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May 19, 2013

Local chefs’ perfect picnic fare goes beyond bologna sandwiches

For mere mortals, a picnic often means white bread, bologna, American cheese, mustard, a bag of Doritos and a six-pack of Coke.

For mere mortals, a picnic often means white bread, bologna, American cheese, mustard, a bag of Doritos and a six-pack of Coke.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Local chefs, burdened with their culinary talents, don’t feel right tossing together a typical picnic.

Their picnics take planning, look pretty and taste fabulous. For these picnickers, the food is as important as the scenery.

That is, when they have time to go on picnics.

Summer Schoenhals, who owns Cake Face Food Truck, said she hasn’t had time for a proper picnic since she started her business. When her kids were small, picnics were more frequent in her life.

If she had time for one now, she knows exactly what she’d take: Easy to prepare food made with fresh, uncomplicated ingredients.

“I like simple,” Schoenhals said. “The best part of a picnic is getting to go on a picnic.”

Recently, Summer and her husband and business partner, Dave, agreed to put together their dream picnic, just to give others an idea of how it’s done.

They packed a pretty red picnic basket with clear plastic plates and plastic wine glasses, ready to receive their bottle of Menage a Trois wine.

The main course was sandwiches made on crusty French bread. For Summer, that meant a chicken salad sandwich made with apples, pecans, celery, onions and honey and topped with a slice of Swiss cheese. For Dave, only a “Dapper Dave” sandwich would do, piled high with chicken, pepperjack cheese and shredded cheddar.

There were no chips in this basket but rather a plastic container full of pasta salad: a mixture of tri-colored penne, fresh balls of mozzarella and a lemon thyme pesto. For dessert, it was pineapple carrot cake layered in plastic cups with butter cream frosting and big chocolate chip cookies dusted with sea salt.

The feast was spread out on a cozy quilt on the ground on a warm spring day in Central Riverside Park.

No picnic tables, Summer said. Keep it grounded.

Following are descriptions of perfect picnics as shared by a few other local chefs.

Tanya Tandoc

Owner of Tanya’s Soup Kitchen, 1725 E. Douglas

Tandoc jokes that she’s not a fan of the outdoors – or of picnics.

Maybe she’s not joking.

“I don’t like being outside,” she said. “I don’t like plants and insects and weather. And I don’t eat outdoors.”

But if she could find a nice outdoor spot far away from nature’s annoyances, Tandoc knows exactly what she’d pack.

A loaf of crusty bread. Several nice, stinky cheeses. Some sort of hard sausage or smoked fish. Ripe, in-season fruits.

That is, unless she’s taking her husband, Wayne. He has simpler tastes.

“I’d probably have to pack him a cheese sandwich and call it a day,” she said.

Nathan Toubia

Owner of Bocconcinni Italian Eatery, 4811 E. Central, and Bocco Deli, 3010 E. Central

For Toubia, a picnic needs a Mortadella sandwich.

Mortadella is a rich Italian sausage available locally at the Fresh Market, 1800 N. Rock Road.

He’d put it on a crusty French baguette and top it with alfalfa sprouts and, if he’s feeling reckless, mayonnaise. He’d wrap it up in paper to keep it fresh, he said.

Perfect side dishes would include the red slaw he serves at Bocco Deli, made with a combination of red cabbage, scallions, Parmesan cheese and red wine vinaigrette. Or maybe his Bocco Deli potato salad, prepared with red potatoes, capers, celery, red onions, parsley and red wine vinaigrette.

For his kids, who have simpler picnic preferences, he’d pack a whole bunch of strawberries and grapes, he said.

Rebecca Gold

Head chef at Lotus Leaf Cafe, 613 W. Douglas

Gold loves simple foods, and even though she hasn’t been on a picnic since she was a little girl, her culinary knowledge would lead her against anything mayonnaise based.

A perfect picnic for her, she said, would include foods that can be eaten with your fingers and will be good even if they don’t stay cold: salami, hard cheese, crackers, olives, grapes and cookies.

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