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Julie Anne Herrin
4 years Ago

Many great ideas have begun on the back of cocktail napkins, but when combining the talents of 12 Michelin-starred and James Beard Award-winning chefs, you'll need a bigger canvas. The specific idea that required the entire paper placemat at one of our favorite local spots, Chef Michael Tusk's Cotogna, was what has become the Constellation Caramel Collection.


Michael Murphy, IfOnly's Director of Culinary Development, sketched out the concept: challenge 12 of the country's greatest chefs and their pastry teams to craft an incredible caramel to represent their culinary point of view while also raising money for a worthy non-profit. With the idea literally in hand--he took the placemat--Michael began calling. He wanted representation from all over the country so phones in kitchens in Virginia, New York, San Francisco and Chicago started to ring. And then, we waited. With what flavors would they come back to us? When chefs as talented as the likes of Michael Mina, Robert Curry, Mark Ladner, and Daniel Humm are asked to deliver their most creative ideas, the rest of us can't even begin to guess what flavor combinations they will dream up.


Then, the incredible flavor profiles started to roll in. From Chefs Mourad Lahlou and Melissa Chou from Aziza in San Francisco, it was to be pomegranate molasses, urfa chile, and dehydrated black olive and from the team at Benu, Chefs Corey Lee and Courtney Schmidig, it was maple black truffle. From Chefs Paul Kahan and Dana Cree of Chicago's Blackbird, it was rooibus lemon. Chef Dana Cree shared that rooibos is one of her favorite flavors and that ground it in the style of matcha it pairs incredibly well with caramel. Her favorite caramel from the collection was Chef Brooks Headley of Del Posto's champagne vinegar.


When Chef Schmidig delivered her amazing caramels, we asked what had inspired them. "We, myself and Chef Corey Lee, were sitting in the kitchen at Benu and brainstorming. We wanted it to reflect the season, and thus the maple but we also wanted it to be a bit savory. Benu, you know, isn't a normal restaurant, so we wanted the flavor to also be a bit different and that's where the truffle came from."


Chef Mourad Lahlou was most excited about the dehydrated olive Chef Melissa Chou had selected for their caramel. They had wanted their flavor to be really unique which we have to say we think they more than accomplished, capturing the attention of every editor who has written about the Constellation Caramel Collection.


The wild honey and bee pollen caramel is from Atelier Cren and Chef Juan Contreras has worked for the past year with bee keepers all over San Francisco to collect honey from enough hives to design a very special dessert they just launched in the restaurant. Their caramel is inspired by that very special dessert. Chef Contreras noted that when they were preparing the caramels, the local bees, smelling their nectar, started to visit their kitchen forcing them to close all of the windows and doors!


This brings us to the Sightglass Coffee caramel from Quince pastry Chefs Alen Ramos & Carolyn Nugent. Every week, they make Saturday morning shopping trips with Chef Michael Tusk to the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market. One of their favorite places to go is the Sightglass Coffee kiosk. For them it's a quintessential San Francisco experience - excellent coffee, views of the Bay and bountiful local produce. When they were thinking about a delicious flavor, Alen and Carolyn wanted something harmonious to the caramel and unique to San Francisco and Sightglass Coffee made perfect sense!


We are pleased at IfOnly to not only have created a gift perfect for the epicure on your gift list, but to also support worthy causes. 100% of the profits from the Constellation Caramel Collection will be directed to The James Beard Foundation, which works to support education and initiatives for those in the food industry-- continuing our ethos that living well is also defined by giving back.


If you've received your Constellation Caramel Collection, which is your favorite flavor?


Bon Appetit!