Thursday, May 17, 2007

In Season

The Chicago Tribune discovers today that some restaurants around town like to present seasonal menus.
North Pond serves up "exceptional ingredients at the height of their season," according to its Web site, which includes a list of 19 mostly local farms that supply the restaurant with just-harvested food, including one in a Grayslake subdivision. Add to that list dozens more -- mk, Blackbird, Green Zebra, Spring, Volo, Seasons, Va Pensiero, Sola, Everest, Timo and on and on....That means ramps in March and morel mushrooms, spring onions, spring garlic and radishes right now. This is why you're seeing asparagus on the menu these days, and soon you'll see corn.
My problem with the notion of seasonality is that while I'm seeing morels now, I'm also seeing ramps (big time) and corn will not be so soon, surely not how most people consider soon.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is one of my new gurus, provides some needed context. He says exactly what I've been saying for a while, just substitute Chicago for Britain.
This is a big and important question. And I am aware that not all supposed food lovers agree with me about the answer. Much of the way cookery is presented in Britain – in books, colour supplements and on television – works against our understanding and appreciation of the seasons. It does so by fostering a ‘grass is greener’ mentality, making us aspire to someone else’s seasonality (or, ironically, their relative lack of it). It implies that the food and produce of sunnier climes (the Mediterranean in particular) are more worthwhile than our own. In short, it idolises the exotic. To those who perpetrate this idea, it may be a genuine source of regret that we do not have an endless summer in this country. I feel no such pangs. On the contrary, I think we have one of the richest experiences of the seasons of any country on earth. And we have a range of produce and a culinary heritage that reflect that experience and help to make us who we are. Our weather may be the butt of longstanding jokes among our Continental neighbours, and consequently, in that self-effacing British way, among ourselves. But don’t we love it really? Isn’t our summer so special precisely because, just like our autumn, our winter and our spring, it doesn’t last forever? (His full take on seasonality here.)

While I'm a half-full kinda guy when it comes to farmers markets--I loved the nearly sold out Green City Market yesterday, I'm a half-empty kinda guy when it comes to seasonality. I appreciate, I really do, what many local restaurants are doing with seasonal menus. I'd just love to see some crazy purists out there.

My wife happened to finish reading the quoted article as I was wrapping up this blog post. Her take was even stronger than mind, finding the author a bit too arch, almost mocking, that seasonality was just another trend, not a legitimate aspiration.

And in discussing with my wife, I was reminded of something else in the article that bugged me (a bit). Now, I hate to say anything bad about John Bubula, his heart is in many right places (see here for instance). But the article notes about him:
If Bubala can get potatoes locally in season, he will. Otherwise, he orders some from Idaho.
I gotta say, from my long stash of Genesis Grower keeper potatoes to a 50 lb bag of Wisconsin potatoes purchased at the wholesaler, Restaurant Depot to Igi Farms stuff that's at Trader Joes and other places to even what was just at Whole Foods, is it that hard to find local potatoes year round, round here?

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