Life
16 Jul 2014 03:16pm

Season's eatings

Asparagus from Peru? Not likely. Penelope Rance asks six top chefs dedicated to using local, seasonal produce why it’s so important, the ingredient they wait all year for, and how you can cook it at home

Atul Kochhar, Benares, Mayfair

Nature gives its best to seasonal produce, and local is good because it has to travel less, without losing its essence. Local ingredients also mean we understand the context of where we are better. My menus are always planned around seasonal ingredients. I structure them with the ingredients that grow close to each other in soil or water and often around each other on the calendar as well. These flavours naturally work with each other.

I work really hard with my restaurant managers and head chefs to know the best suppliers, farms and fishermen near that restaurant. It’s important to have those relationships so we can hear directly from the producer what we should be buying from one week to the next. Being responsive to nature and the seasons is one of the most exciting things about this job.

I love asparagus and long for it to come into season again. I am in love with the produce in the UK and in awe of how much you have on this small island. You haven’t always realised what you have. For example, you still export most of your seafood, and it really is the best in the world.”

Benares Restaurant Atul Kochhar Tandoori Asparagus

TANDOORI ASPARAGUS;

  • 100 ml t/andoori marinade
  • 12 asparagus spears, peeled and cleaned
  • 2-3 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

For the tandoori marinade:

  • 300g natural set yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil
  • Red colour (optional)

Whisk in all the marinade ingredients together then marinate the asparagus spears by rubbing the marinade over them. Allow the flavours to seep in for 30 minutes and then cook under a grill or in a tandoori oven until lightly charred. Baste with butter and lemon mixture and serve hot.

 

Lyndy Redding, Absolute Taste, Wandsworth 

“At our restaurants and parties we really do champion local and seasonal ingredients. The chefs put forward ideas based on ingredients from their area. They say, ‘how about this guy down the lane, he does great bacon?’ So I have a look, and if it works, it goes on the menu.

We really try to get a flavour of wherever we’re going to be. We do chef’s tours, looking at what everyone in an area has. When we opened The Terrace in Fenwick Tunbridge Wells last year, we toured Kent and went to different suppliers, including a cobnut farm. It was August, just before the harvest. We were standing there in the platt [cobnut orchard], among all the trees, and there was a windmill in the distance. It was wonderful. So cobnuts feature very highly on the menu, and we sell bags of them in the restaurant.

For a chef who loves food, to go out and do local ingredient searches is the most rewarding thing. We hold events in Yorkshire, where I’m from, so I wanted to go back and see what was going on. We visited watercress, fruit and trout farms, and one with Dexter beef. The cows have two pints of Yorkshire ale every day – it keeps their meat soft and rich for wagyu beef. Then we went to the coast for lobster and crabs.

I'm insistent with my guys that all our seafood is from the UK. We do a lot of mini fish and chips and it’s always pollock and hake. It's sustainable but also delicious.

The only problem we have with local and seasonal food is the quantity. We do the Salon Privé at Syon Park every year, and serve lobster – 3,500 people attend and have half a lobster each, so we’re prepping nearly 2,000. We have to go to a number of suppliers direct – we don’t go to wholesalers, as we want it all to be from the UK.

Everyone wants to be local and seasonal, but it’s hard to do that. Asparagus has a very short season in the UK, but you see it on the menu all year. Everyone gets it from abroad. Which is why I’ve chosen broad beans as my ingredient. They’re not available fresh all year round, but when they’re in season they’re everywhere.

When they’re not in season, you just don’t see them. They’re a very British thing, not grown overseas – I’m even growing them in pots in my own little London garden.”

Absolute TasteAbsolute taste English allotment

ENGLISH ALLOTMENT WITH BROAD BEAN DIP

For the dip:

  • 65g broad beans
  • 75g fresh peas
  • 25ml vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp fresh mint
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

For the allotment:

  • Baby carrots
  • Red and yellow peppers
  • Cucumber
  • Spring onions
  • Cauliflower florets
  • Chicory

Blanch the broad beans and the peas. Roughly blitz with stock, mint and olive oil. Season to taste. Pour into a bowl or small jar to serve. Peel and chop the vegetables for dipping, then arrange on a plate – or in a flowerpot.

 

Claude Bosi, Hibiscus, Mayfair

“In my restaurant, we base the menu on the ingredients we have – it gives us more freedom. It’s important to respect the season. I’m a big believer that if produce grows together, somewhere along the line they will mix to make a dish – for example rhubarb and strawberries are a very traditional combination.

Our job is to respect the producer. I have been in England for 17 years and have a relationship with my suppliers – I don’t pass on an order any more. I call and ask what they have. They might have some fine bass, or halibut that day, so I take that.

I use 100 different suppliers, and get the best from each. I also have 15 different butchers. I get guinea fowl from Scotland, chicken from Lancashire. I don’t worry about quantity – when it’s finished, it’s finished. That is the freedom.

If they say they only have six Dover sole today, that is the way it should be. I take it, we do six, then move on. If people can’t understand that, they shouldn’t go to a restaurant – they should go to a fast-food shop.

People cannot expect to have standard dishes on the menu. With autumn, the black truffle is coming. People call to ask for it and are excited when it’s back on. You could have shaved truffle all year round, or use truffle oil, but it would be cheap, not in season. What’s the point?

We will go further afield for better quality. We get ingredients where the producers are best, not because they are inside the M25. We don’t change just to use local producers. I’m in London – where do you want me to get my vegetables? You have to have some transport, you just minimise it as much as you can.

There’s so much produce. Every season I wait for the peas. There’s a pudding I make with them, that I have done for the past five years. For a main course I do a fricassee with ginger and grapefruit for vegetarians, or peas and chorizo.

I love peas – they’re so small, but if they’re good quality and fresh, they have so much flavour. They are tender, and sweet. It’s a short season when they are at their best. I’m very lucky to be able to do this job and work with produce like this. I want to take care of it, and do my best with it.”

Hibiscus RestaurantHibiscus Pea and Mint tart

PEA AND MINT TART

For the chocolate pastry:

  • 400g flour
  • 100g cocoa powder
  • 75g icing sugar
  • 300g butter, diced
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 egg

Mix all dry ingredients together and sieve. In a mixing bowl add the dry ingredients and the butter. Mix together slowly with a paddle attachment if using a food processor. Once the mix resembles breadcrumbs add the egg and egg yolks then remove the pastry and finish bringing it together by hand. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for around an hour. When rested, roll out thinly and line the tart cases, then fill with baking beans, and cook at 180ºC for 10 minutes. Remove the beans and cook at 160ºC for a further four minutes

For the pea and mint purée:

  • 200g peas
  • 30g mint

Cook the peas in boiling water for around three minutes then blend with the mint until smooth, cool down in a bowl over ice.

For the pea cream:

  • 250g white chocolate
  • 84g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 280g cream
  • 1/2 leaf gelatin (soaked)
  • 100g pea and mint purée

In a bain-marie, cook the chocolate, sugar, eggs and cream until really thick. Then blend until smooth, add gelatin and pea and mint purée, season with a little salt. Chill the mix and then place in a piping bag.

For the pea foam:

  • 100g water
  • 100g milk
  • 100g white chocolate
  • 100g pea and mint purée

Boil the water and milk, then melt in the chocolate. Chill in the fridge. When cold, blend in the pea and mint purée. Transfer to a gas siphon and charge with gas.

For the crystallised coconut:

  • 100g water
  • 400g sugar
  • 250g diced fresh coconut

Bring the water and sugar to the boil and cook to 140 degrees, then add the coconut quickly. Pour on a tray to cool.

To assemble:

Pipe some of the pea cream into the base of the tart case. Then add some of the pea foam on top. Add a few pieces of the crystallised coconut and finish with a sprig of fresh mint.

 

Tommy Boland, Almeida, Islington

 “I’ve worked in enough top restaurants to know that only a select few chefs actually plan their menus around the seasons, even though many say they do it. But using seasonal ingredients makes sense. It keeps you excited and it ensures that everything is at its cheapest and best quality. You can buy Kenyan green beans and chestnuts all year long, but they’re super expensive and half the time they taste nothing like they’re supposed to.

A lot of people are scared of change but when things have been the same for a while, I like to mix it up. At the moment, I change the menu every couple of days. It keeps the boys on their toes.
I started working for Éric Chavot when I was 17 and when he was at the Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge. He is very strict on the seasons; his philosophy is to produce the best you can. It took a while for it to sink in, but that’s where it all stemmed from.

We never have a problem getting the right quantity or quality as I use the same suppliers I’ve been using for years. Our beef is from Surrey, our fish is from Cornwall or Scotland, and our shellfish is all from Scotland. Veg tends to vary – in season here you get a lot of wild strawberries, but most of the fruit comes from Spain. A lot of the veg is from the South of France or Italy, as they can produce it better than we can.

I tend not to follow food trends. I like to keep things simple, and make the food I love to eat. I especially love borlotti beans. They give some body and produce a stock for the rest of the dish. Better still, you can buy them completely fresh and they take very little time to cook, whereas dry beans need to be soaked overnight and cooked for three hours – and then they explode.

Borlotti beans come into season in late spring and continue all the way through to July. I especially like using them with mousserons – tiny mushrooms from France. The combination of the slippery mushrooms and chalky beans is amazing, especially with lamb. It’s also a nice change from the usual carbohydrates like pasta or rice. And because the beans have such a mild flavour, they absorb whatever flavours you cook them with. But borlotti beans don’t grow in the UK. My supplier at Covent Garden Market imports them from southern Italy.

Ultimately, though, I just want to produce good food, get a busy restaurant, and be happy. What comes will come and there is no point in chasing Michelin stars, for example, because you’ll just go mad. And I’m already pretty crazy.”

Almeida Restaurant 

ROASTED RUMP OF NEW SEASON'S LAMB, BORLOTTI BEANS, WILD GARLIC, PEAS, ASPARAGUSTommy Boland Borlotti beans

  • 300g fresh borlotti beans
  • 500ml water
  • 1 onion, cut into quarters
  • 1 carrot, cut into quarters
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 handful of fresh shelled peas
  • 6 spears of asparagus
  • 200g wild garlic
  • 80g almonds, toasted
  • 50g Parmesan, grated
  • 200ml grapeseed oil
  • Lamb rump
  • Butter for the emulsion

Bring the beans to the simmer in the water and add the onion, carrot, bay leaf and thyme. Cook gently until tender. Remove from the heat and season to taste. Blanch the fresh peas in boiling seasoned water and refresh in iced water. Drain and reserve to one side. Peel the asparagus with a very fine peeler and cook like the peas.

Blanch the wild garlic leaves in the boiling water for 20 seconds and refresh as for the peas. In a blender, blend the cold blanched garlic leaves with toasted almonds, Parmesan and grapeseed oil to create a coarse wild garlic pesto.

Seal the lamb in a hot pan with a little vegetable oil until golden on all sides. Pop it into a moderate oven, skin side down, for eight to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and add a knob of butter. When the butter is a nut-brown colour, transfer the lamb and the juices to a cold tray to rest.

When the beans have cooled to room temperature, remove the vegetables and hard herbs and discard. In a saucepan warm the beans in a little of the cooking liquor and slowly add butter to create a butter thick emulsion. Finish with the peas, asparagus and a good spoonful of the pesto. Add all the resulting lamb juice to your emulsion. Carve the lamb and serve on top of the borlotti bean emulsion.

 

Michael Wignall, The Latymer, Pennyhill Park, Bagshot

“As chefs, it’s our responsibility to feed people things that are local. It used to be easy to plan menus, as you could just buy anything, all year round. And lots of people still do that – but it shows a bit more skill not to.

It’s surprisingly hard to find suppliers who feel the same. Whether it’s a fishmonger or a farmer, they need to have the same passion as we do creating these dishes. A lot of people would rather supply the supermarkets, but nine times out of 10 the stuff in the supermarket is atrocious.

For the past 15 years, we’ve worked closely with select growers and farmers, so we can say we want a certain type of radish, but we want it left in the ground three months longer to change the taste and texture, so it’s like a heritage radish.

Last year we experimented with getting all our vegetables in from the suppliers still growing in trays – we picked small carrots and onions daily.

But my ingredient of the season is honey. There’s a steady supply all year round, and the taste changes through the season, depending on the pollen the bees are collecting, which affects the dishes we choose to use it on. You can’t get more natural or local than your own hives, and it’s the only thing we can take off the ground and use all the time. We have it at breakfast in the Brasserie, and we even use the hot beeswax to poach trout.”

Pennyhill Park

NUTS ABOUT HONEYThe Latymer Honey

Michael created the Nuts About Honey dessert for economia using honey from the bees in the Pennyhill Park hives – it could be a challenge to reconstruct at home, but if you’re game, combine:

  • A chunk of honeycomb
  • Natural yoghurt rock (frozen in liquid nitrogen)
  • Peanut parfait
  • Peanut powder
  • Honey caramel
  • Dark chocolate rocks
  • Chocolate gel
  • Roasted peanuts

He did also provide some more straightforward honey recipes for budding home cooks.

HONEYCOMB

  • 330g sugar
  • 120g glucose
  • 140g honey
  • 80g water
  • 40g bicarbonate soda

Place all ingredients except the bicarb in a thick-bottomed pan. Put on the heat and while not moving the pan, allow to dissolve together. The sugar will start to change colour to a very light amber. Remove from heat and gently sieve and stir in the bicarbonate of soda, being careful as the reaction will make the honey mix expand and quadruple in size. Pour the honey mix on to a lined tray and allow to expand and cool.

SIMPLE HONEY DRESSING

  • 100g sherry vinegar
  • 250g honey
  • 30g Dijon mustard
  • 600g peanut/arachis oil

Place all ingredients except the oil in a food mixer. Combine, then slowly and gently add the oil, as when making mayonnaise, allowing ingredients

 

Rob Bragagnolo, Marben, Toronto

“What’s important to me as a cook is the quality of an ingredient – I look for one that is at its peak. And that is almost always an ingredient that is in season and has been grown locally.

Our menu is in a constant state of change to adapt to the seasons and life cycle of the ingredients we source. For example, spot prawns have a very short, six-week season, so during that time we will put a lot of focus on that ingredient.

Fiddleheads, ramps and asparagus are other short-lived seasonal ingredients that we try to showcase during spring – they make their way onto multiple dishes on our menu.

We use a wide variety of sources for our ingredients. Fortunately there are a lot of very dedicated, hardworking suppliers that will forage or cultivate locally-grown, seasonal products for us. We have a wild mushroom forager, a wild herb forager, a local spring-fed trout farmer, a goat farmer… It’s a long list of wonderful partners.

I absolutely love fiddleheads, which are the furled fronds of a young fern. They have a delicate taste similar to asparagus. And above all, they represent spring to many cooks in Canada, and mark the end of our long, dreary winters.”

Marben RestaurantMarben Fiddleshead

SEASONAL MUSHROOM RISOTTO WITH FIDDLEHEADS 

  • 1.5 litres of vegetable or chicken stock
  • 100g butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 300g mixed mushrooms, sliced. (We use seasonal wild mushrooms such as morels, yellow foots, hen of the woods but you can use any combination of button, oyster, king, Portobello…)
  • 250g risotto rice
  • 75ml white wine
  • 75g Parmesan, freshly-grated
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 100g fiddleheads (young fern shoots), cleaned and boiled in salted water for two minutes
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1 tbsp chives, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a stockpot, bring the stock to the boil and keep it hot. In a second stockpot, melt the butter and add onion and garlic. Cook on a very low heat, gently allowing the onion to soften without colouring until it looks translucent – around 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms, turn the heat to medium-high and cook until all the liquid has evaporated.

Stir in the rice and coat with the mushroom mixture, increase the heat a little and add the white wine. Keep stirring until all the wine has evaporated. Add two ladles of hot stock, stirring the rice mixture constantly. When all the liquid has been absorbed by the rice, add two more ladles of hot stock and stir until absorbed. Continue this process of adding two ladles of hot stock, while constantly stirring until all the stock has been absorbed. Be sure to stir all parts of the stockpot so the rice does not stick to the bottom. If some rice does stick, don’t worry, keep on stirring and the risotto will be fine unless it gets burnt.

The process of adding stock and stirring until it absorbs should take approximately 16-18 minutes from the time you add the first ladle of stock. Remember that the rice should still be toothsome or al dente. To finish, remove the pot from the heat and add the Parmesan, olive oil, fiddleheads, fresh thyme and chives. Serve immediately.