Chef Csilla Thackray is an intuitive, adventurous cook, who deftly adapts her menu to the seasons and whatever her forager brings into her kitchen at The Vandal in Pittsburgh. In a gap between cool and warm weather last year, Thackray found herself in possession of a knotweed harvest and decided to make the invasive, home-devaluing, weed the star of a dish with parsnip custard, brown butter oyster mushrooms, and Chinese radish. Every element in the bowl works to balance the rubarb-like tartness of the acidic pickled knotweed—with each bite revealing new and surprising flavor combinations. “Using foragers to source ingredients keeps you on your toes,” says Thackray. It can also serve as the creative spark for composing elegant, engaging dishes that don’t fall victim any seasonal clichés.
Thackray cooks parsnips in heavy cream, simmering them until the cream caramelizes. She pureés the mixture and sets it with gelatin. The firm, egg-less custard envelops the knotweed and keeps it in check with its sweet, buttery richness.
Knotweed takes a quick dip in a brine of Champagne vinegar, pink peppercorns, salt, and sugar. The resulting pickle is as aggressive on the plate as it is in the wild.
Oyster mushrooms sautéed in brown butter add mild earthiness and a meaty element to the plate.
Sliced paper-thin on a mandolin, the mild radish lend a refreshing crunch.
Nasturtium flowers are an explosion of color with the added value of their peppery bite.
Micro greens are more than window dressing. They’re fresh flourish to counter the richness of the custard and mushrooms.