Lula Cafe's Chef–On Asparagus

April 30 2012 - 12:52 PM

We interviewed Chef Michael Simmons of Lula Café to learn more about asparagus and how he incorporates this delectable little vegetable into his cooking. Chef Simmons is an expert when it comes to cooking with seasonal and local ingredients. (CF = Chicago Foodies, MS = Michael Simmons)

  • CF: When do you typically start incorporating asparagus on your menu?
  • MS: Late winter/early spring-spring proper.
  • CF: Why?
  • MS: It’s delicious, beautiful, and multi-dimensional. That is to say you can eat it raw, pickled, grilled, poached, shaved and as a soup – with breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It’s a fantastic little pointy veggie.
  • CF: Is there is a varietal that you like to use over another? In your ‘6 minute duck egg’ dish I noticed that you used sprue, why?
  • MS: I like them all, the big purple, green and white. We used the sprue because it is exactly the time for sprue. Sprue refers to the first shoots, or the very first asparagus of the season. This is thrilling because it sort of heralds the coming of all things spring in terms of veggies. This is the most exciting time for cooks because everything is fresh and green and bright.
  • CF: Was there white asparagus in the pheasant and stinging nettle dish?
  • MS: Yes, sir.
  • CF: How did you think to include it in the dish?
  • MS: White asparagus ties the wintry elements of game bird, hedgehog mushrooms, and stuffed pasta to the springy elements of ricotta, nettles and, well, asparagus.
  • CF: What flavors of the asparagus are you typically looking to incorporate?
  • MS: The sweetness, the nuttiness, and the unctuousness.
  • CF: I notice when people cook with asparagus they tend to use rich sauces or meats, why is that?
  • MS: They hold up to these rich flavors well, but we like to explore the lighter side as well, raw marinated and shaved is my favorite way.
  • CF: Anything you want to add?
  • MS: A little asparagus to my eggs perhaps…?

Featured Dishes
This month Chef Simmons is featuring a number of dishes that use asparagus as a key component:

The first dish is the “6 minute duck egg,’ which consists of first shoot sprue asparagus and local fiddleheads, wrapped and grilled in rhubarb with nasturtium vinaigrette.

The second dish is pheasant with stinging nettle cannelloni, grilled hedgehog mushrooms, slivered dates, olives and Avalon goat’s milk cheese.

Lula Cafe
2537 N. Kedzie
Chicago, IL

–Andrew Zapotosky