Soft-shell crab season begins in spring on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. Nearly the whole bugger can be eaten.
So here’s me snooping around on a restaurant’s About page, and I see this: ‘With locally sourced fresh ingredients. Our menu changes seasonally: we always serve what is in season.’ Heart so warmed. Then I saw out-of-season ingredients on the menu, and called the chef to ask when he’d be updating it.
That’s when he said the menu was current. And consequently that’s when the Warm in my heart turned to Grrrr.
I was polite, don’t worry. But I was ticked. It’s not right to tell customers how important seasonal ingredients are at your restaurant and then put butternut pasta and corn/watermelon salad on your spring menu. Which is what I told him.
He squirmed. I heard it over the phone.* Then he told me he would like to use spring vegetables, but his hands were tied, you see: ‘There just aren’t that many,’ he sighed mournfully.
First of all, yes, there are. Second of all, huh? You can’t go throw a rock at a farmers market right now without hitting snow peas, asparagus, tiny radishes.** He thought I’d roll over and agree?
Cherries, early summer.
It’s true there are no spring fruits here until around Memorial Day (strawberries are first). But you better believe there are lots upon lots of spring vegetables. I cheerfully took his assertion as a cue to rattle off every single one I could think of. Maybe eight vegetables in as many seconds. He squirmed some more and soaked the back of his chef’s coat.***
Potatoes, summer. They keep well, but they’re born in the summer.
I have three problems with chefs who lie about offering local and seasonal produce on their menus.
Look, the people you lie to are operating under fakery, and eventually it goes all London Bridge on you. It does. That’s the impractical end of lying.
But the insidious end is this: it implies contempt. At this restaurant and others of its ilk, with every bite of that butternut pasta in April comes a glaring lack of respect. It’s no way to eat. Then they want $24 for it.****
Some of Us Know Better, See ‘Ticked’ Above
Not everyone is a food writer who knows when produce comes into season, granted. Others are restauranteurs themselves. Or farmers, in this, the Garden State. Or ag students. Or home gardeners, or bio teachers, or hey wait COOKS.
Honestly? I don’t know this stuff because I’m a food writer. I know it because I cook. And I may be the first person who calls you on this lie, but I promise you with fairy dust and butterfly kisses that I won’t be the last.
It’s Your Job To Teach
People may disagree with me on this one, but I stand by it.
You, Sir Chef, chose to work with and present food to the public. With that choice comes the responsibility to go by it, and your customers, ethically. But there’s more.
Yes, there are lots of us who know corn isn’t in season in May. But there are far more who don’t; most people, sadly, have become detached from the earth and what and when it produces. You’re supposed to be enamored enough with what the earth produces that you chose it as your life’s work. Right? And thus…you are in the unique position of educating people and sharing that passion.
So educate us. Share it. Saute baby artichokes in fresh lemon juice and olive oil until they’re so tender they’ll halfway dissolve on our tongues. Slice up some Chioggia beets paper thin, and let your youngest customers giggle at the candy cane stripes and sweet taste.
This problem—it’s easily fixed. You just have to care.
Melons, mid- to late summer.
Please note: I’m not saying every restaurant needs to serve local and seasonal produce. I mean it would be great, but I know it’s not the case. I go to places all the time that serve good meals with produce from all over the calendar. But they don‘t claim to be local and seasonal. My beef is with those who do, those who want to get on the trendy-phrase bandwagon and make some fat money off calling themselves local and seasonal…and it’s actually a total head fake.
Figs, late summer into early fall. I picked these off the trees an hour before I shot this, then promptly ate them for lunch.
I called the above chef because I had hoped to feature his restaurant in an article. And who knows—his food, such as it is, might be good. But without integrity? Like at the very heart of the place, like at the very heart of the chef himself? No. If his heart’s not in it, he can’t expect mine to be.
Just checked their site again and was genuinely hoping to see a change, either with new copy that doesn’t tout how seasonal they are, or with an actual spring menu.
Persimmons, late fall.
*Yes, you can.
**Don’t throw rocks at farmers markets. It’s a bad idea. Same with caution to the wind.
***Didn’t have to be in the room. He did. And may I say, good.
****I swear to you this is what they’re charging. For a dish featuring squash picked seven months ago.