I’m excited, and I don’t excite easily. Don’t get me wrong, I get “spun up,” “wound up,” and “wrapped a little too tightly” with an alarming frequency. Some will say I’m keyed up daily about one rage against the machine or another, but I’m not normally known as the excitable type. But I am today. Giddy almost, if a guy whose dimensions approximate that of a porta-john can actually be called giddy. But I digress…
Autumn has once again returned. Fall is my favorite time of the year and I am startled by it every year. It’s like the return of a lost love who makes the time since you last met melt away with a simple smile; one where everything fits and makes sense; a time when you know you belong right where you are.
I don’t know what it is about the season that makes me wax poetic. Maybe it’s something about the smell of autumn: the leaves on the ground; that first smell of someone lighting their fireplace. Maybe it’s the fact that that I have polar inclinations regarding weather, and this summer Tennessee changed it’s nickname from “The Volunteer State” to “Like the Sun…only Humid.” The average daily high was 98 degrees, and on August 17th I watched a squirrel actually burst into flames as he ate a nut. It’s true…I swear! Could be a lot of factors, but I think it’s mostly because it’s my favorite time of the year to cook.
Being a wildebeest of considerable girth, it should come as no surprise that I like comfort food. Comfort foods come in all shapes and sizes, and each season has something to look forward to: Spring with the first produce of the season; summer with the delights of steaks on the grill, great local corn, and the simple perfection of a burger and a hot dog. Beautiful on their own, but fall is when comfort foods truly become a force unto themselves.
Fall is braising season. It’s the time of high art for we culinary types in taking humble shanks and roasts with the taste and texture reminiscent of an old track shoe when mishandled and turning them into deeply flavored, elegantly rich masterworks. Summer is go-go-go kind of cooking: fast and light, usually employing a single step cooking method like grilling, sautéing, or frying. Autumn cooking is slower, more studied with the aforementioned braising leading the way of other slow-down techniques like baking, smoking, and roasting. Sauces go from flash of the light and simple to the warm glow of the lovingly complex in sliding from vibrant salsas and citrus butters to demi-glace and cream sauces. It encompasses the whole food world during this time of the harvest.
Grilled zucchini and yellow squash, so prized alone or with a splash of kicky vinaigrette, give way to the depth of flavor found in ratatouille. Beans go from baked with a brown sugar laced tomato sauce and bacon into the slow-cooked glory of cassoulet.
Broth soups give way to chowders and stews. Bread gets chewier and darker. We consider pumpkins, cranberries, and game. We roast whole turkeys, hams, loins of all shapes and sizes. Being a hotel chef, I have to be flexible and do many of those things throughout the year, but fall is when they really make the most sense to me.
Do my thoughts on the season matter to our world of Hotel Food and Beverage? Well, I guess my answer here in my little corner of the world would have to be yes. I write menus differently in the fall/winter than I do in spring/summer. It affects how we present food; what action stations we do; the colors of our décor. It affects ordering; prep time; what herbs I buy; plating times; side dishes.
I guess a better question would be should it affect our F&B world? I truly believe the answer to that is also a yes. Nesting is instinctual as the weather gets colder and if I feel it, isn’t it a good possibility our guests do as well?
Most of us in the industry would say we like to adjust seasonally, but we rarely give it a thought after we do. Maybe we should take the time to think about the “why” and relish the subtleties of what is going on. Fall can be every bit as exciting as spring and summer, and I’m happy to be cooking in it.
Or maybe I’m just glad it’s not so damn hot…now about that squirrel…