The First Two Ingredients In Cooking Are…

08 Mar 2022, Posted by Justin Olivares in Blog

The First Two Ingredients In Cooking Are…

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Pepper Pantalones

When I first started cooking in 2011, I worked at a wonderful country club. We had all the toys from sous vide to rotisserie smokers and, we also had…pepper. I can confirm the supply of pepper because early on in my line cooking career, I would routinely return home after a long day and night cooking, unknowingly with a back pants pocket full of pepper. The back pocket of my cooking pants can be classified as one of the greatest inventions in the history of time because it allowed itself to be filled with coarse ground black pepper while simultaneously keeping it ALL in the pocket AND not letting me feel that I had a pants load of pepper while driving home.

Dog days on the slide broiler.

Once home, the pants would come off and into the laundry basket or laundry machine and thus, this is the point in the story where my wife would become extremely mad at me. Why, you ask? Oh, that’s because I had just dumped about a half a cup of ground pepper into the laundry basket or machine…and my attempted joke about ‘at least the clothes are seasoned well’ did not usually land, especially when I returned home after 11:00 pm, which was basically every night.

Who’s your favorite Spice Girl?

I’ve taken this long, winding road of a story to tell you this: when people think about the first two ingredients in cooking, they often think of salt and….pepper. Well, I’m sorry to be a pants full of pepper in your laundry basket, but that is only half right. Salt is a seasoning….but pepper…pepper is a spice….and when you think about some of the food you’ve had….whether it’s that guacamole that was amazing, or that piece of cod that was way better than you thought it would be, the other 50% of why it tastes so good is not that peppercorn ground so perfectly but rather one simple thing….acid.  

Flatbreads on the Marra Forni, no pepper.


Be pretty cool if you did…

I’m not talking dazed and confused acid…I’m talking red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice…you get the idea…..the reason?

Scallop, watermelon, cucumber with an avocado vinaigrette…& white wine, all without pepper.


Salt and acid…like peanut butter and jelly, except not at all.

Without getting too chefy, foods have certain flavor notes that are not always tasteable, for lack of a better word (or for lack of an actual word), on their own. Some can be good, some can be not so good, such as more bitter note. Adding salt and acid combat or work with those flavor notes to bring them front and center and by doing so upgrade the overall flavor of whatever it is you are cooking….an easy way to use this tip: It’s still kind of cold, so make that final pot of soup of chili or even that final sheet pan of roasted root vegetables.

Fall salad: ALL the veg, no pepper.


See ya tonight.

Before serving the food, add some acid to it and give it a stir (for the soup) or a toss (for the vegetables). Keep in mind, I’m assuming that you have already salted your food)….give it taste and you might need to add more acid, but you should notice that everything tastes more heightened.  If you have the right amount of salt and acid – the proper balance…the food should not salty or lemon juice-y…it should taste like the best version of that food…you should be like, wow, this the most carroty carrot I’ve ever tasted….make sense? Good….i’ll be over at 6:00 for dinner….and there better not be any pepper on my fish….just salt and acid.

Justin Olivares (Coffee, Pizza, Bourbon. Repeat.)