It's been a few weeks since the debut of our Summer Features, but we are as ecstatic as ever for West Michigan to try these dishes! We decided to get more information from behind the scenes of these sweet entrees from our menu developer, Danea. She gave us the inside scoop of what it takes to create these dishes, her inspirations, and her work ethic.
Danea began at Anna's House as a server at our East Beltline location when it first opened in June of 2014! She moved her way up and helped establish the Grandville store by training and managing team members. Danea is currently Vice President of Marketing and she also focuses on Menu & Product Development/Quality Control. She always has a million things on her plate, but she is renowned for her unique seasonal dishes that grace our restaurants four times a year!
"First of all," Danea explained, "I fully embrace the fact that I have zero culinary training outside of what my various (wonderful and patient) co-workers have showed me and been willing to help me with. This fact comes with it’s own set of challenges as some of the dish development is trial and error and error and error. Plus I am clumsy and make a huge mess every time I cook." Yes, you read that correctly; our Menu Developer has no culinary training. But this doesn't mean she doesn't know what she's talking about! Danea performs extensive research on the latest trends in the restaurant industry and dedicates hours in the kitchen where she concocts these delightful dishes.
As if that wasn't impressive enough, Danea is also vegan. Which means that for a number of her dishes, she doesn't taste test them herself! When asked what it's like to not only create, but also work with entrees that include meat and dairy, Danea responded with some of her personal beliefs, but also how it effects her work. "I am proud to be a vegan and love my vegan lifestyle. If I had my way, the whole world would be vegan. BUT I know this is not our reality. I want to celebrate all guests and satisfy their hunger with dishes that are suited to their individual tastes, rather than spread my personal agenda. A huge part of our mission is to have menu choices for EVERYONE and EVERY dining preference... It does get a little hairy however, or hilarious for those watching me, when I am physically working with the meat. I try to hold it at a distance and make a lot of faces during the process… A lot of people ask me how I know the dishes are good, which is valid. I utilize and trust the very honest team we have at Anna’s House to sample and give me feedback on the dishes (and they don’t seem to mind). This helps me see how guests are going to react to them as well, which is more important than if I personally like them anyway!" It's always exciting when Danea comes into a store to test new recipes, because that means everyone gets to try her cooking! She isn't just generous when it comes to sharing her food, she also genuinely listens for feedback from her peers and is always inquisitive to people's thoughts.
There are ubiquitous ingredients found on our summer menu such as lemons, blueberries, and lemon onions. Danea explained her inspiration for these strong, zesty flavor profiles: "I really felt that this menu needed to celebrate the flavors that come with summer and warm weather. We had such a long and cold winter and spring that it was important for us to be able to enjoy summer to the fullest any way we can- and our way is through food! When I think of summer time, immediately blueberries and lemons come to mind, two of my personal favorite all time flavors. You’ll see lemon in every dish as well as in our fresh squeezed lemonades. A lot of lemon! I also think of anything grilled, berries, lighter fare, and vibrant colors. At Anna’s House, we are always trying to utilize local products and partners, seasonal items from Michigan, and flavors that are a little bit ahead of the game in this area. Those were the aspects that were important going into the creation of this menu, along with listening to what our guests are saying and wanting."
We asked Danea to break down each one of her colorful dishes and share what inspired her to create them, what interesting ingredients she used, and stories of some of her misfortunes in the kitchen.
Flavors and ingredients found in our Falafel Burger
"There are several reasons why this (Falafel Burger) was important to create. 1.) The Grand Rapids vegetarian and vegan dining population is exploding right now, along with meat eaters who like to try non-meat dishes and “flexitarians.” Whatever you would like to call it, the world is calling for more meatless options and we would like to help answer that call 2.) Diners are becoming more well versed in cultures and cuisines from around the world and are looking for ways to incorporate global flavors and experiences into their dining habits. 3.) The ”Burger” is an american classic and favorite. There is nothing quite like craving a burger and then sinking your teeth into one, especially when it comes complete with a heaping side of crispy french fries! Burgers aren’t going anywhere, so why would we not make MORE BURGERS to enjoy with our dairy free and meat free diners?" We couldn't agree more! This burger is just as mouthwatering as a meaty burger and the citrus taste adds an unexpected burst of flavor! It also balances well with a classic burger meal: fries and a cold, carbonated drink.
Danea shared that she almost gave up on the Falafel Burger! She frequently tried to make the chickpea burger, but there was always something off about it: Too dense, too fried. "It was frustrating to keep throwing out batch after batch, but once we got it right, it was so worth it!" Thank goodness she was able to find a way to keep this burger on the menu, because it truly is a treat!
Creating this entree is a very involved process that proves the dedication of the Anna's House team. "The falafel burger batter is made by hand as well (we hand smash each chickpea) as well as hand pattied! We make the tahini sauce in house and use the slow marinated lemon onions here too. ALSO, the vegan bun used here is a local product from Van’s pastry, one of our local partners." A huge round of applause goes to our kitchen staff who hand preps all of this food in order to give our guests healthy and fresh options, while supporting our local community.
Flavors and ingredients found in our Lemon Poppyseed Crepes
"We featured Smoked Salmon Crepes on our spring menu, which were EXTREMELY popular and showed us how much our guests want crepes. So keeping a crepe option was very important to us, and our guests. I wanted to go with a sweeter crepe this season, but not just your average “heres a basic crepe rolled up with some frozen fruit syrup compote on top.” We zest and juice the lemons by hand and make the warm blueberry sauce fresh every day for these crepes. The cream cheese filling is also a house recipe. These crepes are meant to be sweet, exceptionally fresh, unique and light, while being interesting and intriguing to the tastebuds. I try to combine what I feel our guests will naturally love with flavors they probably didn’t expect to see. We’re saving the world from an ordinary breakfast and ordinary crepes!" No wonder our guests demanded more crepes because these are some extraordinary crepes with the most fresh, fluffy, and fruity flavor, reminiscent of a dessert. But pair it with a side of our all-natural meat and a cup of dark, hot coffee and you have the best breakfast.
Like the Falafel Burger, this dish is hand made with extensive care. The Lemon Poppyseed Crepes are using an intensive crepe batter which has to be constructed delicately due to its thinness. It also features house made warm blueberry sauce and house made cream cheese filling.
Ingredients found in the Lemongrass Sausage & Asparagus Breakfast Bowl
"Here we get to feature two local products- a Detroit, Michigan made sausage and Michigan grown grilled asparagus. I’m always on the hunt for different dish bases, like various grains and greens and such, which is why we used polenta here. People are getting tired of the same “power” dishes and “grain bowls” over and over again, so I wanted to keep things fresh and exciting while still being accessible. I love this sausage, which is the size of a brat, but is actually a chicken sausage infused with lemongrass, ginger and garlic. It is a unique product unlike anything we have offered so far, and could be used for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The polenta here is really rich, which is why the lemon marinated red onions and grilled lemon are important. Make sure to squeeze that lemon over top to balance out each bite!" This dish is perfect for Anna's House because it has filling flavors that are suitable for breakfast, brunch, and lunch. Like many of our house bowls, this Lemongrass Sausage & Asparagus Bowl is easily edible at any time of day. The polenta base is made in house along with the slow marinated lemon onions which guarantees its quality freshness. Two thumbs up for supporting local businesses, which is not only an important goal for Anna's House, but it really makes this feature the epitome of Michigan-made.
Danea not only uses innovative flavors and ingredients, she also makes them easily accessible to those who have dietary needs. When asked what it's like to have to make sure certain dishes are gluten free, dairy free, or vegan, she answered: "It’s one huge puzzle! It’s a big challenge, like, “Here, create three to four amazing dishes- anything you want, and here are some guidelines to use to make it more interesting.” I find it very fun and inspiring to take an idea and figure how we can make it possible for as many people to enjoy it as we possibly can, while not sacrificing any of the deliciousness. Sometimes, it’s not possible to make a dish fit all those criteria, like the Polenta and Sausage dish. We made it probably 10 times without dairy in the polenta, but it would not come out the way it needed to be. So we added the dairy, but the dish is still both gluten free and it utilizes the All-Natural meat. Everything is about balance when it comes to making the quarterly menus. Each guest that walks in the door should be able to look at it and find something they can truly enjoy, and if we make that happen, then I am happy and my job is done."
And a job well done to you, Danea! We can't wait to see what else you will create at Anna's House!
Posted on 06/14/2016 at 07:54:00 AM