For Chef Emma Bengtsson, it doesn’t have to be Valentine’s Day to send flowers. As executive chef at New York City’s Aquavit Restaurant, Chef Emma said edible flowers always fill a sweet spot on the menu. “Regardless of the day, flowers always have a place on my desserts,” she said. “For me, it’s just that extra touch to a dish that shows you care about the little things.”
Chef Emma began incorporating Chef’s Garden edible flowers into her Nordic desserts when she joined Aquavit as executive pastry chef in 2010. She stepped into the role of executive chef in 2014 and, since then, her love for flowers has spread across the menu.
With such a large range of edible flowers to choose from, Chef Emma said she likes to let each dish dictate which blooms work best and where. “Typically, I decide on what florals to feature toward the end of the process,” she said. The unfinished plate provides the perfect open space for the perfect final flourish ─ a touch Chef Emma calls “the one extra piece of love that makes the dish complete.”
Little Flowers Say a Lot
Chef Emma is a big fan of some of The Chef’s Garden’s tiniest flowers ─ Johnny jump-ups and Egyptian Starflowers. “First, they are both very durable,” she said. “And the Egyptian Starflowers are a particular favorite because, well, they are just so pretty yet are on the smaller side, so they are perfect when you just need a little flower on a dish. For example, they are perfect for oysters because of their size.”
She is also fond of Chef’s Garden violas and dianthus flowers. “Flowers have a vibrancy of color that herbs don’t always lend to a dish,” she said. “It’s that little extra touch that makes you smile ─ they are just so pretty.”
All in Good Taste
But it takes more than outward beauty to be the flower chosen to be the “one extra piece of love.” “Flavor plays a huge role,” Chef Emma said. “Everything on a dish has to have a purpose in terms of how the dish tastes and has to be edible. It’s important that the florals aren’t too bitter or too overpowering.”
Working with herb blooms is another way Chef Emma said she likes to incorporate visual beauty that dovetails seamlessly with a dish’s flavors and aromas. “The florals enhance and bring the flavor of the herb to the forefront,” Chef Emma said. “There are also flowers I stay away from because they do just the opposite and take away from the flavors of the dish.”
Going with the Flow
The natural ebb and flow of seasons also plays a significant role in Chef Emma’s decisions about how, when and if to incorporate flowers at all. She’d rather not run too far afield of Mother Nature’s own timetable. “It’s important to me to only highlight things that are seasonal,” she said, even if that means temporarily having fewer flowers appearing on a “dead of winter” Aquavit menu for the time being. Worry not. The arrival of spring will change all that. “Once flowers come in, it symbolizes a new beginning,” she said.
Beyond the visual, aromatic and flavor components of a dish, Chef Emma said plating with edible flowers is ultimately about making guests feel something. “First of all, that they feel joy about the beauty of each flower,” she said. “I want them to be excited about what they are about to eat and know that there was intent in each element of the dish and, on a deeper level, appreciate and see the love that went into getting each little flower on the plate.”
(P.S. You know what else Chef Emma loves? Our petite radish!)
More Reasons to Incorporate Edible Flowers into Menus
In fact, here are seven good reasons. In this post, you can find out more about how edible flowers and vegetable blooms:
Provide texture and crunch
Offer up a pleasing aroma
Add a punch of nutrition
Allow you to tell a story
Permit people to dine with purpose
Which reasons are most compelling to you? And, which edible flowers would fulfill your unique menu needs?