…But you won’t find all of the current season’s bounty in my kitchen.
My favorite thing about Spring is how everything pops. We get busier. You can feel it. Whereas we’ve all been layering up and hunkering down, people are now coming out of their houses and beginning to wear less and lighter clothing. It stays lighter longer due to the time change. The patio opens up for our guests. Energy and attitudes change. Even spirits change. It’s almost like the rebirth of the soul. The ingredients start to change and the menu lightens up. Produce is becoming more plentiful and Mother nature begins dictating what we should be doing and when.
We’re in the thick of the Spring menu during April and the heavier foods are coming off. For example, the Shepherd’s pie has gone away. We’re all ready for our strawberry shortcake and for peaches which will begin arriving soon. As for other menu items, it means lamb, peas with grilled red onions and mint, mushrooms, ramps, fava beans…
I’ve been cooking long enough to know ramps are one of the first things we see when Spring hits. Then come the English Peas, the strawberries, and the peaches. We then start to see the tomatoes, the zucchini squashes and the peppers. Heirloom tomatoes from Mexico are appearing. But some people are getting a little too happy jack, if you ask me. I understand people are excited, but in the Nashville area, things just aren’t really hitting just yet. We’re close. I personally would rather wait than ship things in. Overall, I am committed to local and community sustainability.
I get that it’s about seasonal usage and that it’s spring. I get the earth, food, table thing. But just because something is offered or available however, doesn’t mean a chef has to use it.
The farmers are now calling me saying, “Hey, here’s what’s going on…” and so I go out for a visit. I was out at White Squirrel Farms this past week. We looked at the seedlings in the hothouse and went out to the garden. We saw what was about to go into the earth once all of this rain stops. We communicate about 2-3 times a week now, but in summer that will jump to about 4-6 times a week as things become more plentiful. Knowledge on the seasons is a constant study and conversation. It’s these kinds of outings, text messages, phone calls, emails
These types of connections, getting on and monitoring social media 2-3 times a day, talking with other chefs, this is what helps me keep up on what’s available, what’s going on, and what’s coming next in our local area, our region, the country, and the world for that matter.
Take soft-shelled crabs for instance. I saw something about them awhile back and that’s when I began thinking about them—as I knew they were coming our way soon. So, I began planning. When our shipment from St. Helena Island in South Carolina arrived, I was ready for them. Soft-shell crabs are cool. They are a blue crab species. When the weather warms, they shed their shells and grow. As the weather warms different places in the world at different times, that determines when and where you may receive that particular item.
When something hits the first week, it’s usually a bit expensive and the big-time chefs are the first to jump. If you want a part of the first batch, that’s great, but I usually like to wait to week two and then get them. That way, I can get a better price, which in turn means I can offer my guests a better price. I struggle with asking for too much money in regards to food, even if that is truly the price I need to be asking. There really is a formula behind it all.
As you can see, I don’t exactly embrace everything that is available. I’m not interested in using certain ingredients to simply be cool. I want to work with and serve fresh quality ingredients which result in great food. Fiddlehead ferns, spicy nettles…I’m not interested in all of Spring’s bounty just because it’s here. I don’t mean to be close minded, but I do think that there are some things that are not within me as far as caring for them, or for the taste of them. I enjoy cooking for people the way I like to eat myself. I choose not to force something on my guests just because it’s “hip ” or what other chefs are doing. One of the beautiful things about chefs is that they are all so different. That’s why we can go to a variety of places and have wonderful experiences.
Basically, I guess what I am saying is this, there’s just not a place in my kitchen for everything Spring has to offer. But what we do prepare for you, I know you’ll enjoy. Come see us.