Is this a golden age for the pantry?
It might be. These days, we’re all taking a second look about how best to organize and fill our pantries. People are exploring new-to-them items like farro and fish sauce, chili crisp and teff. Part of the excitement is in the learning: New ingredients mean new techniques and flavors—and a lot more variety in your daily dinner.
We reached out to a few influencers who inspire us to find out about their favorite pantry staples. They’ve all spent a lifetime in the kitchen, and are passionate about what they put on the table, so we trust what they have to say!
Nashville’s pizza hero, chef Philip Krajeck, is also its Mediterranean cuisine icon. You can learn a lot from the guy when it comes to vinegar. He’s a huge fan of the late-harvest Zinfandel vinegar from Albert Katz. As he says, “Albert Katz produces my favorite red wine vinegar from overripe North Coast Zinfandel grapes sourced from the Suisun Valley in California. The product has the perfect balance of sweet and sour, or as the Italians call it, agrodolce. I use the vinegar simply for salad dressings, with marinated vegetables, in a mignonette for oysters with shallots and kombu, or even to deglaze a pan when building layers of flavor in a braise or sauce. Honesty, this vinegar is so good it feels like cheating.” He layers the vinegar on to an “antipasti” salad on his menu at Folk, bright with Italian staples and housemade salumi, as well as his Greek salad, seen here.
Mei Lin, Nightshade, Los Angeles
The iconic woman behind Los Angeles restaurant Nightshade (which is temporarily closed) gained fame on Top Chef when she won the competition. Having grown up in the restaurant world at her father’s restaurant, she’s familiar with the heat and fast pace of the industry. The China-born chef gravitates towards Lao Gan Ma, which means “Old Godmother.” It’s a beloved chili crisp named for its creator, Tao Huabi, says Mei, and “it’s been a pantry staple of mine since I can remember.” It is, she says, “a whisper-spicy mix of savory chilis and peanuts that you put on proteins, pizza, noodles, sauces and just about anywhere spicy is welcome!”
Gregory Gourdet, Portland, Oregon
The Top Chef All-Star competitor, New York City native and Portland, Oregon resident loves coconut oil. He was on the brink of opening a restaurant called Kaan—“sugarcane” in Haitian Creole—when the world changed in 2020. “Besides its health benefits like raising good cholesterol, providing quick energy to your body and brain and boosting heart health,” he says, “it’s just downright delicious. It has a really warm and comforting tropical taste that works extremely well in baked goods. It’s a must in my Haitian Spiced Pineapple Upside Down Cake and also just as good paired with chocolate in gooey, chip studded brownies.” Gourdet loves that coconut oil “does savory as well,” and uses it to sauté vegetables in coconut oil and spices. He suggests you stick with the “virgin” type for pure coconut flavor; “it’s extracted from fresh coconuts versus the ‘refined’ type which is extracted with heat and sometimes chemicals.”
Gina Homolka, Skinnytaste, Long Island
The bestselling author of the beloved Skinnytaste cookbooks, Gina Homolka has made a career out of transforming her favorite recipes into more healthful options. She lives in Long Island with her husband two daughters, and “has a long list of pantry staples I can’t live without.” If she had to pick one, Gina says, “I would go with canned chickpeas. If you are in a hurry, canned chickpeas are my favorite healthy option to add to salads or stews for meal prep.” She’ll whip them up into a quick dip, such as hummus, or roast them for a crunchy snack. She even eats them right out of the can!
The author of the hit blog about cooking his way to a fitter body, Kevin Curry of “Fit Men Cook” broke the rules with this request. Bell peppers aren’t a pantry staple, but “they’re the one vegetable I buy every week of the year,” says Kevin. “They add nutrients, flavor and crunch to any recipe. I cook with them all the time because they are so versatile. You can remove the top and stuff them with your favorite ingredients, cut them into slices to be eaten as a healthy snack, or dice them up to add a burst of flavor without heat to any dish!” Well-played, Kevin.