Dish R&D: Goat Cheese and Pear Salad
Brentwood Bay Lodge & Spa’s multifaceted salad starts off casual- and fine-dining menus on the right note.
Executive Chef Alain Léger prefers to let ingredients speak for themselves. A proponent of local and organic products, he expresses this philosophy in Goat Cheese and Pear Salad menued at both the fine-dining Arbutus Grille & Wine Bar and more-casual Marine Pub at Brentwood Bay Lodge & Spa on Canada’s Vancouver Island.
Inspired by goat cheese from a local dairy farm, Léger created the appetizer salad a month after he joined the oceanfront resort’s staff in October 2004. Finding a combination that’s appropriate on two menus demanded extra deliberation. “You have to look at what else is on the menus to make it all balance,” Léger says. “A dish stands by itself, but at the same time it’s part of a package.”
For many of his recipes, the chef focuses on three main flavors. For the salad, indigenous hazelnuts—both in vinaigrette and toasted for garnish—join the cheese and fruit. The nuts bring warm crunch and a toasty edge that stand up to the cheese’s salty, smooth tang and the pear’s juicy burst of sweetness.
DISH: Goat Cheese and Pear Salad
COMPOSITION: Poached pears stuffed with goat cheese, Belgian endive, baby greens, toasted hazelnuts and hazelnut vinaigrette
TIMELINE—R&D THROUGH INTRODUCTION: 2 days
MENU PRICE: $10.95
FOOD COST: 26%
Léger poaches halved pears in white wine with star anise, juniper berries, cloves, black peppercorns, brown sugar and a bay leaf to lend potent spice notes to the fruit. Poaching liquid is reserved, then reduced to a syrup that is drizzled on the finished plate (he also cooks thinly sliced pears in a light sugar syrup, then dries them into chips for garnish).
In the earliest incarnation of the salad, Léger tossed the greens—a mix of Belgian endive and seasonal baby greens such as pea shoots, frisée, lolla rossa, mizuna and corn sprouts—with a berry vinaigrette. The berry-pear combination was found to be overly sweet. Adding hazelnut butter to a vinaigrette of Dijon mustard, French shallots, 5-year-old sherry vinegar and grapeseed oil imparts a nuttiness that makes all the difference, says the chef, who favors grapeseed over the more-aggressive olive oil in dressings. Making hazelnut butter in house is too labor intensive, so he sources it locally.
Before plating, Léger fills poached pear halves with goat cheese, sprinkles them with chopped hazelnuts, sea salt and black pepper, and heats them at 350F. The dressed salad—topped with tomato concassé, chives, thyme and shallots—is plated slightly off-center, with the warmed pear opposite. To finish, he garnishes the dish with whole and chopped hazelnuts, pear chips, drizzles of pear syrup and vinaigrette, and finally, a drop of hazelnut oil.