Autumn is in full swing. And while pumpkin spiced latte creep is in pretty much everywhere, few bother cooking with --or even have tasted --the real deal.
At the Williamsburg Inn at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, where traditional American fare couldn't get more authentic, executive chef Travis Brust makes pumpkin the star--and features it in everything from starters, beverages and, of course, desserts. “The traditional guests expect and anticipate it; they want to come back and have the Crab Meat Randolph the way they had it 10 years ago," Brust said. "But on the flip side, we are a kitchen full of young, energetic chefs that want to rock the culinary world, so we had to work that in with it being cohesive.”That's why they're introducing real pumpkin flavor into dishes--and not just mixed with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice and nutmeg. The taste of real pumpkin, originally grown in Williamsburg in the 18th century, goes beyond pumpkin spiced latte. “We started with a Ginger Pumpkin Cider because we really wanted to do something different,” said Brust. “We found we could steep pumpkin and ginger into a cider in a unique and different way by juicing the pumpkin and the ginger. We folded that into the cider, put up the temperature, added in cardamom, star anise and brown sugar, and wound up with this incredible cider.”
He also recommends pouring some rum into the cider for something a bit more “frisky.”Recipe: Ginger Pumpkin Cider
Brust shared his pumpkin tips at the Taste Studio --a cooking demonstration series at the Williamsburg Inn, adjacent to the 300-acre historic village. These demonstrations run throughout the year and offer seasonally themed programs, including ones on chocolate, bacon and holiday jams.
Brust, who won the 2012 World Chef Challenge, perfects modern twists on classics, like with his Pumpkin Breakfast Flan with Pie Spice Syrup. A breakfast-meets-dessert concept, Brust incorporated pumpkin into this usually intimidating dish, while still making it manageable for home chefs.
“Whenever we do segments like this we use common ingredients from the store so it’s feasible to make at home,” he said. “As far as the flan, it was egg, heavy cream, maple syrup and Grand Marnier, and finished with sea salt and poured over caramelized sugar.”
Brust tried to get people out of their cooking comfort zones by thinking outside of the proverbial recipe box.
“You can take it and make it your own. Recipes are data lines, unless you’re making bread, and this opens up our guests eyes to that,” he says.
Recipe: Pumpkin Flan with Pie Spice Syrup
Before leading the culinary charge at The Williamsburg Inn, Brust traveled around the world, building an eclectic culinary style, which inspired his Pumpkin Sofrito – typically a spicy sauce made with hers and spices to flavor dishes. By replacing the classic ingredient of peppers with pumpkin, he was able to pull flavor aspects from where he has traveled while showcasing seasonal produce.
“My secret ingredient is golden raisins in this, then we put Brussel sprouts over top and garnish with Virginia ham. We always base our recipes on things we like and are willing to create and make fun, but also to give these recipes to our guests for their own entertaining.”
Recipe: Pumpkin Sofrito
The ‘crème de la crème’ recipe, according to Brust, is the pumpkin bourbon ice cream with pepita brittle, and for good reason. Homemade bourbon ice cream mixed with chunks of pumpkin roasted with brown sugar and cloves gets garnished with light, crunchy pieces of pepita brittle, showcasing the intense flavor of the pumpkin.
“This is one of the best things you’ll ever eat in your life," he says. "This pumpkin bourbon ice cream was the best way to showcase pumpkin as out of the norm.”
Recipe: Pumpkin Bourbon Ice Cream with Pepita Brittle
Brust says preparing seasonal dishes is about finding those traditional flavors--like pumpkin-- and making them stand out in unique ways.
“The recipes are really awesome when they totally leave people speechless,” he says.