As the weather warms up, we find the harvest season beginning to come into full bloom. Farmers’ markets pop up all over town, community gardens are bountiful, and chefs are busy converting hyper-local ingredients into new seasonal dishes that will carry them through the dog days. In the spirit of vernal renewal, we chat up 10 Cleveland chefs to see what spring or summer ingredients have them excited and why.
Randal Johnson | Molinari’s
Randal Johnson has always been a champion of the perennial herald of spring: rhubarb. The colorful plant may usher in the season, but its tartness can be intimidating to chefs not willing to break out of the tried-and-true pie routine. It shouldn’t be, says Johnson.
“It’s actually really versatile,” he says. “You can take it a savory way and make it with onions and garlic or you can take it a more sweet way and finish it with spices like clove or cinnamon. It’s somewhat challenging but really gratifying because everyone still has those memories of rhubarb from when they were growing up.”
The Dishes: Johnson likes to pair rhubarb relish with grilled pork tenderloin. He also creates compotes, which serve as accompaniments to imported cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano. For dessert, rhubarb flavors housemade sorbets and ice creams.
8900 Mentor Ave., 440-974-2750, molinaris.com
Bac Nguyen | Bac
Pineapple, a traditional Vietnamese favorite, takes Nguyen back to hot pot-style family dinners similar to the popular Japanese fondue shabu-shabu. “You cook small amounts of food and put the meat and pineapple into rice paper to make into your own summer rolls,” he explains.
The timing comes perfect for one of Nguyen’s favorite raw fruits, adding, “They’re so refreshing and always remind me of summer.”
The Dish: In Nguyen’s own take on summer rolls, savory seared pork comes together with skewers of sweet pineapple. You’ll find the rice papers stuffed with noodles, basil, cilantro, lettuce and fish sauce vinaigrette. “They’re great for when you want something lighter on a hot day.”
2661 W 14th St., 216-938-8960, bactremont.com
Olesia Pochynok | Olesia’s Place
From a young age, Pochynok was accustomed to always having strawberries around. Her family grew them on her farm and made preserves to eat throughout the year. “Especially in summer, when they were fresh, my mom would just grind them with sugar and sour cream,” she says.
The Dish: Pochynok fuses her love for strawberries with her restaurant’s Ukrainian-American fare when making sweet, cheese-stuffed pierogi. “Pierogies are part of my nationality, they’re part of my life. We grew up with pierogi for breakfast, pierogi for lunch and potato for dinner,” she laughs.
Her summery variety is smothered in fresh strawberries preserves, mint, and honey and garnished with even more strawberries. “The starch can be heavy and the strawberries just cut it all down,” says Pochynok.
11204 Royalton Rd., 440-877-9054, olesiasplace.com
Demetrios Atheneos | Forage Public House
For a chef who spells out on his menu the source of every ingredient, it’s natural for Atheneos to gravitate towards a vegetable like asparagus that is plentiful in Northeast Ohio. “It’s my go-to,” he says. “Using different techniques you can really change the texture and flavor of the vegetable; it’s diverse.”
The Dishes: Atheneos leaves no treatment unturned for the asparagus sourced from various local farms, including Foote Farms in Valley View, OH. Beginning with the “power salad,” in which asparagus is found alongside wild arugula, baby kale, baby radish, toasted pepitas and foraged mountain huckleberry vinaigrette. Soups take the form of a creamy veloute and a chilled variety. The seasonal veg also is elemental in the roasted chef’s garden plate where, Atheneos says, “asparagus is one of the big stars.”
14600 Detroit Ave., 216-226-2000, foragepublichouse.com
Chris Di Lisi | The Willeyville
With his roots as a pastry chef, Di Lisi can’t help but find Crenshaw melons irresistible. “I love the sweetness with the fragrant notes of the melon itself. It’s like eating a dessert,” he says. “When it gets to be summer, you yearn for melon. It’s not a craving you get until this time of year.”
The Dishes: The watery elements of melons, a trait Di Lisi says he loves, makes for an ideal salad to enjoy on the banks of the Cuyahoga River, where Willeyville is located. Di Lisi’s includes arugula, seedless watermelon, pickled red onion, goat cheese, extra virgin olive oil, house-made rice wine vinegar and shaved ham. “The little bites of pork add that salty component,” says Di Lisi.
1051 W 10th St., 216-862-6422, thewilleyville.com