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Chef Lynn Crawford’s 6 tips for finding seasonal flavour

FBz-Chef-Lynn-Crawford-fullsizeAs a celebrated TV chef who once ran one of the most demanding kitchens in the world, Lynn Crawford knows plenty of fancy culinary tricks.

By Joanne Sasvari

But these days, she’s not interested in making things fussy and complicated.

“It is the simple pleasures in life, isn’t it?” says Crawford, who operates the highly acclaimed restaurant Ruby Watchco in Toronto and is best known for her Food Network Canada show Pitchin’ In. “We don’t complicate things, we just want guests to have a great experience that’s real.”

“Real” also means seasonal and, where possible, local. “You cook with the seasons, for sure,” she says. “It’s about simplicity. Simplicity and beauty.”

That’s a lot easier now that she’s back home in Toronto. She returned four years ago, after a stint as executive chef of the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City. It was a high-profile, high-pressure environment – and an unexpected turn in her career. “If you’d said to me on completion of culinary school that I’d be the executive chef of a luxury hotel, I’d have said no, I’d be more independent.”

And now she is. Along the way to Ruby Watchco, she’s also helmed the kitchen at the Four Seasons Toronto, appeared on Iron Chef and Top Chef Masters, and written a couple of cookbooks, including her newest one, At Home with Lynn Crawford. But even at the height of her career in New York, she always knew she wanted to come home to Canada.

At Ruby Watchco, she and her sous chef Lora Kirk dish up easy, flavourful fare, as much as possible grown within 100 miles of the restaurant. “We really wanted to celebrate the seasons and honour the farmers and the growers as every great chef does,” Crawford says. On a menu that changes daily, that might mean the first tender asparagus in spring, carrots flavoured with thyme and honey in fall, or rutabaga mashed with butter and smoky mustard on a cold winter night.

 “It’s all about really great food,” Crawford says, “and that’s it.”

Lynn Crawford’s seasonal tips

Get to know what’s in season in your region. Seasonal also typically means local, although “local” can comprise a pretty big area.

Resist the lure of out-of-season imports and learn to cook with what’s available in your region instead – for instance, hearty root vegetables instead of asparagus in mid-winter.

Connect with local farmers, foragers, fishers and other producers to create a seasonal supply chain. Alternatively, encourage your suppliers to offer more seasonal and local products.

Make the most of “good” trends. Preserving is one of the hottest foodie trends right now, and pickling and canning are a great way to offer summer’s bounty-year round.

Use seasonal products as an incentive to get customers in the door. For instance, you could hold a spot prawn festival in May or offer a wild mushroom menu in fall.

Remember that foods in season tend to be less expensive, so you’ll not only be serving food at the peak of flavour, you’ll also be saving money.