4 Flavorful Recipes for a Garden Party

Atlanta chef Robert Gerstenecker showcases homegrown ingredients in dishes your dinner guests will love.
Second Course

Second Course

Photo by: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

This refreshing salad features heirloom, cherry and Campari tomatoes, burrata and basil leaves from the garden, drizzled with balsamic reduction and olive oil. 

Picture it: An open-air dining experience that takes place in a rooftop garden and bee apiary. It starts with cocktails made with honey, basil and lavender leaves sourced from just a few feet away, then continues with starters of market-fish crudo and fresh heirloom tomato salad, followed by salt-baked snapper and T-bone steak hot off the grill. That’s exactly what guests of the Garden Table, a summertime dining concept offered by the Four Seasons Atlanta’s Park 75 restaurant, can enjoy. The concept provides ample inspiration for your own outdoor entertaining.

Executive chef Robert Gerstenecker and his staff designed the experience to look and taste like an elegant alfresco soiree, while still feeling like an easygoing backyard barbecue. Gerstenecker says he wants guests to feel “comfortable enough to be able to pick up a bone of a lamb chop and just chew on it.” 

“If there was grass up there we’d probably ask people to take their shoes off—that’s the kind of feel that I want people to get,” he adds. 

In hopes of mastering the fine art of sophisticated-but-not-too-fussy food, we asked Gerstenecker to share a few tips, tactics and—yes—recipes: 

Set the tone with fun, intriguing food. It’s hard to be shy and reserved when you’re cracking a shell open with your hands. “When you see people eating like that they are so much more social,” says Gerstenecker. “The conversation is really exciting. It becomes much more of a social table.” 

Bold flavors are key. “You really want to taste the food,” stresses Gerstenecker. “There’s so much other distraction [outside] you’re not going to be that interested in very delicate, mild flavor.” He recommends seafood like ceviche, crab, scallops or—his favorite for Garden Table guests—salt-baked snapper grilled on a Big Green Egg (see recipe below). 

“When you crack it open, it’s a very dramatic kind of experience,” he says. “Not too many people have ever seen salt-crusted snapper baked.” 

Spice up cocktails. Freshly plucked mint, lemon basil and lavender work wonderfully in drinks. At the Garden Table, guests watch as mixologists pull sprigs from on-site plants seconds before garnishing cocktails with them. “There’s nothing sexier than making a drink and just reaching over and grabbing a handful of lavender or basil and muddling it, then giving it to the guest,” says Gerstenecker.

Burrata Tomato Salad

  • 1/2 heirloom tomato, wedged
  • 2 1/2 heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 Campari tomato
  • 6 basil leaves
  • 1/2 pickled shallot
  • 1/2 burrata
  • 1 ounce tomato vinaigrette (recipe follows)
  • 1/4 ounce balsamic reduction
  • 1 pinch basil flowers
  • 1/4 ounce frisee

Slice the heirloom tomato into wedges and the cherry tomatoes in half. 

Place the tomato vinaigrette in the center of the plate. 

Cut the burrata in half and place on top of the tomato vinaigrette.

Arrange four wedges of heirloom, five halves of cherry and one whole Campari tomato on and around the burrata ensuring the burrata is still visible.

Arrange the basil, frisee and pickled shallot rings around the tomatoes and drizzle the balsamic glaze on the plate at the bottom right and top left. Finish with basil oil.

Tomato Vinaigrette

Yield 1 cup 

  • 2 Roma tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 chipotle pepper
  • 1/2 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cup blended oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Dice the tomatoes and place into a blender. Add garlic, chipotle pepper, vinegar and salt.

While blending, add oil slowly to create creamy texture. 

A Touch of Drama

A Touch of Drama

Photo by: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Cracking open the salt-crusted snapper is a “dramatic kind of experience,” says Chef Gerstenecker. “It’s a very light, refreshing dish and a very different flavor profile from what you would expect coming from a grill.” 

Salt Baked Snapper 

Chef Gerstenecker serves this with a light coconut broth. “It’s a very light, refreshing dish, a very different flavor profile from what you would expect from a grill,” he says.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

  • 4 pounds kosher salt
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 whole snapper (4-5 pounds, cleaned)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Lemon wedges
  • Fennel and dill or Thai basil (optional)

Heat a closed cooking dome system grill (Gernstenecker prefers the Big Green Egg) to 550 degrees F.

Mix salt and whites in a big bowl and blend until light and fluffy.

Spread 1/4 of the salt mixture on a thick pan covered with aluminum foil. 

Place cleaned fish onto pot salt and cover with the rest of the salt mixture. (You can also stuff the fish with fennel, lemon and dill or Thai basil before covering it with the salt mixture, says Gerstenecker.) 

Place the dish in your closed cooking dome system grill and cook until internal temperature reaches 130 degrees F. Gerstenecker says a crust will form over the fish as it cooks on the grill, steaming it and sealing in flavor.

When done, let rest for 10 minutes. Place dish on a platter and crack the salt crust with hammer to reveal the tender fish. 

Drizzle with olive oil and serve with grilled lemon wedges and fennel and herb salad or a light broth. 

Getting' Sippy With It

Getting' Sippy With It

Photo by: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Pre-dinner cocktails kick off the Garden Table experience. Mint Juleps—made with honey from a rooftop on-site beehive and mint freshly plucked from the garden—are a favorite summertime menu item. 

Fifth-Floor Terrace Mint Mojito 

  • 1 1/2 ounces Bulleit Rye
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • Crushed Ice
  • Ginger ale

In an 8-ounce Mason jar, muddle mint leaves with simple syrup.

Fill Mason jar to the rim with crushed ice, add Bulleit Rye, shake, then top with ginger ale.

Bottoms Up

Bottoms Up

Photo by: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

The signature Purple Rain cocktail incorporates Don Julio Blanco tequila, fresh lemon and lime juices, cranberry syrup and a lavender flower from the rooftop garden. “There’s nothing sexier than making a drink and just reaching over and grabbing a handful of lavender or basil and muddling it then giving it to the guest,” says Robert Gerstenecker, executive chef of the Four Seasons Atlanta.

Purple Rain

  • 1 1/2 ounces Don Julio Blanco
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce cranberry syrup
  • 1 lavender flower

Fill rocks glass with crushed ice, add Don Julio Blanco, lemon juice, lime juice and cranberry syrup.

Stir, don't shake.

Float a lavender flower on top and serve. 

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