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Posts Tagged ‘integrity’

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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.

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Asparagus, mid-spring.

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?

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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.***

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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.

You’re Lying

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.

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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 dont 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.

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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.

Psht.

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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.

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This time of year we overwhelm ourselves. An oven that’s on from morning to night, especially in the hectic last few days before Christmas. Thinking you have to make tins of cookies AND a gingerbread house AND fancy schmancy cookie ornaments with guests’ names piped on them in royal icing. Then there’s hosting too many events, or cooking too many things for those events, or worst—knowing you’re not that comfortable a cook, but you still attempt roast pheasant wrapped in bacon and a three-layer chestnut dacquoise. We think—and I’d bet it’s a misguided thought—it has to be this way or your relationships will go up in a mushroom cloud.

Today I am going to argue for doing Christmas exactly the way you want. (If just reading that sentence gave you hives, then this is really for you.) Christmas is supposed to fun and nourishing to mind, body and soul. For kids. For guests. For you, too.

Think back on your favorite Christmas memories, and try to distill them down to the ones closest to your heart. If I can bet again, I’ll bet they’re about something simple. Warm gingerbread. A candy cane. Playing with your cousins. Watching the snow fall at night.

Sink into that nice calm feeling for a little bit.

Now think about what you can to pare down your holiday. If the train you drive at holiday time is already at maximum speed and can’t be flagged down at this point, you can save what I’m saying for next year. Like a rum cake, it’ll probably taste even sweeter by letting it marinate. But I’m positive there’s at least one thing you can scale back.

As for me, I grew up in the kind of family for whom food, great food, was tantamount. We ate always well, especially at holiday time. But it came with a price, at least for me: It was required that we dress up for every holiday, and with that came an air of pretension at the table. I’m not a formal girl (as you’ve probably guessed by now), so this was exhausting.

Many years later, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for myself and my new husband. I wore sweats, spread a blanket on the rug, fixed myself a plate…and ate every bite with my fingers. Even the mashed potatoes.

Liberating doesn’t even come close to how that felt. It was fun, it was a boost to my integrity, and let me tell you…the food tasted that much better for it.

I know that’s an extreme response. But it’s a good jumping-off point for you.

How can you eat with your fingers this year? Pick just one thing—and do it.

*You’re looking at the photo and scratching your head. No, I have not become a botanist (that whoosh you just heard was the field of botany breathing a collective sigh of relief; I barely passed biology). I took that photo on a beautiful foggy day last winter, and it’s on my Christmas card this year.

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