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A gluten-free chef is challenged with chestnut flour

Noah Sandoval of Senza restaurant revisits a nutty, smoky wheat alternative.

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The Chef: Noah Sandoval (Senza)
The Challenger: Gaetano Nardulli (Near Restaurant)
The Ingredient: Chestnut flour

"I had zero time to think about this," Noah Sandoval said of his challenge (which came close on the heels of Restaurant Week). "I was like, I gotta do something, so I just kind of stopped thinking about everything else in my life and thought about this for like six hours."

Chestnut flour is an ingredient he's familiar with, though: as the chef of a restaurant that serves only gluten-free food, Sandoval works with wheat flour alternatives quite a bit. "We use a lot of quinoa flour and potato starch and a lot of rice flour," he said. "A lot of gums—guar gum, xanthan gum, things like that." At one point he had a barramundi dish with chestnut flour on the menu, but ended up dropping it.

Chestnuts are much lower in fat and higher in carbohydrates than other nuts, which makes chestnut flour—chestnuts that have been dried and ground—a useful substitute for wheat flour. It's used in crepes and pastas as well as breads, cakes, and other baked goods.

Sandoval says that chestnut flour doesn't have a lot of flavor on its own, so he got a smoked version from Italy that he thought was a little more interesting, and made it into spaetzle. The rest of the dish was composed from what he had on hand: duck, huckleberries, foie gras torchon. He made rillettes from duck confit whipped with duck fat and Activa "meat glue," rolled in plastic wrap, and blanched. The spaetzle itself he boiled, then panfried with maple-pickled mustard seeds, blueberries, and pea tendrils; this he plated on top of a huckleberry puree. Sandoval rolled the duck rillettes in a praline crumble of candied chestnuts, sugar, almond flour, and sage before adding it to the plate along with a square of dehydrated duck skin and a slice of foie gras. Finishing off the dish was chestnut pesto with sage, microgreens, and a chestnut-honey-and-lime vinaigrette. For good measure, he added a few fresh blueberries as well.

Sandoval said he could taste the chestnut flour in the dish, though it was the smoky nuttiness that came through more than the chestnut flavor. "I might incorporate this into something on the menu, actually," he said.

Who's next:

Jake Bickelhaupt of the underground "guestaurant" Sous Rising, working with tomalley. "It's all the green shit you get inside of a lobster when you clean it," Sandoval said. "I didn't really research it. I was just like, that's kind of gross. I'm going to give it to Jake."


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