“I like to be able to put a face to the names of people supplying my food”
In the Real Food Cookbook world-famous chefs argue that using quality seasonal ingredients can make a real difference in the food you create. Giorgio Locatelli took the opportunity to explain why English farmers should take pride in their produce
‘There is so much talk today about seasonality, eating things that are only in season – I never used to bother about any of this! In Italy, we only ever used to eat what was in season and easily available. Whatever was in season, if it was good, just went on the menu. It was as simple as that and that is how it should always be!
I grew up in my village in Italy, in the family restaurant. My first steps, in terms of my career, involved daily contact with the various producers who supplied the restaurant – the fishermen, the fruit farmers, the rice grower – everybody was part of the family, and thus part of the whole process of creating the menu and then cooking it. We were just the last step in a long line of production. But this all felt completely natural, it was and should be the most normal way to create a menu. It was only later, when I went on to work in Switzerland and later landed in London that I realised there were middle men involved, and that there were prices to be negotiated and so on.
At home, I had always felt completely involved in the process – for example it was my job to wash out the box that the fish was always delivered in, just so that it would be clean and ready to use again when the fisherman came to deliver again the next day. The whole basis of Italian cuisine is about linking the production of the food, and the producer, to the food on the place. The Real Food Festival helps to create the same sort of links for all those who attend the festival, even just for one day. I know it is really hard for some people to avoid shopping in the supermarkets, because that is what they can afford, but I believe that just by going along to the Real Food Festival for one day could help consumers make better choices, even in their local supermarket.
In Italy, everybody you talk to believes absolutely that what he or she produces, grows or makes is the very best there is. I believe it is really important that producers in this country should develop that same sort of pride, and get properly recognised for their excellence – the Real Food Festival helps to promote that kind of pride, it inspires people to try new tastes and gives the producers a voice.
I do like to source my food locally, it makes me feel better, as though I am connected to the whole process rather than being a part of a system that is exploiting nature. People come to me for my Italian food of course, and yet I source 90 per cent of my ingredients here in the UK. I cheat a little bit, in so far as I bring my seeds for my rocket over from Italy, for example, and then I get somebody to grow it for me over here, but by and large I am proud to use the best local produce for the best of Italian cuisine, which is a style of cooking that is always adaptable.
One of my most popular dishes currently on my menu at La Locanda is a Saffron Aspretto with Scallops – for me this is a perfect example of a great combination of ingredients – King Scallops with a slightly sour, very Italian dressing. We only ever have Queenie Scallops in Italy, so these big, juicy, meaty scallops are very special for us Italians, and not what we are used to! But what is interesting to me is that practically every single Italian customer who comes to the restaurant orders this dish, even though the basic ingredient is so very British – so does this make my dish really, truly Italian? Or isn’t this just about using local produce and treating it with due care and respect?’
If you’re looking for seasonal inspiration try these this recipe for spring greens. You can even make it with foraged wild nettles (if you’re feeling brave enough) – how’s that for great local produce!
The Real Food movement embodies all that is wonderful about fresh food that is sustainably and ethically produced. This book focuses on the delicious ingredients available from farmers’ markets, food festivals, local farm shops and specialist retailers and shows how they can be cooked simply and unpretentiously, to create outstanding and flavoursome dishes.
Created in partnership with the Real Food Festival.