We’re big fans of Sweetgreen because they’ve elevated salad-making to an art. The East Coast restaurant (with two locations set to open in Los Angeles this year) solidified their cool cred in April with the debut of “Beets Don’t Kale My Vibe,” a beet and kale salad created in honor of hip hop artist Kendrick Lamar. We sat down with Michael Stebner, Culinary Director at Sweetgreen and the man behind the menu, to get inside tips on how to make a great salad
To start, can you talk about what you do as Culinary Director at Sweetgreen?
My job at Sweetgreen is pretty much to improve our product overall. This includes continued work on existing menu items and beverages, as well as innovating new items and beverages. I am also the culinary spokesperson for the brand and I develop training materials and standards for the team.
What makes for a great salad?
A great salad—or any dish for that matter—starts with the ingredients. The main focus should be on starting with the best possible, freshest ingredients. With salads, that idea is very important because 90 percent of what goes in is produce. You want to be able to taste every ingredient individually, and have them come together harmoniously as you eat
What can home cooks do to improve their salad skills?
Home cooks should seek out the best ingredients, keep up with what is in season, and exercise restraint when it comes to adding in too much stuff. Keep it simple, shop at farmers markets whenever possible, and respect the natural flavors of the produce.
What role does olive oil play in your salads at Sweetgreen? Are there any particular types of EVOO that lend themselves best to dressings?
Using a good quality extra virgin olive oil is the key to maximum flavor and health. When you can taste the EVOO in a simple salad it becomes as important as the lettuce. There is no use putting off-tasting oil on beautiful greens, or vice versa. All of the elements of the salad need to be the best and freshest. Otherwise it is only as good as the worst ingredient.
Any other recommendations for making a great salad?
I recommend experimenting with flavorful herbs and spices (in moderation). I have found that fresh oregano gives a great punch of flavor. I also like to blend my aromatics (garlic, herbs, onion, even ginger) into my oil—before adding my oil to the acid. This gives the aromatics the opportunity to infuse into the oil before the acid mellows out their flavor.