At University I was in a band- we played a bunch of gigs, some of which were raucous and excellent and others of which were very mediocre. We weren’t really committed enough to master the art of consistency, though occasionally came up with some great moments and had a bunch of songs that were nice to listen to. And weren't that bothered when we made mistakes.
Consistency is valuable, but a seasonal menu acts as a sort of prism for the concept: it reminds us that ‘sameness’ is not the end goal, nor uniformity, nor indefinite abundance. Infinite availability is not an indicator that food has been well produced or is healthy to eat. It’s almost certainly an indicator that at some point it’s undergone some nutritional or ethical compromise.
We’ve got wild mushrooms on the menu for the first time, supplemented with organically grown ones from Langridge Organic. Over the last year we’ve introduced foraged food onto various menus in small amounts (quinces picked on holiday in Italy, nettle pesto in early spring, a foraged botanical vermouth recipe…) and begun to source foraged food through professional foragers as well. We’ve got a bunch of winter chanterelles in from James Wood and his team. Excited to get these on your pizza!
Even with a monthly menu change, it’s risky business getting wild stuff on the menu- the weekly availability email from the foragers states that girolles are ‘back on’ after recent rainfall. The implication is that they’re not guaranteed! This month, therefore, we’re offering a pizza with wild mushrooms that is unlikely to be consistent- perhaps we’ll get some Maiake or simple portobello mush’s if we can’t get the chanterelles. In December the availability might be different again.
So how can a seasonal or sustainable menu be consistent? I suppose that for the chef, consistency is about identifying the things you can control and then curating the variables in such a way as to best represent them for what they are. Perhaps authenticity is a better word for all this. A menu with wild mushrooms is only as good as it is authentic.
We’re familiar with terroir in wine, used to different vintages and characteristics according to the year of the harvest. We’re used to single-origin coffee and we like it to be roasted in small batches. An authentic pizza tells a story about harvests and regions and seasons and moments. It might even tell you stories about the person who picked the ingredients or prepared the food. It may not be consistently replicable month-on-month and year-on-year but it’s a more future proof concept. Future-proofing is sustainability.
Fun fact: chanterelles are also known as girolles, which my phone autocorrects as gorillas. Imagine if this whole article was written about foraged wild gorillas from the woods of southern England! Lol!