“Cumin is the secret in everything.”
Like a magician revealing secret sleight-of-hand, chef Whitney Bray makes this pronouncement as she creates a dry steak rub using the pungent multicultural spice. It’s one of the five ingredients the MasterChef alum can’t live without. Rounding out the list are curry, garlic, olive oil (Italian or Spanish), and good quality butter, like Kerry Gold.
Just how the Northeast Career Center graduate grew to create magic in the kitchen is anyone’s guess.
“No one in my family cooks,” she laughed. “My mom was never the ‘mom in the kitchen,’ neither was my grandfather. When Thanksgiving comes around, everyone looks at me.”
As the knife flies, Bray recalls watching cooking shows as a little one and falling in love. “Cooking is all I’ve ever wanted to do… ever since I was six years old when I was making nasty things, like mixing maraschino cherries, pickles, and peanut butter.”
While that concoction does indeed sound nasty, the joy of mixing and matching ingredients is part of Bray’s profile to this day. The dish that got her the coveted MasterChef apron on the fifth season of the popular home cook competition showed off her mastery of coupling flavors from all over the spectrum.
“It’s become my signature dish: braised pork belly with banana mustard sauce, cherry gastrique, braised mustard greens, and roasted fingerling potatoes.
“I love pork belly—anything pork,” she grinned. “It’s sweet, savory, fatty, and delicious. If pork was all I had, I’d be a happy camper. It’s by far my favorite protein to cook with.”
While her time in Hollywood did not result in a victory, it did get her name and artistry out in the community. “Once a month, I do segments on Good Day Columbus, but mostly I go to people’s homes for special occasions—anniversaries, romantic dinners. They love it… I mean, I get the brightest smiles ever… I love how people respond to how flavorful everything is.”
The first dish Bray remembers knocking her socks off was the seemingly simple truffled mashed potatoes at Ocean Club, where she apprenticed. “I was 17-years-old and I’d never heard of truffled anything, I didn’t know what it was and I loved the stuff… it taught me that you can just add this one ingredient to potatoes… it sparked my interest in adding new spices to a simple dish.”
Especially if that spice is cumin.
Spice-rubbed New York Strip with roasted yellow pepper sauce and glazed carrots
Roasted yellow pepper sauce
1 roasted yellow pepper, skin and seeds removed
2 garlic cloves, skinned and chopped
1/8 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. coriander
1/8 tsp. salt
Place ingredients in small pot and cook for three minutes. Let cool for a minute. In a blender, or with an immersion blender, purée until smooth. Reserve on the side.
2 New York strip steaks
2 tbsp. cumin
2 tbsp. coriander
2 tbsp. smoked paprika
2 tbsp. salt
2 tsp. olive oil
Mix cumin, coriander, and smoked paprika together on plate to make a quick rub. Season steak with salt and press the top of the steak into the rub, shaking off any excess. Heat a skillet big enough to fit both steaks and place olive oil in pan. Place steaks, rub side down, in pan and sear until crisp. Flip to the other side and cook until medium. Remove from pan and let rest.
1 cup baby carrots
1 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
Place a medium pan filled with water until it boils. Once boiling, add the salt and baby carrots. Blanch for five minutes. Remove from water and place in saucepan on medium heat, along with butter and garlic. As the butter melts, spoon over carrots to glaze them. Check for seasoning and add salt as needed.
Arrange sauce, steak, and carrots on plate and serve.