Seasonal Cooking In The Heart Of Texas

Welcome to the 12th installment of the Food Republic serial, The Worst Idea Ever?, in which chefs Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan set out to open a restaurant in Houston, Texas as Pilot Light Restaurant Group. This time, the guys are thinking about how the seasonality trend will affect their upcoming restaurant.

Seasonality has become a prominent focus on menus everywhere, bringing with it a plethora of terms: farm to table, locavore, geographically sustainable (we made this one up). Much about this is great: Chefs and diners alike are seeking out where their food comes from and fostering relationships with the people who grow, raise and produce the product. The result is a better experience for the diner and a more ethically responsible restaurant.

Recently, while hashing out menu ideas, Seth and I had a discussion on seasonality. We were doing a dish that revolved around apples. Of course, it's the height of apple season in New York, where we recently lived. Here in Texas is more of what many back East would consider an early spring season: squashes, cucumbers and melons. Yes, there are gourds and pumpkins, but when it's still 90 degrees outside, images of Linus calling out for the "Great Pumpkin" don't exactly come to mind. And while the apples we used are seasonal they are not local, which raises the question, are the apples we are using really seasonal? Is seasonality specific to a locale?

If we assume that seasonality is specific to locale, there is certainly a learning curve involved (and not just for a New Yorker). For the past 12 years, I've been accustomed to cooking within the seasons of the Northeast. I've been used to enjoying delicious Eckerton Hill Farm tomatoes from Union Square Greenmarket in late August and early September, but I'm learning after my first full summer in Texas that it is still simply too hot for that kind of produce to exist, much less flourish. And while late October would certainly signify the onset of the typical apple season, a local apple here in Houston can be a bit of tricky find. There are many other delicious, readily available ingredients to be had here locally, but it is a matter of adapting.

We will always look first to local purveyors, farmers, fisherman, cheese makers, brewers and butchers, to ensure that the product we buy is as direct from the source as possible. At the same time, our menu ideas are inspired by not only seasons but more often than not an ingredient itself. So while you probably won't see any "Chilean Sea Bass" on our menus any time soon, we will probably have some Empire State apples on the same plate as heritage breed Texas Red Waddle pork belly.

It's a big world out there, with many moral issues facing cooks and restaurants, but at the end of the day our goals are to create an enjoyable experience for our guests and to continue to grow as local and seasonal cooks. But this is a bigger issue than just us stewing in the kitchen. What do you think?

Read the previous installment of The Worst Idea Ever.