What's the Most Expensive Ingredient You've Used?

Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail laura.hahnefeld@newtimes.com. Miss a question? Go here.

It's no secret that top-notch chefs and restaurants have their favorite ingredients, but when it comes to ones that empty the wallet, what are they willing to pay?

This week, a fellow Chow Bella contributor had the same question. So I asked chefs and restaurateurs in the Valley which ingredient they've spent the most on. Here's what they had to say:

Chef Kevin Binkley Binkley's and Café Bink

White truffles from Alba, Italy, are without a doubt the most expensive product I have ever ordered. They've ranged anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000 a pound, depending on the season. I wish I didn't love them so much, seeing how incredibly expensive they are.

Silvana Salcido Esparza Chef and owner, Barrio Cafe and Barrio Queen

The most expensive and farthest-delivered ingredients are for the mole, [and they] come directly from Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, to Tijuana on the Baja California Peninsula, where I have to go to pick them up. I have a contact here locally that does the hook-up for me, as well. It's worth every last effort and penny.

Jason Alford Chef, Roka Akor

100 percent grass-fed wagyu from New Zealand. We are currently the only U.S. restaurant that carries it.

Christopher Gross Chef and owner, Christopher's & Crush Lounge

White truffles from Italy at $3,000 a pound! I'm glad it's a fungus with no controversy, but then there's caviar! Where are the people protesting that product?

Charles Wiley Chef and food and beverage director, ZuZu

We regularly order fish from Honolulu Fish Co. in Hawaii because it's so absolutely fresh and pristine.

Joe Johnston Owner, Joe's Real BBQ, Joe's Fresh Farm Grill, Liberty Market, Agritopia

Rather than an ingredient, our 1965 FAEMA E-61 espresso machine was in an espresso bar in Milan, Italy, for decades. It was sourced by Mr. Espresso in Oakland, refurbished, and sent to us for $10,000. If only it could tell stories of the people it has served for the past 47 years!

Chef Brian Feirstein, Cask 63

One pound of black Alba truffles from Italy. $1,700 for six truffles!

Chef Elizabeth Meinz Orange Table

In the past five years, I've made it a point to order locally, so nothing from very far away. Most expensive item: gold leaf, used in pate -- over $200 per ounce.

Dana Mule GM and partner, Hula's Modern Tiki

We often have fish flown in from Hawaii, and we get some of our key ingredients directly from Japan. These days, at $20 a pound, sashimi-grade ahi tuna is rapidly becoming one of the most expensive mainstream ingredients in any kitchen.

Romeo Taus Owner and Chef, Romeo's Cafe

Bulgarian feta from Plovdiv, Greek olives from Kalamata, EVOO from Crete, balsamic vinegar from Modena, Kasseri from Cyprus, Pecorino Romano from Gavoi, Grana Padano from Parma . . . You get the idea: Mediterranean basin.

Eric Flatt Owner, Tonto Bar & Grill/Cartwright's Sonoran Ranch House

I used to order a lot of goodies from all over the world, especially back in the heydays of the grand resorts -- like freshly shot pheasant from England, octopus from Greece, wild boar from Spain, and beluga caviar from Russia. Thirty years ago, it was a luxury to get these items, but with the current world of travel, it seems like the norm.

There's a reason you can only take two bags on that airplane -- because you're sitting on top of my food!

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