Foodie Q&A: Four local chefs on their favorite summer staples

Summertime – it’s when living is not only easy, but also quite tasty and most importantly it’s not over yet! The summer months bring on a large variety of seasonal ingredients that add fresh flavors to our favorite warm-weather dishes.

We caught up with a few local chefs from all corners of the food scene to ask them about their favorite takes on summer dishes and ingredients you’re sure to find at the farmer’s market for many weeks to come.

The lineup:
Carla Smith, Executive Chef at Whine
April Bonk-Michielsen, Owner of Wacki Shack Food Truck
Steve Seige, Pitmaster at Molasses
Richard Verdoni, Owner and Chef at Black Creek Kitchen

Q: What's your favorite thing to eat in the summer?

Carla: Produce! Tomatoes, sweet corn, blueberries, raspberries. Everything that the window is so small, now is the optimum time to get in on those items. They come in so fast and furiously, but for such a short window of time.

April: Hmmm…mine would be a cold pasta salad. Or watermelon. Both classic summer favorites.

Steve: My favorite would be corn on the cob.

Richard: Oh, that’s a tough one! For me, my favorite thing to eat in the summer would have to be corn on the cob.

Q: What food item are you interested in or experimenting with at the moment?

Carla: I’m starting to wrap my brain around a late summer, early fall menu that will incorporate not only the seasonal produce but also game. In Mid-Michigan, the fresh factor is everywhere we go. So, I think about as a chef, how do I take all of those things including wild game and marry it with an upscale restaurant menu. Some of the things I’m playing with these days is how I take ingredients like pheasant and marry it with local ingredients like cheeses and even locally-produced beer.

April: We do desserts. Our main focus is donuts made to order on the truck. We make combos, like a dozen mini donuts covered in ice cream and drizzled and chocolate. We also do a PB&J. We offer traditional donuts, but most of our orders are the specialty combinations. We do experiment with new things, currently I am working on one called the cherry bomb. It will consist of donuts, covered in vanilla ice cream, cherry filling, and cherries on top.

Steve: Right now, with Molasses in its first few months, I am interested in Asian-fusion flavors.

Richard: Well, I’m often not really experimenting but just making traditional Mexican food.  In a way, I’m experimenting to make sure that the flavors are authentic. One thing I’ve been trying to get right lately are rajas- it’s a taco with poblano peppers, cream and corn. It’s really a good vegetarian taco. But again, they’re traditional. It’s just a matter of getting the flavors right. I can’t really reinvent the wheel! I’m just trying to bring these flavors from across the way over here. I’m also interested in doing some indoor microgreen harvesting and growing to incorporate that into my menu.

Q: Most underutilized spice in your opinion?

Carla: For me, the first thing that comes to mind is saffron.  If it’s done with the right elements, its fragrant, it’s beautiful, it’s just so pretty! Sometimes it’s not used and handled properly, and that’s why I’d say it’s underutilized. 

Steve: I don’t know if it’s underutilized or not, but I use a lot of paprika.


Q: What is your favorite summer food/drink pairing option?

April: A flavored fruity lemonade with watermelon. Something nice, cool and refreshing.

Steve: My favorite summer food and drink pairing would probably have to be BBQ ribs and a cold IPA.

Richard: I have the hibiscus tea or the tamarindo, which I call tamarindo punch. These drinks go really well with tacos.

Q: What is something you like to grill but most people don't think of?

Carla: Ok! I love to grill haddock or cod. People think of fish being seared or baked, but if you use a cedar plank and with really delicate fish, and pair it with a nice salad it really turns it into something fresh and healthy.

Steve: One thing I grill that I like to grill that many people don’t think of would be cabbage.

Q:  What's your go-to place in town that is not your restaurant?

April: I enjoy a good steakhouse. Lucky’s is a local favorite of ours.

Steve: I’m a fan of Pi’s Asian Express.

Q:  What is your favorite cookbook or recipe website?

Carla: I do! I have a lot of Medieval cookbooks, from the middle ages. I like the older cookbooks. My go to would be Escoffier’s encyclopedias and cookbooks. I appreciate his philosophy which brings me back to how to take ingredients and marry them properly so you have a meal that's enjoyable and digestible while keeping the traditional integrity of the ingredients.

April: I do most of my recipes myself, but I do check out from time to time for ideas.

Steve: I have a go to barbecue cookbook called Peace, Love, and Barbecue that I reference quite a bit.

Richard: I lived in Mexico City and met a lot of chefs while living there. I’m still connected with many of them on Facebook and I’m more or less inspired by what they're doing now. In Mexico City, there is a huge revolution happening with cuisine, and I’m trying to stay current with that but, at the same time, not go too far from traditional Mexican flavors.

I’m also inspired by chef Charlie Ayers, the first executive chef for Google. When I lived in California, he had a really great restaurant that was very fresh. Kind of a farm to table place, which I’m also trying to incorporate here at Black Creek Kitchen.

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