DC’s Top Chefs on the Condiments to Keep in Your Desk

Those work-from-the-office lunches aren’t going to season themselves

August 25, 2023 7:00 am
Big Set of colored sauces in Crockery. Different sauces, mayonnaise, mustard, soy sauce, oil and ketchup on white background.
We're helping you stock up on all the condiments to keep in your desk
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Your office needs you back in the office. Well — “need” is a strong word. Your office would prefer you to be back in the office. Office lunches are typically not as flavorful as work-from-home office lunches, because your home has your kitchen. So we asked some of DC’s best chefs what they think you should keep at your desk to make your office lunch a little better. All are shelf stable, and most won’t bother your co-workers. 


We’re starting with a condiment you may not have heard of. Uros Smiljanic, Street Guys Hospitality’s chief procurement officer, recommends ajvar, a relish popular throughout the Balkans and made principally from sweet bell peppers and eggplants. “At the office, having a jar of ajvar close by has often been our secret weapon. It’s incredibly versatile — a spread on a sandwich, a rich addition to a salad, or even a quick mix into some pasta transforms an ordinary meal into a delightful culinary experience,” he says. You may not find it at your local grocery chain, but you should have some luck at international grocery stores. You can also order it from Amazon.

Broad bean paste

Annabelle executive chef Frank Ruta prefers the spicy version, made by Union Foods. “It is sort of a fermented bean/chili condiment,” he explains. Find it at Good Fortune in Eden Center.

Chili crisp

The condiment most chefs recommended is chili crisps. Tiger Fork chef Simon Lam explains its popularity. “Chili crisp has everything: spicy, sweet, crispy garlic texture, salty,” he says. He primarily uses it on rice with a rich, fatty protein but also on vegetables, burgers and pastas. 

Modena chef Ben Lambert likes the Crunchy Chili Onion from Trader Joe’s, one of the more readily available condiments. “It’s a really good one for someone who likes a little mild added heat with an almost potato chip crunch added to it,” he says.

If you want a slightly more adventurous chili crisp, Royal chef Cable Smith recommends salsa macha. ”It’s like a Latin version of chili crisp,” he says. “It’s sweet, crunchy, spicy. It’s really amazing on everything: eggs, tacos, pizza, you name it.”


Chef Ruta specifically enjoys Martin-Pouret cornichons. “They’re terrific, tangy, crunchy gherkins,” he explains. “This small producer in the Loire uses his own vinegar to make these locally grown pickles.” 

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Fish sauce

Be careful with this pick. What smells delicious to some may help vacate a shared kitchen. Lambert prefers a pineapple fish sauce from Hmart. “It has the same umami effect as a regular fish sauce,” he says.

Hatch green chiles

“These chiles are my life since I’m from New Mexico,” Smith tells us. “They’re starting to show up on shelves on the East Coast more and more. Bueno is the best brand and can be found in a few hidden stores in the area. Whole Foods carries the Zia brand, and it’s great, too. Go for the hot, and smother everything with it: burgers, breakfast burritos, eggs, et cetera!”

Kewpie mayonnaise

Why this specific mayonnaise? “This Japanese mayonnaise has a touch of MSG and makes everything taste better,” says Sababa executive chef Ryan Moore.

Maldon sea salt

Moore also recommends spending a few dollars more on salt that can elevate your midday meal. “You can use it as a finishing salt to increase the flavor of your lunch,” he says.


The big bottle with the red sauce and green top has been hard to find. Its popularity has skyrocketed since the late ’00s and demand isn’t slowing down. JOY by Seven Reasons chef William Morles tells us, “It’s a must because you can use it as a dip or as a topping to boost flavors and spice in your meal. Also, some studies find it healthy because capsaicin speeds up the metabolism, so I like to think it’s good for you and tastes good!” 

If you can’t find the classic Huy Fong version, Ruta recommends Yellowbird sriracha. “Since the original is still hard to get these days, this garlic, lime and date blend is a decent sub,” he says.

Togarashi and furikake 

“My go-tos are togarashi or your favorite type of furikake,” Jack Rose Dining Saloon executive chef Chris Reynolds tells us. “Both condiments do not need to be refrigerated and have a very long shelf life — great for an office desk. Both can add a significant depth of umami, heat and nuttiness. Togarashi is a great complement to French fries or jumbo slices, and equally amazing on a fresh salad. Furikake can be delicious in a poke/rice bowl, as well as a fun texture to add to soups and bisques. They’re both super versatile and easy to store if you’re looking to build your office spice arsenal.”
Finally, regardless of what you eat for your lunch, Vikram Sunderam, the James Beard Award winner and group executive chef of Rasika and Rasika West End, offers a tip that should please you and your co-workers: “Mouth fresheners fennel and green cardamom. They’re good cleansers that leave a fresh taste.”


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