Chefs are rounding out main dishes with seasonal accompaniments.
As club and resort chefs continue to incorporate seasonal foods into menus, sides offer the perfect playground to highlight the very best ingredients at their peak.
At Basin Harbor Resort in Vergennes, Vt., Christian Kruse, Executive Chef and Food & Beverage Director, builds menus for the resort’s four different dining outlets with an element of flexibility, so he can adjust sides, sauces and accompaniments as needed, based on seasonal availability.
“Our growing season is relatively short, but we have more than 200 farms in the same county as us,” says Kruse, who has been with Basin Harbor for more than 13 years and does between $4 and $6 million in annual F&B, depending on banquet activity. “It would be shameful as a chef to not highlight locally grown products whenever I can.”
The best ways for Kruse to highlight these ingredients are in specials, as well as with sides that complement other flavors on the plate. In the spring, asparagus plays a leading role. Ditto for fiddlehead ferns, spring onions, peas and baby vegetables.
“We try to prepare our seasonal vegetables in a number of ways, because each cooking method affects the flavor and texture differently,” says Kruse. “Take asparagus, for example. We roast it, grill it, braise it, sauté it, turn it into soup, and even confit it. It lends itself to a lot of different proteins, depending on how you prepare it.”
But, as is the case with seasonal products, certain items aren’t always available. Kruse gets around this hiccup by portraying menus as farm-to-table, so guests will accept last-minute changes without issue.
“As long as our food tastes good and is fresh, that’s what is most important,” he says.
Kruse begins planning menus, including sides, in the resort’s off-season, around January. “Developing menus is a three-month process,” he says. “I typically start with the protein and build from there.
“It’s important to me that sides aren’t hidden in any of our dishes,” Kruse adds. “So, for example, if I’m using cauliflower, I’m not going to bury it; I’m going to find ways to make the cauliflower stand on its own, but still marry with the other flavors on the plate.”
Benjamin Guaman, Executive Chef of the Governors Club in Chapel Hill, N.C., takes a similar approach to seasonal sides. Because his menus are seasonal and change frequently, Guaman is able to rotate sides as availability dictates.
“The weather has really been playing games with us this spring,” he reports. “So we’ve had to change gears on the fly quite a bit and rely on local greenhouses, as well as baby vegetables like potatoes, radishes, carrots and beets.”
Guaman works with local farmers and purveyors to get the best of what’s in season, and he uses sides as a way to not only round out plates, but also to introduce less-familiar products.
“Sides are a great way to bring in new ingredients, because they’re not a main focus of the dish,” says Guaman. “They allow us to be flexible and experiment with flavors and cooking techniques, to see what works together and what doesn’t.”
At the Governors Club, farm-to-table isn’t a trend—it’s a way of life. So for Guaman, it’s critical to have constantly rotating ingredients. This keeps the menu fresh and interesting, while simultaneously challenging the culinary team to develop new and interesting recipes.
“Sides can give you really colorful plates,” Guaman notes. “But flavor and proper cooking technique has to come first.”