By Cathal Armstrong
About 25 years ago, I was working at a restaurant that didn’t care about seasonal- ity or the source of its food. I was sent to the walk-in freezer to get some beets. We had a 25-pound box of these huge purple things that resembled sponges in texture.
After all my experience with food — having had a father devoted to food, having traveled to France and Spain and other European culinary Meccas — it was at that moment some- thing important clicked for me. I understood in a way I previously hadn’t that fruits and vegetables come from the earth and their supply of nutrition comes through their root structure.
When that source is eliminated as they are harvested, they continue to grow, but they start to consume themselves. They convert sugars to starch, and the flavor changes dramatically. Our goal at Restaurant Eve and Society Fair is to get the fruits of the land to the table as quickly as possible.
The beauty of this ethos is there is always something to look forward to. The first green shoots show themselves each spring in the form of asparagus and peas. Strawberries follow and the whimsy of the season is in full swing.
Summer brings the sweetness of tomatoes, peaches and especially corn, which was always a birthday treat for us in Ireland. As autumn draws near, apples arrive with pears and winter squashes, followed by the multitude of winter root vegetables and hard brassicas.
Our guests often ask me how I can be so creative, but in all honesty, it’s easy. We spend a lot of our time in the kitchen shopping, foraging and hunting for the ingredients of the season. We put them together and keep it simple, which allows us to show them off for their own beauty.
You can actually achieve similar results at home these days thanks to the great growth we have seen in local farmer’s markets. There’s one nearby every day of the week from spring to late fall.
A great addition to your sourcing plan is a garden, if you have the space to grow your own. If you don’t, you still can get lovely results from a pot or a basket hanging out a window. Focus on herbs. Thyme, bay leaves, rosemary and basil fresh rom the plant can really boost the flavor of your food.
At its best, this becomes a way of life like that which our parents and grandparents enjoyed before the arrival of the convenience store. The pleasure of finding a great butcher, fishmonger, baker, cheese monger and farmer is something that our busier lifestyle has usurped, but we can compromise.
Perhaps we only forage on the weekends. Maybe we only do it if we are having guests over for dinner, gradually introducing better shopping habits and better food to our lives.
Don’t forget the beauty of canning and preserving. Our forebears did it out of necessity, but we do it because of the pleasure we get from it and especially because of the fun of working with our children and involving them in the process.
Of course, I prefer you to come to dinner or lunch and let my crew do the work for you.
The writer is the chef and co-owner of the Eat Good Food Group.