From Wolf River apple soup to the earthy flavors of sturgeon seared in the juice of Bramley’s Seedling, Andrea Carlson has a knack for finding ways to use apples that overturn traditional notions of apple pie or strudel.
This past fall, Carlson’s creations were on offer at the Raincity Grill in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The upscale restaurant, where Carlson is executive chef, offered a fixed-price menu featuring five courses at a cost of $50 (Canadian) a person, or $80 with wine pairings.
Taking her inspiration from the colorful displays of apples on show at the annual apple festival on British Columbia’s Salt Spring Island, Carlson focused on rare and heirloom apple varieties, including Belle de Boskoop, Bramley’s Seedling, Chisel Jersey, King, and Hyslop crab apple.
Carlson chose milder apples for the first course of the menu, which offered small plates of each item rather than hearty helpings. It’s the common style for tasting menus, which offer several samples that together make for a full meal.
The opening course of apple soup with a fritter of local cheese used Wolf River apples because the variety had a subtle taste and didn’t hold together well in cooking.
By contrast, Belle de Boskoop apples tend to hold their shape and have a stronger flavor that made them ideal for an apple compote served for dessert.
“As you move through [the menu], I think you have to manipulate the qualities of the apples as the flavors get deeper and richer,” she said, noting the use of a cider vinaigrette from Merridale Ciderworks on Vancouver Island.
Carlson also aimed to use the varieties in several ways for each course. Quince, used in a second course built around scallops, was diced and blended with wild rice and also made into a jelly complementing the sweet meatiness of the scallops.
Carlson’s selection was driven by the apples’ culinary merit as well as the colorful character of their names.
“There are wonderful names,” Carlson said. “I would far prefer to try something called Belle de Boskoop than Liberty.”
Carlson considers the majority of commercial varieties in production unfavorable for what she’s trying to do in the kitchen.
“I personally like a rustic, heritage apple,” she said. “A lot of the flavors in the newer varieties tend to be tangier, brighter. There tend to be more subtle qualities in the heritage varieties.”
The apple menu focused on Salt Spring Island, because it’s far enough from Vancouver to be exotic, yet close enough to cater to people’s familiarity with its rustic setting.
Carlson sourced her apples-all of which were organic-from orchards that were either featured during the Salt Spring apple festival or known through personal connections.
Salt Spring apple festival coordinator Harry Burton operates Apple Luscious Organic Orchards, one of her sources, while she knew Wave Hill Farm through the Willing Workers on Organic Farms program, in which she has participated. Quince came from backyard growers she knew through mutual acquaintances.
Carlson said growers who take time to reach out to chefs and develop relationships with them will find they receive a higher price per pound than retail channels provide.
“I’m positive they’re going to get paid more even if they aren’t going to get the volume,” she said.
She suggests growers looking to sell to restaurants should start selling at a farmers’ market or even to specialty grocers. The farmers’ market will help raise their profile before they approach chefs, who often can be found scouting the farmers’ markets to see what’s local and seasonal.
Speaking to growers about marketing to restaurants during last spring’s Pacific Agriculture Show in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Lisa Capozzi of San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market said the grower usually has to make the first move. Regardless of how interested chefs might be in accessing local produce, they don’t have a lot of time and might not know where to look for local produce.
“We want to see really beautiful, wonderful product,” she said, speaking from her own experience as a chef. “If you bring [in] the product and take that first step, you’ll be able to develop an ongoing relationship with them.”
Capozzi urged growers to set a price for their products at the beginning of each season and stick to it, in order to set a professional tone.
“Don’t lower your price. You work every bit as hard at the beginning of the season as you do at the high point,” she said.
This was the second year Carlson developed an apple menu for Raincity Grill, which focuses on local, organic products. It typically avoids olive oils, citrus, and other items that aren’t grown locally. That attitude contributes to its appeal, drawing in upwards of 200 people a night in summer.
Though the apple menu rarely draws huge volumes of people, Carlson considers it a worthwhile endeavor because it helps people see something as common as the apple in a different way. It reacquaints people with the fruit, something she hopes to continue next fall with a new apple menu.