May 8, 2019

When Life Gives You Citrus

When I was a kid, especially around Christmas, my mother used to take my brothers and I to a small farm stand called “The Orange Cart”. Nothing too out of the ordinary except they did sell some exceptionally sweet and delicious citrus. I loved navel oranges the most, that is until I discovered kumquats. I think I thought it was cool that you could pop the whole thing in your mouth like grapes, peel and all. I also thought I was “cool at school” as I was eating something at the highly judgmental lunch table that one else had ever heard of. This honestly was one of the earliest indicators to me that food meant something more to me beyond nutrition and satiation. It was also the first time I concluded that trying new things was not “ICKY”, but worth the risk.


I took my first fine dining job in a small classical French Restaurant at a pretty young age working after school, and on weekends. Back then Duck a l’Orange and lemon juice in hollandaise sauce were my exposure to the value of citrus in food. Since then, as my culinary knowledge, experience and culinary prowess grew, I truly began to harness the power and versatility of citrus and explore using some of the less common of the fruits outside of oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit. As my career continued to unfold, I was blessed with the opportunity to travel globally which really opened my eyes regarding these tropical wonders far beyond what I thought I knew.

The influence of globally inspired cuisine has truly changed citrus inspired menu offering of late bringing many new varieties to bare which are healthy, versatile, exotic and intriguing. Citrus fruits like yuzu, naranja agria, calamansi, pomelos, key limes, mandarins and a dozen tangerine varieties to name only a few. Chefs and mixologists alike are having fun exploring the subtle flavors and are investing a lot of time exploiting citrus, taking full advantage of the bitter-sweetness and tart juicy jolt the fruits offer.

Back to Duck a l’Orange and kumquats for a minute… To be honest, I never quite understood Duck a l’Orange. Wild game has always been a passion for me, and I love duck. I pine for its unique savory flavor and the impact its rich fat plays into its taste with properly crisped skin. Therefore, in my mind, masking that flavor by smothering it with an overly sweet orange glaze laced with Grand Marnier just never did it for me. I always preferred duck accented with a more savory sauce option like green peppercorn. Then, I ate at one of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurants who served duck breast with a touch of kumquat chutney, and my opinion was realigned. The bitter sweetness of this beautiful citrus and the fact that every bite wasn’t smothered, or should I say flavor was not masked, really worked. The chutney appropriately complimented it perfectly. It also took me back to my childhood memories of kumquats making an emotional connection. Now that is my type of comfort food!

One of my favorite products in the Custom Culinary® branded line is our Gold Label Latin-Style Citrus Chili Sauce. It is an achiote based sauce with strong undertones of black pepper and orange. I love it because its uniquely delicious, vibrant in color, and most of all versatile. The citrus pop adds so much to this sauce in an undefinable way. I’ve mixed it at a 50/50 ratio with our Gold Label Demi-Glace to braise beef and pork (yum!), I’ve glazed Cedar Planked Salmon with it and even mixed it with seasoned rice wine vinegar to make a truly exceptional vinaigrette. I recommend you try not only the Gold Label Latin-Style Citrus Chili Sauce but some of our other products that rely on the greatness of citrus. Get a sample of our Passport Global Flavors™ Thai Style Vegetable Broth which is laced with fresh lime or our Gold Label Harissa which counts on fresh lemon to drive its truly authentic profile. I am wholly confident that you will not only enjoy playing with these products, but that the creations you conjure up will bring add tremendous flavor to your menu.

Guess what I’m having for dinner. I got so worked up writing about Duck with Kumquat Chutney, I’m off to the market now to get my mise en place ready. I wonder if the kids will like it as much as me… NOT! I guess they will think it’s “ICKY”.

Good cooking always,

Michael Smith

Michael Smith
Michael Smith, CEC, AAC
Corporate Executive Chef, Segment Sales
Custom Culinary, Inc.