by Julia Thiel
This year Marshmallow Fluff, America’s oldest brand of marshmallow creme, celebrates its 100th anniversary. It wasn’t the first commercially available version—that honor goes to a brand called Snowflake—but it has outlasted its rival by more than 50 years. And Fluff has a particularly devoted following, especially in Massachusetts, where it was invented and is honored with an annual “What the Fluff” festival. (The state also made national headlines in 2006 after a senator filed a measure that would limit serving Fluffernutter sandwiches in school cafeterias to once a week, which provoked outrage and prompted other legislators to propose making the Fluffernutter the state sandwich.)
The other brands of marshmallow creme sold in the U.S. are Solo and Kraft, and it’s the latter that Emily Stewart of Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits chose for GT Prime chef John Kirchner's challenge. Kirchner hates marshmallows, he says, because of their texture, though the softer marshmallow creme (which uses egg whites in place of gelatin) isn’t so bad. He didn’t grow up eating the confection, though he does remember having a Fluffernutter sandwich in high school and immediately forming a “fake band” with his friends called Garbage Juice and the Fluffernutters. “We played no actual instruments—it was more for status,” he says.
Kirchner had never used marshmallows in a savory context before, he says. But he'd thought about it. "Years ago when I was at Boka with Giuseppe [Tentori], I conceptualized a dish that utilized a puffed wild rice marshmallow crispy treat, and the protein was going to be foie gras," Kirchner says. "He rejected it." It was this concept that Kirchner returned to when deciding what to make with marshmallow creme. "I had to make some adjustments," he says. "The first time I tried it, everything was way too sweet."
To balance the dish Kirchner added salty, acidic, and bitter flavors to four separate applications of marshmallow creme. His twist on a Rice Krispies treat used masago (Japanese puffed rice) and bubu arare (Japanese rice crackers seasoned with soy and nori) in place of Rice Krispies. For his coffee gastrique, Kirchner caramelized marshmallow creme and then added coffee, cooking the combination to create a sweet and bitter syrup. He also made a sauce of marshmallow creme thinned with liquid left over from pickling green strawberries (vinegar, sugar, jalapeno, thyme, lemongrass, and ginger). A meringue of dehydrated marshmallow creme mixed with egg whites provided texture.
There were also a few elements of the dish that didn't incorporate marshmallow creme: thick slices of foie gras, seared and then finished in the oven, sunflower seeds toasted with canola oil and thyme, the pickled green strawberries, and a rhubarb granita. Kirchner artistically assembled a little of everything on a plate, along with a generous portion of foie gras. He deemed it "definitely sweet—it has a lot of textures going on." Kirchner added, "I'm happy. I'm always happy with a piece of foie gras in front of me, though."
Kirchner has challenged Carlos Cruz of Saint Lou's Assembly to create a dish with tonburi, a Japanese seed with a texture similar to caviar.