Local chefs dish on their favorite guilty pleasures.
Everyone has some entrée, snack or dessert that they turn to when nobody else is looking. Whether it’s Little Caesar’s obscenely buttery Crazy Bread or a giant bowl of nuclear-yellow Kraft macaroni and cheese, all of us have that one special so-bad-it’s-good food that we ardently love—even though we shouldn’t.
Though it may be difficult to digest, professional chefs are no different. A chef that uses the words “truffle oil” or “saffron” when discussing the kind of food they like to eat after a hard day at work is most definitely lying. Those that have dedicated their lives to pushing the boundaries of what food can do need something to ground them; something to recharge their creative batteries. In order to further explore the foods that keep our local gourmets emotionally satisfied, I met with four chefs for a no-holds-barred, high-calorie romp through the underbelly of Salt Lake’s culinary scene.
Chef: Katie Weinner
How you know her: She was a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef and is the founder of SLC Pop.
Katie Weinner is best known for the inventive pop-up restaurants that she and her crew whip up through SLC Pop. She was also selected as a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef, where she spent eight weeks going head to head with some of the country’s greatest chefs.
When it comes to guilty pleasure foods, Weinner looks no further than Chef Frodebert “Frody” Volgger’s wide selection of brats at Beer Bar. “If you tell someone you like hot dogs, people make fun of you—people think it’s almost a dirty thing to eat hot dogs,” Weinner says. Beer Bar’s brats come served on a housemade roll, and diners can select toppings like chimichurri, sauerkraut or caramelized onions. “As a chef, you always want to go somewhere and be blown away or pleasantly surprised,” Weinner says. “This is one of the places that does that.”
As a long-standing fan of hot dogs and brats, I must say that Beer Bar is on to something. It’s not unusual to find savory mixtures like buffalo and chipotle showing up with elk or chicken and apple. I also loved discovering that sauerkraut and chimichurri could bridge a flavor gap I didn’t know existed. “When this place first opened, it had this reputation of being filled with hipsters,” Weinner says. “When I first came down here, I found that it was such a great, chill little place. It’s a funny juxtaposition—it’s like this German-style beer bar, but they’re serving banh mi brats.”
Chef: Adalberto Diaz
How you know him: He was a contestant on Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship and is the pastry chef at Fillings and Emulsions.
Fillings and Emulsions has occupied its unassuming spot on Kensington Avenue for the past three years. It’s now grown to the point where Diaz is packing up shop and moving to a new location at 1475 S. Main, which should be up and running by the end of February.
Diaz’s guilty-pleasure selection was an order of yum neua from Thai Siam. Initially, I was surprised with this selection, since yum neua is in the salad section of Thai Siam’s menu. For Diaz, a native of Cuba, this particular salad caught his eye because of its use of mint and lime juice: “It’s like a savory mojito,” he says. Finding something so similar to his Cuban roots in a Thai restaurant was enough to make this dish one of his regulars, becoming more of a comfort meal than a guilty pleasure.
Yum neua is exactly the kind of salad that I can believe in. Fresh, crisp leaves of romaine lettuce are topped with marinated, wok-fried beef, cherry tomatoes, onions and cucumbers. The sticky rice soaks up the fish sauce, making an excellent base for lettuce wraps, which is how Diaz recommends eating this fresh, citrusy miracle of a salad. “It’s all about the different textures,” he says. “There’s this crunchy lettuce, the spicy meat that is nice and tender. The rice brings some sweetness to the dish, and it’s all so refreshing and bright.”
Chefs:Amber Billingsley and Robert Angelilli
How you know her: She’s a former pastry chef at Vinto and 3 Cups, and current pastry chef at Amour Café.
How you know him: He’s a former executive chef at Vinto, and current pastry chef at Gourmandise.
Amber Billingsley and her husband, Robert Angelilli, have been industry staples on Salt Lake’s culinary landscape for years. Ever since I tried the gelato at Vinto, I’ve been a bit of a Billingsley bakery groupie, and Gourmandise was the first place where a slice of cake nearly brought me to tears. Needless to say, I was looking forward to discussing the nuances of guilty pleasure food with these two pros.
Billingsley selected Brewvies Cinema Pub’s nachos as her guiltiest of pleasures. “Part of it is the time and place—it’s kind of like a date night for us,” she says. “It’s the experience of getting a big ol’ beer, sitting in a dark theater, eating something where we’re not exactly sure what we’re grabbing, and watching something not very intellectual. It’s a guilty pleasure in every sense.”
Brewvies’ nachos are of the ballpark variety—corn chips stuck together with mounds of gooey cheese, sour cream, black olives, pico de gallo and sliced jalapeño peppers. “It’s harder to eat it in the light, actually,” Angelilli says, “But you’re hitting all the points: fat, salt and sweetness. You’re cutting to the quick.”
Actually, I think the term “guilty pleasure” might be a misnomer. It implies an aspect of shame, but the reality is that most guilty pleasures—be they ’90s hip hop or a plate of melty nachos—make people feel better about life in general when they need a boost. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.