Edible flowers: a French Passion13-11-2018
Long appreciated for their medicinal benefits, edible flowers are also valued for their flavours and eye-catching allure. When used in cooking, they are no longer just an attractive garnish intended for aesthetic appeal, but also really enhance the qualities of the food.
Flowers: a key ingredient
Served in their natural state or cooked, flowers can be enjoyed in sweet and savoury dishes alike. Stir-fried, stuffed or steamed, added to soups or sprinkled on salads, flowers are a versatile addition to most recipes. Wonderfully stylish, edible flowers are rich in antioxidants and good for the digestion. They are also packed with vitamins and minerals. They are not an unusual addition to signature dishes prepared at Pierre Sang restaurant, in the trendy Oberkampf area of Paris, where head chef Pierre Rieder, and pastry chef Daniel Evangelista, love garnishing their dishes with borage blossom, courgette flowers and even fennel flowers.
L’Ile-de-France is an important region for sales of flower-based produce. Here coquelicot de Nemours, (vibrant red poppies), and also violets, are used in cordials and confectionery made by herbal specialists Herbier de Milly, in biscuits crafted by Les Deux Gourmands and macaroons lovingly fabricated by Macarons de Reau. Artisan chocolatier Des Lis Chocolat prepares a number of signature products using local Nemours poppies, including vinegars, sweets, nougat, lemonade, crystallised fruit and liqueurs. And last but not least, rose petals are also added to jams, rhubarb jam in particular.
Flavourful flowers pack a punch
Flowers can release quite surprising flavours. Who would have thought that geraniums could unleash flavours of lemon, hazelnuts, rose or even apple? Meanwhile, nasturtium buds are redolent of radishes, while courgette flowers offer a milder, subtler flavour than that of the vegetable.
“I really love Japanese cherry blossom,” explains Anthony Maubert, chef at the Michelin-starred Assa restaurant in Blois. “We pick them in spring and pickle the flowers in brine, like a vinegary, salty gherkin. They give off surprising almond notes on the palate and it’s a flower I really like working with,” explains the chef, who together with his Japanese partner Fumiko, prepares traditional French and Japanese fusion food, with a particular focus on plants, especially flowers. The chef, who is originally from Mayenne, and who learned the ropes under the capable wing of Marc Veyrat at l’Auberge de l’Eridan, is proud of his organic roots. “It’s a way to utilise a condiment available at our fingertips, in our local area. There is something quite magical and fun that brings a ray of sunshine to our dishes, and a wild touch”, concludes Anthony Maubert widely regarded as one of the up-and-coming chefs of the future.
Marc Veyrat, at the vanguard, 40 years ago
French restaurants entice customers with more plant-based culinary fare, where flowers find their rightful place. Edible flowers have in fact carved a very specific “Made in France” niche, one of its ardent proponents being acclaimed Haute-Savoie chef, Marc Veyrat. And it was Veyrat, some 40 years ago, who created the very first recipes using wild plants. Since then, he has been the inspiration for chefs the world over. “There are two kinds of flowers – domestic and wild – and they are completely different”, points out the French chef who still uses wild flowers and herbs at his world-famous restaurant Maison des Bois. At this 3-starred Michelin, Savoyard establishment, the chef with the trademark black hat has even engaged the services of botanist Christopher Aguettand for an improved understanding of flowers, and to harness their true potential, such as wild nasturtiums, yarrow and wild thyme. “What is truly amazing, is picking the flowers fresh in the early morning, and experiencing not only colour, but fragrances too. It’s like being transported to a perfumery in Grasse, about to create perfume. For me this is what a true flower is all about,” describes Marc Veyrat. And he is not alone. Other famed French chefs have supported this floral movement, including Michel Bras, Francois Couplan and Yves Terrillon.
Did you know? There are more than 250 edible flowers grown in France.