Lesson 5: Seasonality

There's a chill in the air, there's a rise in temperature inside the house because the heating has come back on incrementally. It can only mean that the season has changed, and we prepare to welcome Autumn, with slightly shivering hands. 

A change of season provides the Cookman with a ripe orchard of possibilities to be on the front foot in the dining room. The art of matching the dish to the season demonstrates the thought and effort that the chef has put into the cooking, much like the suggestion of a suitable wine to pair it with. These are all valuable weapons for the Cookman's arsenal. A good way to get started is to open your calendar and start learning the start and end points of those seasons. Gradually increase your knowledge base to include learning average temperatures, rainfall, humidity, wind speeds, likelihood of storms, and pollen count, so that you will be prepared to cook the best matched dinner on any given day in the year.

Complementing the Weather

It has been found that complementary seasons, just like with the colours, it is the opposite that works best. If it is Summer, that means it's time to get the hearty stews, roast dinners, and mulled wine out. If is Easter, impress upon your guests the merits of pumpkin-based dishes. Serve gazpacho as a starter on Christmas Day, which you are hosting on the patio furniture before having a barbecue. (Not immediately advised for the junior Cookman, work your way up to such a bold manoeuvre; try salads first.) 

Figure 1.1 Study the season wheel. Create your own at home to add all the dishes you cook. Build up that repertoire!

Figure 1.1 Study the season wheel. Create your own at home to add all the dishes you cook. Build up that repertoire!

The skill required in serving the 'wrong' dish for the season and getting away with it is truly believing that you have picked out the perfect dish. Blind faith can be easily spotted by others, and certainly in Britain, the usual response to crazy eyes is to smile and nod, politely and without complaint eat the food given to you. Now, it is up to you to determine the level of your devotion to the facade, depending on how much you like your guests being in your house. Fervent belief can end a dinner party prematurely. Sometimes that's exactly what you were after, but less so when you have slaved over making a warming stew with dumplings ready to serve at your summer party only to find your guests making their excuses, claiming ridiculous notions that the chef has gone mad with power. 

Side note: 'Slaved over' is always the preferred cooking method, of any dish.

Knowing the levels of belief in your cooking is a practiced art, so get out there and get cooking at all the wrong times of year. Restraint and the 'soft touch' approach will come to you in time, and you can avoid the troubles that Hendricks had when she started turning up the heating to maximum in her house during a summer heatwave to really sell the complementary seasons act. She's never been the same since, nor have any of her guests, and we have had to remove this once promising young Cookman from the academy, under court orders.

We are legally obliged to advise caution in this regard. Perhaps try this as a group activity: find a more experienced Cookman to guide and to assist.

Shopping Seasonally

All meals begin with a trip to the shops for ingredients. Of course, the Cookman will only ever purchase fruits and vegetables that are 'in season'. That goes without saying. And this may well lead to a very long search for the right grocers that sells the ingredients you are after, delaying the opportunity to cook for as long as possible, while building up the anticipation in your guests.  

Importantly, it has to be 'in season' in the country that is inspiring your dish. The actual origin of the fruit or vegetable in question has no bearing. In fact, its relevance is indirectly proportional to the distance the shop is, or the number of shops that have to be visited. Insisting on finding the perfectly plucked vegetable – stating boldly that only one particular Colombian onion grown at a certain altitude in the appropriate climate will do for your dinner. 'Only this onion will provide the meal with the true essence of summer!' you cry. Ignore any protestations that dinner plans had amounted to sausages, mash, and onions. Insist (get used to using that word and the tone of voice it implies) that it will revolutionise greasy dinners and that there will be no turning back from this, their taste buds will not let them return to their ill-informed ways.

If the shopping trip proves unsuccessful, or can be prolonged no further, happen to 'remember' that you froze some of it last time it was in season and you bought out the shop's supplies. Sigh, and say, 'It will have to do.' Your meal will now have become 1.7 times more delicious in the view of your guests. Marginal gains, but they all count.