Pretty enough to eat.
Story by Ruksana Hussain
In recent years, blooms have leapt from garden to plate. The use of edible flowers at restaurants and bars has surged. For visual appeal, health benefits, and distinctive taste, rose, hibiscus, squash blossom, and many other petals are planted on menus across the country. Here are some of the budding chefs and venues that are increasing the everyday diner’s vocabulary and appetite for edible flowers.
Nathaniel Reid Bakery
St. Louis, Missouri
James Beard Semifinalist Chef Nathaniel Reid has been recognized internationally for his pastries; accolades include Dessert Professional Magazine’s Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America. The world-class pastries at his community bakery feature floral flavors like elderflower, orange blossom, and poppy flower. Bite into crisp-tender elderflower macarons or fork into the elderflower macaron cake with rhubarb and grapefruit compote and topped with fresh raspberries and white chocolate. Look for the bostock pastry made from sliced brioche bread soaked in orange blossom water. Try the poppy flower macaron made with the natural oils of poppy flower and strawberry-poppy flower jam.
At this elegant seafood space with an indoor pond and sweeping views of Elliott Bay, Executive Chef Brett Howell adds edible flowers to scallops and asparagus. “We buy an assortment of edible flowers from our local produce purveyor,” he says. “Our team typically uses red clover, lilac, radish blossoms, and calendulas. Most have a slight bitter taste, which balances out the sweet and salty flavor profiles in our garlic-seared scallop crudo. When eaten all together, you get a nice balance of sweet, bitter, vinegar and salt.” Meanwhile the flowers in the grilled Washington asparagus add a bitter counterbalance to the salty cured egg yolk and anchovy aioli, as well as beautiful color to the plate.
Union Kitchen & Tap
Situated in a charming coastal neighborhood, head here to sip a cocktail creation and to snap an Insta-worthy photo of the flower-clad Genevieve, crafted from botanical gin, fresh snap pea/mint juice, lemon juice, and orange blossom water, finished with micro-daisies. Bar Manager Jessica Beusan says, “I was looking for a complementary garnish reminiscent of spring that wouldn’t interfere with the delicate flavors of the cocktail. Plus, daisies make me smile!”
DanDan and EsterEv
Chef Dan Jacobs has been cooking with daylilies since he moved to Wisconsin seven years ago, since they grow rampant in the area. When in season, he offers a special stir-fry on the menu of his Asian-American restaurant DanDan, where he pairs fresh daylilies with fermented black beans, tomatoes, and pork belly. Jacobs also incorporates daylilies into a borscht-like vegetarian broth served at EsterEv, his fine-dining, tasting menu-only restaurant.
Zero Restaurant + Bar
Charleston, South Carolina
Chef Vinson Petrillo makes a stunning spring pea liquid-center tortellini with fermented marigold flowers. He ferments the marigolds (including flower, leaf and stem) with three percent salt over a few days. The result gives the dish a punch of salty, funky, vegetal flavors. The marigolds’ acidity balances with the fattiness of the Serrano ham and the savory taste of the pasta. The dish, which also incorporates a pea shell broth, offers a taste of spring in every bite.
Chef/Designer Larry Hanes uses milkweed as an integral part of his wild greens cilbir dish at this French-inspired restaurant that offers what he calls “twistorical” interpretations of classic breakfast and brunch fare. Although milkweed grows wild, Hanes cultivates it in his garden—a garden that was recently featured in Gardenista Magazine for its structure design. Cilbir is a Turkish dish of poached eggs with yogurt. By wetting and quickly flash-frying the milkweed buds in hot oil with garlic throughout the cooking process, a unique flavor profile similar to rapini, sans the bitterness, is revealed, in addition to aromas that make the dish pleasantly spring-forward. Hanes says that he uses the milkweed for its leafy flavor.
Chef Matt Sigler uses edible flowers for both flavor and presentation, particularly lavender flowers and nasturtium—which he says goes great on fish or steak. He’s put flowers into his pasta dough for a floral presence: he tops the flower tagliatelle with chanterelles and corn. But his favorite flower for desserts is marigold, which he incorporates into ice cream and panna cotta. “If you get the leaves, they taste like tangerine,” he says. Look, too, for flowers on the berry beet salad, chicken marsala, and Italian strawberry shortcake.
Two Michelin-starred Chef Ryan McCaskey’s award-winning, internationally-recognized ten-course tasting menu presents unique flavors and thought-provoking techniques. In his creative dish inspired by clam chowder, dill flower provides a vegetal, green note. The plate is comprised of clam mousse spread onto individual cabbage leaves that are then reassembled into a head and sous-vide. A green apple ice and horseradish cream poured tableside complete the dish.
San Francisco, California
This menu uses edible flowers largely for garnish but also in oils, liquors, extracts, and more. Think nasturtium leaves and flowers, elderflower liquor and extract. An elderflower custard goes inside a strawberry tart, covered with an elderflower glaze. Springtime foraging expeditions by kitchen staff bring in onion blossoms, wild mustard flowers, and society garlic flowers, to name a few, all quite strong in flavor.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, restaurants nationwide are incorporating edible flowers into dishes across a range of preparation styles—and the tasty results are worth a trip.
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