We partnered with with the team at Ned Ludd, a Portland restaurant that feels like home, to bring our Open Kitchen collection to life this season. Its cozy, casual vibe pairs perfectly with its rustic menu, which highlights peak-season produce and handcrafted, locally sourced ingredients. Read our interviews with the owners, chefs and partners behind Ned Ludd and try their original recipes here.
Ned Ludd knows how to do brunch. We were so inspired by the creative dishes, flavor combinations and festive ideas in the menu they created for our photo shoot that we asked Chef/Owner Jason French to share his best brunch tips. Read on to learn his go-to ingredients, the ideal sweet-savory ratio, and how to build the ultimate Bloody Mary bar.
What was the inspiration behind the menu you created for our Open Kitchen shoot?
We pushed Spring a little to the fore. We do a brunch at Ned Ludd, and we love brunch — it’s that time to gather around the table. Dishes should be really simple, without a lot of cooking a la minute. We were playing with ideas that are here in the restaurant, like making own marmalade and old, crafty techniques. The way we do flavor profiles and dishes, we try to extend the sense of discovery, so something might be intense and bracing up front, with herbs and lemon juice; those flavor spikes are introduced into each dish so people bite into it and it makes them stop and take notice. That is in balance with the rest of the dish. You should never feel like you don’t know what you’re eating, but you should also have an experience as you chew through a dish – moments of excitement and contrast bring everything into balance. Something about balancing an event or menu brings a sense of harmony and calm to people, and that’s something we strive for with each and every dish on the menu. If you’re going to make French toast, it should be deliciously rich and custardy – it should almost be like bread pudding. We are taking those simple, straightforward approaches to cooking and elevating them slightly. Like lemon juice in the trout hash – it’s bracing, but if that’s not there it might just be flat.
Any tips for recreating it at home?
As a former culinary school instructor, one tip I give is that a recipe is a guide to cooking. Read the recipe four or five times to make sure you understand the ingredients and methodology; gather your mise en place; then start cooking, and just enjoy the simple and very cathartic act of cooking. I find that’s really lacking in the way home cooks approach food. They tend to feel like they’re doing something wrong, but you’re not failing if you understand the processes and procedures. Build a repertoire, and cook and cook and cook. The more you can let go of the idea of recipes as any more than guides and enjoy cooking, the far better your food will be.
What are some tips for home cooks to upgrade their brunch?
For the home cook, I would take on adventurous cooking and make my own brioche or English muffins. I would also grow a bunch of herbs – everybody should have a culinary kitchen. Also, I like fresh cheese at brunch. Making ricotta is super easy. If you have a goat dairy near you, get some fresh milk and make your own at home. You can roll it into fresh-baked egg dish.
What are some of your go-to brunch ingredients and dishes?
Smoked trout. I also like baked eggs quite a bit, and French toast, especially if you do it correctly. I also like the traditional English dish of halving a tomato and roasting it. There’s definitely something about fruit and brunch – a fruit salad, or that’s why we did the roasted grapefruit. Or even like the apple muffin – it has apple butter and also apples in batter. You could do little individual pineapple upside-down cakes; there are creative ways to incorporating fruit into the things you’re cooking.
Is there an ideal sweet-savory ratio?
I don’t do a ton of sweets. I always have vegetable dishes and salads thrown into the mix because it can get very egg- and bread-heavy. I’d say 30-70 sweet-savory ratio. Sweet start, savory main, then a sweet finish. Or start with cheese; you can roll fruit into the cheese course to give it a sweeter spin.
Any tips for feeding a crowd?
There are definitely those one-step wonders of baked eggs or huevos rancheros. When it comes to plattering and baking dishes, oven-to-table is smart when serving crowds. You can do quiche in a pan or a baked egg thing. Don’t be afraid to create a buffet feeling. Try French toast as bread pudding: use cubed bread instead of sliced and pack it into a mold with dried fruit and port wine folded into the custard base. Anything scoop and serve works. I also like eggs in tomato aspic; it takes care of the egg part of any brunch, and you can serve any kind of salad around it in individual muffin tins. Set a poached egg in aspic using gelatin and tomato water. A lot of places are bringing back classic dishes.
Any tips for building a bloody mary bar?
Have fresh juices – a tomato base, with citrus to spike – like lemon juice, orange juice or lime juice. Add vegetal complements of smashed garlic and ginger and horseradish. Then, Worcestershire, hot sauce, pickles and celery. Create a fun and interesting spice ratio. So many traditional blood marys have tons of black pepper, by I like to toast cumin and coriander to get more exotic. Have plenty of ice, and always use a jigger. We have one with caraway, juniper, coriander and white pepper, where we do a tomato base with aquavit instead of vodka. Then we have a traditional vodka one with smoked paprika and black pepper and salt. A good salted rim is important.