By Flavor & The Menu
November 1, 2021
Flavor Trifecta: Mark Casale
Three ingredients that when combined bring out a revelatory flavor experience
Mark Casale is executive chef of Dos Coyotes Border Café, a fast casual specializing in fresh, local Southwestern cuisine and headquartered in Davis, Calif. The menu features creative comfort-centric fare like the Sedona Taquitos, crisp corn tortillas rolled with seasoned pulled chicken, chile and herbs, and lighter items like the Yucatán Salad with charbroiled chicken breast on green leaf lettuce, black beans, red onion, carrot, sweet peppers, cabbage and corn in a Southwest vinaigrette, served on a flour tortilla with fruit salsa and chipotle cream and topped with tortilla “confetti.”
We asked Casale to ponder a trio of ingredients that, when combined, bring out a revelatory flavor experience. He came back to us with honey, preserved lemon and anise. “Although it is cliché to say that flavors evoke emotion and tease memories that create a sense of nostalgia, my flavor trifecta does exactly that for me,” he says. “My first flavor memories are of the smells of my grandmother’s New Jersey kitchen. As an immigrant from Sicily, it was her daily routine to care for the hard-won harvests from my grandfather’s Italian garden. In Grandma’s kitchen could be found a trifecta of flavors that I now use repeatedly, and some would say successfully, in every menu category from appetizers to desserts, to cocktails and coffee drinks.”
He uses the three distinct flavors strategically. “Each flavor individually presents boldly on our palates,” he says. “I like to use these to their best advantage by featuring them in different forms, added to dishes at different times during the cooking and presentation process.” A good example of this is a simple smoked salmon flatbread: He enriches the dough with honey and sprinkles it with anise seed before baking. The salmon is briefly cured in a mix of lemon, salt, honey and star anise before smoking. The dish is presented with a smear of mascarpone on the bread, draped with the salmon and finished with shaved fennel, preserved lemon and a drizzle of honey. “This creates a backdrop of these flavors while allowing each component to pop on its own,” says Casale.
His other ideas include a roasted preserved lemon- and honey-brined chicken with anise glaze and seared halibut on honey-fennel confit with a preserved lemon beurre blanc.
From the Best of Flavor 2022 issue of Flavor & The Menu, for chefs and menu developers. Read full issue online.