We caught up with Executive Chef, Chef Benjamin Lillico, to discuss how he infuses seasonal ingredients into the menu at The Rich Uncle Tavern.
Tell us how seasonality influences The Rich Uncle Tavern…
Seasonality is everything to us! We always want to showcase seasonal, locally driven products whenever we can at the Tavern weather it be food or beverage. Although we have 4 “generic” seasons a year there are many minor and micro seasons within each one where we are able to capture, showcase and preserve some fantastic products that we are able to share with our team and our guests!
What are the benefits of cooking with seasonal ingredients?
Benefits of cooking with seasonal ingredients are endless! The knowledge that we’re able to share with our team and guests about where our products are from, how they were grown and raised is extremely empowering to me. Supporting local economic growth by purchasing directly with our local farms and suppliers also helps encourage the sustainability and longevity of what we are trying to do by cooking with seasonal ingredients.
How does menu planning differ when considering seasonal ingredients?
Menu planning can become quite tricky when considering seasonal ingredients, we plan our menus months in advance! Sometimes growing conditions can be compromised by many factors including: Supply, demand and even the weather. Timelines of receiving fresh, seasonal products always change and as chefs we need to be ready to adapt.
What are the challenges of cooking with seasonal ingredients?
There are many challenges we face with cooking seasonal, a lot of the time it comes down to cost. If it was a bad growing year and the product yield is down, the price usually goes up- some seasonal ingredients do cost a premium because we can’t always get our hands on them too. Labor is also a major factor as well, from receiving quality driven products, to physically preparing them to reach the finished dishes costs always add up.
Tell us about a dish at The Rich Uncle Tavern which has a seasonal focus
We just launched an Heirloom Tomato Tart (with peas and beans, ricotta, foraged herbs) Tomatoes, beans and peas all have short growing seasons here in Southwestern Ontario and I’m always eager to showcase both of them!
How communicate seasonal changes to your customers?
Our seasonally driven menu is always well received by our guests. There is a strong appreciation for the locally sourced, seasonal dishes we bring to the table and having the ability showcase fantastic products is what really drives home what we do
What questions do your diners ask about the ingredients?
It starts with our team first, from getting great products in the door and being able to share that with our cooks it gets them inspired, focused and driven for product preparation. The next step is educating our service team and get them excited for some cool products that consumers may not see on a day to day basis. When dishes are brought to the table then our team has been provided the knowledge and material to talk about our ingredients.
There is a strong movement right now where our guests want to know where their food is coming from – being able to explain which farms each product is coming from, growing conditions and flavor profiles really helps elevate the dining experience we are able to share.
Which seasonal ingredients do you particularly look forward to working with?
Every year I am super excited for Wild Leeks (Ramps)! We get a team together and we will go out, forage and collect a couple hundred pounds! They are in their prime in the early spring and there is usually only 2-3 week period where we are able to pick them. We do mass batches of preserves so we can showcase them throughout the year in different variations!
What advice would you give to other Chefs who want to use more seasonal ingredients?
Start Small! Focus on one or two ingredients and dig in to learn everything about them- growing conditions, harvest time, how they are harvested, shelf life, cooking techniques, etc.. Once you gain the love and respect for a specific ingredient it is a lot more manageable to start branching out and looking at multiple products!