Powder Power: Thousand Island Dressing at Piora

by Caroline Hatchett
Xavier Girard
January 2015

Restaurant

After watching a classic Hidden Valley commercial—the one where children run to a truck handing out broccoli florets and ranch—Chef Chris Cipollone decided it was time to bring brazenly American powdered salad dressing to fine dining. Now at Piora in New York City’s West Village, Cipollone dresses a constantly evolving, market-worshiping salad with a dusting of nostalgia: powdered Thousand Island dressing.

When conceiving the dish, Cipollone wanted to simulate that familiar “ketchup-y, mayo, relish-y flavor profile,” so he built a packet-ready combination of freeze-dried buttermilk, yogurt, tomato, malt vinegar, garlic, and onion, along with dried dill and black pepper. “The freeze drying process keeps the integrity of the product,” he says. And since commercial grade freeze drying machines can cost as much as a small Honda, he buys his dried spices from a longtime purveyor, Spice House.

Piora’s salad changes every day, depending what’s at the farmers market. On StarChefs’ December visit, Cipollone put together a salad of squash, Brussels sprouts, corn, carrots, red onion, zucchini blossom, fennel, arugula, nasturtium, chickweed, romanesco, and sunchoke “dirt”. He says the only vegetables that aren’t amenable to the treatment are those with a high water content—like turnips and heirloom tomatoes (the former can be roasted into submission).

The salad may include roasted, raw, blanched, and/or pickled ingredients. It works warm or cold. But the pick-up is always the same. Piora’s cooks toss the veg in a light hit of olive oil followed by one tablespoon of powdered dressing. “We just dust the outer layer, without adding too much acid or oil. The dish is 100 percent about the vegetables, and this let’s them shine through.” The result is an elegant, composed salad with the faintest hint of lactic tang and spices. Each bite is an exploration in texture, contrast, and seasonal veggie diversity. But with the powder, it’s much more more fun than farm-to-table serious.

It may not be the Thousand Island of the diners and salad bars that dot the American landscape, but it’s Thousand Island nonetheless, in all its freeze-dried glory, in a very American, Michelin-starred restaurant.