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From Spam Musubi to French Toast Sandwiches, Here’s What Philly Chefs Are Cooking at Home

With dining rooms closed during the coronavirus crisis, Philly chefs are grilling up comfort food favorites, making the most of restaurant leftovers, and finding themselves with way too many avocados

plate with scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and red cabbage
Poi Dog Philly’s Kiki Aranita is recreating some of her Rittenhouse restaurant’s dishes at home.
Caroline Hatchett/StarChefs

With restaurant dining rooms in Philly and across the country closed for now, chefs accustomed to finding themselves in professional kitchens every night suddenly have their evenings free. Many chefs are being careful not to waste what was left in restaurant walk-ins or already prepped for service. Some are cracking open cookbooks from fellow Philly chefs, or cheering themselves up with the dishes they planned to eat on now-canceled vacations. And some are going straight for the bacon.

Eater asked several Philly chefs and restaurant owners what they’re making at home. Here’s what they had to say.

Chad Williams, chef-owner, Friday Saturday Sunday:

“My wife’s French toast and bacon sandwiches are getting me through. And I’ve been making fermented salsa verde with all the leftover herbs that are in our walk-in. We gave almost all of our food away, so that’s basically what we have left.”

Chloe Grigri, owner, the Good King Tavern and Le Caveau:

“Well, my fiancé and I are both restaurant people. He has a major affection for crafting and cooking so we have been cooking up a storm. We riff a lot off of recipes, but recently Joey Baldino and Adam Erace’s Dinner at the Club has come in handy. Nothing like escarole and beans to soothe the soul. We have been supporting local grocers and butchers. Primal Supply has been a life saver across the last week.”

Angela Cicala, chef-owner, Cicala at the Divine Lorraine:

“The situation in Italy has left us completely heartbroken and deeply concerned for family and friends there. We were hoping to be back in Italy this spring but we’ve canceled our plans and are longing for some of the small joys of everyday life there like what we call ‘our Italian alarm clock’ — waking up to the chatter of Italians gossiping, the clinking of spoons against cups of espresso, and the citrusy smell of fresh cornetti coming from the village bakeries. We decided to make a batch of classic Italian cornetti filled with crema pasticcerà and Nutella. They transported us, just for a moment, back to our happy place.”

Rich Landau, chef-owner, Vedge:

“We are doing a ton of cooking at home during this brutally challenging time. We thought that we would get some downtime during this stretch, but we’ve been buried in paperwork to keep up with the fallout of having to temporarily close three businesses. We had a spring trip booked to Chengdu in China and Taiwan. We were set to leave on April 2. So our first dinner was a Sichuan feast of mapo tofu, braised greens with ginger, five-spice roasted cauliflower, and refried noodles with scallion, celery, garlic, and cilantro in chile sauce with crunchy shallots.

Last night we watched Big Night and had an Italian dinner. We grilled tofu as the main. Most people associate rustic grilling with a backyard barbecue and tropical tin roof, sand floor cafes. But grilling Italian style is one of my favorites. We marinate the tofu with olive oil, coarse salt, pepper, mushroom powder, crushed red pepper, garlic, and fennel seed and then grill it. When it comes off we cover it in fresh rosemary sprigs and squeeze lemons and pour more olive oil over it. We served that with a vegan caesar salad, grilled long hots, and baby cavatelli (from a box) in puttanesca sauce.

During these times we are trying not to create any waste, using fresh food up first before it goes bad. We look at the whole vegetable as food so we find ways to use the scraps that we may normally throw out. By putting that kind of accountability and responsibility on what we cook and eat we can enjoy it with as clear a conscience as possible.”

Jose Garces, chief culinary officer, Garces Restaurants:

“I’ve been enjoying my home-cooked black bean recipe since it’s nourishing, filling, and packed with protein. Most of the ingredients are ones that you likely have in your pantry. The best part of the recipe is its versatility. Once I cook this batch of beans, I can use it for several different meal applications such as a quesadilla, black bean burger, and more.”

Ange Branca is busy keeping her Malaysian restaurant open for takeout, so at home she’s making simple stir-fry dishes.
Ange Branca

Ange Branca, chef-owner, Sate Kampar:

“I’ve been cooking a lot at the restaurant and some at home too. We have been making meals for pickup and selling them online. So when I get home, I just make simple stuff I can throw together in five minutes, like a stir-fry of wood ear mushrooms and tofu skin with black vinegar, topped with lots of cilantro and crispy garlic. I found lots of kumquats in the market and I’ve been sneaking them on almost every dish both at home and at the restaurant for that extra vitamin C. That zest really brightens my day.

The dish is great cold too. I love to have a bit of leftovers that I will keep in the fridge for the next day so when I come home from work, I’ve got a great snack right out of the fridge.”

Jay Ho, owner and executive chef, Mei Mei:

“I’ve been at my new restaurant, Mei Mei, every day supporting customers and staff and staying strong with the city of Philadelphia. I’ve always found that cooking is very therapeutic, especially during difficult times like this, so I’ve been creating feel-good comfort meals inspired by my childhood. I’m currently working on a creative spin on a traditional Taiwanese beef noodle soup with bok choy and beef.”

plate with sticks of grilled meat and bowls of sauce and vegetables next to plant and indonesian-style carved mask
Diana Widjojo is used to making satay and other Indonesian dishes at South Philly’s Hardena. While dining rooms are closed, she’s making jamu at home.
Neal Santos

Diana Widjojo, chef-owner, Hardena:

“We have a bunch of fresh turmeric, tamarind, lemongrass, and other types of ginger roots so I have been taking the excess and making jamu, which is an ancient Indonesian health tonic/medicine that has existed for thousands of years. There are different types of jamus for different purposes, ailments, and remedies. I’ve been drinking it daily to keep my health and immune system up while we are cooped up at home!”

Aimee Olexy, owner, Talula’s Table, Talula’s Garden, Talula’s Daily, and The Love:

“I’m eating lots of omelets. I fill them with amazing cheese (Fat Cat by Birchrun Hills Farm!) and Kennett Square mushrooms. A gourmet omelet makes my tater tot indulgence all the better.”

Yun Fuentes, executive chef, the Wayward:

“At home it is important to divide and conquer and work on a dish that both the adults and the children love. Luckily, my 2-year-old loves cooking with her papi and she actually helps a lot. So I recruit my little sous chef and we get to work! Here’s a simple way of pleasing everyone after a long day of streaming the same movie over and over again…like Frozen 2: Crepes! The cool thing is that you probably have it all in your kitchen. And you can top them with anything you have on hand. We always have bananas and berries. I slice bananas, and strawberries and, voila! Kids love it.”

plate of korean ssam with pork, lettuce leaves, and red sauce on a brown plate
Korean gastropub SouthGate is open for takeout and delivery.
Bondfire Media

Peter Hwang, owner-operator, SouthGate:

“I’m watching my son during the day (making breakfast and lunch and doing chores and schoolwork) while my wife works remotely. And as soon as she’s done I go right into setting up for dinner takeout service.

We’ve been doing a lot of turkey, cheese, and pesto melts. Grilled ham and cheese and tomato soup, too. Feels like a homey luxury. When we’re done for the night I love taking home some leftover spicy pork over rice topped with a fried egg.

Given our hours are the same as other restaurants, I haven’t been able to order from theirs yet. But I will. We’re all in this together.”

Carolynn Angle, executive chef, Good Dog:

“With the week one excesses wearing thin, in week two my body was beginning to crave fresh fruit and leafy green salads. Maybe in week three I’ll start craving the blood of my new neighbors. What we gotta do to survive! Haha!”

round pizza with mushrooms, scallions, and cheese
Oyster House’s Aaron Gottesman turned to Joe Beddia’s cookbook for a pizza recipe.
Randy Harris, from Pizza Camp by Joe Beddia, published by Abrams Books 2017

Aaron Gottesman, executive chef, Oyster House:

“So far during our quarantine we have been cooking out of the freezer and pantry as much as possible. Both to be frugal and also make space for all the food I anticipate cooking over the coming weeks! A lot of what’s been made so far has also been dictated by the produce brought home from the restaurant so it doesn’t get wasted. Moussaka one night, bibimbap another. On Sunday we made pizza from Joe Beddia’s cookbook. Later this week I plan to make ramen one night and on Thursday we’re going to actually put on real clothes and have a date after we put Max to bed. I plan on making tonkatsu with all the fixings. I’m trying to cook as healthy as possible because there will be the inevitable gorging on snacks as well.”

Jeanne Chang, owner, Lil’ Pop Shop:

“We’re pretty stocked up on basic things to cook with and making our usual things we like to eat. However, we are going through dessert and bread at a higher pace than usual! And they’re bored with popsicles. So, we have been making dessert. Yesterday we made dark chocolate pudding and today we are going to make no-knead bread in a Dutch oven. There is a bread baker from High Street on Market that started a neighborhood Facebook group for bread baking and I’m going to pick up sourdough starter from him.”

woman standing in home kitchen holding two plates of food
Kiki Aranita is used to cooking for a crowd at Poi Dog. She’s figuring out how to scale down her restaurant recipes for a meal at home.

Kiki Aranita, chef-owner, Poi Dog Philly:

“Most of the cooking I’ve done has involved using up restaurant leftovers. We donated our substantial fresh produce and milk to friends whose restaurants are still open for delivery and takeout, but we’re still left with smaller quantities of items that have already been prepped for service — smaller by restaurant standards, massive by home standards — such as cooked potatoes, cut vegetables, macaroni salad, salmon skins, and a vast selection of seaweeds. I don’t really know how to cook for two people. I’m used to cooking for like a hundred, so figuring out how to scale my typical recipes down drastically has been an adventure. When I made Spam musubi at home (so like two musubi), I cooked six times as much rice as I needed. I also inexplicably purchased something like 25 avocados on the first day of self quarantine so now every meal has almost-overripe avocado in it.”

Aranita is also filming short IGTV videos for WHYY’s Check, Please! Philly where she recreates Poi Dog menu items with a mix of restaurant leftovers and what she already has at home. Find them on Instagram at @poidogphilly, @kikiaranita, and @checkpleasephilly.

Mackenzie Hilton, executive chef, the Vintage Syndicate:

“I’m cooking every day, and working really hard not to waste any food. I’m making a lot of larger pieces of meat, slow-cooking mostly, and then reinventing them again a night or two later in pastas or sandwiches. I find myself wondering where half the ideas are coming from when I magically throw dishes together, using random items from my pantry that I forgot I even had! I doubt many of these dishes with be making it to any of my menus anytime soon, but they’re not half bad!”

hands holding utensils in bowl of salad with greens and fruit
Dig, a New York chain recently landed in Philly, serves vegetable-focused bowls.
Dig [official photo]

Matt Weingarten, culinary director, Dig:

“For most of us stuck at home, and now more than ever, frugality is ruling my meal decisions. Also, boredom. After ordering from Dig (still, the greatest perk of my job) I often have some left over and, frankly, do not want to eat it the same exact way again. So, I make a simple veg cake, bound with some grains and egg, spiced up with some Sriracha. I cut the veggies into bite-sized cubes, toss them into a bowl with two cracked eggs, the leftover farro, and a handful of whatever cheese I have in my fridge, grated or chopped is fine, add a pinch of chile flakes and any herbs I may have on hand. I heat up a cast iron skillet and cook it up. If I’m out of grains, or I want to change it up, I also really like using what’s left over for a spaghetti dish.”