Chef Erin Wade on Farming and Vinaigrette

by Julia Loschiavo | July 4th, 2013 | Chef Interviews

sittinghandonchinLocated in Santa Fe, NM, Vinaigrette is a salad bistro that relies heavily on fresh-grown produce for its creative, healthy, and delicious menu. Whether it be from Chef Erin Wade’s farm or other local sources, every salad and menu item is sure to contain the freshest fruits and vegetables available. Enjoy this produce at the peak of goodness, in a bright and welcoming environment, in either a salad, sandwich, or soup. Vinaigrette is proof that salads are not at all boring; have a look at their menu and you’re likely to have a hard time choosing which to order.

I was able to talk to Chef Erin Wade about Vinaigrette with particular emphasis on her farm.

JL: What types of foods do you grow in your garden?

CW: Vinaigrette is a produce-centric restaurant that specializes in creative entrée salads, so the amount of vegetable product we go through is pretty massive.At the farm, we focus on the foods that we use most in the restaurant, and that we can make the most significant contribution towards, growing a wide variety of specialty lettuces for our mixed greens, incredibly sweet-peppery arugula (yes, it is sweet and peppery), Tuscan Kale, cherry and French breakfast radish and fresh herbs and seasonal crops like snow and snap peas and green beans, heirloom tomatoes, English cukes, mystery melons (I always lose the labels), chiles, bell peppers, garlic and chives, fingerling and Yukon gold potatoes.

We have fruit trees as well — couple varieties of apple, peach, apricot, pear and cherry, but the weather in the high desert renders fruit growing pretty heartbreaking.I don’t think anyone is going to have a single piece of fruit this year.

JL: Are there any seasonal items that you are growing/using right now?

CW: The growing season in New Mexico gets kicking a little later than many places, because of the high elevation and our cool cool nights.

Right now we are still harvesting heirloom sugar snap peas that we are using in a salad called Appeasement (uh-peas-mint).

The salad also has radish and mint from the farm, peanuts and black sesame seeds.It’s a showstopper.

The lettuce and arugula have been beautiful (despite how dry it has been!) and we are harvesting over 200 pounds a week of each.We won’t have tomatoes and warm season crops for another month or so.

JL:How do the seasons influence your menu choices?

CW: There is a part of our menu that remains consistent throughout the year, and part that changes seasonally (our Seasonal Salads and our Starters and Sides). I think that listening to what nature wants to grow at certain times of year, even to what grows well together in the garden, is a great way to drive menu ingenuity and creativity. That was the case with Appeasement — we suddenly had bumper crops of radish, peas and this stubborn mint shooting runners all over the place. Peas and mint are a natural combination, so we turned the mint into a creamy tangy mint vinaigrette, julienned the peas with napa cabbage and radish and added some Asian inspired black sesames and peanuts, and we had a beautiful delightful salad that capitalized on what we happened to have available in the garden in abundance.

About mid-July we do an incredible watermelon and arugula salad with ricotta salata and spring onion and honey shallot vinaigrette.In late August, even into September, we have a salad called Off the Cobb, with fire-roasted corn and cherry tomato, feta cheese, red onion, cilantro and a chile-lime cumin vinaigrette.

Then in the fall we have an awesome salad called I Yam What I Yam with pomegranate, pancetta, baby greens and maple glazed yam shoestrings and a maple mustard vinaigrette.These are just a few examples of some of the ways we highlight seasonal produce at different times of year — I think its all about having fun and being playful with it!

It shouldn’t feel like a chore, it should be a blessing. It’s fun!I think sometimes people forget that.

JL: Which fresh-grown ingredients inspire you most?

CW: I love everything from the Mustard family.Arugula, radish, mizuna, tatsoi and all the Brassicas — cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower — fall in this rather large category.Strong, peppery, easy to riff off of in dishes with strong, aggressive flavors.They stand up to bold flavor treatments, which I love.

JL: What atmosphere do you aim to create in your restaurants?

CW: My restaurants are light, bright, colorful and airy.I try to create spaces that have that ineffable glow, that look beautiful and feel inviting and nourishing.One of my favorite things that a customer ever said about Vinny was “I always feel better when I leave than when I came in.” We try to do this with the food as well as the atmosphere — we want people to feel good. Really good.

JL: Any particular favorite menu items?

CW: Don’t make me choose!That’s like making a parent choose their favorite child.

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