Seasonal Eating with William Dee, chef and author of The Food Year

Seasonality is at the heart of what we do at Social Pantry. We take a zero-waste, root-to-leaf approach to cooking, working exclusively with the best seasonal, local and sustainably sourced produce whilst forming long-lasting relationships with growers and makers that practice regenerative agriculture. Social Pantry forms part of a new wave of chefs looking beyond simple ideas of seasonality towards a more complex understanding of seasonality that takes into account the changes happening in our ecological, agricultural and food system, and we are always looking to learn from experts in the field. This month, we sat down with seasonal chef and author of ‘The Food Year: The Definitive Guide to Seasonal Food in the UK & Europe’, William Dee, to discuss all things seasonal eating. Throughout this conversation, you’ll find photos of book extracts, ingredients and recipes featured in The Food Year courtesy of William Dee. For more of this, follow @thefoodyear on Intagram

The Food Year

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in food and seasonality:

I’m a chef and have been for twenty years. My granny was a great cook and inspired me from a young age. As a chef, an interest in seasonality is fundamental to the task and the more you work with it, the more it becomes instinctive. Not only does it taste better and cost less but it also brings with it nostalgia and excitement — a promise of new things to come and change, just when change is needed.

 

Wild garlic pesto

What inspired you to write The Food Year?

It began as a personal reference tool to aid creativity when menu writing. It is super helpful to have all the available produce listed on a page in front of you when seeking inspiration for new dishes. It is also really helpful to know what’s coming in and to start planning menus around it. With seasonal cooking, the menu evolves rather than changes entirely; so often it’s a sub-in, sub-out kind of thing.  Early season fresh peas go from raw in a salad while the mid- to late-season peas are better braised, for example.

 

 

January

 

What did the process of researching the guide look like?

It was a long and messy project. Lots of scraps of paper, produce websites, supplier lists, books, old market reports and an enormous, multi-coloured spreadsheet. I did it in the first lockdown, mostly on an iPad until my girlfriend convinced me to buy a laptop, which made things quicker.

 

How can people start to think and eat more seasonally?

Grilled Chioggia radicchio

It depends how far people want to go with it. It’s not realistic to tell everyone to buy an organic veg box from their local organic veg box supplier. But there are some great veg box companies like OddBox who work directly with farmers, buy the veg that supermarkets don’t want and deliver weekly. Riverford is also a great company, which delivers countrywide. 

I’d recommend supporting the local greengrocer but check the origin of the produce. Avoid anything that’s travelled from anywhere further than Europe. Generally speaking, stick to brassicas, root veg, potatoes and things that store well like onions, garlic, squashes and gourds in the winter and save the joys of aubergines, tomatoes, courgettes and the like for the summer. Also, use The Food Year, it really helps in that regard!

 

What do you see as being the biggest obstacle to eating seasonally?

Three cornered leek kraut

I think that as a society we have become so used to eating produce at any time of year that the concept of seasonality has been lost to an extent. In the UK we lost touch with our (rich) gastronomic heritage when convenience became preferable to taste and quality — it’s “the best thing since sliced bread” mentality. So the greatest obstacle is in re-installing the knowledge of seasonality but also the desire to eat better, tastier, healthier food and to be able to tell good from bad. I think people like Nigella and Jamie (and many others) are great for food as they inspire people to cook at home and get them excited about food. It’s really about education; how do you know what a good tomato tastes like if you’ve only ever had a bad one? 

 

Should we be eating only whats in season in the UK, or what is in season abroad too?

March

For me, being too strict only puts people off. The UK season is much later than the European and a lot of the year can be limited (ie, consists of potatoes and cabbages — an exaggeration, but you get my point). There are some fantastic producers in Europe farming sustainably who are being showcased by import companies like Natoora, who do great work in sourcing incredible produce directly from the farmers. Seasonality is about celebration and abundance, not restriction and discipline, so for me, as long as it is not air-freighted, out of season and heavily packaged, European produce is fine.

 

What is your favourite time of year for the produce?

Clementines

The changing of the season is always exciting. My favourite would have to be late summer into early autumn when you have tomatoes, coco beans, stone fruits, mushrooms and the start of the game season. But spring is also a stunner. As is the citrus season mid-winter obviously.

Do you have a favourite, underrated piece of produce?

One of my all time favourites is cime de rapa, also gariguette strawberries and sour cherries. Plums are good too and good chillies.

 

Where do you like to shop, and where do you recommend people source their produce?

Leeks and taramasalata

We live in Cornwall now so I shop at the local greengrocer, Richards of Par. They buy everything they can as locally as possible so that’s great.

I’d recommend using a veg box or your local greengrocer. Farm shops are good and if you are lucky enough to be rural then honesty boxes have some really great, really seasonal stuff. Also, try growing your own.

 

Where do you like to go out to eat? Favourite restaurant?

We had a great lunch at Coombeshead Farm recently. All the produce is homegrown or very local and they rear the animals themselves. It’s very impressive. I really like Kiln in Soho, The Garden Museum Cafe, St John and Xi’an Impression in Highbury. The guys from Big Jo and Wildfarmed are doing great things too.

 

Do you want to shout out to any chefs, growers, makers or suppliers you think people should know about?

Red cabbage slaw

People doing good, honest work like Flourish Produce, Ian at Tammfield Farm, Namayasai Farm, Trevozah Farm, Ollo Fruit, Tamar Grow local co-operative, Wildfarmed, Natoora, Fundamentally Fungus, Kernow Sashimi, Wild Harbour, Gilchesters Organics, Neal’s Yard Dairy and any small supplier or grower trying to do something good.

Chefs, anyone pushing on behind the scenes doing all the hard work but taking none of the glory. All those who truly love to cook and feel it in their bones. Anyone who respects the craft and puts in the work to master it. Big shout out to Luke Cleghorn and Brendan Appleby who supported the project, are lifers and are pushing on at Brat and Silo.

 

If you could throw a seasonal dinner party with Social Pantry, what would be your dream menu?

It would be an honour to work with Social Pantry as you guys do some great work and I really like that you work with ex-offenders. The dream menu would have to be in early September and would feature a host of the excellent seasonal produce at that time of year such as coco beans, girolle mushrooms, artichokes, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes and so on. It’d be ten or twelve courses served in quick succession. Fun, flavoursome food cooked with love and influenced by the typical peasant food of France and Spain.

Sea bass carpaccio, blood orange, grapefruit, smoked chilli


If you’d like Social Pantry to provide stylish, seasonal, sustainable catering for your wedding, event, private dinner or workplace, please get in touch!

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