Like great fashion designers, chefs are searching the globe for the best materials to highlight their unique styles and haute skills. The American consumer is looking for seasonal, fresh and interesting flavors. What better way to meet in the middle than produce?
As the farm-to-table movement expands, previously foreign fruits and veggies are making their way into our local specialty markets from small farms. Rare or esoteric greens and berries are snapped up by foragers and rushed to the kitchen as fast as their bikes can pedal. But, even everyday kale or strawberries can achieve premium status with the right wording, technique and presentation.
We’ve pulled together a list of ten recent trends for giving produce supermodel status on the menu:
Bring in a touch of adventure with exotic fruits and vegetables. Consider specialty produce as a traveler’s postcard, giving your diners a premium snapshot of global flavors.
Try this: Replace apple with jicama in a late-summer slaw for a mildly sweet, slightly exotic twist.
Wagyu hanger steak: wasabi potato fritters, stewed candy onions, porcini demi, truffle oil
– Sola, Chicago
Beets, avocado, cucumber, harissa, popcorn
– Barley Swine, Austin, Tx.
2. STREET FOOD
Give produce street cred by pulling from street-food favorites. Upgrade corn to Mexican street corn, move kale to India with kale pakoras (spicy kale fritters) and channel Thai hawkers with a green mango salad dusted with chile salt.
Try this: For a fruit salad with a roadside feel, dust watermelon, mango, pineapple and cucumber with chile powder and salt; finish with lime juice.
Artichoke chips with green garlic aioli
– The Thomas, Napa, Calif.
Poutine: Chorizo, widmer cheddar curds, sweet potato timber, corn gravy, okra
– Triniti, Houston
The perceived value of tropical fruits runs high. Look to coconut, pineapple, mango and guava for flavor profiles that bring so much more than just sweetness to the table.
Try this: Add pineapple or mango chunks to salsa for a premium and tropical turn.
Sorbet: White peach, pineapple lime, lychee
– Blue Water Grill, New York City
Mango Crisps: Deep-fried mango slices with sweet honey, powdered sugar and whipped cream
– The Tropical, Tulsa, Okla.
4. SUPER FRUITS
Add these to smoothies, salads and side dishes for a brightly glowing health halo. And take credit for their super strength by calling them out on the menu. Goji berries, acai and pomegranate bring in exoticism, but don’t forget about the unsung heroes here like sweet potato, kale, blueberry and others.
Try this: In your better-for-you efforts, find creative terminology or menu icons to identify the power of super foods.
Goji Vegan: Roasted sun chokes, english peas, cashews, shitake mushrooms, bok choy, organic brown rice, avocado, hemp seed, goji vinaigrette
– Abbey Park, Milton, Conn.
Antioxidant Mix Salad: Spinach, parsley, almond, red onion, poached apples, and whole-wheat croutons tossed with strawberry pomegranate vinaigrette
– Freshcraft, Denver
For consumers, fresh and produce walk hand in hand in the land of premium. Don’t underestimate the power of the word, and use it liberally — but honestly — to call out freshness cues on your menu.
Try this: Look to fresh descriptors that imply a source connection — terms like market, farm, garden and field resonate freshness.
Avocado Tarragon Margarita: Don Julio Reposado tequila, market-fresh avocado, tarragon, fresh-squeezed lime juice, housemade sour mix and a splash of blood orange
– Pepper Smash, Plano, Tx.
Wood-oven baked lasagna —farmers market vegetables, ricotta, mint, breadcrumbs
– Coco 500, San Francisco
Highlighting a very close attention to technique sends a message of culinary expertise and also elevated flavor.
Try this: Consider those techniques that bring out unique textural and and a flavor contrasts — grilled citrus, melted leeks — and call these out on the menu.
Flash-Fried Spinach, with lemon, Parmesan
– Pachamama’s, Lawrence, Ks.
Charred Rainbow Carrots, garden lettuces, spiced almonds, young goat cheese
– Coco 500, San Francisco
Bright, lively, fresh flavors go a long way to convey premium values. Look to finishes of cilantro, lime, grapefruit, lemon verbena and mint to add a pop of clean flavor.
Try this: Add fresh orange segments over grilled fish or chicken for a colorful premium cue
Butter Lettuce Salad: Palace Hotel’s Green Goddess dressing, avocado, ruby grapefruit, nasturtium
– Wayfare Tavern, San Francisco
Tomatillo Soup: Smoked avocado, hominy, fresno peppers, chicharon and cilantro
– Tilia, Minneapolis
From pickled strawberries to pickled peppers, this homestead-worthy form of preserving is a great expression of artisanship. It also lends character to produce, transforming an everyday green bean into menu distinction.
Try this: Use sous vide to quick-pickle sandwich garnishes, such as red onion and radish
Pulled Pork Sliders: House-smoked 72-hour pork, maple barbecue, pickled onion slaw
– Sugar & Plumm, New York City
Liberty Ranch duck with Romano beans, corn purée, bacon and pickled nectarines
– Bay Wolf, Oakland, Calif.
9. MATURE PAIRINGS
Move beyond tomato and basil and look to the herb garden for more sophisticated flavor pairings. Rosemary or thyme offset pears in an unexpected but perfect way. Tarragon with beets. Carrots with chervil.
Try this: Run a fresh peach and basil hand pie on your dessert menu as a late-summer LTO.
Roasted Brie Toasts: Caramelized spring onion, rosemary-roasted grapes
– Rush Street, Chicago
Baby Turnips with Cherries and Tarragon
– Restaurant Zoe, Seattle
10. LOADED BEVERAGES
Move over lime wedge. Add a fresh and unexpected infusion or garnish to your beverage line up with garnishes like blueberries and raspberries, or fresh, whole fruit and herb infusions like cucumber and cilantro.
Try this: Switch out the maraschino cherry for a mini fruit kebab of in-season produce.
Maple Berry Smash: Johnny Drum Green Label Bourbon, fresh lemon, fresh mint, maple syrup, early summer berries
– Rustic Canyon, Santa Monica, Calif.
Strawberry Rhubarb Chia Water: Filtered Water Infused with Fresh Rhubarb, Strawberries, Mint, Parsley, Lime, Ginger and Chia Seeds
– LYFE Kitchen, Palo Alto, Calif.