By Susan T. Hessel

Shawn McManus

Chef Shawn McManus has advice that goes against the grain of what he—and the rest of us—often heard as kids: “Play with your food.”

McManus, executive chef for Savory Creations in La Crosse, urges us to put down the video games and phones, and pick up fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers to prepare together as a family. And do so with your creative juices working! Add your own personal touches to the recipe.

“A lot of families have an excuse that they are so busy they don’t have time to sit down together at the dinner table or cook food for the children,”

McManus said. “It’s important to take the time to nourish those moments.”

In addition to being a cooking school for public and private groups, Savory Creations offers a full-service catering menu along with popular private class subjects for customers.

McManus also consults with local restaurants and schools about farm-to-table-to-meal preparations or even seed-to-table meals.

Ideally, McManus wants to see how the food is raised in order to feel connected to the meal.

“It’s like the pride of growing something in a garden from a seed to a small plant to an actual fruit or vegetable you prepare for others,” he said. “Food is about bringing people together to the table without cellphones, video games or distractions. It’s about having quality family time with quality product.”

Learn more at, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or by calling (608) 519-3542. Lettuce for the Balsamic Seared Watermelon Salad recipe was provided by Second Cloud on the Left, one of the organic farms Savory Creations uses.

Balsamic Seared Watermelon Salad and Blood Orange Vinaigrette

Seared Watermelon


  • Approx. 3-4 cups loose artisan lettuce
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 4 square cutouts of watermelon (desired sizes)
  • ¼ cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 2 tbsps. pickled red onions
  • ¼ cup candied nuts (recipe below)


  • 1 cup canola oil
  • ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. blood orange balsamic reduction
  • ½ tbsp. Wisconsin honey
  • 1 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
  • Pinch of kosher salt

Combine all salad dressing ingredients EXCEPT oil in a blender or food processor. While blending, slowly add the oil in a steady stream until the dressing thickens. You may not need all the oil.

Candied Nuts

In a sauté pan, melt ½ tbsp. butter on medium heat. Add ¼ cup mixed nuts and stir until coated. Fold in 2 tbsps. granulated sugar and coat the nuts completely. Pour the nut mixture into a container and place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Seared Watermelon

Place the watermelon cutouts in a 1-gallon plastic bag. Add the balsamic vinegar and shake until distributed. Heat a large skillet or sauté pan on high heat. Add the watermelon to the pan, keeping them separated. Sear each side for approximately 4 minutes and flip. Once seared, place in a container and chill for 15 minutes.

Assemble the salad with the remaining ingredients and drizzle blood orange vinaigrette over the top. Enjoy!