No longer a seasonal fruit, watermelon can now be used as an anytime ingredient.
Many full-service restaurants plan their menus seasonally, featuring whichever ingredients that are at peak ripeness. Yet changes in agricultural practices and improved distribution mean that once-seasonal ingredients are not only available, but are also appealing for consumers year-round.
Take, for example, the watermelon. Though this fruit was once associated primarily with warmer months, watermelon now grows in more than 30 states, as well as in Mexico and other Central America countries. This means ripe, fresh watermelon can now reach restaurants across the U.S. a few days after harvest year-round.
Additionally, while consumer taste preferences have also traditionally aligned with seasonality, today’s consumers are now accustomed to seeing their favorite ingredients and dishes all year. Just ask Ted Dorsey, managing partner at The Mill Restaurant in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Six years ago, the restaurant opened right when watermelon season in his region traditionally peaks, so Dorsey’s menu featured a Watermelon Bruschetta. The dish was only intended to stay on the menu until the end of the summer before transitioning to other seasonal offerings suited for cooler months—that is, until customers responded.
“When we did our first menu change for the season, we replaced the Watermelon Bruschetta with another style of bruschetta that didn’t use watermelon,” Dorsey says. “The response was insane. We got hate messages. My partner was verbally accosted by an older woman. People loved that dish so much that we decided it had to stay on the menu year round no matter what it took to make that happen.”
Fortunately, Dorsey says he was quickly able to find watermelon supply for the rest of the year. Ever since, Watermelon Bruschetta has been prominently featured on the restaurant’s menu and has evolved into a signature dish. In fact, The Mill Restaurant’s Watermelon Bruschetta—which features watermelon, pistachio brittle, agave syrup made from Añejo Tequila, and whipped feta—has grown so popular, Dorsey says that other restaurants in the region have copied it.
“The first couple times I saw the dish copied were a little frustrating,” Dorsey says. “But by the third or fourth time, I thought at least it proves there is demand for the dish.”
Even now, six years later, Dorsey says the Watermelon Bruschetta is still the restaurant’s best-selling dish. He attributes its long-lasting popularity to consumer interest in the watermelon flavor, which he says is highlighted by the other elements of the dish. This has inspired him to work with watermelons in other applications year-round, including in cocktails or even in pickling the rinds for garnish.
“There are tons of outlets for watermelon,” Dorsey says. “They are very versatile, and you can find plenty of uses for the whole fruit throughout the year, whether you’re looking for savory or sweet applications. Even just adding some pink Himalayan salt or black lava salt can elevate watermelon into an almost religious experience.”
No matter what kind of dish a restaurant wants to add to the menu or what time of year it is, Dorsey says he recommends culinary leaders experiment with the fruit.
“Don’t be afraid,” he says. “Watermelon is a bold flavor, but you don’t need to be cautious when using it in a dish. Your guests and your peers will really enjoy it.”
To learn more about how to use watermelon on your menu all year, visit the National Watermelon Promotion Board website.
View the Watermelon Bruschetta recipe here.