So I thought that I'd pitch a bit of a curve ball here; I think that to be British we need to become more Japanese.
The astute and observant among you might have seen this one coming... 31st January I was writing all about seaweeds and praising the Japanese diet for using such a fantastic wild resource, 14th February I gave mention to a Japanese anime, Moyashimon.. and then last week was all about focus on seasonality with a little mention for blossom. Even in that example of blossom it is something that in my mind has a stronger association of blossom being part of the seasonal celebration in Japan than in my own country.
It was last year that these whispers seemed to start. We had a few new customers come on board who were grounded in Japanese cuisine and they really keyed into the freshness and the seasonality of what we do. We were also introduced to the concept of shun which would translate roughly to 'at its peak' in the context we're using it. This is when a plant has a particular moment, usually quite a short season when it is in its prime. For us it corresponds with our Cream of the Crop section where we highlight these short seasonal delights. In Japan when an ingredient is shun there will be a week or two where it takes pride of place in every shop and meals will revolve around incorporating it. When I did my first little bit of research into the concept last year one of the first things that I found was that Chickweed 'is one of the ingredients of the symbolic dish consumed in the Japanese spring-time festival, Nanakusa-no-sekku'. So where we managed to introduce what was once a weed into British restaurants around a decade ago in Japan it was a ceremonial ingredient, an essential indicator of the season. There is a great article which elaborates on the concept in full and I strongly urge you to read it... here is the link.
Now I'm not for a moment suggesting that we aim to cook Japanese cuisine in its specific elements but rather that we try to emulate the philosophy and tradition that guides it. That we should not look to make all our dishes based around rice, noodles and bamboo shoots because that would be missing the point. What I would suggest is that we need to find our own rice and our own bamboo shoots, ones that we can pull straight from our own ground so that we eat them when they are at their freshest, when they are full of vitality.. when they are shun.