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WHERE HAVE THE SEASONS GONE? FOOD & COOKING ARTICLE

Now call me old fashioned but strawberries and asparagus at Christmas or oysters and salsifi in summer are definately out of the question for me. During my apprenticeship in 1976 at Mr Hellegouarche pastry shop in Paris I learnt the value of using the produce at its best and respecting the seasons, when October came the shop window was filled with pear, apple, blackberry desserts or praline chocolate of other flavourings, his disseming customers never complained and if anything respected his values of using produce when it was ripe and ready to eat. This seems to be sadly lost now in the UK, and France are only just hanging on to some semblance of seasonal flow.

The suppermarkets in France for example will stock a majority of fresh produce grown locally and therefore be more in tune to nature, this market culture in France means fruit and vegetables have less to travel before point of sale and therefore can be picked at thier optimum stage of ripeness. This is not often the case with fruit picked the other side of the world for our supermarkets, they may look good but very often have no taste or any gastronmic value what so ever.

All through my culinary training I have been taught to cook to the seasons and change the menus accordingly, not change the country of origin to suit the fancy of the moment. I worked for two years for Alain Chapel at the height of his career in 1981-82, he followed the seasons rigourously and won every accolade in every guide book you care to name. He was hailed the genious of gastronomy, but he had no secrets, simplicity and respect for natures produce, its no surprise that Alain Ducasse the genius of the 90's also trained under him and follows the same philosophy to the letter. Why is it then that most top rated restaurants here have salmon, oysters, asparagus etc on the menu all year round, are there different rules for the guides in the UK or are inspectors completely out of touch. Surely even the best quality farmed salmon can not compete with wild, likewise the intensively farmed USA asparagus does not have the depth of flavour that the English green asparagus or the nobbly violette de provence has. When judging the quality of a restuarant or chef especially at the top of the scale this must be taken into account, but sadly it never is in this country.

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The world is now a smaller place with goods being sent by air to and from every continent which means availabilty of almost any produce at any time. The fact that an item may be in season elsewhere and consumed here means that we no longer follow a pattern and food trends develop at a different pace, it also means that some receipes and styles of cooking are lost in the muddle of global summers. But the worst offender must be the unnatural forced glass houses, the pressures imposed by the supermarkets and public demand means that we now eat tastless roquette salad all year round, belguirn endive which is a winter vegetable as a summer salad again tasteless. Water ladden cucumbers that no longer need salting to disgorge the bitterness before eating. The public and chefs now demand pretty looking fruit and vegetables that are pleasing to the eye, but often what has been gained in uniformity and eastetic looks is to the detriment of taste and the new generation have missed out on the true taste.

Seasons are not only associated with fruit and vegetable but every item on a restaurant menu is in some way affected, lamb in spring time is at its best, along with the new season goats cheese, things like this seem fairly obvious if you think about it but then with all the genetically changed animals, who knows? Baby lamb in September.

Price now is no longer a problem as more often than not imported foods from outside Europe are Cheaper than in seasdon equivalent in Europe. Strange but true. Kenya superfine green beans Are cheaper in November than the real tasty superfine Haricots Verts Aiguillettes from France in July! I have this image in my mind of getting off the plane at Kenya airport to be confronted with a Horizon filled of green beans. With this new wave of supposidly up to date modern cooking that is taking over Britain at the moment I think that a little thought and step back to old values would do no harm, before irreparable damage is done and all knowledge of seasons disappears forever.

Michel Roux Jnr

This article has been published with the kind permission of Michel Roux Jnr of Le Gavroche. Le Gavroche is one of the UK's finest restaurants. Its opening in 1967 by brothers Albert and Michel Roux marked the revolution of restaurants in London. Since then, Le Gavroche has continued to set the standards of cooking and service by which other places are judged - it was the first UK restaurant to be awarded one, two then three Michelin Stars.

Today the reputation of Le Gavroche continues to ride high in the eyes of critics and customers and now firmly rests on the food prepared by Michel Roux Jnr who took over the day to day running of the kitchen from his father, Albert, in 1991.

If you would like to visit Michel Roux Jnr's web site <click here>

© Michel Roux Jnr 2002

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