Chef Steven Woerdehoff of Produce Row Cafe dishes up some serious food knowledge on summer food to serve at parties!
Q: What side dish would you recommend for a summer party?
A: “I would recommend a watermelon salad. I do this one a lot during the summer when we have guests over to the house. I cut seedless watermelon into 1 inch squares. Toss them with just a few dashes of St. Germaine. Stack them on a platter and top with balsamic redux, salted & roasted pistachios, feta, and baby mint leaves. Super refreshing!”
Q: Should I stay away from anything spicy or can spicy side dishes still work?
A: “Never shy away from spice! I grew up with my Korean Mother so pretty much every side dish was spicy. Maybe too spicy. Spice is good. Especially in summer when there is a good breeze.”
Q: How much of the side dish should I make in relation to my main course?
A: “It depends on the dish and your guests. But as a rule of thumb, I make side dishes 1/2 of the amount of the main course.”
Q: Should you only stick with produce that is in season?
A: “Here’s the thing. Everything is in season somewhere. Name one week out of the year that you cant find strawberries. But, a package of blueberries from hood river in peak season is going to be sooo much better than something from Cali or Mexico in off season. So if possible, stick to seasonal, local, and delicious.”
Q: How do I pick produce to use/cook with in the summer?
A: “Taste it. That’s literally the only way to know if its good or not. A lot of grocery stores let you “taste”/steal a berry or 2. Or they have samples out. Just because its seasonal doesn’t mean that its good. And same with local. There are a lot of good websites out there like Oregonfresh.org, Cuesa.org, foodgeeks.com, etc.. that can tell you what’s good and seasonal in your area.”
Q: How can I tell which produce is best while still in the store?
A: “Again. Taste. I will also stab my thumbnail in certain fruit or veggies. For one to test for ripeness, and for 2 so I can smell and taste it. Yes, its a little messed up. But if you want the best, you gotta taste it!”
Q: How can I make a simple dessert dish that will impress everyone?
A: “I really love simple desserts. Fresh really ripe fruit, Fage Yoghurt, Honey, and sea salt. Nothing could be simpler. And it tastes so good, it seems like it should be bad for you. But its all natural, full of probiotics, and satisfying. My wife’s go-to is Chevre Cheesecake which is also “simple” but very feminine, delicate, and delicious.”
Q: Can I make a dish that incorporates the summer produce?
A: “You can do whatever you want! Good course of action would be to look up those local produce food guides. Pick a vegetable that you like, and go from there. One secret that I like to do is google. Google say “asparagus.” but tag on your favorite chef. I.e. Heston Blumenthal asparagus recipe. It gives you some great ideas. Granted, some of them are way too intricate. i.e. Heston’s recipes. But going through the websites and images, you will find something that everyone will be happy with.”
Q: Should my dessert be in line with the rest of the menu or should it stand out on its own?
A: “I think a dessert should stand on its own and have its own identity. Granted, I am married to a pastry chef. But I think back to my first dining experience at le pigeon. Everything was really good. But those Fois Profiteroles made the meal. We had a similar meal at the South Store Cafe in Hillsboro. They had an invite only pop up recently. The final course really put the exclamation point on the night. The pastry course was too good. Kudos to Pastry Chef Lori Darnell on that one.”