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Business Blooms At Restaurant Featuring Floral Cuisine

November 2, 1987

CINCINNATI (AP) _ At Crockett’s River Cafe, the flowers on the table aren’t necessarily for show. They may be for dinner.

Blossoms, buds and petals are on the menu at this restaurant on a barge floating on the Ohio River.

″People eat with their eyes first,″ said Chef Tony Barber. ″Flowers are beautiful. They give a hint that the best is still coming.″

Last month, when Barb Bernstein first pitched the flowers-as-food idea to her husband, Jim, he wasn’t sure it would fly at any of the couple’s five restaurants.

After all this is Cincinnati, not San Francisco.

But Mrs. Bernstein, who had read about California restaurants serving flowers, thought it would be a good marketing ploy. So they gave it a try at Crockett’s.

″I think it’s a lot like retailing,″ said Mrs. Bernstein, a former department store buyer. A floral menu was bound to attract attention, if not admiration, she reasoned.

Response was cool when flowers first started popping up in the restaurant’s salads, sauces and garnishes about a month ago, said manager Brad Boston.

″To tell you the truth, people weren’t beating the doors down for it,″ Boston said. ″In California, the clientele is more receptive to new things.″ But now, business is blooming, he said. Patrons rave, and the restaurant gets plenty of curious calls from home chefs, gourmet cooks and other restaurants and suppliers.

Barber also was skeptical when he was assigned the task of planning a menu featuring floral cuisine. But, he said, ″you have to be open minded. I’m not a fan of deep fried fish, but I have to respect the people who like it.″

Barber, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, got excited about the possibilities after talking with former classmates in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

He found that nasturtiums are peppery and pansies are sweet and both are tasty. Dried flowers, especially some strains of marigold, add a certain zest.

Barber said he began by mixing flowers into salads: ″It was spectacular.″

A flower-petal salad served in a hollowed tomato and garnished with black olives and salad greens has become a house specialty, Barber said.

He uses nasturtiums and pansies in lemon-butter sauces on grilled tuna or other fish. ″It has a sweet aftertaste. People like it.″

Flowers add color and flavor to breads and garnishes.

″Sometimes I put a slice of vegetable around the flower garnish, like a slice of carrot. You can eat it.″

Flowers are found in many cuisines, Barber said.

″A hundred years ago, everybody had herb gardens. Before that, people in Europe didn’t have a lot of seasonings as we have today so they used herbs and flowers.″

Chrysanthemums, jasmine and lily buds are widely used in Oriental cooking. Rosewater and orange flowers are popular in the Middle East.

The Romans used roses, violets and even gladiolus in their foods, and Homer’s epic poetry mentions ″lotus-eaters.″

However, some flowers are poisonous. Nasturtiums and lilies of the valley can be dangerous after the plant goes to seed. Barber said he always knows exactly what he serving.

″Flowers are beautiful garnishes, but I never put something on a plate that you can’t eat.″