It is officially spring! And while many parts of the country are still working on warming up (apologies to everyone in the Northeast, right now), chefs are ramping up their menus with fresh and bright menu items sure to draw in a wave of hungry foodies.
Spring makes us feel renewed. The sun begins its return, flowers are blooming, and treasured ingredients like white asparagus, morel mushrooms, and snow peas are coming back in season. Customers are finally coming out of their winter hibernation looking for something fresh to clear up the heavy bread bowls and hearty meals that had sustained them during the winter.
We decided to reach out to chefs around the country and put together a short list of some of the best spring menu items across the nation to jump-start your creativity. Thank you, everyone, for your awesome submissions!
Our criteria for selecting the best dishes were, as follow:
- Ingredients - Are they fresh and seasonal?
- Visual appeal - Does the picture make me travel the distance to get this dish?
- Creativity - Is it unique or made to be new?
Okay, here we go!
#3 Holla Duck
Chef Oscar Cabezas - Telefèric Barcelona - Walnut Creek, California
Ingredients: A duck magret seared with duck fat, herbs, and truffled honey, sprinkled with a foie truffle and plated with powdered corn nuts and a Sherry glacé.
Native to Barcelona, Chef Oscar helped build Telefèric Barcelona out to the US after working for a number of kitchens in Spain like Michelin-starred Arzak. He has since been nominated as one of the 50 most influential chefs of the year and is lauded by his team for his talent.
Chef Oscar: "The image of spring is not complete without the arrival of the summer truffle: Tuber Aestivum. Summer truffles remind me of the days in Arzak, where the truffle was only treated exclusively by the chef. After spending all winter trying to get truffles at a competitive price, at the end of April the first truffles begin to arrive from Europe. In Spain, we are one of the largest producers in the world and we love to put truffle in every dish. The duck with the aromas of Tuber makes spring in the Pyrenees eclipse the mind of our guests."
- Seasonality - 7
- Visual appeal - 8.5
- Creativity - 9
Though Chef Oscar's ingredients don't scream spring, the truffled honey and overall simplicity of the dish bring the freshness we were looking for in these dishes. And as he explains, the truffle aromas bring back memories of the spring and summer months. His plating is beautiful and quite creative using honey and powdered corn nuts to paint the dish and upon initial review, the presentation made my mouth water.
#2 Marinated Spring Beans
Ted Hopson - The Bellwether - Los Angeles, California
Ingredients: Yellow wax beans, snow peas, sugar snap peas, and romano beans steamed, chilled and tossed with shallot confit, shallot oil, a vinegar made from the Italian Timarosso grape and opal basil. The bean salad is then plated on a heart of palm puree and topped with tomatoes.
Chef Ted Hopson has more than 16 years of restaurant experience under his belt touting residency at Father's Office, Lukshon, and Umami Burger as Executive Chef and an appearance as a competitor in Season 5 of Top Chef Masters. As co-owner and Executive Chef at The Bellwether, Hopson has a simple philosophy when it comes to food: don't forget the twist.
Chef Ted: "A perfect new salad for springtime, it is a mix of a few different beans on top of a heart of palm puree." The puree has a wonderful earthy flavor, while not being too strong. "This is a very filling, but yet very springtime bean salad. We were all surprised at how fast we ate the dish when testing out recipes for it."
- Seasonality - 9.5
- Visual appeal - 7.5
- Creativity - 7.5
I feel so fresh just reading the recipe for this dish. Every springtime bean you can think of is tossed into this dish with top quality oils and vinegar to give them the extra kick they need to stand out. Plated on a silky white heart of palm puree over a black dish gives the dish a beautiful contrast that draws you in. Plus, this dish is totally vegan which gives it a step up above other dishes with vegan demand sky-rocketing.
#1 Rabbit Rillette
Chef James Petrakis - The Ravenous Pig - Orlando, FL
Ingredients: Rabbit rillette served with grilled foie gras torchon, corn smut mustard, organic pickled carrots, morels, frisee and green garlic.
Previously working in the kitchens of Atelier in the Ritz-Carlton New York-Central Park and Walt Disney World's California Grill, James Petrakis opened the Ravenous Pig with his wife Julie in 2007. The duo is dedicated to creating a menu of local, seasonal, daily-changing flavors and a solid in-house charcuterie program. And they have a ton of accolades like “Best New Restaurant,” “Best of the Best,” “Best Beer Selection,” and “Best Kept Secret” from Orlando Magazine, as well as a number of James Beard Nominations.
- Ingredients - 8
- Visual appeal - 9.5
- Creativity - 9
A true work of art, this dish excites the eyes even before the stomach. Tasty morels, carrots, and green garlic hit the spring ingredients requirement on the nose while also reinventing them. I mean, Petrakis took corn smut, a fungus that literally transforms each corn kernel into a bulbous, bulging bluish-grey gall, and repurposed it into a delicious mustard that perfectly complements the rabbit rillette. My eyes, my brain, and my stomach are all pushing me to take a quick road trip to Orlando just for this dish.
With an influx of so many fresh ingredients and a chance to reinvent your entire menu, chefs should feel the excitement as this season comes upon us. Being both a trade-focused professional and a semi-professional foodie, I'd say these dishes are worth a look to see if your menu measures up.