There’s a Season for That
There’s something that happens, especially if you live in the North, when winter thaws and spring starts to dawn. A giddiness sweeps over many chefs. And that, in turn, gets diners excited. After cooking with Brussels sprouts and winter squash and citrus for a few months, the markets start ushering in all things green: peas, asparagus, ramps, favas, fiddleheads and so much more. You start getting more lettuces, morels, rhubarb and other deliciousness that signals the start of a new season.
And that’s the key: a new season. By cooking seasonally, you keep things exciting, both in the kitchen and on the plates. And, you’re being more sustainable in the process.
“For me as a cook, it’s cool to see a change in product,” says Sieger Bayer, chef de cuisine at Publican in Chicago. “If you’re going to serve blanched asparagus with steak 12 months out of the year, people get fatigued with that. I don’t want to cook the same thing every day.”
With the rise in foodie culture, people have come to appreciate the changes with the seasons and know seasonal cooking has peaks and valleys. By buying locally, you also benefit the environment.
“By cooking and planning your menus seasonally, you are automatically creating a more sustainable menu,” says Drew Dzejak, executive chef of Caliza in Alys Beach, Fla. “You are working with the land in a better way, lowering the carbon footprint of flying or boating vegetables from halfway around the world. And food always tastes better in season.”
Sheila Lucero, executive chef of Jax Fish House in Kansas City, Mo., and Boulder, Colo., agrees and says while that’s true for produce, it also goes for seafood.
“Things in season, like seafood, are fresh caught and you’re supporting those farmers and fishers that are doing things in the moment,” Lucero says. “When things are in season, they’re more accessible. They are at the peak of their flavor, so you’ll get that quality.”
That quality? It translates to helping raise yields, while keeping costs down. Bayer explains that buying something like dill from a farm within a couple hours’ drive can last up to two weeks. When you buy it from across the country, a large percentage might get delivered already decomposing.
“Your yield is like 50 percent,” Bayer says. “Maybe you pay $7, but it’s $10.50 and you throw away half so you have to buy two times as much. Or buy local and get more for your money in supreme condition.”
There’s a reason why, at the height of summer, you can get 10 ears of corn for $1. It’s at its peak and there’s a glut of it in the market. You can then turn that into a variety of dishes for the time being and then move on to whatever is next on the in-season calendar.
“Don’t be sad when the season is ending on your favorite item,” Dzejak says. “Be excited for what is coming next.”
You know your diners will.