Words by Helen Upshall
Eating out in the region’s best restaurants is a pastime all foodies enjoy, for the precisely plated dishes, creative cookery methods and unusual ingredient combinations. Head Chef of The Olive Tree, Bath, Chris Cleghorn, explains that great tasting food starts at very rudimental beginnings with seasonality and quality produce. We spoke to Chris about his love for seasonal cooking, the regional producers that are the cornerstone to all his dishes and how you go about creating next-level flavour when cooking…
“Everything that I do in the kitchen is shaped by the seasons. Using seasonal produce is the best place to start and is never questioned. Even though supermarkets allow you to get your hands on most ingredients all year round, the difference in flavour of local, seasonally grown ingredients does not compare. Along with less food miles and a relationship built with your supplier, using local produce is hugely rewarding for both chef and customer.
Here at The Olive Tree, we are always on the lookout for exceptional products from artisan suppliers, be it Ivy House Farm for some of our dairy or Woolley Park Farm for some of the best duck we’ve ever eaten. Reared and produced within 30 minutes on my hot plate, it truly is ‘local’. We source our venison, would you believe, from Salisbury Plain. Although associated with the military, Salisbury Plain has in fact great pasture for rearing flavour-rich deer. Quality and flavour is always top of our list and as a result, you need to do little with it to let the flavours shine through.
Classic seasonal combinations are a great place to start too. As chefs, we like to be innovative and creative, and understandably, this is how we keep food exciting. Despite this, there will always be combinations in the foodie world you will simply never beat. It is what you do with these classic combinations that keep diners on their toes.
One of my favourites is lamb, pea and mint. Peach and fennel, apple and blackberries are also combinations that work perfectly in season. Pairing ingredients that are in season at the same time might seem obvious, but this is where culinary harmonies first started. Not only do you benefit from fresh tasting flavours, buying in season often sees you paying a better price, with greater availability and less in the way of travel costs.
At this time of year, we like to do a lot of preserving in our kitchen; jam making and pickling to carry us through the next couple of months. After such a vibrant summer it is hard to leave the summery flavours totally behind, so it helps with the transition into more hardy, autumnal ingredients. This summer, we have dried elderflowers and made fragrant vinegars, pickled the elderberries and developed an elderflower syrup which is a great floral addition to desserts.
When it comes to changing menus, we are constantly trying out new dishes for the impending season. Despite using high-quality, seasonal ingredients that require very little cooking, developing a new dish is all about achieving balance on the plate. When we get a dish that we feel does our producers justice, it is only then it makes it onto the menu.
With that in mind, September is an exciting time for any chef as we see the start of the game season. With grouse coming to the end of its hanging period, a process employed to allow the flavour to become perfectly ripened, venison, partridges and mallard are also close to being available. Paired with the fruits of the season, including perfectly ripe, late season peaches and plums, and new season apples and pears, the change of season looks to be an exciting prospect already.”