Maine Chef David Turin Embraces Wild Blueberries’ Culinary Versatility
Chef David Turin is known for his imaginative menus, his exceptional energy, and his devotion to the industry, in which he has been a leader for more than three decades. Asked to design a multi-course, Wild Blueberry-focused dinner for visiting chefs this summer, Turin embraced the challenge with characteristic enthusiasm, creating, among other dishes, a Wild Blueberry soup, served hot, that was the surprise hit of the evening.
Hosted in the intimate dining room at David’s Opus Ten in Portland, Maine, one of his three restaurants, the dinner was part of a three-day, “Eating on the Wild Side” event designed to acquaint top foodservice chefs from around the country with these small-but-mighty, antioxidant-packed superfruits. Turin’s inventive menu featured Wild Blueberries in every dish—starter, the superlative soup, intermezzo, entrees, and desserts. The tiny berries with the big flavor also appeared in three hors d’oeuvres and two signature cocktails, and both Wild Blueberry-maple butter and extra-virgin olive oil with Wild Blueberry vincotto accompanied the bread service.
The chef was already using Wild Blueberries—his Super Food Salad at David’s 388 in South Portland includes them in their frozen state—but the dinner inspired him to see even more possibilities for adding Wild Blueberries to his menus. “I love the fact that we have this sustainable, authentic, Wild ingredient that’s readily available at a reasonable cost,” he says, noting that frozen Wild Blueberries are accessible to chefs anywhere, and that customers respond eagerly to seeing “Wild” as a menu component.
“If you look at a handful of Wild Blueberries, you notice that each one is different—that variety is what makes them much more exciting to eat and to use in cooking than the cultivated fruit,” Turin continues. As he experimented with them for the dinner, the chef “discovered that beyond sweet dishes, Wild Blueberries are incredibly easy to work with. They have a broad bandwidth of flavor.”
For the Wild Blueberry soup, Turin thought, “A cold soup with a dollop of sour cream and a mint leaf is what everyone’s going to expect—so I’m absolutely not going to do that.” He decided instead to treat the Wild Blueberries as he would a vegetable. “I think they’re about as sweet as a carrot. The juice is quite sweet, but if you use carrots in a stock, they’re savory.”
His soup recipe follows a time-tested formula: Start with a classic mirepoix—Turin uses leeks, shallots, onion, carrots, and celery—lightly caramelized in a blend of olive oil and butter. Add Wild Blueberries and chicken or vegetable broth, simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, puree, and strain. When he pulled it from the restaurant’s refrigerator to reheat, however, Turin himself got a surprise—the pectin in the Wild Blueberries had gelled the soup. “I didn’t want to use cream to thin it down, so I simmered more Wild Blueberries to release their juice, added that in, and all of a sudden it was this vibrant blueberry color, as well as the ideal consistency,” he says. Garnished with curry crème fraiche and macadamia nuts toasted in brown butter, the soup was both delicious and a stunner. “There’s no miracle to it, just let the real food ingredients do the work,” the chef insists.
Pectin also played a role in another one of Turin’s discoveries while creating dishes for the dinner. To make the Wild Blueberry vincotto—a versatile condiment that continues to show up on his menus—he simmered the berries with white balsamic vinegar, fermented rice vinegar, and a little sugar. “I put it through the chinois and I had four quarts of vincotto and this mass of Wild Blueberry pulp; I couldn’t put that in the trash,” he says. “I chilled it and it set up; I thought, ‘wow that looks like caviar.’ Tossed with olive oil and salt, the byproduct of the vincotto became Wild Blueberry caviar, which Turin served like traditional caviar, on a buckwheat ploye with sour cream, and to garnish Wild Blueberry-cured salmon on a rye crostini. “People are really intrigued, especially when I refer to it as ‘vegan caviar,’” he says. “I was definitely challenged by using Wild Blueberries to take some steps beyond my normal go-to, and I think that anytime you do that, you can end up with good things.” Especially when a chef like Turin lets his culinary imagination take a spin on the Wild side.