Sweet art: cooking with the seasons

Sweet art: cooking with the seasons

by Great British Chefs 28 July 2016

Pastry chef Daniel Fletcher explains why it's so important to create desserts with seasonal ingredients, something which tends to be more associated with savoury dishes.

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Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Asparagus in April, Jersey Royals in May, game birds in September – seasonality is massive in the restaurant industry and has been for years. And quite right, too; it means less food miles, bolder flavours and more creative cooking. But as a rule, it’s generally associated with savoury cooking – after all, many desserts are made using ingredients such as chocolate, nuts and coffee, which are available year-round. However, there are plenty of reasons why sweet dishes should follow the seasons too, as Daniel Fletcher explains.

‘Seasonality for me is one of the most important parts of cooking and using produce that is in season is essential to any menu,’ he says. ‘When produce is in season it is when it is supposed to be eaten, so it is not only at its peak but tends to cost less as there’s so much of it about. For me, it also dictates the style of my desserts – for example, with strawberries now in my focus tends to be on cleaner lighter desserts to complement the delicate flavour of the fruit but also to complement the warmer weather. It isn’t the time of year for apple pies!’

Of course, some chefs become known for signature dishes, which means they have to find a way to ensure access to the same ingredients year-round. ‘Apple tart tatin to share was always a dish that was on the menu of every Gordon Ramsay restaurant I worked in, but because apples are available globally I could get beautiful Pink Lady apples from New Zealand during the British summertime as they were being harvested through the autumn on the other side of the world,’ says Daniel. ‘I can’t say I totally agree with this as I wouldn’t necessarily go down this route but it enabled us to have a consistent tatin year-round which customers loved. You have to remember that you cook for your customers and not for yourself – after all, they are paying you and your staff.’

Keep it seasonal

Daniel, however, avoids unseasonal produce wherever possible as he relishes the challenge. ‘As pastry chefs we have flexibility in the fact that we can produce desserts using chocolate, coffee and nuts – ingredients that are available all year round on a consistent basis,’ he says. ‘The challenge to come up with something new every year is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.’

Summer is (unsurprisingly) Daniel’s favourite season due to the wealth of fruits available. ‘You have peaches, apricots, cherries and all the berries which, as a pastry chef, give you so many different ideas for dishes,’ he says. ‘This is probably the most inspiring time of the year as I can make a number of changes to menus which I always find engages me and all the staff I work with.’

Supporting local suppliers and farmers is very important, too. ‘As chefs it is our job to not only promote produce but to show off through our cooking how great the produce really is,’ explains Daniel. ‘I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love a British strawberry that’s plump and sweet when in season; it’s my job to show off the beauty of this to the customer. Keeping it simple is important as you can showcase the product that you are using. I like exotic fruit but bringing back memories and using produce that the customer is familiar with is what I am passionate about.

‘It means you can tell a fantastic story, too,’ he adds. ‘For instance, if you’re using cherries from Kent which were picked this morning and are now on your plate at lunch, it means you are getting produce at its best. Being able to use such ingredients gives you the chance to interact with the customer and showcase not only your technical ability but the amazing produce available.’