Side Orders: What do chefs pack when they're off for a picnic?

Anne Braly
photo Anne Braly

We're well into the season for picnics, and no baskets are better-filled than those belonging to chefs. Look in my picnic basket and you'll usually find nothing more than potato salad, cold fried chicken or chicken salad, chips, bread, pickles and brownies. Maybe a nice bottle of wine, too, if park regulations permit. But have you ever wondered what might be lurking beneath the lid of a chef's picnic basket?

I asked a few, and here's what they revealed:

» Andi Cagle, Kozy Cooking Bistro and Catering: Cagle's favorite picnic spot is her own backyard since she lives on the water, but Coolidge Park comes in a close second. When she packs her picnic basket, it's usually filled with smoked salmon and an herb spread to go with it; different cheeses; figs; prosciutto and crackers to go with them; crusty French bread; and a poached pear salad with candied walnuts and blue cheese. To drink? An Argentinean malbec, and Sonoma Valley port wine to go with her Delicia Italian Truffles for dessert.

» Erik Niel, Easy Bar & Bistro: Niel likes to keep things simple. "Just a crusty, good baguette with a jar of spicy Dijon mustard; some cornichons (pickles); a good soft cheese; and some sliced prosciutto and salami." And for good measure, "a nice dry rose, preferably from Epoch. It's an excellent California wine."

» Marcus Willis, Parkway Pourhouse: For starters, Willis packs a good bottle of Cabernet Franc or a nice rosé to pair with some sort of cured meat, some triple-cream brie cheese from Bleu Fox on Main Street "that is absolutely amazing" and crusty bread, along with "whatever my wife, Nicole, has pickled and is in the pantry."

» Charlie Loomis, Feed Co. Table & Tavern: "I'd definitely pack my basket with my fried chicken - it's my spirit animal and still stays crispy when it's cold," he says. "And I'd probably have some sort of champagne because fried chicken and champagne are one of my favorite food pairings." On the side, he'd pack some German-style potato salad, pickles and a cucumber salad.

» Wesley True, Bald Headed Bistro: "Charcuterie and cheeses is a must, plus whole-grain mustard, a couple of jams, a French baguette and top it off with a bottle of Chateauneuf-de-Pape. "And I would throw in some steak tartar for good measure, along with some pickled items." The Cleveland-based chef lives not too far from the Ocoee River, so whenever he finds time, that's his go-to spot for picnics so he can jump in the water when it gets too hot.

» Doa Le, The Read House: Raise the lid on his picnic basket and you'll most likely find fresh cherries - "It's a must-have," he says, along with grapes; cantaloupe; Stilton blue cheese or smoked gouda; marinated artichokes; a fresh baguette; prosciutto or dried salami; Dijon mustard; local honey with honeycomb - another must; golden Peppadew peppers; cornichons; and, possibly, Salad Nicoise. Here's his recipe.

Dao Le's Salad Nicoise


6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Maille Dijon mustard, or your favorite

1/2 sprig rosemary, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Salad fixings:

4 ounces mesclun salad

2 tomatoes, cut into wedges

4 hard-boiled eggs, quartered

2 small cucumbers, sliced

1/2 green pepper, thinly sliced

1 (5-ounce) can tuna in olive oil, crumbled

6 fillets anchovy

12 black olives or kalamata olives

1 white onion, finely chopped

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

4 ounces small fava beans, cooked

6 leaves basil, whole or cut in chiffonade

1 baguette, cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch slices

1 clove garlic, halved

In a mason jar, prepare a vinaigrette with the olive oil, vinegar, Dijon mustard, rosemary, salt and pepper. Shake well, and set aside until ready to use.

In a bowl (use a plastic bowl with a lid for your picnic), place a bed of mesclun. Arrange tomatoes, boiled eggs, cucumbers, green peppers, tuna, anchovies, olives, onions and fava beans on top of the mesclun. Pour the vinaigrette on top and garnish with basil.

For baguette: Rub garlic on both sides of baguette slices, and toast until crisp. Pack and take to serve alongside salad.

New on the market

Whether it's a picnic or a camping trip, Built New York's new Welded Cooler Backpack is a must for taking along. Not only does it hold 36 beverage cans plus ice for keeping them cold, it features a built-in can opener and is leak-proof, too. Made of heavy construction and so well-insulated it keeps ice cold for days, the backpack cooler is just that - strap it on your back and start walking. Forget about hauling a cooler with wheels that won't traverse rugged ground.

If you don't need 36 cans of beverage, use the cooler for anything else that needs to stay cool in the outback for days.

This backpack cooler is the answer to any outdoorsman's prayers. You won't be caught miles from home with nothing to cool you down on hot summer days.

Check it out on The cooler is a little pricey at $199.95, but worth every cent. It's so sturdy and well-constructed, it will last for years of use - and abuse - at home or in the outback. And if the price stretches your budget too much, Built NY also has a new cooler welded just like the Welded Cooler Backpack, but has handles instead of shoulder straps so you'll need to carry it, but it will keep ice cold just as long. It's a little smaller and holds up to 10 cans or eight long-neck bottles and plenty of ice. It also has a built-in bottle opener, which is pretty cool. The cooler retails on Amazon for $79.99.

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