Aside from their seasonality, Chef Carlos says sweet potatoes in rich, saturated orange, deep and textured purple and creamy white help extend the palette of autumn colors on his plates. “Sweet potato can be prepared in very different ways. Roasted, poached, pureed,” Chef Carlos said. “And the variety is incredibly exciting.”
As Executive Chef of Cloud Catering, Chef Carlos said sweet potatoes and sweet potato leaves are a natural visual representation of seasonal change.
“Every year we try to find what’s in season,” he said. “Sweet potato is one of the things we turn to this time of year.”
The Chef’s Garden is offering chefs seven distinctive varieties of fresh sweet potatoes this season. More traditional orange varieties include Burgundy Sweet, with its mild garnet red-skin. There is rich, dense Copper Penny, and Sweet Rustic, with its squash-like flavor and dryer, fluffier texture.
Purple varieties include Crown Jewel, a smoother, waxier potato, and Purple Sweet, with a sweet, almost buttery flavor.
Chefs looking for something intensely sweet and creamy need look no further than Creamsicle, with its pale orange flesh and velvety smooth sweetness, or Crème Brulee, a creamy white fleshed potato with texture and flavor notes of vanilla custard.
To further evoke a distinctly fall feel, Chef Carlos said he is particularly fond of The Chef’s Garden’s purple sweet potato leaves. He said he uses them as a final gesture atop a vegetable-forward sweet potato salad.
“My guys ask how it should look,” he said. “And I say, if it fell out of the sky, what would it look like? How would it fall? It may be on top, or a little off to the side. It wouldn’t look manicured.”
To tie the harvest-time spirit all together, Chef Carlos pipes a squiggle of mousse on the plate to suggest a vine rising up from a base of “soil” of toasted and ground brioche scraps, chopped nuts and “onion ash.” “We grill onions on an open grill for as long as humanly possible until they’re just black,” he said. (He also noted that the process is a good way to use brioche scraps in his zero-waste kitchen.)
Arranged along the vine, like foliage, are leaves of red ribbon sorrel, paper thin rounds of watermelon radish, ribbons of sweet potato, and lastly the sweet potato leaves.
Chef Carlos likened sweet potato leaves to “the finest quality caviar.” “You don’t have to do anything to it,” he said.
Cloud Catering is focused on very high-end events, and boasts an impressive lineup of clients such as Chanel, Cadillac, NBC Universal, Tesla, Yahoo, Inc. and Microsoft. And Chef Carlos said he recently included his elegant Sweet Potato Salad as a course on the menu at the American Ballet Theater’s October black-tie Gala at Lincoln Center. The event drew the likes of actress Katie Holmes, dancer Misty Copeland, television journalist Diane Sawyer and celebrity personality Star Jones. “Everybody got it!” he said.
When communicating a seasonal theme, the chef said it’s important not to come on too strong, even when layering multiple applications of a single vegetable.
“Restraint,” he said, “is one of the strongest things in our business.”
During tomato season, Chef Carlos said he’s fond of combining elements like grilled tomatoes with a tomato confit and tomato vinaigrette.
When beets are ready, he turns to a Cloud Catering beet salad incorporating “everything beet possible,” including a quick-charred beet blush leaf.
A strawberry dessert boasts eight berry-infused ingredients including strawberry gel, strawberry terrine, strawberry noodles, strawberry meringue, dehydrated strawberry chips, fresh strawberries and strawberry vinaigrette.
Respecting the seasonality of the vegetables on his menu is a priority for Chef Carlos. He said if sourcing an off-season vegetable such as white asparagus means shipping it from another country, he’d rather not bother.
“I try to support local business and the good things people are doing out there,” he said. “As chefs, we have to do our part. It’s a way to pay homage to the ingredient and where it comes from.”
That includes partnering with The Chef’s Garden.
“I respect the ingredient because you guys put forth the effort,” he said. “I love the story of where a lot of our stuff comes from.”