If the next meal you order out arrives looking like it should be eaten with a garden spade, dig in. Area chefs are tossing blooms into food and cocktails with the same abandon of a new bride pitching her bouquet to all the single ladies.
You can find edible flower varieties in D.C. throughout the year, but this is the season when cooking with blossoms makes the most sense.
“People expect flowers in spring. The blooms are out, the smells are there. Serving flowers in winter just isn’t as appropriate,” says Robert Yealu, director of restaurants for the Loews Madison, including The Federalist.
The restaurant’s Twinleaf cocktail ($13) is a complex tipple that goes down like a garden party in liquid form. It’s made with elderflower liqueur and chamomile tea, and arrives with a floating chrysanthemum you can eat. “We wanted to elicit the freshness of the season,” Yealu says.
Marjorie Meek-Bradley, the chef at Cleveland Park’s farm-to-table Ripple, is no stranger to adding petals to her plates. Currently on her ever-changing menu you’ll find cheery yellow nasturtium flowers lending color to a bed of buttery carrot cavatelli with lobster, morels and peas ($17). The tuna crudo ($12) features fat slabs of ruby-red fish topped by the tiniest baby cucumber, still attached to its pale blossom.
“When I saw those cucumbers, I thought they were the cutest thing,” Meek-Bradley says. “I knew I had to do something with them.” Flowers have a subtle flavor and can be mildly grassy, she says, meaning they usually contribute more to the look of her dishes than they do to the taste.
Chef Bryan Voltaggio of Volt is more strategic with his foliage. “I only use flowers if they serve a purpose in a dish,” he says. His beet sorbet is strewn with nasturtium petals, granola and powdered goat milk.
“The nasturtium adds a pepperiness to the earthy beet and the acidic goat’s milk,” he says. Vibrant Johnny-jump-ups — grown just outside the Frederick restaurant — lend a sweet, herbal finish to Volt’s otherwise bitter grapefruit pudding and celery sorbet (both on the six-course tasting menu, $65).
Flowers likewise play a supporting role in the lavender duck at Le Diplomate, Logan Circle’s new Paris-style bistro ($29). The fowl’s skin is slicked with lavender honey, which infuses the dish with a subtle aromatic finish and gives it crunch. Lavender blossoms — one of the more strongly flavored edible flowers — top the dish and reinforce its Provencal origins.
Before you go picking up a bunch to cook with at home, be advised that not all flowers are safe to eat. Many are poisonous and may be coated with chemicals or other pollutants. It’s best to stick with organic varieties or — even better — grow your own within view of the kitchen window.