Dish R&D: Grape Chile Jam
A sweet-spicy condiment fires up the menu at Atlanta hotspot Two Urban Licks.
Procrastination isn’t a setback but a saving grace for Executive Chef Scott Serpas, who credits last-minute inspiration for the Grape Chile Jam that enlivens his Lamb Sage Lollipops appetizer. A New Orleans-born chef with a self-described “honky-tonk” style, Serpas whipped up the jam for a promotion at a local club the very day the event took place. The finger-food starter was such a hit with the crowd—the same late-20s-to-mid-40s audience that Two Urban Licks (sibling to One Midtown Kitchen) planned to target—that it won a place on the menu when the trendy Atlanta restaurant opened three months later, with Serpas at the helm.
A solid grasp of Southwestern ingredients guided the chef in creating the jam, a condiment he designed to balance the lamb dish’s earthy, savory flavor without overpowering it. Serpas experimented with fiery cayenne peppers but felt they fell flat, settling instead on chipotles for their smoky flavor and midlevel heat. Ancho or morita chiles also would work, he says.
DISH: Grape Chile Jam
COMPOSITION: Black grapes, port wine, sugar, chipotle chiles
TIMELINE—R&D THROUGH INTRODUCTION: 1 day
MENU PRICE: $7
FOOD COST: 28%
For the jam’s base, Serpas combines chipotles with black grapes, chosen for a hardy constitution that stands up throughout cooking and holding (other varieties tend to get watery). Besides the standard sugar, he sought a liquid to bring the mixture together, and selected sweet port wine for its raisin-like notes that complement the grapes.
Though the jam is relatively labor-intensive, base ingredients can be prepped before service, allowing the dish to work well even with the 270-seat restaurant’s high-volume business. Serpas and his staff prepare the jam once or twice a week, hold it in the refrigerator, and then warm it before spooning atop Lamb Sage Lollipops (lamb top round ground with a bit of pork, smoked-apple bacon, sage, toasted coriander seeds and mustard seeds, molded around wooden sticks and finished with a dollop of goat-cheese sour cream).
The appetizer menus for $7 with a 28% food cost, helping to offset less-profitable starters such as Flash-Fried Oysters and Smoked Salmon Potato Chips. Although Serpas pairs the Grape Chile Jam only with lamb, its sweet-and-spicy profile is versatile enough to make a good fit for dishes such as duck or seared foie gras.
“It’s different, whimsical and it sells like crazy,” Serpas says.