When Ella Fitzgerald sang, “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” she very well could have been crooning about dining out in Tucson this time of year.
For many of us, it’s all about throwing on a pair of sandals, shorts and a t-shirt, and heading out for a casual and kick-back meal for a price that is well below the other three seasons’ counterparts.
However, while some may suggest that summer is a relatively casual experience from a culinary point of view, one local chef has recently unveiled a summer menu that is anything but casual.
“Summer is about keeping things exciting all through the season,” said Jared Scott, executive chef at Maynard’s Kitchen, 400 N. Toole Avenue. “For us, the goal is to carefully walk that line between casual and fine dining, and to keep our menu approachable at the same time.”
But with a menu featuring items such as nasturtiums, lemon confiture and salmon brondade, Scott, with approachable as his goal, understands his job as a chef is not only to create but to educate as well.
Scott tells me that the intimidation level drops significantly when his guests learn the stories behind his ingredients and techniques.
Consider the nasturtium.
“The nasturtium is simply a flowering plant that yields small leaves that are perfect for garnish,” said Scott, who adorns his Mushroom En Croute with this herbaceous perennial.
It’s part of what Scott calls his “multitude of lettuces” that he uses for various dishes, which also includes a scarlet butter lettuce, which is served with his Braised Lamb Shank, and baby kale, which appears in a salad alongside his Confit Duck Leg.
“Baby kale is wonderful for a summer menu,” he said. “It’s young enough where just a simple dressing alone will start breaking it down.”
Then there’s the lemon confiture, a fixture on two of Scott’s summer plates, including the Summer Vegetable Scrapple.
“Our confiture is a French-style jelly made from whole lemons that have been slowly simmered in water and sugar,” Scott explained. “I just love the way that the finished fruit brings together the bitterness of the rind with the sweetness of the meat.”
For Scott’s summer salmon dish, which he plans to change up weekly with a different style of salmon, he assembles something called a brandade.
“Brandade is just a style of mashed potatoes that is made with olive oil instead of cream and butter,” he said. “The traditional preparation calls for salt cod as well, but we use salt-cured salmon in this version of the brandade since it’s plated with salmon.”
Nasturtium? A lovely flower. Confiture? A sweet jelly. Brandade? Mashed potatoes. While certainly not a casually crafted menu, the summer line-up at Maynard’s Kitchen doesn’t have to be intimidating. With Scott’s help, a little education can boil it all down to a language that everyone can understand.
The new summer menu also features Maynard’s staples such as a burger on a house-made brioche bun, steaks, bouillabaisse and other dishes. On the last Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of June, guests will receive 30 percent off all items from the summer menu, excluding alcohol.
Even if you choose to keep it generally casual this summer, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and pledge to try something new.
Keep calm and confiture on.
(Editor's Note: Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at email@example.com. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 4-5 p.m. Saturdays on KNST 790-AM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030-AM.)