(Jan. 12, 2009)
Steve Hester, Chick-fil-A’s director of purchasing, receives weekly price sheets for lemons because the price of the fruit may sour quickly depending on forces of nature. He procures more than half a million cases of lemons a year for the Atlanta-based company’s popular lemonade, which operators make by squeezing lemons at each of the more than 1,400 locations.
Nate Appleman, chef of A16 in San Francisco, teams preserved Meyer lemon with braised halibut, pistachios and capers for a $24 special. “Lately prices are not as high as they were compared to late spring, early summer,” Hester says. “Right now it is pretty cyclical based on past history. Demand is high in spring and summer,” so he’s used to seeing the price rise at that time.
That price also reflects a recent report from a major supplier that indicates lemon harvests in California are back up to where they were prior to last year’s harsh freeze.
But regardless of prices, fresh citrus remains a critical ingredient in recipes. For example, if Hester nixed the fresh lemons added to Chick-fil-A’s lemonade, which is sold in a regular and diet form, he says guests would “come across the counter and hurt us.”
In fact the recipe for the lemonade—using the typical ingredients of water, sugar and lemon juice—hasn’t changed in some 40 years, said the chain’s brand development chief, Shona Jonson. However, the exact formula is such a well-guarded secret, Jonson isn’t allowed to make it anywhere outside of the company, even at her own home.
Pricing doesn’t deter chefs
“Even last year, when there was bad weather in California that resulted in a shortage of the fruit and an increase in price, I still used [lemons],” says Philippe Bertineau, executive chef of Payard Pâtisserie & Bistro
in New York. “Many citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit, are available year-round. But in my kitchen, I just use lemon and lime no matter the season because I use a few drops of lemon to finish fish sauces and enhance the flavor.
“I use it as a balancing contrast in rich preparations, such as farm-raised pork chop with lemon crust, crispy polenta, baby bok choy and chanterelles with dried fig-pork jus, as well as in braised lamb shank.”
The lamb shank sells for $29.