Written by Sarah Hassler, Sous Chef of Veraisons Restaurant
Finally, March is upon us! Living in upstate New York means accepting long and cold winters as the norm, but it also makes the thought of spring-time an exciting one. In truth, I think people up here see the coming of spring as more of a new-beginning than the New Year! All around us, people are making plans for vacations, starting new diet and exercise programs, and thinking about the dreaded swimsuit season to come. Personally, I’m dying for the sidewalks to thaw enough for me to hit the streets in my running shoes again. (Ice-skating is my kryptonite)
Perhaps no one looks forward to spring quite like chefs, with the possible exception of restaurant-goers themselves. Certainly there are thousands of possibilities when it comes to a sweet potato, carrot, or other root veg, but we are now at the point of longing for green on the plate. Something light, fresh, and delicate to replace the braised meats, heavy starches, and thick sauces….a girl can dream.
As a former English major-turned-chef, menu writing is one of my favorite parts of the job. I have zero artistic ability with paintbrushes, colored pencils, and the like; stick-figures are a challenge. However, when it comes time to think about new dishes pictures start forming in my mind and I am grateful for the ability to transpose those images into words on a page. What’s more, to have the ability take those ideas from image to words to reality on a plate; that’s an adventure in itself!
My menu-writing style when it comes to seasonal changes is to first fully immerse myself in the season’s best foods. As it’s quite impossible to find local asparagus or sweet peas in February, I turn instead to books, magazines, and any other media I can get my hands on. For roughly a week I spend every possible moment at the library, the bookstore, or glued to my laptop researching possibilities.
After dating me for a year, my boyfriend, Adam, actually schedules dates at the bookstore around menu-writing time. I find a large table, armed with my pencil, notebook, and a giant soy-latte, and hunker down. He then scours the store for anything remotely interesting or relevant and piles the books around me like a castle wall. I do not surface for hours, and when I do I have a notebook of randomly scrawled thoughts: “spinach soubise”, “mustard grilled chicken” “arroz negro”. It’s a mish-mash of anything I found noteworthy, or anything that struck a chord with me, along with ideas of my own that spark up during the process. This is a massive brainstorming session between me and any published concept or story, with Adam keeping the books and caffeine flowing. He’s a total keeper, I know.
From there I take the scribbles and formulate plate concepts around them. My approach to food is a fusion of Classical French training with Asian influences, all with a delicate touch and a sense of balance. To translate, I try to deliver rich flavors with classic techniques, while balancing the textures and tastes and always adding a note of interest or surprise. It has to make sense, it has to flow, and it has to be, well, pretty.
One of my concepts for the upcoming Spring Menu: Seared Sea Scallops with Fava Bean Puree, Celery Leaf Gremolata, and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes.
The scallops are delicate, sweet, and meaty all at once, with the sear adding a touch of crispness to the outer edges. The fava beans evoke the season both in color and flavor, and pureeing them adds a velvety texture and a possible sauce substitution. The celery leaf gremolata takes an otherwise under-used portion of the celery stalk and, with the addition of hazelnuts and citrus peel, transforms it into a crunchy punch of flavor. Finally, the roasted cherry tomatoes will “ground” the whole plate, as in the rich umami flavors of the tomatoes will add a savory note to the dish.
Will this dish make the menu? Only time will tell, as I am only half-way through the menu-writing process. Once my ideas are formulated it is time to sit down with my executive chef, Orlando Rodriguez, and play “ping-pong”. Essentially we bounce plate concepts or ingredient ideas back and forth until we agree on a completed plate. In truth, the best ideas come from the synergy of these sessions as our separate experiences, observations, and styles bring everything to a whole new level.
These sessions are also the time when we consider the multiple other factors involved in bringing the menu to life. Are the ingredients in season and for how long will they remain that way? How can we cross-utilize this component onto another plate; perhaps for breakfast or lunch? Are we repeating ourselves?
From there we take our finalized menu copy and begin to sketch it out for one another so we understand how the plates will look in completion. Then prep for the menu begins a few days before the launch. At the same time I begin work on our “Server Guide”, a booklet that details the prep, farmers and suppliers, ingredients, allergens, and ethnicities of the food we are going to be presenting. The day of the menu launch we gather our entire Front of House staff and present each dish to them to taste and really see.
Finally, that evening with abundant nerves and excitement, we present the menu to the public. This is the clutch moment, when our hopes, dreams, and of course precious egos are laid in front of the customer to be devoured and hopefully, thoroughly enjoyed. It is our goal to bring a feeling of springtime, that burgeoning, blossoming bit of joy to our customers and when we succeed, wow is it glorious.
We can do nothing about the chill in the air nor the persistent snow, but step into our dining room and we’ll do our best to help you look forward to the coming spring.
“The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star.”
— Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, French lawyer and epicure
Upcoming at Veraisons:
March 29th – Spring Menu Launch (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)
March 29th, 6:00pm – Tropical Wine Pairing Dinner