A Burst of Sunshine in Seattle

By Caroline Hatchett | Antoinette Bruno


Caroline Hatchett
Antoinette Bruno
Pike Place Market Sunflowers: Heart, Stem, Sprouted Seeds, Petals, Sorghum, and Lemon Ricotta
Pike Place Market Sunflowers: Heart, Stem, Sprouted Seeds, Petals, Sorghum, and Lemon Ricotta

Chef Chris Chapman thought he was having an off day at Pike Place Market—until he saw them. Sunflowers. A burst of yellow rising above the same old vegetables. He had never eaten or cooked them before, but he was pretty sure he could do something memorable with them for his menu at RN74. “I had seen them on the Eleven Madison Park menu and somewhere in Europe, so I knew they were edible, but it was a learning experience,” he says. 

Sunflowers belong to the commercially important, often delicious plant family Asteraceae, whose edible cousins include chicory, dandelions, chrysanthemums, dahlias, safflower, Jerusalem artichoke, chamomile, and tarragon. When approaching the dish, Chapman treated the sunflower as he would an artichoke—also in familia Asteraceae. “I wanted to highlight the sunflower in as many ways as possible without covering it up.” 

After a few days of experimenting (and getting used to the rapid oxidation of the flower’s heart), he arrived at a combination of hearts barigoule, sous vide stems, naked petals, and sprouted seeds. He paired the flower parts with lemon-laced ricotta to add richness and creaminess, along with three forms of sorghum—syrup, puffed grains, and porridge—to provide texture and grassy notes. 

As familar as the sunflower is, the dish and its star player still feel exotic. And, luckily for Chapman, the flower’s ubiquity comes with a pedestrian price tag of about $4 per organic dozen. It’s the rare product that’s readily available, show-stopping, and affordable. 

Preparation: Chapman prepares the heart in a similar manner to an artichoke heart. Instead of submerging them in a lemony bath, he peels and preps them one at a time, searing the hearts in a hot pan and braising them for 10 to 15 minutes in a barigoule sauce. He cools them down and gently warms the hearts at pick-up.
Character: The hearts have an unexpected peppery-ness. Chapman says the flavor doesn't at all resemble an artichoke heart, even if the preparation does. They also oxidize much more quickly. 

Preparation: They’re simply plucked and placed on the dish.
Character: The petals are on the sweeter side, and just a tiny bit peppery. 

Preparation: To get to the crisp-tender center of the stem, Chapman peels and discards five to six fibrous layers. He then cuts the stems into eight-inch lengths and packs them into vacuum bags with lemon and butter before cooking them sous vide at 185°C for 1 hour.
Character: Chapman says the stems are unpleasant raw—almost starchy—and have the texture of raw salsify. When cooked, he says, they have the texture of poached white asparagus. 

Preparation: Chapman sprouts the seeds over the course of a week, soaking them overnight, laying them on paper towels, and keeping them moist and in a sunny spot. At pick up, he dresses the sprouts with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Character: The sunflower varietals Chapman buys don’t yield seeds, so he buys dried seeds (that come from giant varietals) separately. The sprouts add texture and a fresh component that complements the grassy notes of the sorghum. 


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