We’re a very seasonal restaurant. Always have been. That’s the way Bill Neal ran the kitchen at La Residence, where I first began cooking professionally, and it carried over here later when he opened Crook’s Corner. This approach makes sense to anyone of my generation, who remembers when transportation systems were less sophisticated so that a lot of what was around to cook was by necessity local and seasonal. We also had mentors in the newly burgeoning food publishing world. Paula Meyers comes to mind first because of her seminal book “The Seasonal Kitchen”. In the mid seventies everyone owned a copy. A month ago I found Perla Meyers having dinner on our patio. I was utterly charmed. She has a new book coming out and I can’t wait.
All this seasonal thinking seems especially appropriate because fall may be the time that I most enjoy being in the kitchen. Pumpkins arrive, persimmons arrive and it’s time for duck. All of a sudden thyme seems to be the appropriate herb, and when I smell it I think of the fall in France. Autumn markets smell like it there.
My travelling obligations are over until March. Although my staff is completely competent when I am away, I still feel neglectful when I am away so much. Now I’m eager to dig in. Old favorites resume their places on the menu. Duck with cranberries is back as is persimmon pudding. A big box arrives from Anson Mills signalling that the fall risottos are back. There are new thing as well of course. This year I’ve been offering all manner of little gratins as side dishes. Presently we are serving cauliflower and cheese gratins, but anything can show up in these- from sweet potatoes, to parsnips to cod fish. After Christmas I’m considering a potato and side meat version. Chestnuts are back too, both in my kitchen and in central North Carolina. A new blight resistant variety is now grown here and it seems as if I can have all that I have time to use. The soup we make from them is one of my favorites. By next season I hope to have learned how to make some of those luxurious sweets one finds in Europe. High Rock Farm in Gibsonville is now in commercial production and it seems appropriate to me to move chestnuts permanently into our local repetoires.
After Christmas, keep a lookout for sweetbreads and corned hams. And we haven’t gotten around to oyster stew yet either.