A couple of weeks ago I came across two stories via Twitter that apparently contradicted each other, on the topic of food seasonality & provenance, something that really underpins the way I cook.
The first was an interview/conversation with chef Matt Wilkinson of the cafe Pope Joan on ABC Rural where he says that chefs are lazy/ignorant in regards to where their produce hails from (or just not that interested I guess) – read about that here. The other is an article that appeared in the Guardian about whether eating seasonally and educating people about it is still relevant - read about that here.
Whilst Mr Wilkinson largely has a good point, not all chefs could really be tarred with the same brush, and it would be good for culinary instruction at tertiary level to emphasise how, and why, finding out where your food hails from is important. Many chefs don’t do it because its inevitably even more effort and a bigger workload for a rather under appreciated and underpaid job.People have got to be motivated somehow to want to do something. Its easy not to care.
As for the other article, it’s largely written from a Eurocentric point of view, where all of Europe is the UK’s shopping basket/aisle, and perfect peppers and cucumbers are grown under kilometres of plastic in Spain and the Netherlands. International shipping does the rest, and we’re presented with ingredients like asparagus year round (it always seems to be from Peru) no matter if you’re in Tesco, Coles or Safeway.
Trying to educate shoppers and future cooks on seasonality shouldn’t be a debate about relevance. It should remain a natural way to understand why certain produce came along with certain seasons – because on a very basic level it makes people understand, appreciate and care about produce on a personal level, rather than just blindly picking out food for fuel. A food crises is inevitable, and everything should be done to get people to care about where their for came from, when, how, and how long the chain was.
It’s hard to get your head around all the info (even for many chefs). My worst is that supermarkets have now somehow caught onto this provenance caper and lay out their fresh fruit & veg sections and design their labelling to fit in with this ideology – but there is still that crucial lack of actual information. So what to do?
This is one of my solutions ( I have a few more up my sleeve – especially in applying this philosophy whilst trying to run a restaurant) For some time now, I have been using organic produce from Local Organics, a local food hub just up the road from our bar in Barkly street, Brunswick east, and its great to work with a supplier who can – and really wants to – tell you where the produce comes from. All the pictures on this post are of ingredients that we used the past year, bought from LO.
Blood plums, beets, artichokes, blood oranges, fennel and rainbow chard, all tasting phenomenal, delivered to the kitchen. You’ll also notice a mixed box on the left in the pics below – they do ‘juicing’ boxes and mixed fruit & veg boxes of different sizes.
If you care to cook around the season’s and market availability instead of drafting a menu and then hunting for the ingredients, it becomes natural to enquire when, for example, strawberries are in (and at their best) and learning that where an ingredient comes from, should shape its seasonality and possibly, different nuances in taste or size, like terroir affects wine.
And if you live in Brunswick East, go see what Local Organics has from the farms. They even got eggs. Or search for a food hub closer to your home. Keep the chain as short as possible!