A few weeks ago I found myself wandering through an artisan market in Michigan. While there, I discovered a vendor who sold nothing more than his handmade wooden spoons. There wasn’t a fork to be found in the display, but I was captivated by the uniqueness of each spoon and the quality woodworking that went into making them.
I picked up a dozen without a particular plan in mind, but I was genuinely inspired to create something worthy of the fine craftsmanship. In the kitchen, I braised a beautiful pork belly and glazed it with honey until its lacquer matched the spoons. I served a single bite of pork on each spoon and garnished it with homemade pickled cucumbers, orange and crispy shallots. If I hadn’t come across the spoons that dish wouldn’t have exisited.
My culinary creations range from casual weekday fare to elaborate multiple-course meals. People are frequently curious about the points of inspiration that influence a dish, but the influences on my kitchen innovations are just as diverse as they types of meals I make. I’ve also been known to create recipes based on architecture, specific people, vivid memories or literature.
I recently had the opportunity to create a menu inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright to honor the homeowners opening their doors for the Wright Plus walk May 17 in Oak Park. Searching for specific points of inspiration lead me to an edition of Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly published in 2000. The issue focused on Wright’s landscape architecture at his beloved Taliesin property in Spring Green, Wis.
I poured over the piece depicting Wright traipsing through vegetable gardens as a child and as nurturer of wild grapevines in adulthood. I paused when Anne Whiston Spirn wrote, “Vegetable and flower gardens were finally moved to a field near Hillside, where crops and flowers were planted in colorful curving bands like contour lines.”
Thoughts of Wright’s harmonious vegetable and flower gardens spurred me on to research the produce harvested in recent years from the Taliesin gardens. A few mouth-watering photos on Pintrest revealed items like apples, carrots, radishes and wax beans; they proved to be all the stimulation I need to get cooking.
Creating a menu based on the landscape architecture and early garden-to-table efforts of one of Oak Park’s historical icons seemed to be the perfect way to marry food and community.
Looking beyond grocery aisle influences to inspire a dish can take a standard meal and transform it into something with a deeper meaning. This simplified version of my Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired “garden” salad should serve as a delicious reminder of the copious culinary inspirations lurking around every corner.
Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Garden Salad
8 ounces French feta cheese, crumbled
4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 Tablespoon minced chives
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 bunch of radishes, cleaned and halved
1 lemon, halved
Salt and pepper
8 ounces baby arugula
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups red seedless grapes, halved
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Several tablespoons of your favorite homemade vinaigrette
Place the crumbled feta into the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add the cream cheese and process until very smooth. Add 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a slow stream with the machine running. Remove whipped cheese to a bowl and fold in the chives and pepper. Mixture can be made 1 day ahead and stored covered in the refrigerator. Allow mixture to come to room temperature before using.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat a large oven-safe skillet over high heat and add remaining 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Add the radishes and toss the pan well until radishes are spotty brown. Squeeze the lemon over the radishes and transfer the pan to the oven. Allow the radishes to roast until tender when pierced with a skewer (10-18 minutes depending on size). Season the roasted radishes with salt and set aside.
To serve the salad, spread a generous portion of the whipped cheese on each of 6 salad plates (reserve the leftovers for use as a topping for bagels). Divide the arugula among the plates and sprinkle the salads evenly with the roasted radishes, apple, grapes and pecans. Drizzle each salad with a small amount of salad dressing and garnish with additional chives if desired.