Picnic Like a Pro

by Samantha Suarez

As the old saying goes, “Life’s no picnic.” What that expression tells me is that picnics are fun and easy and many things in life aren’t. While picnicking truly is one of the greatest joys of warm weather, there is some effort to be made in planning one;  that is if you want it to be memorable — not just you eating a sad tuna sandwich from a ziplock bag on a park bench.

When you imagine the “Getty Images” of picnics, you likely think of a cute wicker basket with a crisp baguette sticking out of one side, and a red and white checkered mat laid out on the grass. Basically: something pristine and picture-perfect. But how do you get from point A to point B? The most important thing to get right on a picnic is the menu. To inspire your future picnic fare, we checked in with some of Grand Rapids’  favorite chefs and asked them to tell us what would be in their picnic baskets. So take out that Tupperware, dust off your picnic mat, and greet summer with an al fresco feast.

EJ Martin
Executive Chef & General Manager, Olive’s Restaurant & Bar

If I were packing a picnic, it would go one of two ways. If I were feeling inspired, I’d prepare something classic like a cold rotisserie chicken salad with fresh herbs and creamy dressing on Nantucket’s nutty wheat. I would pair this with a fresh arugula salad tossed with radish, shaved fennel, and toasted walnuts dressed in lemon and olive oil. To drink, a rose cider. For dessert, salted dark chocolate chip cookies. If it were a lazy Sunday, then I’d bring Field & Fire’s ham and cheese croissants, a cold salad from the case at Carver’s,
and some local beers. It’s the perfect grab-and-go picnic lunch!

Ryan Martin
Executive Chef, Zoko 822

My picnic basket would consist of rustic bread from Field & Fire, a bottle of wine (something red from Spain), mushroom conserva, pickled vegetables and Farmer’s cheese. After I’m done pairing the savory items on the bread with cheese, I’d switch to
quince paste.

Jenna Arcidiacono
Chef/Owner, Amore Trattoria

To me, the perfect picnic is a crusty loaf of bread with soft local butter (Italian olive blend, of course),

some Grana cheese with local honey, and assorted raw veggies with my grandma’s veggie dip recipe. For dessert, I’d have my friend Adrienne’s shortbread cookies and soft sea salt caramels.

A Fabulous Spread

Now that you’re inspired to set up a chef-approved, Pinterest-perfect picnic, it’s time to plan your menu. Unfortunately, there’s more to preparing a picnic than just dragging food from your fridge to a blanket on the grass. The success of a picnic depends on several factors: the setting, the weather, the quality of food and drink, the ease in assembling and unpacking said food, and, of course, the company.

Grand Rapids’ Martha’s Vineyard is more than just a specialty grocery store. One of their favorite services is to help customers create the perfect picnic experience according to their tastes. From their variety of produce, wine and even their rotating deli bar, a picnic basket from them would make Yogi bear’s kleptomaniac instincts kick in.

Ilana Chamelly
Grocery Specialist, Martha’s Vineyard

Along with the rest of their knowledgeable staff, Ilana Chamelly considers it Martha’s Vineyard forté to help people find exactly what they want,  even if they may not know what it is yet.

“If someone comes into the store to plan a picnic, I can either put something together for them myself or walk around the store with them, asking questions,
and picking out items based on what they tell me,” Chamelly said. “We can go off general interest, like cheese and charcuterie, or picnic themes, like Spanish or Italian, or just trying newthings. I also like to choose based on texture and color. I’m always trying to
‘wow’ someone!”

If you’re too busy to take the time and browse the aisles yourself, but you do know you want the good stuff, Martha’s Vineyard offers two types of specialty made ready-to-go picnic totes: The Martha’s Classic and the Martha’s Mediterranean. Each tote bag is $35, serves 2-4, and includes napkins and silverware. From there, you can add your choice of drink and disposable drinkware to complete your picnic experience. Martha’s has no shortage of wine, beer, and other refreshments.Be sure to order your tote 24 hours
in advance!

Martha’s Classic includes: a Martha’s Vineyard picnic tote, three specialty cheeses, one artisan salami (sliced), olives (mixed gorgonzola or stuffed), seasonal fresh fruit or grapes, nuts, dried fruit, dark chocolate, and half of a Nantucket Baking Co. baguette or Nantucket crackers.

Martha’s Mediterranean includes: a Martha’s Vineyard picnic tote, two specialty cheeses, hummus, grape leaves, mozzarella and tomato skewers, mixed olives, seasonal fresh fruit, nuts dried fruit, and halfof a Nantucket Baking Co. baguette or Nantucket crackers.

Primo Picnic Pointers

Now that the food is out of the way, we’ll let you take it from here. If you’re in the market for cool picnic spots in Michigan, there are plenty of beautiful options in urban areas, the wilderness, the beach or even at your local park. A few worth mentioning are the Movies in the Park and Jazz in the Park events at Ah-Nab-Awen, both of which are Grand Rapids summer classics. Grand Haven is great for a big group of friends. (Don’t forget your frisbee!) For those who want something more secluded, Rosy Mound and Saugatuck State Dunes are wonderful places to find a spot near the water and do some hiking.

No matter where you end up picnicking, remember to clean up after yourself once you’re done so the next person can enjoy another perfect picnic there too!


Samantha Suarez

Sam was born in Chicago, grew up in the Philippines, attended college in Australia and is now living in Grand Rapids. She loves cheese, video games and music, and will quote a movie or TV show every chance she gets.


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