The seasons, geography, culture, traditions and the ethnic influences of a diverse kitchen staff all play important roles in Chef Roshan Martin’s event menus at the Georgia Aquarium.
Chef Roshan is Executive Chef of the aquarium’s Wolfgang Puck Catering and oversees menu development for corporate events for the likes of Microsoft, media events for the Super Bowl and the annual Atlanta PRIDE official kickoff, as well as weddings, private functions, fundraisers and high profile birthday parties. But, as varied as the events are, Chef Roshan said one thing always stays the same.
No matter the customer, Chef Roshan said sharing the importance of seasonal awareness with clients ensures they’ll always get the highest quality menus for their events.
“I always say, ‘Hey, we are seasonal chefs and these are the products we’ve got,’” he said. “You could have come during the spring and tasted for an event. But then your next event is during fall time. So I’ll let them know that, during fall time, you’ll definitely see a different range of vegetables. You’ll have, maybe, kales. You’ll have those exotic kales, a lot of the sweet potatoes. And then they go ‘Oh, wow!’ We pretty much keep them well informed.”
“But, number one, we are seasonal chefs, so definitely The Chef’s Garden always plays an important role while making my menus here,” he said.
As summer sets in, Roshan said he is ready for the farm’s newest offerings. “So, during summertime, you have these beautiful toy box heirloom tomatoes,” he said. “You have these awesome spring beans. So, according to that, I can make an amazing menu.”
The Chef’s Garden’s English peas are a current favorite.
“I love English peas, so we work a lot with English peas,” Chef Roshan said. “We came up with an English pea risotto, just peas without the rice, without the grain. It’s amazing. It’s a simple technique. You make a beurre monte sauce, like a nice pea sauce, then you fold in the mascarpone. You add a little bit of snow parmesan and butter to thicken it up. And then you blanch the peas right into it. It’s amazing. It looks like cheesy peas, risotto style.”
Crispy stuffed Chef’s Garden squash blossoms are another one of the chef’s favorites.
“We stuff it with burrata and ricotta, and then use chickpea batter and fry it, and it’s amazing,” he said. “It gives you that crunch, but softness inside. Everybody uses tempura, so we use chickpea batter. It comes out nice and golden brown.”
Chef’s Garden radishes have appeared on the menu recently, as well.
“I made a nice beautiful radish carpaccio and served it with green tomato gazpacho,” Chef Roshon said. “And I had that beautiful purple amaranth for a while, so we made radish tops and amaranth pesto and put it on flatbread and topped it with fig jam. It came out really well. We also do eggplant where we pretty much shave it, breadcrumb it and pan sear it, then decorate it with some nice potato salad and fresh anchovy on top, and a nice watermelon radish slaw,” he said.
In addition to seasonality, culinary traditions from Chef Roshan’s upbringing in his native India naturally influence his menus.
“I’m from south India, and when you come here to the south part of America, Georgia or Louisiana, wherever you go, you see similar techniques here, as well,” he said. “The ingredients may be different, but there’s a similar style of cooking─braising, cooking outside on charcoal and all that, pretty much the techniques I had growing up in India.”
That cultural crossover makes Chef Roshan a natural at catering Indian weddings in the American southland.
“We do weddings─ethnic weddings, Indian, Middle Eastern,” he said. “When we have clients come and talk to our sales manager, they say ‘Hey, I hear you guys do Indian weddings here. By the way, who cooks them?’ And then the sales manager will say ‘Our catering chef is Indian and he does all the Indian menus, custom made and all that.’ Some people ask ‘Can we see him?’ And then I go and show my face and they say ‘Oh, okay.’”
“So that’s how it starts off, and then you know, Indian word of mouth. So one wedding leads to another and now we do like ten Indian weddings a year, which is awesome.”
Cultural fusion happens inside the kitchen, as well, according to Chef Roshan, and Chef’s Garden vegetables adapt well across the cultural spectrum.
“We are pretty diverse,” he said. “We’ve got Latinos and Asians, we have southern blacks, and we have Middle Easterners, as well. So it’s pretty nice. We have a united team here.”
The arrival of farm fresh specialty produce often serves as a unique teaching tool for his diverse crew.
“It’s nice to educate my staff, as well, so we can all be in the same boat and go ‘Hey, this is what it is, this is what’s seasonal. You have these beautiful vegetables here. So let’s do it two ways. Three ways.’”
“Some of my cooks and the production chefs have not seen such beautiful items,” he continued. “So we’ll talk about it. I’ll say ‘Hey, why don’t you try it your style for family food? Let’s see how it’ll work.’ I could say, ‘Okay, you’re Mexican, let’s do Mexican style and do sofrito with these vegetables or peppers.’ And then I could say ‘Let’s do a nice London broil marinade.’ We pretty much work and we talk and share our recipes and then we taste it and we say ‘Okay, let’s put it in our next fall menu or in our hors d'oeuvres or something like that.’”
Chef Roshan said the range of Chef’s Garden colors, flavors and varieties make it fun to create specific themes, as well, including ‘80s, ‘90s and Bollywood themes for Atlanta PRIDE. For a recent birthday celebrating the 90th birthday of Georgia Aquarium benefactor and Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, Chef Roshan incorporated Home Depot’s signature colors into a festive menu.
“I wanted to put a little bit of blue and a little bit of orange here and there, just for his theme. He likes colors like that, so I tried to use colors he would appreciate,” he said. “I used beautiful blue borage from Chef’s Garden for the blue. And then for the orange─if you go to a Mexican or a Latin store, you have this beautiful orange soda they’ve got there, tamarind and orange soda. I reduced it and made a gel out of that, then smeared it and built a salad with petite flowers and fig jam.”
Baby beets added a pop of color and flavor to the celebratory menu. “We braised them with rice wine vinegar, sugar, soy and little herbs,” he said. “It gives a nice kick to it. It gives a fresh pickle, like if you put a fresh cucumber in pickle water and take it out after two hours. You get that fresh taste.”
As a final note, Chef Roshan gave a nod to The Chef’s Garden’s product specialists for guidance and recommendations to keep him up to date on the season’s best offerings.
“I always get amazing results with your product specialists when we talk over it,” he said. “So I will always call Michele or Brenda and say ‘Hey, this is what I’m looking for. Can you tell me what I can do with this? What is available?’ And, according to that I plan and make my menus, The Chef’s Garden always plays an important role.”