Think about ingredients that will energize your body and refresh you. Pile on the fresh veggies, use protein as an accent and raid your garden (or farmers' market or produce aisle) for fresh herbs and aromatics like garlic and onion that deliver bold flavor without adding a bit of fat.
If chef Edgar Alvarez didn't keep things light in the summer, his customers would definitely let him know. It's not that the clientele at Black Sheep Pub would mind all that much. But at his other job, as co-owner of the Delaware Market House in Gladwyne, he caters to a Main Line customer who is definitely watching her waistline.
"The ladies around there are very strict with their diets," said Gonzalez, a native of Guatemala who lives in Havertown with his wife/partner and their two children. Gonzalez opened Black Sheep for owner James Stephens and left in 2001 to buy the Market House. But he missed being behind the line.
"I like the action," said the chef. He has lightened up the pub's menu, offering dishes like pan-seared lump crab cakes with arugula salad and fresh veggies and a stuffed chicken breast with sun-dried tomatoes and asparagus.
As for summertime cooking, his mantra is keep it simple. "I think sometimes we make things too complicated for ourselves. Steam or grill some veggies, sear a piece of fish in a little olive oil, make a low-sodium vinaigrette, and you've got a delicious dinner," he said.
One of chef Jose Garces' favorite warm-weather dishes, featured on the menu at Amada, is a salad of mixed lettuces, fruit, avocado and Idiazabal cheese, which is a pressed sheep's cheese from the Basque region of Spain.
The variety of lettuces add texture, color and eye appeal, green beans provide add snap, and the sweetness of apple and pear offers a nice contrast with the sherry vinaigrette dressing. If you can't find the Idiazabal, not to worry. Manchego stands in as a perfect substitute.
Michael Scipione grew up on South Philly pasta and fried chicken cutlets. He has no idea where he developed his nutrition-savvy style of cooking, which he showcases at his gym, Absolute Definition on South Juniper Street and with his small catering company, Sano - Italian for healthy or whole.
A longtime fitness buff, Scipione started cooking for his clients about seven years ago.
"I'm Italian - I love food, and I didn't think I should have to sacrifice flavor to eat well," he said.
Scipione firmly believes that putting good fuel in the body maximizes workout results and improves both physical and mental health. His approach is balanced, light on the salt, and heavy on fresh herbs and vegetables. He's also a fan of mono unsaturated fats, like olive oil, olives and avocados.
"The flavor has to be there," he said. "If it's not, what's the point of eating?"
Scipione makes everything fresh and from scratch, like one of his favorite dishes, Mediterranean tilapia, a light and flavorful treatment of the flaky white fish that cooks up on the stove in less than 10 minutes.
For the confirmed carnivore, meat can still play a role in a summer meal, just not necessarily the starring role. Derek Davis, chef owner of Derek's in Manayunk and Main Line Prime butcher shop in Ardmore, relies on grilled steak to accent one of his favorite summer salads.
"When I'm cooking at home in the summer, I grill lots of vegetables. There's always a tomato salad with basil, whatever is in season. I find that marinating is the key to really bringing out the flavor in just about everything. Put together a nice light vinaigrette and then everything goes on the grill. The work's all done and you're ready to go," Davis said.
A three- to five-ounce portion of protein goes a long way when you slice it and fan over a salad.
"You're also getting the best of the steak - you've gotten off the fat and any gristle, and get to enjoy the real flavor of the meat," said Davis, who sells dry-aged prime beef along with grass-fed beef at his shop.
For a summer salad with beef, he pumps up the flavor with a mix of lettuce, wild mushrooms, red onion and bits of gorgonzola, all dressed in a good balsamic vinaigrette. Davis cooks the veggies in a foil pouch on the grill - one less pan to wash at the end of the meal.
At New Wave Cafe in Queen Village, chef Todd Bergman gives his customers plenty of lighter options, from a grilled shrimp and roasted pear salad to one of the most popular items, the house-roasted turkey club.
Bergman, of Woodbury, N.J., visits farms in Mullica Hill and Swedesboro for fresh ingredients and uses his grill all summer long. A big fan of vinegars, Bergman uses more vinegar than oil in his vinaigrettes, which double as a marinade for chicken, potatoes and veggies.
For a summer brunch, one of Bergman's favorite dishes is a frittata, a baked omelet that starts on top of the stove and finishes in the oven in just five minutes.
"It's our most popular brunch item," he said. "What's great about it is you can put anything in it, from zucchini and spinach to broccoli rabe, mushrooms, sharp provolone."
Bergman grows his own herbs, so he spikes the dish with fresh basil, parsley, sage and chives.
Chef Rich Landau skips the meat for his summer dishes - and all year long, for that matter. Landau and his wife, Kate Jacoby, own Horizons, a gourmet vegan restaurant at 7th and Kater streets just off South. But skipping the meat doesn't mean skimping on flavor.
"Kate and I love food," Landau said. "We celebrate the seasons, have feasts, and drink martinis and brandy, just like everybody else. I'm not about eating steamed sprouts. I taught myself to make vegan food as sexy and credible as non-vegan food. It can be hearty and beautiful."
Summer is his busiest time at the restaurant.
"We're slow in February when everybody wants beef stew. Who doesn't love produce this time of year?" said the chef, who uses sources from local farms in upstate Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Landau incorporates both tofu and wheat-based seitan to beef up the protein in his cuisine. Layers of texture, crunch and color give his dishes tremendous flavor and appeal.
One of his favorite ways to start a meal is with a chilled soup of avocado, cucumber and herbs. Everything goes into the food processor, with water and soy-based mayo adding just the right touch of creaminess to the consistency.
Chill, and you're good to go. *
Beth D'Addono has been writing about the Philadelphia and national restaurant scenes for more than 17 years in local and national publications. She also is co-author of several cookbooks. Reach her at www.bethdaddono.com.
A story in last Thursday's Yo! Food section misidentifed Edgar Alvarez, a chef at Center City's Black Sheep Pub and co-owner of the Delaware Market House in Gladwyne.