Welcome back to Dirty Work, our new series of dispatches from the MUNCHIES Garden. We're inviting chefs, bartenders, and personalities in the world of food and drink to explore our edible playground and make whatever the hell inspires them with our rooftop produce.
Kelly Fields may be our patron saint of summer. Her Frosé is as cold as her home base of New Orleans is hot, and her wit is as salty as her desserts are sweet.
"My restaurant is actually a bakery, so I try to put the bakery into everything that we cook," the chef says of Willa Jean, which Fields named after her grandmother.
"My grandmother was a bit of a smartass: sarcastic and unapologetic," she says. "She fed us, like, shit on a shingle and frozen orange juice—she wasn't a cook. So it's not the ideal 'Southern story' of growing up with Grandma's cooking. But she taught me to put myself out there and not apologize for it."
Born and raised in South Carolina, Fields began her Big Easy career cooking under chef Susan Spicer before landing at Besh's lauded Restaurant August as a pastry chef. When Hurricane Katrina hit, she relocated to San Francisco for several years; but her Southern roots came calling for her to return to New Orleans, which she did in 2010, working as executive pastry chef of the Besh Restaurant Group ever since. Last year, she and chef Lisa White (of Domenica and Pizza Domenica) opened Willa Jean, a laid-back bakery café serving everything from avocado toast to crawfish étouffée to banana pudding—with house-made Nilla wafers, naturally.
Oh, and Frosé.
Pointing to the beer taps on the kitchen wall of the MUNCHIES Kitchen, our culinary director Farideh Sadeghin half-jokingly suggests that we also install taps to put rosé on draft in the kitchen.
"What? Excuse me?" Fields interrupts. "Do you have a best friend already?"
This is someone who deeply appreciates the simple pleasure of cold, cold rosé on a hot summer day.
RECIPE: Kelly Fields' Frosé
"Rosé on tap and a soft-serve machine. Those are my goals when I get back to New Orleans," she says. Regarding Willa Jean's slushie machine—where the Frosé magic happens—she says, "I had to pay for that out of my own pocket because they kept taking it out of the budget. But I was like, 'No, I believe in this.'"
She adds: "And it paid for itself in a week."
Clearly, Frosé is on the menu for today, then. But before we get to that, we need to have a little sustenance in our stomachs. At Willa Jean, Fields has a number of tartines on the menu, so she decides to improvise on one with us using a time-honored flavor duo: pesto and goat cheese.
A walk through the MUNCHIES Garden yields plenty of herbs—aromatic basil, curly mint, chives—as well as some tender young black and red radishes. She snips a few deep blue bachelor buttons and other edible flowers to dress up the dish.
On the way back inside, she pauses before a wild cluster of radish pods—pea-like purses of radish seeds that contain a juicy, slightly spicy bite. Those will go well with the English peas and asparagus she plans to mound atop the tartine.
To start, Fields makes a loose pesto with the garden herbs, some pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, and olive oil.
Next up are the vegetables, which she blanches individually in a pot of simmering water, with the asparagus going last because it has the strongest flavor.
Fields turns to me and says, "Do you love asparagus? I don't trust people who don't love asparagus."
I tell her that my partner doesn't like asparagus.
"You should dump him," she says, not missing a beat.
Next, Fields cuts a few fat slices of crusty bread and slathers them with butter before placing them in a hot skillet to toast until crispy and slightly charred.
After that comes the goat cheese mousse, as if chevré could get any better: Fresh goat cheese gets blended with ricotta, cream cheese, lemon zest, herbs, and black pepper, and whipped to a fluffy consistency in a stand mixer.
Before going on, though, she takes a break to make some much-needed Frosé. Lacking a slushie machine in the MUNCHIES Kitchen, Fields improvises with a blender, some ice, and a splash of simple syrup to brighten up the flavors dulled by the cold temperatures.
Within 30 seconds, we have mason jars full of Frosé, and it is delicious.
"The big picture is to get a production deal and make my own rosé and put Frosé in every market in America," Fields says humbly. "For now, I'll stick to pastry."
To finish the tartines, the chef tosses the blanched vegetables in a warm skillet with the pesto and poaches a few eggs.
She then begins to build the dish: the toasted bread gets a thick schmear of goat cheese mousse, on top of which goes the warm, herb-y vegetables. She nestles an egg on that, and then adds a few thinly sliced radishes and flower petals to garnish.
"It always tastes better than it looks, I hope," Fields says with a shrug. We bite into the dish—oozing yolk, warm pesto'd vegetables, and rich goat cheese all tangled together into one knockout punch of flavor—and it's clear that modesty is a strong suit of hers.
And so is the Frosé, of course. Frosé all day, y'all.