup chopped pitted dates, tossed with 1 tablespoon flour


1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

2. Sift together the flour, brown sugar, and baking powder and transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a handheld mixer). Add the butter and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds. With the mixer running, crumble in the blue cheese and mix for about 30 seconds. Add 1 egg and the heavy cream and mix just until everything looks crumbly, about 30 seconds; do not overmix.

3. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured cool work surface. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough gently until it is about 1 inch thick; it will be sticky and moist. Sprinkle half the chopped hazelnuts and dates over the dough. Fold the dough in half as best as you can and sprinkle the top with the remaining nuts and dates.

4. Dust the dough with a little flour and use a rolling pin to roll it out to ¾ inch thick. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 12 2½- to 3-inch squares. Using an offset spatula, place the scones at least 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.

5. Whisk the remaining egg in a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops of the scones with egg. Sprinkle generously with brown sugar. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the scones are golden brown around the edges. Transfer the scones to a rack and cool completely.

— From “Sweet” by Valerie Gordon (Workman, 2013)