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Love it or hate it, mayo gets more popular -- and chefs are divided

Jan. 30, 2014 at 4:51 PM ET

Mayo and mustard
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Don’t forget the mayo when you’re setting up your Super Bowl spread this weekend—the condiment just overtook ketchup as tops in the nation.

Americans bought $2 billion worth of mayonnaise last year, compared to $725 million in ketchup, according to market-research firm Euromonitor. (While it’s been widely reported in recent years that salsa is now the No. 1 condiment over ketchup, Euromonitor sensibly categorizes salsa as a dip, not a condiment.)

Mustard, which is a complete inverse to mayo, health-wise, came in nearly last on the list, after soy sauce, barbecue sauce and hot sauce, besting only steak sauce.

Mayo has always seemed to be the pet condiment among chefs, most of whom use it liberally and take pride in whisking together their own.

“Mayonnaise is the result of eggs and olive oil. They go out on a date and have a really good time," restaurateur and "Top Chef" alum Fabio Viviani told TODAY.com. “Chefs love olive oil and eggs separately. Of course they would like the combination.”

Viviani has nothing against mayo haters. “It’s a personal preference,” he says, but those who claim to hate the condiment might want to try the ham sandwich with sweet pineapple mayo from his cookbook, "Fabio’s Italian Kitchen." He also suggests trying mixing herbs, sun-dried tomato or pesto into mayo. “Think about mayonnaise as a white canvas and you are the Michelangelo of food,” he said.

But mayo has its staunch detractors, of course, even among kitchen pros.

Mayo-hating chef Stephen Jones, of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails in Phoenix, gets around his disdain for the condiment by making a flavorful aïoli with whole grain mustard, bacon fat, roasted garlic, shallots and herbs to use in potato salad, for instance.

“I really hate mayo. It’s fatty—not the good fatty—tasteless, and just flat-out gross,” he said. “We do have it at the restaurant, but we never offer it or suggest it. If a guest does request it, we will happily give it to them, but not after we have tried to offer up one of our aïolis first though,” he joked.

“My sous chefs give me the riot act everyday about my dislike of mayo. They think I'm nuts,” he added. “But there a lot of closet mayo-haters out there and we all need to unite!”

Philadelphia-based marketing professional Craig Horwitz hates mayo so much, he started a site eight years ago called holdthatmayo.com, and is even co-directed a mockumentary film called "The Mayo Conspiracy," which will be showing in Philly on March 9 and making the film festival rounds later this year.

“Everything about mayo makes me queasy. The slimy, whitish-yellow color, the consistency, the smell, the fact that it is made from raw eggs!” Horwitz said.

He gets around the mayo issue with a lot of tomato (“extremely under-rated as a sandwich moisturizer,” he said), avocado (“one of our bigger weapons in the war against mayonnaise”) and Greek yogurt (“which solves the whole tuna fish dilemma”).

“It can be challenging at restaurants, since so many people want to slime up sandwiches and salads without first getting our permission,” Horwitz said. “The key is to stay on your toes, ask questions and usually finish the order by saying "absolutely no mayo" at a much higher volume.”

Indeed, Texas-based chef Tim Love—a spokesperson for Hellman’s—says mayo is in a lot of restaurant dishes you might not even be aware of. At his restaurants, it may be the base for a dip, used as a binder in a casserole, or added to roast chicken for moisture.

“I think mayo haters are missing out,” he says. “Haters can be won over by realizing that they've probably eaten it and enjoyed it.”

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