Why is it that butternut squash bisque is served all Fall long, while fresh arugula salad with goat cheese can be ordered in the Spring? A great deal of thought, care, and insight goes into the curating of each season’s menu in a given restaurant. To get a better idea of exactly what goes into this process, we’ve asked Chef Brandy, head sous chef at Junction Restaurant, one of the most renowned and season-focused restaurants in Vermont.
Chef Brandy’s Steps to Develop a Seasonal Menu
Glance At What Was Featured This Season Last Year
The very first thing I consider is what was on the menu for the same season in the previous year. I can pull a report from our POS system that will tell me how popular each menu item was during that particular time frame. Typically I redesign a few of the most popular menu items making them fresher and easier to execute.
Team Input is Crucial
One of the most important things when developing a menu is to include the thoughts and input of the team members who will be cooking each night. It is imperative that the restaurant team is excited and proud of the items they are providing. When the team is proud of their work, the guests can sense and taste it! I ask the cooks and other team members who wish to be involved, for their ideas. They submit their ideas to me, and we go from there.
Coordinate The Menu Around The Garden
In the spring, summer and early fall months there’s a strong focus on what is growing in our gardens. This plays a huge role in what will be featured on our menus. It’s imperative that I meet with the head gardener to find out what will be growing so I can start planning accordingly.
Edgy, Unique, Never-Before Seen Dishes
Vermont is a state hyper-focused on local cuisine and products. We love to use local produce and poultry and support local businesses whenever possible. Vermont cuisine can be hard to describe. Though most visitors assume Vermont cuisine is the same as New England cuisine but this isn’t the case. Over the years Vermont cuisine has evolved from focusing on fresh, hearty traditional dishes featuring lots of cottage to one that transforms traditional recipes adding different influences to give them an edge.
As a chef eating in another restaurant, I choose the funkiest thing I can find; different textures and flavors thrown together is what I look for. I’m finding a lot of guests, and self-proclaimed foodies are looking for the same.
Support + Use Local
Using Vermont products is a must! Supporting local businesses and farmers is a must if you are going to be a successful restaurant here, the locals notice and frequent establishments that do so. It’s nice living in a state-wide community that understands that we will all be successful as long as we support one another.
Color! Another contributing menu factor is eye appeal. We consider the various ways we can add splashes of color to mix up the usual brown, green, and whites. Pickling our cauliflower with beets makes the cauliflower pink. Blending smoked paprika with oil in the blender will give us a dark orangey red oil for garnishing. Flavoring our risotto with saffron gives us a bright yellow color. Right now, we have all the colors of the rainbow represented in several flavored and textured purees and infused oils and coulis.
As a chef, it can be challenging to find the time to follow trends, but knowing which trends are coming down the pike is extremely helpful in developing a menu that people NEED to try.
How wonderful to have such insight! Thank you, Chef Brandy, for taking the time to explain the many variables that go into your menu curation! Knowing the behind-the-scenes makes us even more excited to try the menu offerings each season. As a bonus, and for anyone whose taste buds are watering, Chef Brandy left us with one of the recipes from her seasonal menu. A recipe that is fresh, colorful, and delicious! A classic dish with a contemporary twist! Saffron Risotto, which you can find below. To dine at Chef Brandy’s restaurant and or stay at the exquisite hotel it’s attached to – The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa, visit here!
½ cup white wine
1 teaspoon saffron
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup minced shallots
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ pound arborio rice
3 ½-4 cups chicken stock
2 Tbsp Whole butter
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- In a small cup or bowl, combine wine and saffron; set aside to for saffron to bloom – at least 10 minutes.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat oil.
- Add the shallots and sauté until translucent, then add the garlic and rice and toss to coat in oil.
- Add the wine and saffron to the pan, constantly stir until absorbed
- Gradually add chicken stock or water, 6-8 oz at a time, stirring constantly until rice is al dente.
- Remove pan from heat, add cheese & butter, stir to incorporate. Season as needed
- Garnish with preferred seasonal vegetables and serve.
We finish our risotto with fresh English peas, grilled asparagus, roasted radishes, blistered tomatoes, fresh radish slices and a parmesan tuille.
About Brandy Allan : Executive Sous Chef
Chef Allan holds an Associate degree in Culinary Arts and a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality and Restaurant Management. Chef Brandy has shown her skill and talents both in “front of the house” and “back of the house” positions. She started her career at the Iconic Biltmore Estate in Asheville North Carolina where she developed a passion for Southern cuisine. “The atmosphere was fun and a perfect place for me to work on my skills,” states Chef Brandy. The Reel Hospitality Group lured Chef back to New England. She worked at “Dakotas” in Connecticut as well as “Sweetwater’s” in Burlington. Her laid back, friendly and approachable leadership skills make cooking fun and informative.