With picnic season upon us, the idea of heading outside (before the temps shoot up, as they always do) for an afternoon of gourmet noshing sounds enticing, until we end up with soggy sandwiches, crushed cookies, and boring bottled water and wonder why we just didn’t go out to lunch instead. This year’s going to be different.
We’ve enlisted four local chefs to share their picks for the perfect picnic basket. From creative twists on classics to salads that stand up to the trip to deconstructed dishes you can assemble on site, here’s what our experts suggest for an afternoon on the grass. And — bonus! — we’ve noted which items you can order as takeout from their respective restaurants (and each chef can also create a custom catered order with a little notice) in case you don’t really want to lift a finger in the kitchen. Basket not included.
chef and co-owner, Workshop Kitchen + Bar and Truss & Twine
Kale and Lentil salad*
“It’s fresh and bright and easy to add protein options,” Beckman says of his hearty combo of legumes, bulgur, and kale. “Contrary to something like a Caesar where you’ve got to toss it fresh and eat it right away, this salad — with the Madras curry, citrus, and olive oil — marinates really well for a half a day.”
Heirloom Eggplant Baba Ghanoush*
During his stint as personal chef for a Lebanese family in L.A., Beckman perfected traditional recipes like this Arabic dip. Though eggplant is more readily available in summer, multicolor heirloom varieties start showing up at the farmers’ markets in late spring (which is when he adds this dish to the Workshop menu). “It’s smoky. It’s authentic. It makes a really great snack. You could serve it with whole wheat pita bread. We make our own, puff it up in the pizza oven, and brush it with olive oil, fleur de sel, and za’atar.”
Swap out traditional deli pickles and shake things up with this pickled root vegetable, also popular in Lebanese cuisine. The turnips transform with a pretty pink hue thanks to beets in the pickling liquid. “They’re just a great pickled item that would go great with any sandwich and lots of sides in a picnic basket.”
Stuffed Grape Leaves
Also known as dolmas, this Middle Eastern staple is often stuffed with fresh herbs, rice, and either ground beef or lamb. “That’s like the ultimate finger food to go,” Beckman says. “They’re great at room temperature.”
Beckman often turns roast chicken (he’s partial to Workshop’s Chicken Diavolo) into chicken salad. “I use leftover chicken all the time. It’s a great option and always really good.”
“Something like a Brachetto from Northern Italy would be perfect for a picnic. It’s a slightly sparkling red with an ABV of 7 percent. It’s refreshing and complementary to a wide variety of foods.”
The little bottles of San Pellegrino are the perfect size for packing. He prefers the fruit juice–spiked versions. “I love the aranciata [orange] and they have lemon and grapefruit ones. Those are really cool for picnics.”
*Seasonally available at Workshop Kitchen + Bar.
2 tablespoons bulgur
3 tablespoons lentils
1 cup kale, chopped
1 cup mint, chopped
1 grapefruit, sliced
4 ½ tablespoons curry powder
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Simmer bulgur in 4 tablespoons of water and lentils in 6 tablespoons of water separately until tender. Drain thoroughly. Clean and julienne the kale. Peel and slice grapefruit into supremes, reserving the drippings. Julienne the mint, then combine all ingredients into a mixing bowl and toss until evenly seasoned.
“Something like a brachetto from northern italy would be perfect for a picnic…it’s refreshing and complementary to a wide variety of foods.”
Joe Lucero, chef and owner, Joey Palm Springs
This vegan version of a French open-face sandwich features lightly toasted levain with housemade hummus. Lucero adds slices of avocado, radish, a drizzle of olive oil, and a little fleur de sel. “It’s the perfect picnic food. You can eat it with your hands, there’s some crunch and texture, and it’s refreshing with the avocado and radishes.”
Cheese and Charcuterie
Lucero sticks with hard meats and hard or semi-hard cheeses, since softer stuff will likely get mushy before your picnic basket is unpacked. His favorites are finocchiona (a fennel salami), soppressata, and San Daniele prosciutto, along with Parmigiano-Reggiano, manchego, and Gruyère. “Meat and cheese, what’s not to like? Pair all of it with fresh bread. I love the Gruyère baguette at Peninsula Pastries.”
“They’re filling, come in their own natural wrapper, and travel well.” Lucero hard-steams rather than hard-boils the eggs (“the yolk gets creamier that way,” he says), then elevates them with a pinch of finishing salt. “If you’ve got something naked like an egg, truffle salt or a smoked salt is perfect.”
In line with Lucero’s no-forks-necessary mantra, the classic scone at Joey’s — perfumed with orange zest and studded with cranberries — is based on a version created by the late influential chef Judy Rodgers, who co-owned San Francisco’s Zuni Café with Lucero’s partner Vince Calcagno.
“I’m a traditionalist in many ways, so I’d probably pack up a thermos or two of black iced tea loaded with wheels of fresh lemon slices.”
White or Red Wine
Lucero recommends a Côtes du Rhône Blanc or, if you’re leaning toward a red, he suggests bringing a Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir. “It has just enough body to pair well with everything here without leaving you lit at the end of the picnic.”
*Available at Joey Palm Springs on the daytime menu.
Adapted by Joey Lucero from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers, 2002
Makes 12 scones
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 pinch kosher salt or fine sea salt
½ pound cold butter, diced into ½ inch cubes
½ cup dried cranberries (rehydrated in hot water, drained ,and blotted dry)
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
1 large egg
½ cup whole milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Position two racks in the upper-third and middle-third of the oven. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper or silicone mats. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Attach the bowl to the mixer and, using the paddle attachment, mix the dry ingredients on low speed for about 10 seconds to combine. Add the cold, diced butter, and add it in on low speed until the butter reduces to the size of small peas. Add orange zest and cranberries and mix on low speed for about 10 seconds, until evenly incorporated.
Whisk the egg and milk together in a small measuring cup or bowl. With the mixer running at medium speed, add the milk-egg mix in a slow, steady stream until just fully incorporated and the dough begins to form into a mass; then stop. Using a spatula, incorporate by hand any remaining flour in the bottom of the bowl, folding it gently but firmly into the dough.
Divide the dough in half and form two balls. On a lightly floured surface, take each ball and pat it into a round disc (roughly 5 to 6 inches in diameter and about 1 inch thick). Slice each disc into six equal “pie-shaped” wedges. Place six wedges (from one disc) on one sheet pan and place the remaining six wedges (from the second disc) on the other. Bake until golden brown and firm, about 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans midway through baking. These are best served warm, otherwise allow the scones to fully cool before storing.
Mario Curci, head chef, Jake’s Palm Springs
That stands for bacon, lettuce, turkey, and avocado (with chive aioli) in case you were wondering. “My son and I pack that when we go hiking up on the tram. It’s on toasted wheat bread and it will hold up over the entire day.”
Curci discovered a marinade and made it his own while working on dive boats in Santa Barbara, not far from Santa Maria, where tri-tip originated. It quickly became his go-to. “I’d cook it every day for 40 lobster divers,” he says. He marinates the meat (ideally for a day or two), then grills it and roasts it off to medium rare. To make it picnic-friendly, Curci slices it ahead of time and brings along sourdough rolls to make sandwiches, which he tops with feta cheese and pico de gallo. “It’s just an easy thing to feed a lot of people with.”
Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta Salad*
Because of the intensity of the pancetta and the truffle oil in the the salad, you won’t need a lot of dressing, which makes it a to-go go-to. “It doesn’t have a ton of dressing so it travels well. It’s got a ton of flavor.”
Curried Deviled Eggs
These babies are Curci’s signature party (and picnic) staple that he takes to family events. “My family loves them. They’re old-school, but mine are kind of kicked up.” That’s because Curci blends in raisins and curry when mashing the yolks.
Homemade Tangerine Soda Water
Club soda + local tangerine juice + a squeeze of lemon = Curci’s favorite picnic spritzer. Though Curci’s not a drinker, you could add vodka. (He recommends Tito’s.) “It’s a refreshing drink and it’s not too heavy.”
*Available at Jake’s Palm Springs on the lunch menu or in the take-away case.
BRUSSELS SPROUTS AND PANCETTA SALAD
2 pounds Brussels sprouts,
cleaned, trimmed, and cut in half
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup cubed pancetta, diced small
½ large lemon
2 tablespoons truffle oil, plus additional for finishing
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Blanch Brussels sprouts for 2 to 3 minutes or until bright green. Drain.
Toss halved Brussels sprouts with ¼ cup of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Place on a sheet and roast at 450 degrees for 15 minutes or until darkened. While Brussels sprouts roast, sauté pancetta in a pan over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, until golden brown.
Remove Brussels sprouts from the oven and transfer to a bowl. Drizzle with truffle oil, add cooked pancetta and rendered fat from pan, and toss. After salad cools, finish with the juice of half a lemon and truffle oil if desired and toss again before serving.
Chad Gardner, chef and owner, Pho 533 and Dash
and a Handful Extraordinary Events & Artisan Catering
Ba Mahn Ga Fried Chicken*
For this Asian-inspired play on his mom’s legendary pan-fried chicken, Gardner brines bone-in chicken in a sugar-garlic-water mixture for 24 hours before dredging it in rice and corn flours (making it gluten-free). He double-fries the chicken and tosses it with an Asian spice blend. While he serves it hot at the restaurant, “it’s just as good cold. It was kind of a thing for us growing up.”
Smoked Gouda Mac-and-Cheese Salad
Part macaroni salad, part mac-and-cheese, this one’s another twist on what Gardner’s mom made when he was a kid. “But I do it with roasted sweet peppers and a Sriracha mayonnaise. I make it when I have guests over for casual barbecues and it’s easy, but it’s also a great picnic salad. It’s reaaaally good.”
Bau Bau Salad*
The bright salad gives his picnic spread a punch with crisp veggies: Blanched green beans, julienned carrots, cucumbers, and bean sprouts are tossed with a peanut-lime tamari dressing. “I do coleslaws and vegetable salads at a picnic because you can prepare and dress them the day before. And unlike a green salad, they stand up to the dressing and won’t wilt.”
“I love to sauté strawberries with a little bit of butter, black pepper, and a little sugar. I keep the biscuits separate and bring some whipped cream and you can assemble it all really easily when you get there … perfect picnic food.”
Gardner makes his own simple syrup with herbs or berries to kick up the classic warm-weather drink. “We use Thai basil, lavender, blackberries. It’s a nice twist on a typical lemonade and really easy to make.”
He especially loves Rombauer, out of Napa Valley. “It’s got everything you like about a Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s not fussy. It’s straightforward and plays well with the bold spices in this basket.”
*Available at Pho 533 on lunch and dinner menus.
PART MACARONI SALAD, PART MAC-AND-CHEESe,
THIS ONE’S ANOTHER TWIST ON WHAT GARDNER’S
MOM MADE WHEN HE WAS A KID.
BA MAHN GA FRIED CHICKEN
1 gallon water
¼ cup garlic
¼ cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 whole chicken, cut into eight pieces (two legs, two thighs, two breasts, two wings)
½ cup corn flour
½ cup rice flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
2 tablespoon Asian spice mix*
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Stir together the water, chopped garlic, kosher salt, and sugar. Add cut-up chicken and submerge in brine mixture. Chill for 24 hours. Remove chicken from brine and discard liquid. Pat chicken lightly with a cloth, but retain some moisture so it can absorb the corn and rice flours. In a large bowl, combine corn flour, rice flour, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and pepper. Dredge chicken and shake lightly to remove any excess flour. Deep-fry at 300 degrees for 7 minutes. Refrigerate for one day. After refrigeration, deep-fry again at 300 degrees for an additional 7 minutes. Toss the fried chicken in a arge bowl with Asian spice mix and 1 teaspoon kosher salt and serve.