How to Cook a Meal (Almost) Entirely Out of Flowers

How to Cook a Meal (Almost) Entirely Out of Flowers

How do you create a flower-centric restaurant that doesn’t feel like a bridal shower? If you’re Alessandra and Mario De Benedetti, you ask your good friend, the artist and writer Leanne Shapton, to paint your walls with a geometric watercolor mural, and you ask Elizabeth Roberts, the architect known for her light-filled, thoughtfully reworked Brooklyn brownstones, to design the rest. The result is a high-ceilinged oasis on 28th Street in Manhattan, a stone’s throw from the flower district, bedecked in pale wood and Patricia Urquiola chairs imported from Italy. The space, Il Fiorista, which opened yesterday, doesn’t so much look like a bouquet of flowers — rather, it offers the calming, rapturous effect of smelling one.

This is the couple’s first restaurant project: Before they moved from Milan to New York two years ago, he worked in private equity, and she was a law professor. But when Alessandra developed an obsession with learning about flowers, and when the couple realized that spending some time in another country might offer a nice change for their family, an idea was born — and then one idea quickly became dozens.

[Sign up here for the T List newsletter, a weekly roundup of what T Magazine editors are noticing and coveting now.]

The restaurant will begin with dinner service. Its menu, developed by chef Garrison Price (formerly of Il Buco Alimentari), focuses on all the ways that humans can eat and drink flowers: chamomile-rubbed chicken with rose-petal-infused harissa, crudos sprinkled with fennel pollen and pickled fennel flowers. He and bar director Gates Otsuji (who was previously Chef de Bar at the Standard Hotels in New York) have spent the past weeks fermenting, preserving and pickling enough flowers and flower-adjacent items that the venue has taken on a second life as a sort of mad botanists’ laboratory. Next will come lunch, breakfast, coffee and, of course, tea; there will also be a table at the front of the shop with a la carte stems of flowers that diners can buy to take home with them, plus a variety of bouquets arranged by the florist Mindy Cardozo; they will be selling books and home goods in their on-site shop, and hope to develop their own line of kitchen and beauty products sometime soon. The couple’s main goal, though, is to educate their customers about the health and wellness properties of edible flowers: “We want to create what we call a new flower movement,” Alessandra said, citing a study she read that observed how patients in geriatric and pediatric hospital wards had shorter stays, on average, when someone placed flowers in their room.

Their other aim is to focus on sustainability and local sourcing whenever possible. “Obviously we have to manage the problem of what we are going to do in winter,” Alessandra said, “because the farmers are telling us, ‘we can produce maybe some saffron in the greenhouse, or eucalyptus, but not a lot.’” They are considering buying flowers from Florida once their upstate purveyors (such as Allora and Treadlight Farms) stop growing for the season, but don’t want to go any farther afield. Luckily, they’ll also have access to the larder that Otsuji and Price are building. On a recent afternoon, in the back room that will act as both a private dining and event space for a wide variety of classes, Otsuji brought out two glasses: one filled with a salmon-colored shrub of tomato, strawberry and chiloe peppers; another of the same beverage, but spiked with gin. He’s devised a brilliant style of garnish, wherein he draws a line up the side of a highball glass with a slice of lemon, then rolls the glass in dried flowers to create a floral seam. Both cocktail and mocktail offered the vague sense of waking up in a garden, lush and vibrant. To create that feeling at home, the Il Fiorista team shared their advice and recipes on how to bring floral notes into your next dinner party — without overwhelming your guests.

These seeded crackers taste like the best kind of health food — that is, the kind you can’t stop eating. A great way to explore how far flowers can go in the kitchen is to find flowers that produce other edible things — like sunflowers and their seeds. Here, the latter whizzes up into a luscious, ridiculously creamy dip bolstered by sunflower seed oil and topped with sunflower shoots and petals. The dish is a great example of a food that pulls its inspiration from flowers, but is in no way floral-tasting.

Serves 2 to 4 people as a snack or at the beginning of a meal

Ingredients for the seeded crackers:

  • 1 cup chia seeds

  • 1 cup flax seeds

  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds

  • ¼ cup pumpkin seeds

  • 2 cups water

  • 2 tablespoons salt

  • Parchment paper

Ingredients for the sunflower dip:

  • 2 cups sunflower seed butter

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 3 tablespoons water

  • 1 garlic clove

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 10 sunflower petals for garnish

  • 10 sunflower shoots for garnish

  • 1 tablespoon toasted sunflower seeds for garnish

A note about sourcing: Generally, culinary ingredients like fennel pollen can be found at specialty grocers; dried flowers can be found at tea shops or, more easily, at online tea wholesalers. If you’re buying fresh flowers for garnishing or eating, head to the farmers market or try to find an organic/pesticide-free florist.

1. In a bowl, combine all of the seeds, water and salt. Then, allow the seed mixture to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes up to two hours so that the water can fully absorb into the seeds.

2. Place about 2 cups of the seed mixture on a piece of parchment paper the size of your baking tray. Place another piece of parchment paper on top and use a straight edge or rolling pin to smooth out the seeds in a single layer one-eighth-inch thick. Then repeat with the remaining seed mixture.

3. In a preheated, 250-degree oven, bake the seed mixture for about 45 minutes until very dry and lightly toasted. Then, allow the cracker sheets to cool, carefully remove the parchment paper and break the crackers into pieces of whatever size you desire.

4. Store the crackers in an airtight container, in which they will last for up to a week. The crackers can be baked again to make them crispier.

5. In a blender, combine the sunflower seed butter, lemon juice, olive oil, water, garlic clove and salt. Pureé the ingredients until smooth. Store the sunflower dip in the refrigerator for up to five days. Serve the dip in a bowl and garnish the dip with sunflower petals, sunflower shoots and sunflower seeds. Serve the seeded cracker alongside the dip.

“This fluke crudo comes from the idea of: What do we do with flowers in January?” explains Price of his multivalent treatment of fennel: He pickles the flowers for garnish; cures his Montauk fluke with fennel pollen (dried and ground in-house); and tops the dish with preserved slices of fennel bulb. Play around with other types of pollen and vegetables you might find at your farmers market — like flowering broccolini, or even, yes, cauliflower.

Serves 4 people


  • 8 ounces large fluke filet, skin removed and split down the middle separating the top and bottom loins

  • 1 orange or blood orange cut in segments, juice reserved

  • 1 mandarin orange cut in segments, juice reserved

  • 1 ruby grapefruit cut in segments, juice reserved

  • 1 lime, juiced

  • 1 teaspoon fennel pollen

  • 1 tablespoon salt

  • ¼ cup fennel sliced very thin, reserved in cold water

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • ¼ cup fennel fronds

  • Chilled plates for serving

1. Place the fluke loins on a sheet of plastic wrap. Season the fish on both sides with the fennel pollen and salt. Wrap the fish and refrigerate for two hours before serving. This step infuses the fish with the salt and fennel pollen flavor but also lightly cures the fish and firms it up to make it easier to slice.

2. In a bowl, combine the orange, mandarin orange, grapefruit segments with the juice and lime juice together. Reserve in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.

3. Remove the marinated fluke from the refrigerator and place it on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, slice the fish into thin slices about 1/8-inch-thick and 2 inches long. Place the fluke slices on your chilled serving plates in a single layer. This step can be done ahead of time and reserved in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.

4. To finish the dish, spoon the citrus segments and juice over the fluke slices. Place the fennel slices on top for texture, along with the fennel fronds. Drizzle the dish with olive oil and serve immediately.

“For me, chamomile and chicken go really well together,” Price says. “I love afternoon tea, and so I used to make a chicken salad with chamomile in it.” At the restaurant, he uses dried ground chamomile flowers — yes, just like what you find in dried chamomile tea — and rubs them onto chicken with salt and pepper. The effect is beautifully subtle, and makes for a chicken that doesn’t need much decoration, though a bed of spiced yogurt and rose-petal harissa don’t hurt.

Serves 4 people


  • 1 3.5-pound chicken cut into 8 pieces

  • 2 tablespoons ground dry chamomile flowers

  • 2 tablespoons ground black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons salt

  • 2 cups Greek-style yogurt

  • ½ cup harissa paste

  • 2 tablespoons dry rose petals

  • ¼ cup olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 heavy bottom sauté pan to sear the chicken

  • 1 baking sheet to roast the chicken

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. For the chamomile seasoning, combine the ground chamomile, ground black pepper and salt. Reserve this seasoning for the chicken and yogurt. The seasoning will keep in your spice cabinet for up to 2 months and can be used in place of salt and pepper in many applications.

3. For the chamomile yogurt, mix 1 tablespoon of chamomile seasoning into the 2 cups of yogurt. Reserve in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.

4. For the rose-petal harissa, mix the harissa paste, olive oil and rose petals in a bowl until combined. Allow the mixture to sit covered in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight to allow the flavors to combine and the rose petals to absorb the oil. This harissa will keep for several weeks refrigerated and can be used in place of hot sauce in many applications.

5. For the chicken, season generously on all sides. Heat a large heavy sauté pan over medium heat and then add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Once the oil is hot, place the chicken pieces skin-side down to sear until golden brown for about 7 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces to a baking sheet and roast in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

6. To serve, place the chicken on a platter, drizzle the rose-petal harissa over the chicken and serve the chamomile yogurt in a bowl on the side.

Instead of using store-bought — or even housemade — orange blossom water for his panna cotta, Price steeps dried orange blossoms in milk, then uses the infused milk for his dessert. “It’s a different flavor” from the store-bought stuff, he says. “You’ll even find it even adds a little bit of bitterness, instead of being too sweet, which helps.” If you’ve never been into orange blossom-flavored desserts because of their inherently floral taste, consider this more subtle solution. Or experiment with other dried flowers: rose petals and rose hips, or lavender, are a great place to start.

Serves 4 people


  • 2 cups heavy cream

  • 1 cup whole milk

  • ⅓ cup sugar

  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin (about 1 tablespoon)

  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground dry orange blossom flowers or 1 teaspoon orange blossom water

  • 1 cup concord grapes sliced 1/4-inch-thick, seeds removed

  • ½ cup concord grape juice

  • 2 tablespoons candied violets whole or lightly chopped

1. In a large saucepan combine the cream, milk, sugar and orange blossom over medium heat to a simmer. Remove from the heat and whisk in the gelatin and allow the mixture to rest for 2 minutes to allow the gelatin to fully bloom. Divide the mixture between 4 serving bowls and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

2. To serve, garnish the top of each panna cotta with sliced grapes and 1/2 tablespoon of the candied violets. Place the panna cotta in front of each guest and tableside pour or spoon a small amount of concord grape juice over each.

As you may expect from a flower-focused restaurant, Gates chooses his garnishes carefully — and zinnias are his latest go-to right now. “They are a very hardy flower; at home, you can garnish your drinks with zinnia or echinacea before the guests arrive and not worry about whether the flowers will still look beautiful later on.” These two flowers are sturdy enough to stand up to a cocktail, such as this floral, cacao-infused spritz, while your guests arrive — and save you from scrambling over drinks one they’re there.

Serves 1 person


Add ice to a white wine glass and pour in chocolate liqueur. Follow with Cardamaro and St. Germain. Finally, top with the prosecco of your choice, and garnish with a freshly cut flower. Stir briefly, then serve.

Source link

About The Author

We report the News from around the Globe. Please support our advertisers.

Related posts

Leave a Reply