Game-changing maple syrup from Indiana

January 6, 2012 8:41:58 PM PST
Maple syrup isn't just for pancakes. The sweetened sap has a number of uses in the kitchen.

Local chefs are finding all sorts of ways to use a relatively new product from Indiana.

I always thought maple syrup either came from Vermont or a squeeze bottle with Aunt Jemima's picture on it. But in tiny Medora, Indiana, Tim Burton is single-handedly changing the game by connecting to Chicago chefs and even barrel-aging some of his syrup to give it a complexity not found anywhere else.

A pork chop is a pork chop, right? Well, not when you have it at deca, the cafe inside the Ritz-Carlton's main lobby. Here, the secret is that it's brined for hours in a combination of brown sugar, apple cider and maple syrup. The brine keeps the final product moist, even as it is set above a pool of polenta and topped with black trumpet mushrooms. But it's that Indiana maple syrup that is key.

"It's got great flavor, very good quality. And, as a chef, I can definitely, in my opinion, tell the difference," said Ritz-Carlton Chef Mark Payne.

Tim Burton is the man behind the syrup. His family farm in Medora, Indiana is now the premier syrup source for Chicago's best chefs.

"Our sap, typically... and typically throughout the United States and in Canada... the sugar content in the sap is usually about 2 percent," said Burton.

That's good enough for Eric Estrella, the pastry chef at the Ritz. He uses the syrup to deglaze a hot pan with poached pears, ultimately serving them with a brioche French toast embedded with candied orange.

"I think all syrups are different, it's just a particular style that he has that we like; he does some barrel-aged rum ones, too, that I use and bourbon as well," said Estrella.

That barrel-aging is the next phase for Burton.

"I wanted to come up with something that might make maple syrup a little sexier," he said.

Over at Table 52 in the Gold Coast, chef John Vermiglio uses Burton's syrup in a number of dishes: as a way to enhance roasted sweet potatoes, on donuts - not only in the dough, but in the glaze and combined with rendered bacon, which gives it a sweet-smoky note - even as a sweet drizzle on the restaurant's crave-worthy fried chicken and waffles.

"It's a far, far cry from the syrup you find at the grocery store. It's really complex and I think really, the overwhelming feeling on it is that we have the opportunity to use a local, small-time artisan's work and showcase it on a big scale," Vermiglio said. "It really can round out a lot of things. We'll finish sauces with it... use it a lot as substitution for sugar or honey to really add a complexity that only maple syrup can provide."

Burton's syrup is found all over Chicago from farmer's markets to grocery stores and, of course, inside more than two dozen restaurants.

Table fifty-two
52 W Elm St
(312) 573-4000

Deca at The Ritz-Carlton
160 E. Pearson St. at Water Tower Place
(312) 573-5160

Burton's Syrup is available online: (Bourbon infused & Grade A Maple Syrup) (A & B Grade, Rum, Bourbon & Brandy Infused Maple Syrup)

Chicago Restaurants carrying Burton's Syrup

Hotel Sofitel
Sable Kitchen
Southwater Kitchen
The Pump Room
Signature Room
Four Seasons
Michael Jordan's Steakhouse
Table Fifty-Two
The Publican
Birchwood Kitchen
Atwood Cafe
Hearty Boys
2 Sparrows
Hoosier Mama Pie Co.
Frontera Grill
Trump International - Sixteen
Trotter's To Go


Fox & Obel
Chicago Downtown Farmstand
Olivia's Market
Provenance Food & Wine
Publican Quality Meats
City Provisions

Farmers Market

Green City Market (inside Peggy Notebaert Museum during winter; Saturdays only)

Monthly Markets

Williams-Sonoma at 900 Michigan Ave. (First Saturday of Month Artisan-Marketplace)
DOSE Market at River East Arts Center (First Sunday of Month)