Summer Serenade on the Plate

Southern California Chefs Nick Weber and Shachi Mehra share their take on what drives summer plating trends. Hint: Mother Nature plays a starring role.

4 min read
Summer Serenade on the Plate
Chef Shachi Mehra of ADYA in Anaheim, California, brings back a watermelon salad every summer. The watermelon is seasoned with chaat masala, a blend of 13 different dried spices like roasted cumin. It’s garnished with fennel, cilantro, mint, and lime. Credit: ADYA

By Nancy Luna | For The Prep

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. – When it comes to summer plating trends, Chef Nick Weber of Populaire in Orange County, California, embraces spontaneity over meticulous planning. Meanwhile, Chef Shachi Mehra of ADYA in Southern California celebrates the colorful bounty of summer, infusing Indian street food with seasonal flair.

Here’s a look at how these two renowned chefs are tackling summer dishes.

Chef Nick Weber admits he goes with his gut and doesn’t plan ahead too much when it comes to plating.

“​​I am very spontaneous – last minute. It never works out if I plan ahead on the dish,” said Weber, chef and co-proprietor of Populaire in Orange County, California.

Credit: Weber, courtesy South Coast Plaza

The bistro, located in the renowned luxury shopping center South Coast Plaza, serves classic French staples with California flavors and twists. Each week, Weber turns to the region’s famed Santa Monica Farmers Market for his produce selection.

In California, the summer options are endless.

Weber, who spent years working with Los Angeles celebrity chef and restaurateur Joachim Splichal, emphasized that just because a fruit or vegetable is in season, doesn’t mean he must use it. He relies on the purveyors at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, located about 50 miles north of his restaurant, to alert him when items are at their best.

“I go with whatever is eating best,” he told The Prep recently.

Take, for instance, one of Populaire’s standout main courses: the succulent duck breast. Back in April, this dish boasted a delightful combination of brown butter beet puree, figs, red endive, and a luscious roasted duck demi-glace.

One of Populaire’s standout main courses is the duck breast. Chef Nick Weber changes the plating seasonally. Cherries will replace blackberries in the summer. Credit: South Coast Plaza

But as late spring unfurled its bounty, Weber decided to switch out the figs, opting instead for the tangy flavor of blackberries. And with the onset of summer, cherries will soon make their delicious debut on the plate.

The restaurant’s house salad is a seasonal chameleon, as well. In the spring, it was inspired by pink lady apples. In the summer, Weber said he’ll add stone fruit to the salad.

“We’ll get into whatever is eating better like peaches or nectarines,” he said, adding that he’ll change the name of the salad based on the fruit.

In terms of presentation, Weber prioritizes an approach that's both elegant and straightforward to maintain consistency. His tenure with Splichal’s Patina Group, whose restaurants are located in prominent tourist hubs like Disneyland, instilled in him the art of crafting visually appealing dishes without overwhelming complexity. Complex dishes can overwhelm chefs in the kitchen, something you can ill-afford in a high-demand restaurant.

“My dishes are very simple. They're not too complex,” he said.

Credit: Mehra, courtesy ADYA

As for Chef Shachi Mehra, she gets giddy when she thinks of summer dishes.

Like Weber, Mehra draws inspiration from the season’s bounty of fruits and vegetables.

“Summer at the farmers market is like a carnival because there's so many colors. There's so many flavors,” said Mehra, executive chef and partner at ADYA, a fast-casual restaurant specializing in Indian street food in Southern California.

Local foodies eagerly anticipate the arrival of summer at ADYA, the acclaimed eatery nestled within an Anaheim, California food hall housed in a beautifully restored century-old packing house close to Disneyland.

Why the anticipation? It heralds the comeback of the restaurant's beloved Watermelon Chaat salad, a flavorful concoction infused with 13 distinct spices, including roasted cumin, which serves as a heartfelt tribute to the chef's childhood.

“I ate a lot of watermelon slices as a kid and this is a refined version of eating a triangle slice of watermelon in the park,” Mehra, a Food Network’s “Chopped” champion, recently told The Prep.

Credit: ADYA

The first time she took the watermelon dish off the menu, fans balked. However, the chef had to explain that watermelon isn't at its peak in the fall and winter. Consequently, patrons now eagerly anticipate its return as a limited-time summer special each year.

Having grown up as a vegetarian, Mehra finds joy in witnessing a culinary shift where fruits and vegetables take center stage as main entrees rather than mere side dishes. Mehra said summer offers the ideal opportunity to showcase the vibrant array of veggies on the plate.

In her culinary philosophy, when fruits reach their "absolute peak," simplicity reigns supreme in crafting dishes.

“If I can take a perfect summer vegetable and add a few ingredients to make it even better, that makes me happy,” she said.

Nancy Luna is a freelance writer based in Southern California. She can be reached at

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