Summer Sizzles

Chefs agree summer menus that mix old and new in thought-provoking ways will shine.

“Summer is about finding the best in-season vegetables and fruits, then making sure they fit what your customers traditionally eat,” says Jacqueline Platzer, assistant culinary director at Philadelphia’s P.J.W. Restaurant Group which includes P.J. Whelihan’s and The Pour House, among others.

This summer, trends will reflect consumers making smarter, more diversified dining choices. Here are five menu trends you’ll want to take advantage

Plant Plates

“Plant-based dining will be popular this summer,” says Michael Brown, chef for Barrel Republic and Jalisco Cantina in Oceanside, California, and chefs agree that the culinary future is in plant-based dishes.

Vegetable-forward plates with eggplant, tomatoes, beets, and zucchini will be favored plus sophisticated summer salads like Kevin Templeton’s The Health Nut salad at Barleymash in San Diego: organic baby super greens (beet tops, kale, spinach, arugula, and broccoli tops), blood orange vinaigrette, strawberries, avocado, heirloom beets, and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Sustainable and Seasonal

“Especially during summer, chefs are taking advantage of local farmers markets, seeing what’s local, and using it on their menus,” Barleymash’s Templeton says. “Farmers markets are more prevalent, and chefs are capitalizing on starting relationships with local farms.” Because of this, Sustainable, local, organic cuisine will thrive. Continuing consumer love given to sustainable ingredients integrates well with menus driven by the farmers market that speak to summer and the prevailing health trend.

Unconventional Proteins

Sustainable and seasonal cuisine is also translating into summer’s forever-favorite protein category, seafood. “As we overfish ahi, we have to rely on other fishes, and summer helps with introducing new varieties as lighter fare,” says Brown of Barrel Republic and Jalisco Cantina. Sustainable wild salmon, wahoo, and farm-raised yellowtail find fame in ceviches, pokes, or grilled or smoked dishes.

Brown’s Spicy Shrimp Guacamole with tostada shells at Jalisco, he says, will be home run summer fare. Shrimp poached in lemon and chile de arbol is mixed into guacamole with tomatoes, cilantro, onion, poblano peppers, and lime juice, then topped with charred  jalapeño puree and cotija cheese.

For Carson Kitchen’s Cory Harwell, butcher cuts of meat, like hanger and Denver steaks, will shine. “Customers seeing Denver steak creates a conversational opportunity, and it allows chefs to control cost,” he says. “You can get an equally beefy, flavorful cut of meat for less plus give guests a wonderful experience at a more reasonable value proposition.”

Spicy Heat

Spices will be more visible like turmeric, harissa, and za’atar on meats and vegetables, and on sweet items like Harwell’s watermelon salad at Carson Kitchen with chili spice and feta cheese. Platzer says gochujang marinades could be seen on grilled meats, and Brown says he’s taking spiced Mexican street corn and turning it into a summer salad.

Icy Sweets

“A growing trend is locally-driven ice cream with local fruit,” Brown says. “Popsicle straws are another one where craft bars give you a popsicle to swirl in lime flavor to your cocktail instead of a lime.”

For mixing summer menu trends in, Harwell offers some advice: “Take inspiration from those you admire and add your unique twist. How do you get creative? How do you be bold in your approach to flavor and opinionated in your approach to food without going too far?”

Menu Innovations, Slideshow