How to Picnic Like a World-Class Chef

Courtesy Getty Images/Ainsley Duyvestyn-Smith / EyeEm

If you're planning on some alfresco eating, these recipes will elevate your next picnic spread. 

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Whether it's a scenic spot in the park, a vineyard, your yard, or porch, picnics are a great way to enjoy the season alongside great company and delicious food. But sometimes potato salads and hummus and carrot sticks can get repetitive. 

Looking to kick your picnic menu up a notch? We checked in with some of our favorite chefs for their star picnic dish and they did not disappoint. Chefs like Daniel Boulud, Judy Joo, and Adam Handling gave us their elevated take on the perfect picnic sandwich, from Boulud's go-to French Pan Bagnat, to Joo's Rib Eye Bulgogi Steak sarnie, while Wayan's Cedric Vongerichten shows us how to embrace prime tomato season with a flavorful salad. 

Related: Everything You Need to Pull Off the Perfect Fall Picnic

If you're looking to refresh your go-to picnic fare beyond a trusty potato salad, each of these picnic recipes below has the chef's kiss approval so you know you're in for a treat. 

Daniel Boulud's Pan Bagnat

"My favorite memory of Pan Bagnat is making this tuna sandwich for trips with my chef colleagues [at] Les Roches Rouges, a red rocky coast between Cannes and St. Raphael, where we would find sea urchins during the months of September and October," says chef Daniel Boulud. "It was wonderful to eat our sea urchin findings followed by the delicious Pan Bagnat." 

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound piece sushi-quality tuna (1 1/2-inches thick and 4-inches long)
4 cloves garlic (3 unpeeled and lightly crushed, 1 peeled and halved)
4 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
1 8-inch round or square focaccia, sliced horizontally in half
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Leaves of Boston or butter lettuce washed and dried
8 large basil leaves, rinsed and dried
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into quarters
1 ripe avocado, peeled, halved, pitted and cut lengthwise into 8 slices
2 stalks celery, peeled, trimmed, and cut into thin diagonal slices
1 small seedless cucumber, peeled, halved, cut into 3-inch segments, and thinly sliced lengthwise
10 Kalamata or Provençal olives, pitted and cut in half
4 oil-cured anchovies, cut in half lengthwise
8 quail eggs, hard-boiled for 4 minutes or 2 large eggs, hard-boiled for 10 minutes; peeled
Coarse sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season the tuna with salt and pepper. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the tuna, the 3 unpeeled garlic cloves, the thyme, and the rosemary. Cook the tuna for 3 to 4 minutes on each side for rare or 5-6 minutes on each side for medium.  Remove the tuna to a plate to cool slightly. Discard the garlic and herbs.
     
  2. Place the focaccia, cut sides up, on a work surface and brush lightly with olive oil. Rub each side of the focaccia with the cut garlic and sprinkle with salt, pepper, a pinch of the lemon zest and a few drops of lemon juice. Cover each half with the lettuce leaves.
     
  3. Tear the basil leaves into pieces and put on top of the lettuce. Evenly place the tomatoes, avocado, celery, and cucumber on each focaccia half. Season with pepper, olive oil, lemon zest and juice and distribute the olives and anchovies on top. Season the sandwich well with more pepper, olive oil, and lemon zest and juice.
     
  4. Slice the tuna lengthwise into 1/8-inch thick strips and place in rows over the vegetables on both sandwich halves; season with more olive oil, remaining lemon zest and juice, and salt and pepper. Carefully put the sandwich halves together, press firmly, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Weigh the sandwich with a 2-pound weight and refrigerate for 3 hours.  Turn the sandwich over every hour, making sure to keep the sandwich weighted.
     
  5. To Serve: Cut the sandwich into 4 wedges and serve with the hard-boiled quail eggs, a bowl of olive oil and a dish of sea salt.  Dip the eggs into the oil and salt and eat between bites of the sandwich.

Judy Joo's Rib Eye Bulgogi Steak Sandwiches


Courtesy Yuki Sugiura

"This recipe takes your sandwich game up to the next level," says Chef Judy Joo. "With a marinated, caramelized, grilled rib eye done in Korea’s famous bulgogi style, you’ll taste why it’s so loved around the world. Best served with a light salad or truffle crisps." Joo's top picnic tip? "Have a bona fide picnic blanket, it needs to be waterproof on one side for any spillages or damp grass, also I spray my blanket with insect repellant to keep bugs away."

Victoria Blamey's Tuna and Eggplant Tartare on Grilled Miche  


Courtesy Mayflower Inn

For a twist on tuna tartar on toast, turn to Victoria Blamey, the chef-in-residence at the Mayflower Inn & Spa, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property. “It’s a nice, not messy, fish option for a summer picnic. It’s light, full of flavor, and easy to transport and assemble outside,” Blamey says.  

Ingredients

Eggplant & Roe Cream:
2 oz whitefish roe
5.3 oz olive oil, not too green or spicy
1 oz lemon juice
75 g roasted Japanese eggplant, no skin

Tuna & Eggplant Mixture:
2 oz yellowfin tuna, cut in a small dice
0.9 oz roasted Japanese eggplant, cut in small dice
5x Thai basil leaves, chiffonade
Lemon juice, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste  
Salt, to taste 
2 medium slices of Miche toast 

Instructions

  1. With the help of a food processor, start blending the roe and eggplant meat making sure the roe is fully incorporated and broken down. Start adding the olive oil carefully until fully emulsified. Finish it with fresh lemon juice. Do not add salt. Set aside.
     
  2. Mix the diced tuna and roasted eggplant, season to taste with olive oil, lemon juice, and chopped Thai basil. Set aside. Grill or toast the Miche until slightly charred. Spread the roe cream onto the bread generously. Place the seasoned tuna on each piece of toast and finish with some olive oil, fleur de sel, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Cedric Vongerichten's Tomato Salad


Courtesy Noah Fecks

"Use seasonal ingredients and keep it simple," Wayan's chef Cedric Vongerichten advises when it comes to picnic food. His recipe choice is an heirloom tomato salad with avocado and a light vinaigrette. "To bring out the tomatoes' full flavor, allow them to marinate in their own juices and a little olive oil for about 15-30 minutes before making the salad. It tastes great and guests love it, definitely a crowd pleaser and a nice vegetarian or gluten-free option. Lastly, always make sure you have plenty of ice and a bottle or two of rosé."

Makes 1 serving

Ingredients

4 slices, assorted heirloom tomatoes
8, assorted cherry tomatoes
3 slices, avocado
3 leaves, basil 
3 sprigs, dill 
1 tbsp, thinly sliced shallots
1 tbsp, Aged balsamic vinegar 
2 tbsp, olive oil
Maldon salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste

Instructions

For the tomatoes:

  1. Wash, dry, and core large tomatoes. Slice 1/4’ thick and keep in its natural stack.
     
  2. Wash and dry small tomatoes then cut off top and bottom to expose seeds. 

Michael Costa's Zaytinya's H'tipiti

Chef Michael Costa, who leads Zaytinya, the Mediterranean restaurant from José Andrés ThinkFoodGroup in Washington D.C. believes a picnic spread can't go wrong with a generous array of traditional Mezze.

Ingredients

4 red bell peppers
1 Tbsp canola oil
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic
1/2 shallot, peeled
Dash of white pepper
1/2 Tbsp salt 
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh thyme (stems removed)
8 oz feta cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Toss the red peppers in canola oil then place them directly on the oven racks. Bake for approximately one hour, turning them every seven minutes or so.  
     
  2. Remove the peppers from the oven with tongs. Set them aside and let them cool.
     
  3. Mince the garlic and shallots and place them in a small mixing bowl. Combine the oil, vinegar, garlic, shallots, white pepper, and salt and set aside. 
     
  4. Peel the skins from the outside of the peppers. Discard the skin, stems, and seeds. Chop the peppers into small pieces and place them in a medium-sized mixing bowl. 
     
  5. Whisk the dressing mixture to combine and pour over the pepper mixture. Add crumbled feta cheese. Stir the ingredients together and let chill for 15 minutes. Garnish with thyme before serving.

Adam Handling's Lobster Wagyu Rolls


Courtesy Belmond Cadogan

Adam Handling, the chef at London's American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property the Belmond Cadogan Hotel, thinks the perfect luxury picnic addition is his lobster Wagyu rolls recipe. The lobster would need to be prepared a day ahead of the picnic, to allow time to marinate.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 x 28 oz lobsters 
5.3 oz Highland Wagyu fat (if you can’t get hold of the Wagyu fat, you could use the equivalent amount of beef dripping)
0.9 oz kimchi
1 tsp salt
 
Instructions

  1. Tie the lobsters together so that they stay flat. Blanch the lobsters in boiling hot water for 4 minutes.
     
  2. Chill in ice-cold water and remove it from the shell.
     
  3. Roast the bones in the oven and set in the Wagyu fat.
     
  4. When infused, blend in the kimchi and salt.
     
  5. Dip the lobster in the fat and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Repeat the process twice more.
     
  6. Leave to marinate in the fridge for 24 hours.
     
  7. When ready to serve, cook the lobster for 2 minutes in the oven at 200°C, then finish on a small barbecue on low heat, or you could fry them briefly in a pan on low heat.
     
  8. Brush the lobster with more Wagyu fat to achieve a smoky glaze.
     
  9. Add into a soft roll. 

Niklas Ekstedt's Fresh Juniper Smoked Trout & Potatoes, Sour Crème, Horseradish, and Flat Bread


Courtesy David Back

"This recipe is easy to pull together, and it can also be prepared at home beforehand which allows you to focus on entertaining friends and family when you’re at the picnic," says Michelin-starred chef Niklas Ekstedt. The Swedish chef is known for his open wood-fire cooking. Ekstedt's top picnic tip? "A stable cutting board is something often forgotten—but always good to have and makes the picnic experience so much more pleasant."
 
Ingredients

1-2 pieces of trout filet (optional mackerel, salmon, bass)
A pinch of juniper-salt (3 dried juniper berries smashed and finely chopped with 2 tbsp salt)  
A fresh branch of juniper, soaked in water  
4-6 boiled potatoes 
3 tbsp sour crème 
A piece of peeled horseradish 
A bunch thinly sliced fresh seasonal vegetables as radish, ramsons, zucchini, or gem lettuce leaves   

Instructions

  1. Rub the fish with a pinch of salt and let sit for 30 minutes.
     
  2. Light up your portable barbeque. I like Heston Blumenthal's portable charcoal barbecue for this ($200; william-sonoma.com).
     
  3. Crush potatoes gently in your hand and place on the barbeque and let cook 3-5 minutes on both sides or until dried out and lightly burned ends. Set aside. 
     
  4. Grill fish on both sides until cooked through.  
     
  5. Once fish is cooked, lift the grid and place a branch of juniper on the ember and let smoke for 10-30 seconds or until the juniper starts burning. 
     
  6. Remove from the heat and serve as a wrap in flat-bread with grilled potato, sour crème, horseradish, and seasonal vegetables.