From the ground-breaking ‘fin-to-tail’ food waste philosophies championed by Australian chef Josh Niland, to the growing movement for transparency in the supply chain, restaurants across the country are starting to think beyond the obvious ‘does it taste good,’ with environmental issues and focus on local essential ingredients in the current climate.
“There is an opportunity for restaurants, especially independent ones, to start catering for an increasingly environmentally conscious customer base by creating innovative menus which use alternative, local ingredients,” said Domini Hogg, founder of Tried and Supplied, a specialist food and drink supplier designed to help food buyers and restaurateurs find sustainable and local British suppliers.
Seasonality has always been a big pull for diners and chefs alike, so could restaurants benefit from incorporating the more unusual of local, ultra-seasonal British ingredients?
Creative and ultra-seasonal
Hogg, who also believes that restaurateurs should look to change their menus more regularly by implementing unusual ingredients, cites Richard Lovemore, a private chef at Indigenous Kitchen, who told her that restaurants need to think ultra-seasonal with food.
“What often happens is people get an idea of what foods are available during certain times of the year but don't know the realities of often short English crop seasons,” Lovemore said.
"We only know how the seasons are playing out by speaking to the people who're producing the food: the farmers. So, to enable us to source more locally, we need to turn to them and utilise the small micro seasons of each crop that the UK produces.”
It certainly pays to be open minded about the ingredients you use on your menu, explains Hogg, who says that by using more British produce with a little bit of creativity, we could end up with a much healthier, more diverse and environmentally friendly food system.
And she has five examples of British-grown ingredients that may not have been on everyone’s radar.
- Wasabi – “Restaurants can order fresh wasabi leaves, flowers and rhizomes from The Wasabi Company in Dorset and Hampshire. Each plant takes at least 18 months to reach harvest, and it is a particularly difficult plant to grow. It's the only fresh wasabi commercially available that is grown in Europe.”
- Tomatillos – “Also known as Mexican husk tomatoes, they’re difficult to grow in the UK because they like warm climates, but Bedfordshire-based Edible Ornamentals have done it! Inspired by their time living in Texas, owners Shawn and Joanna Plumb are now the largest grower of tomatillos in the UK.”
- Kohlrabi – “Although it is very popular in German cooking, it is rather difficult to find in the UK, but it’s grown by Riverford Organic Farmers.”
- Ostrich eggs – “Fresh ostrich eggs from the Lincolnshire Ostrich Farm are available from April to September, along with various speciality meats. All their ostriches are farmed naturally on wide open pastures and looked after by specialty vets. If you’re planning an enormous omelette this might be the way to go – one ostrich egg is the equivalent in volume to approximately two dozen chicken eggs.”
- Edamame – “You can now get these beans from Namayasai, growers of Japanese fruit, vegetables and herbs in East Sussex. They are normally produced from August to October.”