The Contender: Samuel Monsour of jm Curley
The Ingredient: Nerds
The Dish: Korean rib eye ssam on a lemon Nerd kewpie (Japanese mayonnaise), plus all the fixings: Bibb lettuce leaves, marinated scallions, homemade kimchi, pickled shitake mushrooms, house hot sauce, and grape Nerd pickles
"I've been craving ssam lately. It's usually cheaper cuts of meat that you get with ssam, so this is technically going against what ssam traditionally is," Monsour says. "But this is America, and we bastardize people's food here," he adds with a laugh. "In a good way, though."
Monsour bought Rainbow Nerds, set up six people with tweezers to select the yellows from the pack [Ed. Note: Sincere apologies and thanks to everyone on Nerd detail], and then infused canola oil with lemongrass. He used the ground Nerds dissolved in lemon juice as the acid to create the emulsion for the mayonnaise, and voila: lemon Nerd kewpie, which brightened the flavor of the already insanely juicy meat.
But what stole the show were the accoutrements: scallions marinated with fish sauce, sesame oil, dark soy, and Thai chilies; crunchy, spicy kimchi; pickled shitakes bursting with umami; and the pièce de résistance, grape Nerd pickles, which tasted much like what vegetables in a kid's dream would taste like — straight-up candy, bitches. As we piled it all into lettuce cups, the Nerd influence was subtle, but tangy-sweet in all the right places.