Citrus Panache With Zach Geerson and Steven Hayden

“Citrus tends to be the first thing we add to a dish when it needs a little life. First citrus, then salt.”

— Zach Geerson, executive chef, Journeyman’s Food + Drink

Juicy, sweet, pulpy, sunny and acidic. Citrus colorfully covers a range of tastes and memories. Popping an orange wedge in one’s mouth and attempting a wide smile without bursting into laughter is pure, Vitamin C fun. The addition of lime raises sparkling water from ho-hum status to sophisticated beverage. When microplane meets lemon, meringue pies are treated to its finishing zest. Preserved in marmalade or squeezed for a pitcher of sugary refreshment, the presence of citrus reigns supreme. 

It is only fitting to have progressive Chef Zach Geerson explore this family of fruit, navigating its vast lineage. Journeyman’s Food & Drink is our departure and arrival point, as he travels between amuse, evolving courses and dessert. Accompanying him is Steven Hayden, who leads their bar program, doubling as our guide to supplement the travel itinerary with liquid refreshment. He utilizes citrus grown on his property to fulfill the cocktail portion of our journey.

Our first encounter is a curiously miniature pink lolly. Since we are already familiar with the amount of consideration placed in every expedited dish at Journeyman’s, we instinctively refrain from a solitary bite and nibble a bit from the side. We’re rewarded with creamy, blood orange mousse, infused with bonito seasoning. Alongside our amuse, juniper roasted beet salad, showcasing a gelee of various citrus (yuzu, tangerine and grapefruit, to name a few), pickled coriander seed and fresh dill. Plated with care, a framework of juniper leaves surrounds our bowl with aromatics.

As we continue down our dining path, chef’s next presentation was deceptive. Gazing upon the tumeric-poached squid in smoked broth, our pre-conceived vision of how it might appear was bamboozled by Chef Zach’s scoring technique. Crisscross designs and a remarkably bold hue gave the illusion of exotic fruit, when in fact the citrus components were tangerine accents, complementing our savory stopover. By this point in our travels, Steven was ready with his version of a white Negroni, named the White Geisha. Capturing the spirit of a classic, his housemade yuzu-cello, Suze, Cocchi Americano, gin and grapefruit heighten our senses. Finishing touches include its hand-carved ice sphere and fruit peel trimmed with a postage stamp-like border. 

When asked about his favorite citrus, Geerson remarks, “I really like to use the simple lemon, because it is extremely versatile. This would be the first citrus I would buy when cooking at home, whenever that happens. For the restaurant, I love to use a Yuzu when you can get it fresh. The aroma from the skin when you grate it over seafood is so enticing. Use it to make a simple vinaigrette with some olive oil, salt and fresh coriander, and pour that on salad, veggies, fish, pretty much anything.”

Chef’s favorite fruit is utilized in the next course, as Meyer lemon vinaigrette and zest enhance our delicately steamed branzino dish. Celery is also incorporated a trio of ways, balancing the Meyer’s tangy attributes. For added texture, the branzino’s skin is baked until crisp and placed against the fish to “stand” it upright. This relative simplicity of our seafood course prepared us for his finale: an assortment of citrus plated alongside pairing suggestions. Sorbet, coulis and cremeux options contributed a number of possible variations; although citrus microwave sponge cake and fennel flowers were an amusing treat. Geerson’s presentation proved to us that there was no right nor wrong way to enjoy it; the guest was welcome to meander about the plate and explore flavor combinations. 

Steven prepared us for our final taste with a frothy Citrus Rising. Created with white chocolate-fat washed gin, Golden Moon Dry Curacao, vanilla and elderflower. The inclusion of lemon, lime and orange towards the end enhanced our tall blend of egg whites and heavy cream. Our cocktail was a stunning tribute to these humble fruits, just as the rest of our time spent within Journeyman’s dining room.

1500 Raymond Ave, Fullerton | @journeymansfullertson

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