As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. But at Los Angeles–based fast casual Lemonade, life—or rather, California’s abundant agriculture industry—gave it lemons, watermelons, strawberries, pears, and many other fresh fruits that it decided to turn into lemonade, as well.
The brand boasts hundreds of recipes for lemonades, six to 12 of which are on the menu at any given time. But the lemonades aren’t the only corner of the menu that feature fresh fruit. Lemonade’s bowls, plates, sandwiches, and especially Marketplace salads have also included fruit for a fresh flavor note. Here, Emilio Morales, Lemonade’s director of culinary, explains how the company uses fruit on its menu to create a fresh California aesthetic.
How much fruit do you use on the menu?
We offer quite a few menu items with fruit. Our Marketplace selection is kind of the jewel of our restaurant and allows us to utilize a lot of fruit in our salads. We change seasonally; we’re very fortunate to have the fruits and vegetables we have growing up and down the coast here in California. So for instance, we’re changing from pear to strawberries right now in one of our arugula salads that we serve with a light vinaigrette and blue cheese. But we’re constantly looking for new fruits. We used Buddha’s hand as our citrus note in a niçoise salad.
What kinds of outside-the-box fruits do you use?
Buddha’s hand is probably the craziest fruit that we’ve had. We use a lot of kumquats. The beauty of the kumquat is the skin. You’re eating the whole fruit. If you don’t eat it all together, it doesn’t balance well. You have the bitter of the skin with the sweetness of the meat, and the seeds even offer a really cool finish.
We do a lot with our lemonade. We do a watermelon rosemary lemonade. We do a cucumber mint lemonade. We have a blueberry mint right now. We have six to 12 in rotation, but we have hundreds of lemonade recipes that we will cycle through.
What are the rules of lemonade? Anything you need to do to protect authenticity?
We have to have lemon in all of our lemonade drinks. So for instance, when we make a blueberry mint, there is going to be lemon in that blueberry mint. You’re always going to have that hint of citrus, or tartness, in our drink. We just added a new line of what we call Frozade, which is a frozen version of our lemonade and gives it another dimension that we’re using with different all-natural syrups and even fruit bobas. We’ve added a lot of different layers of fruit within our lemonades. We have a really cool kaffir lime and coconut lemonade that we’ve done. We always stick to adding lemon or adding some citrus or lemonade base to have that summery flavor come through.
What kinds of pairings work with fruit in food?
The No. 1 dish we’re selling right now is our chicken mango bowl. The mango is one of these things where the whole yin and yang of sweet and spicy or sweet and salty, and a hint of spice, really set this dish off. Our pineapple chicken is our No. 1 Marketplace salad, with green beans and chilies and this beautiful miso chicken that has great flavor with citrus notes.
What is it about certain fruits and herbs that work together, like with your watermelon and rosemary lemonade?
I think it’s that whole California vibe. Everywhere you drive, you’re going to find rosemary. Those two go together in the same way barbecuing and rosemary goes together. You try to match the nose of an herb with the flavor of the fruit. When you drink a blueberry mint dish, your nose gets the mint first, then your tongue and palate get the blueberry. It’s really like drinking a glass of wine. I think that’s where the marriage comes: smell first, then taste.
What challenges do you have with fruit, like with supply or storage?
There are challenges with making sure that things are rotated properly and not overripe. Certainly the rains and weather affect that. But we have such a good system here where we constantly have our buyers calling us to tell us how crops are going to turn out and when they’re going to run out, when they’re coming in, when they might be bitter or off. Our vendor relationships are super important, because I can modify the menu based on what’s coming and what needs to be burned off.