When Antonio Rotolo, Executive Chef at ONE UN New York, was asked to come up with a culinary creation to salute the United Nation’s International Year of Quinoa, he heeded the advice of Jerry Seinfeld in The Dinner Party episode – he looked to the cookie.
The quinoa cookie, to be precise – a soft, chewy confection he concocted with dried cherries, coconut, oats and quinoa, the Andean food staple anointed by the UN as 2013’s go-to grain.
Quinoa, it seems, is everywhere, from salads and side dishes to nearly everything stocked by Whole Foods. Still, you don’t come across quinoa cookies every day. I stopped by One UN to meet Chef Rotolo and sample what may be the smartest hotel cookie in town.
The cookies, golden brown domes sold in trios for $4 in the lobby cafe, come nestled in a candy bag tied with a raffia bow. “It’s rustic, and it goes with the quinoa cookie, which is kind of earthy,” says Rotolo of the raffia ribbon.
The cookie is a nod to the hotel’s location directly across the street from the United Nations
(until its name change last fall, the hotel was the UN Plaza). “We wanted to do something where we could go to the UN and say, ‘You’re celebrating, and we’re celebrating, too,’” says Hotel Manager Gul Goknar Turkmenoglu.
Quinoa Year launched in February as a full-court press by the UN to encourage small farmers throughout the world to plant what may be a near perfect food, one that has sustained generations in Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. In addition to being rich in protein, essential amino acids and vitamins, quinoa is gluten-free, thrives in extremes of heat or cold and doesn’t require much water. In short, it’s the ultimate 21st-century crop, one with “the potential for reducing poverty and for environmentally sustainable agriculture,” Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared at the start of Quinoa Year.
Back at the hotel Rotolo came up with a black quinoa and shrimp salad for February’s room service menu. But the hotel also wanted something that international missions and councils could serve at their meetings “instead of regular chocolate chip cookies,” says Turkmenoglu.
So Rotolo looked to the quinoa cookie, even if he and his team had to invent it. “We put things in, we took things out. We went through a lot of variations,” he says.
Sugar free? No crunch. Honey as the sole sweetener? No crispness on top. And flour? The team tried regular wheat flour and quinoa flour before settling on Cup4Cup gluten-free flour. “So the cookie is gluten-free but not sugar free,” says Rotolo, although he can make a sugar-free version sweetened with agave on request.
The result? Delicious. Not too chewy, not too sweet, not something you’ve tasted a zillion times – and definitely not chocolate chip. Un Café in the hotel lobby sells 11 packets a day, all freshly baked. You can take them home, but they’re especially good paired with a cup of Illy coffee, the Un Café house brew.
For now the hotel plans to stock the cookies until February. After that, who knows? “There’s a lot going on in that little cookie,” says Rotolo.
ONE UN New York, One United Nations Plaza at East 44th Street; 212 758-1234.