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Coffee Talk With Chef Sébastien Harrison-Cloutier

For coffee lovers, finding ways to incorporate your favourite roast into your home cooking is a natural inclination—and who better to help guide you towards the right kinds of ingredients and flavour combinations than a chef? As head chef at beloved neighbourhood restaurant Grumman ’78 in Montreal, Sébastien Harrison-Cloutier knows just how to elevate a recipe using coffee—and, lucky for us, he’s been putting his extensive culinary know-how to work dreaming up coffee-centric gourmet recipes on our website.

We caught up with Chef Harrison-Cloutier to get his best tips for cooking with coffee, plus an inside look at how he combines flavours to keep customers coming back for more, both at the Grumman ’78 restaurant and food truck.

What’s your favourite Van Houtte® coffee blend to use in the kitchen?

For cooking, the Van Houtte® Original House Blend. It's the kind of blend that goes well with sweet or salty food, and in terms of roast, it’s less intense. Because it’s a medium roast, it works well in recipes.

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What can coffee add to a recipe?

Coffee can add depth and complexity. It’s one of the only products that we consume that has that roasted flavour, and it gives coffee itself a singular and unique taste, in which that flavour is then passed onto a recipe. Some recipes use flavours that are quite simple, and coffee can bring out their intensity.

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What are some complementary flavours that go well with coffee in a recipe?

At the restaurant, we use a lot of peppers and chilis, which have flavours similar to those of coffee. Dried peppers—anchos, guajillos—work well with coffee and one can enhance the flavour of the other. On the sweet side, sugar balances out the bitterness of coffee. Chocolate and vanilla bean, too—anything that has a strong, concentrated flavour can work well with coffee.

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Can you give us an idea of ​​a way to incorporate coffee into a dish inspired by street food?

We have a food truck and we try to find recipes that are inspired by Mexican street food. We use our chili paste a lot, and coffee works well with that. We use coffee—either the grounds or just brewed coffee—in our recipe for braised beef. We use brewed coffee in the marinade and then coffee grounds in the ancho chili paste.

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How can our readers make use of their used coffee grounds at home?

To make marinades for meat. Either for a crust, to really cover the meat with the coffee grounds, or we can do something like a tataki. Alternatively, it can be used in a cheesecake crust—mixed with Graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar, and a little coffee—and you can put the brewed coffee in the cheese mixture. It will give a little more crispness to the crust and you’ll get that coffee flavour, too.

What's the best tasting dish you've ever created with coffee?

A mole. It was just indescribable. The coffee adds so many layers of flavour and it's just delicious.

And that's with cocoa also, right?

The base is really a spice paste—a paste of chili peppers—and cocoa is like the 120th ingredient. We put two spoons of cocoa in it to give depth, but I think there is more coffee than cocoa in this mole. And with the coffee, it’s the same principle: to enhance the depth and flavour of the paste of the ancho, guajillo and pasilla peppers. That’s what really gives the flavour to the mole.

And in a dessert?

We once made a chocolate cream but we brewed cold coffee in the cream for 24 hours. We poured just over a full coffee into the cream and let it soak for 24 hours in the fridge, like a cold infusion. We then used the cream to make the chocolate cream, and the taste of the coffee was really good. It was like a cold brew but in cream.