Something weird is happening on menus - how can we keep to seasonal classics when the seasons themselves have changed?
It’s already January, and here I am introducing my new winter menu. I have been creating winter menus for more than 10 years now and I have never struggled finding inspiration in the abundant varieties of local ingredients at this time of year.
Delicious fondant salsify cooked in heavily buttered chicken stock; braised celeriac in honey and spice to compliment a fat grain-fed pigeon or cooking quince in rum caramel to enhance their deep flavour.
Yes winter, and especially in January, is the kind of time where chefs across the country can fall back on dyed-in-the-wool classic combinations and flavour pairings, digging deep into their tried and tested toolkits to excite menus which could otherwise be quite boring when you remain loyal to sourcing ingredients as nature’s flow dictates.
But wait. Something is happening. Things are changing - dramatically.
Yesterday, the first Welsh asparagus were on the market - usually this would not happen naturally until late April. And last week wild garlic was appearing everywhere in woods around Britain - also something more suited to early spring. Morels mushrooms are in abundance and am told that wild Carros strawberries (from the Nice region of France) are sweet enough to be eaten!
Abnormal? Well yes it is, at least for me.
There was a time, I thought, where things would be coming out of the ground in season to be paired with something which also was in season: new season lamb and wild garlic; asparagus and morel, green peas and purple artichokes
This year, do I need to start thinking introducing asparagus in my winter menu? Perhaps peach in my spring menu? Blood orange in Summer?
I’m no climate scientist, but I can tell you that there is nothing familiar about seasonal cooking in 2016. All the classic pairings wild garlic & new season spring lamb; red cabbage & grouse; Williams Pear & Venison are becoming harder and harder to sync.
Maybe this is just the way things are to be now? Maybe it is the job of the chef to constantly find new pairings, new combinations and flavours. To be inventive. Maybe old combinations like asparagus and morels in April are a thing of the past. Maybe we have to trust that nature will find a way to produce its offerings with new harmonies to match the "weird new" seasons.
All I know for sure is, nature is rewriting menus.