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BEYOND GARNISH

By October 27, 2021October 29th, 2021No Comments

Beyond Garnish

By Meda Kessler
Food and Table Styling by Jenny Castor
Photos by Meda Kessler

Edible flowers and microgreens are more than just a way to pretty up a plate

A trip to Kemah on Texas’ Gulf Coast in fall of 2020 turned out to be a culinary revelation for Fort Worth chef Jenny Castor.

Micro carrot greens, cubes of roasted sweet potato and a mix of edible flowers plus sultanas and pomegranate seeds make for a stunning salad. A mustard vinaigrette is the perfect topper.

It wasn’t the seafood that drew her interest, although you’ll find your share of fried shrimp at this tourist spot north of Galveston. Castor and friends were there to dine at Eculent, an experiential restaurant where chef David Skinner creates fantastical plates using everything from edible moss to croissant foam. It was Skinner’s use of edible flowers and microgreens that intrigued Castor. She returned home after the multicourse meal — and a tour of Skinner’s “lab” and pantry — determined to add a few unusual dishes to her repertoire.

Castor’s boutique restaurant, Luckybee Kitchen, is on four wheels, but she has always pushed the norm when it comes to food-truck fare. And whether she’s cooking out of the truck for 30 or catering for 300, Castor loves to experiment with unusual flavors, textures and visual appeal. Her food always looks as good as it tastes. From using begonia blooms for a hint of citrus to adding tiny fennel flowers for their licorice taste, Castor makes her meals more magical. And she’s having a blast playing with all the flavor profiles.

“While it’s not uncommon to use small edible flowers as garnish or to sprinkle some microgreens over a dish, I want to make sure they enhance or complement the flavors of the food.”

Making tempura marigolds and sunflowers is challenging, mainly because the batter has to be perfect to achieve the crispy coating. Tiny yellow fennel blossoms add the tang of licorice; honey and a sprinkle of Himalayan sea salt give the deep-fried blooms a sweet and salty finish.

Escargot are made more visually appealing when they’re stuffed with butter and herbed ricotta into serving shells. Garlicky blooms punch up the flavor.

We asked Castor to prepare a fall feast that incorporated some of her favorites. She sources them from California and has recently found a supplier in Dallas. “When I get an alert that a package of these has been delivered, it’s like Christmas for me,” she says. “I can be out to dinner with my husband, and all I want to do is run home and open boxes.”

At her Fort Worth home, an oversized kitchen island doubles as a massive workstation and designed to allow Castor to spread things out and experiment. On our tasting day, she’s not only set a beautiful dining table using florals and seasonal gourds — yes, styling is part of her skill set, too — she has set out a wooden board covered in various blooms ranging in size from micro verbena to small sunflowers. We sample them one at a time; the flavors range from subtle to assertive and are easy to identify.

Will flowers become part of our at-home cooking repertoire? Maybe not, although we plan to pay closer attention to what’s in our garden and what’s edible. And when dining out, we’ll now know to treat those fanciful garnishes as part of the meal. Learn more about Castor at luckybeekitchen.com.

Thinly sliced pepinos swim in a sweet golden broth along with sliced kumquats and begonia blossoms.