The Art in Flavor

Adding Unique Flair to Food

“Caramelized onion and… peach? Really?”

It’s just one example of the many questions Tyler Woodkey, Executive Chef at Houdini’s Escape Gastropub in Appleton, gets when he introduces potential dishes and unique flavor pairings to his team.

“Some flavor profiles just play off of each other,” he says. “It’s one of those things that comes down to trial and error… sometimes things that you wouldn’t expect to work, work.”

In the case above, Woodkey’s successful union created Caramelized Onion Bourbon Peach Jam intended for Grilled Pork Tenderloin Sliders.

“Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t, but that’s the beauty of experimenting with new things!” Raul Puentes, Head Chef at Draft Gastropub in Appleton, agrees.

When it comes to flavor combinations, options are essentially endless, which lends itself to the good–and not so good.

Don’t be afraid to fail!” Nick Morse, Head Chef and Owner of RYE in Appleton, says. “Sometimes the best ideas come from learning from your past failures.”

“And it’s fun–food is fun! Woodkey adds. “Try something out of your comfort zone. Everything is on the plate for a reason.”

From flops to perfectly paired ingredients, discover how three chefs are adding a unique flair to Fox Cities’ food through pure flavor:

Houdini’s Escape Gastropub, Appleton

Tyler Woodkey, Executive Chef + Ben Casper, General Manager + Dave Blessent, Bar Manager

Houdini’s style: TW: It’s a gastropub, so endless possibilities!

Most unique dishes: Oaxaca Tacos: Tenderloin tips sauteed in our house Oaxacan adobo, cilantro and onion, served in corn tortillas.
Pimento Cheese Burger: .5 lb patty with pepper jelly, shredded lettuce, bacon and pimento cheese on a brioche bun. TW: You get the sweet, you get the savory, you get the spice, a little bit of salt. You hit all of the taste buds. BC: It’s just kind of intended to be a pop in your mouth that you haven’t experienced. You can dress a burger a million ways but this one is it.

Zucchini Pad Thai: Zucchini noodles paired with sauteed mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, onions and a pepper melange tossed in a Thai peanut sauce finished with cilantro and lime.

Grilled Salmon: Mango BBQ glazed salmon paired with fried sweet corn fritter, topped with watermelon daikon salsa, and finished with a citrus coconut crema. TW: You’ll get the sweetness and cleanness of the watermelon and then you bite into a piece of daikon radish and you’ll get a little bit of that peppery, earthy taste. Everything just balances itself out.

Creative process in creating new dishes/cocktails: TW: The majority of the time I walk in and I see what I have to work with. Then it just happens. In all reality, it’s all feedback. It’s a team effort. It’s cliche but there’s no ‘i’ in team. I talk to the guys… ‘Hey, what do you want to do tonight? What can we use? What if we did that with this?’

DB: “Usually I look at the protein first. The protein will kind of lead you to either a dark spirit or a light spirit. And then I look at the sauce second. The sauce is usually going to be a 2- or 3-component thing that goes together. Sometimes you can use one of those components. For instance, he has the peach jam. So I use peach bitters, then the bourbon.

Do you follow “rules” in the kitchen? BC: Rules—especially in the kitchen—are kind of meant to be broken, especially in a gastropub. We don’t run away from that kind of thing. We just maybe do our own version of it. We wouldn’t put out something that we wouldn’t eat ourselves.

Any flavor flops? TW: It happens more than you expect. But you keep those failures in the back of your head because all of a sudden something sounds like a good idea but it’s ‘Well, you tried something like that…’ But you can revisit flavors and ideas. 

Draft Gastropub, Appleton

Raul Puentes, Head Chef

Draft’s style: Draft has a warm, casual vibe for customers, (which) focuses on European influences and integrating alcohol into the cooking, while serving high end food and cocktails, which is ultimately the premise of a gastropub.

Three most unique dishes: Miso Salmon: Pan Seared Salmon served over Soba noodles in a miso broth with edamame, Spinach, scallions, and tomatoes with a ginger-soy glaze.

Shrimp & Grits: Blackened Shrimp, Cheesy Bacon grits, Creole Sauce, Andouille Sausage, Poblano Creme. (Not necessarily the most unique dish, but it is the owner’s grandmother’s recipe with our modern twist on it, so it makes it unique to our restaurant!)

Thai Waffle Sliders: Belgian waffle, Crispy chicken, cucumber, carrot slaw, thai peanut sauce. We love this dish! So many flavors! Our waffles actually have little sugar crystals in them so you get the sweet with the spice of the carrot slaw and the peanut sauce.

What is your process in coming up with a new recipe? We start with fresh protein and in-season ingredients and we begin to work off what flavor profiles work best with these ingredients. We love sauces here, we really think that they bring dishes together. So we really focus on the season when creating sauces, in the summer, it’s lighter, fresher, citrus flavors, glazes, etc. Once we get into those cold winter months, we like to have the heavier cream and butter sauces.

Do you follow “rules” in the kitchen? Seasoning is arguably the most important part of perfecting a recipe. Tasting and adjusting seasoning is at the front of our minds when we are making any recipe.

Where do you gain inspiration for flavor combinations? We really focus on teamwork when it comes to blending flavors and trying new things… We all come from different walks of life and that really brings in some unique flavors, whether they come from family recipes, or different places that people have lived around the country, or just different combinations that we are curious about.

Any notorious flavor flops? Truthfully, this happens all the time with our creme brulee! We have rotating flavors and we like to try new flavor combinations week to week.

RYE Restaurant, Appleton

Nick Morse, Head Chef/Owner

RYE’s “style”: I would describe the style of dining to be casual fine dining… from scratch cooking with an emphasis on the quality of ingredients and the utilization of seasonal and local products as much as possible.

Three most unique dishes: Beach Fire Grilled Oysters; Korean BBQ Glazed Salmon with House Kimchi, Fried Rice, Ponzu Glazed Crispy Brussels Sprouts & Green Onion; Goat Cheese Cheesecake: Lemon Infused Cheesecake, Salted Bourbon Caramel, Chocolate Ganache, Candied Walnuts & Pistachio Graham Cracker Crust.

What is your process in coming up with a new recipe? I start by sourcing the main ingredient most often being the protein and/or specialty ingredient. My next step is finding the right sides and sauces to enhance and complement the main ingredient without distracting or taking away from the quality of its flavor.

Do you follow “rules” when creating recipes? When it comes to coming up with a new dish either for our feature sheet or our seasonally changing regular menu there are a few rules/criteria that I like to follow. Firstly is the availability and cost of the dish I am looking to create. Over the past few years cost of goods has been all over the place and availability has been inconsistent. Depending on if I am planning to run a dish for a couple of weeks or put it on the regular menu this can be a very big factor to take into consideration.

Secondly I always try to keep my menus balanced to make sure there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Where do you gain inspiration for flavor combinations? I gain my inspiration for flavor combinations through a lot of research on culinary trends and the collaboration of my culinary team. We love to try unique ideas and experiment with new flavors.

Any notorious flavor flops? I wouldn’t say we have ever had any big notorious flops; however, there have been some times where we have been very excited about a new dish and expected it to fly off the shelves only to be disappointed with the reality of how much it actually sold.

I always recommend the Flavor Bible as a good source to gain inspiration and or ideas for new dishes. And, don’t be afraid to fail! Sometimes the best ideas come from learning from your past failures.


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Food & Dining

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