Beet blush is the candy sweet, tender shoot born from a transplanted, fully grown beet. The shoots literally draw their life-blood from the concentrated sugars stored in the “mother beet.” Along with her energy, the baby shoots also soak up her deep, rich color, which rises rhubarb-pink through the stems and veins of their butter-yellow leaves, causing them to “blush.”
At Miami’s Fisher Island Club, Banquet and Catering Chef Scott Brown says nasturtium leaves add a touch of the tropics to the menu, with the lily-pad look of nasturtium leaves reminding him of his childhood. “They make me remember when I was a kid and saw Japanese gardens for the first time, with those lily pads floating on top,” he says. Chef Scott likes serving dishes that might evoke fond memories for his guests, as well. “I like to create a story as they’re eating.”
Plus, he also incorporates nasturtium leaves for a practical reason. “We do banquets, so we use pretty standard plates,” he says. “Nasturtium leaves help define it and put our signature on the plate.”
Beyond memories and plating, Chef Scott’s preference for the leaves ultimately comes down to flavor.
“I love pretty food, but I’m not that guy who’ll jump up and down about it,” he says. “It’s easy to put that dish together, but I want to know: what does it taste like? For me, it’s all about flavor.”
The flavor of nasturtium leaves from The Chef’s Garden is “good and radishy,” he says. “I like them because they eat like a vegetable condiment. They also work as a palate cleanser.”
Chef Scott loves the thrill of watching someone taste a nasturtium leaf for the first time. “When people eat it, it’s like an Easter egg experience,” he shares. “It’s so cool.”
He typically uses nasturtium leaves “as is,” not wanting to interfere with their “mosaic” beauty. “They’re always wonderful to put on a plate.”
He chooses The Chef’s Garden’s edible leaves for both their flawless beauty and their intense flavor. “We only use,” he says,” the good stuff.”
Meanwhile, Boston Chef Carolina Curtin is a purpose-driven chef who vows that absolutely nothing lands on her plates unless it has a damn good reason to be there. When it comes to edible leaves (as well as edible flowers), appearance is one thing and flavor is another. But it’s the marriage of both that makes a dish really sing.
“Anything I put on the plate is there for a purpose. It’s there for flavor, and not just for looks,” she says. “The flavor profile has to go with everything.”
Shiso and sorrels are among her top picks. “I love the demi purple shiso,” she says. “It’s so beautiful ─ bold flavor as well as beauty.”
For her Hamachi crudo with huckleberries, pear and vanilla, Chef Carolina incorporates violas and purple shiso. “The colors all go together,” she says. “I do a steak tartare with micro salad of micro celery and sorrel. It’s all very earthy in its color and flavor profile.”
Uninitiated guests are often unaware that they can eat the leaves on their plates. But Chef Carolina says, if they don’t, they’re missing out on an element carefully chosen for the dish. She’s eager for them to learn, however, and her staff helps spread the message. “I explain to the servers what it is, and why it’s on the plate,” she says. “Because it’s there for a reason and is integral to the plate’s appearance and flavor.”
Chef Jason Huang of the Tiffany Blue Box Café has used The Chef Garden’s edible leaves for about five years. “I like them for the visual appeal, size, and the flavor is definitely there, as well,” he says. “First and foremost, it’s the flavor.”
Nasturtium, beet blush and sorrel are popular in Chef Jason’s dishes. “I like nasturtium. It has a clean peppery flavor and I love how they look, especially the variegated ones. I use it on avocado toast. I serve a selection of four pieces of toast on one plate, one with nasturtium, one with radish and bachelor buttons, also sorrel (the red sorrel is nice, but the lucky and the flaming are really great), sunflower seeds and sprouts. We want to have four different flavors, but all herbaceous with flowers, herbs and sprouts.”