Cafe Society

Cornstarch Takes a Turn in the Spotlight at Argyll, the Noshery

Food is every bit as trendy as the clothes we wear. In the '80s, sundried tomatoes were fashionable. These days, menus are accented with guanciale, kombucha and pickled everything, from onions to chard stems. One ingredient that's stayed away from the spotlight? Cornstarch. But that could change. See also: Behind the Scenes at the Noshery Home cooks know it as the powdery stuff that thickens sauces. Moms mix it with water to make gak, a playdough-like substance. But that's not all it's used for. A quick Internet search found scores of other uses; one blogger listed a whopping 37, including sprinkling it in your hair between shampoos to absorb the oil and sifting it in books to freshen up the mildew smell. I don't know what's worse: cornstarch as hair product, or someone with too much time on their hands blogging about it.

Lately I've been hearing of other uses, too, this time from chefs with no time on their hands. John Broening, culinary director of Seasoned Development Group, uses it in the batter for the crispy cod on the fish and chips plate at Argyll Whisky Beer, which I reviewed last week.

And Mike Alvarez uses it as a binder in the homestyle waffles at the Noshery, which I review this week. The resulting waffles have more substance to them than standard egg-butter-flour creations; they're crispy yet moist, and pleasantly dense on the inside.

Who knows? Maybe one day this behind-the-scenes ingredient will have its name in lights -- or at least letters on a menu.

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Gretchen Kurtz has worked as a writer for 25 years; during that time she's stomped grapes in Napa, eaten b'stilla in Fez, and baked with Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Her work has appeared in publications including Boulevard (Paris), Diversion, the New York Times and Westword. Our restaurant critic since 2012, she loves helping you decide where to eat and drink tonight.
Contact: Gretchen Kurtz