For this year’s Reader Key Ingredient Cook-Off, we asked some of Chicago’s top chefs to create a dish to honor a person who influenced their cooking. The exercise stirred many kitchen memories.

Chef: Sarah Rinkavage

Restaurant: Marisol

Smoked red shrimp with rhubarb and radish

Mentor: Jason Hammel, chef and owner of Lula Cafe and chef at the yet-to-open Marisol in the MCA

“Everything about [Lula] was different from anything I knew and learned in the past in cooking. Most chefs, what I took away from them was, this is how you roast a piece of meat, or this is how you blanch a vegetable. What I learned from [Hammel] was creativity. The technique was there, but it went beyond that: it was pairing ingredients, looking for the outside ingredient that changes the dish completely. He has great analogies for things. No other chef will walk up to you on your station and be like, ‘I need this dish to look more like plastic bags on trees.’ And then you get it, like, ‘Oh, that’s what you were going for.’

“Since I’m still working with Jason, we create dishes together all the time. It’s still such a fluid thing that it was hard to be like, ‘What do I make today that was inspired by him?’ One of the things Jason taught me is using an ingredient throughout the dish. I’m doing sweet shrimp with rhubarb and radish, and the rhubarb plays a role a few times. The other thing is color, playing with color. That’s been a big inspiration for us. For me it was red shrimp, red rhubarb, red radish, and sumac: the color brings it together. And Jason has a special infatuation with radishes.”   v