Frank Chen

Frank Chen

when in doubt change the color of the potatoes

I don't get many opportunities to cook Thanksgiving dinner since it only happens once a year. When the opportunity arose that I could do a Thanksgiving 2018 for my sister, I made it a supper club.

This was the first instance of the supper club that had the three ingredient rule. My guests would give me three ingredients, and I would find a way to incorporate the ingredients.

the club personalities

My sister's ingredients were pumpkin, cabbage, and Hot Cheetos. The third one came as a fast curve ball, but knowing my sister, this wasn't too much of a surprise.

I don't really snack, so Hot Cheetos are somewhat lost on me. When my sister and I were growing up, we were exposed to a multitude of snack foods. This included Hot Cheetos, Doritos, Fritos, Funyuns, Cheez-Its, Goldfish crackers, Maruchan Instant Noodles, the list goes on. I can't remember the last time I consumed any of these. The fact that they're still around tells me that they have an army of food scientists contributing to their staying power.

Occasionally, I'll still see my sister eating Hot Cheetos with chopsticks. The chopsticks part is just my sister's way of keeping the fingers clean, which is quite genius. The length of the chopstick helps her reach in the bag, because after you've been chomping for a while, you get red fingers, which moves up to red knuckles, which moves up to your entire hand. When I visit her place though, I have my pick of chopsticks that all look like they've been used for some sick form of acupuncture.

hide it in the potatoes

Pumpkin and cabbage are easy in the context of Thanksgiving, so I'll just skip the thinking there. We're more interested in the Hot Cheetos.

Using them whole, as-is, was a logistical nightmare. I didn't want craggly-looking red witch fingers in my food.

  1. When thinking about how to use something like a Hot Cheeto, start thinking about what exactly it is. It's red. It's spicy. It's salty. It's got umami. When you think of it like that, suddenly the options open up. It's a salt and a spice. I can spread it. It's color. It's a source of umami.

With that in mind, I powdered the Hot Cheetos to utilize them as the most fundamental of ingredients. Hot Cheetos as a salt-spice sort of mixture.

  1. What goes well with salt, chili, and a little bit of umami?

  2. What part of my dinner am I missing?

At the time, I was considering dessert options, so dessert it was. Perhaps challenging, but that's what supper club is for, right? The spice and umami were quite powerful, so I needed an equally strong flavor to complement it. That meant subtle and light flavors were most likely out of play. Chocolate came to mind. Spicy, salty chocolate is a thing.

  1. What's an over-the-top decadent type dessert I can draw off of?

Chocolate tart, chocolate pie, flourless chocolate cake - there's a lot of options. Simply using the Hot Cheetos as a crumble or something wouldn't be transformative enough, and it would be like eating Hot Cheetos with a chocolate dessert. It would essentially be chopping up raw ingredients and depositing them on a perfectly created "other" creation, and calling it a day. Nope.

  1. Back to the idea of a chocolate tart/cake/pie. When making this dessert, at what stage could I incorporate a salty, chili, umami powder?

I decided to go with a flourless chocolate cake, since it would be like fudge, and the dense chocolate flavor would help me balance the craziness of the Hot Cheetos. I didn't just want to sprinkle the powdered Hot Cheeto in, since that would ruin the texture of the chocolate. In order to preserve texture, the first step would be to infuse the flavor of the Hot Cheeto into the cream and milk used in creating the chocolate mixture. My hope was that the spicy aftertaste and all of the qualities would show up in the chocolate via a milky medium.

I made the chocolate and tasted it. No hints of spice came through at all, not even the cheesy umami. Why?

You know how you drink milk in order to quench spiciness? It's because a protein called casein in milk products binds to capsaicin, providing relief. I surmised that the spice (a form of capsaicin), bound up with the cream/milk, rendering the capsaicin generally inert, and then got smashed by chocolate flavor.

  1. So what was neutral tasting enough that could take on the Cheetos?

I had revert away away from desserts back to something more savory. How about potatoes? Spicy, umami, Cheeto mashed potatoes. Again, out of curiosity and a little bit of spite, I first soaked the Cheetos in cream and milk, similar to what I did for the chocolate tart. I then used the milk and cream in the mashed potatoes, but alas, all I ended up with was pink potato. What did I expect, right?

Because the flavor just wasn't strong enough, I needed to take drastic action. This meant powdering the Hot Cheeto, passing it through a fine sieve to get a more or less equal sized powder, and then adding the powder directly into a batch of hot-off-the-stove mashed potato. The heat of the potatoes helped the Cheetos dissolve nicely, without ruining the texture of the potatoes. I could instantly tune the amount of spice and seasoning that I added to the potatoes. Powder, taste, powder, taste.

I ended up with a batch of pink-ass mashed potato that tasted like Hot Cheeto, still was generally creamy, and still had the good characteristics of potato. Nice.


In each step, the concepts in each line of questioning:

  1. What are the characteristics of the ingredient?
  2. What works with the specific characteristics of the ingredient? What does it remind you of?
  3. What stage of the dinner are you trying to prepare for?
  4. What is a classic I can draw off of?
  5. Where can I incorporate the characteristics of the ingredient within the classic?
  6. Your taste and opinion matter. Is it good, bad, neutral? What are you going to do about it?

The other solution is to not have sisters who enjoy Hot Cheetos.

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