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Where do you go when you need an exotic ingredient? Here’s an inside look at where top chefs get their goods and where you can too.


At Norman Rose Tavern in Napa Valley, chef/owner Michael Gyetvan’s secret weapon is WHOLE SPICE (wholespice.com) of Petaluma, California. The company will grind spices fresh to order and create custom blends, like the one he requested to make french fries taste just like barbecue potato chips.

At South Beach’s Red the Steakhouse, executive chef Peter Vauthy prefers online venues such as EARTHY DELIGHTS (earthy.com) for morels, exotic oils, dried fruits, and caviar. He also heads to AMAZON.COM to buy high-quality imported pasta brands like Rustichella D’abruzzo.

Executive chef Matt Lightner of Castagna Restaurant in Portland, Oregon, likes to take matters into his own hands by going straight to the source: He heads for nearby forests and valleys to forage for wild greens and herbs such as wood sorrel, oxalis, and wild cress.

Chef Jill Houk, founder of Centered Chef Food Studios in Chicago, favors the housewares section of TJ MAXX for Kona coffee, specialty mustards, and other imported condiments. She advises that you watch expiration dates and check for dents and broken jar seals.

Executive chef Percy Whatley at The Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park, California, loves the unusual foods he finds at specialty Asian and Latino supermarkets, from fruits and greens to meat, poultry, and fish. He also likes to sample different kinds of rice and noodles and especially likes experimenting with fun snack foods from other countries.