Summer is typically not a line cook’s favorite season. Sure, kitchens are always hot, but nothing compares to summer on the line. A cook comes from the heat of outside to the heat of the kitchen. The make-up air system is useless since it brings in the hot air from the outside, humidity is off the charts, and cornstarch becomes a cook’s best friend (next to frequent dives into the walk-in). From early June until late September a cook will sweat buckets every shift knowing that staying hydrated is almost as much of a job as tackling that prep list.
While a cook’s non-restaurant friends are working on their tan, enjoying the positive attributes of sunny days, and peeling off excess clothing to adapt – a line cook remains pasty white, sweats through his or her uniform in a matter of minutes on the job, attracts burns and cuts like there was some type of magnetic field surrounding them, and finds it impossible to wash off the smell of onions, garlic, and fish that has sunk into his or her pores. It is pretty easy to pick out a cook from a crowd of sun worshipers.
We curse the sun and frown when the weather forecast is for another string of “perfect days” on the horizon. Cooks, in most cases, can’t wait until the summer ends.
At the same time, winter can really impact on a cook’s psyche. Days on end without sunshine is depressing and frame in a typical day that starts off in the dark and ends the same way. Twelve hours in the kitchen does not fit in with Mother Nature’s winter daylight cycle.
So, what does that leave? Ah..the fall season – this is what cook’s live for – the best season of the year. Since fall is just around the corner I thought that it would be appropriate to talk about the cook’s season of choice from many perspectives.
When fall arrives everything changes. In the vineyards across the country – most of the grapes have been picked and are going through “crush” in preparation for fermentation and bottling. The light white wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay of summer are being replaced with more full-bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Shiraz, and Cab Franc which marry well with braised meats and roasts. The leaves from trees have fallen – leaving branches bare so as not to break under the weight of on-coming snow, and people begin to switch from clear distilled beverages like Vodka, Gin and Tequila and find comfort in Bourbon, Rye, and Scotch. It is a seasonal change that is predictable and welcome (at least in the beginning).
Fall is aligned with the term – harvest. October and November are harvest for cooks in many respects:
 HARVEST OF CROPS
We get a chance to work with an entirely different basket of ingredients. Fall acorn, spaghetti, and butternut squash, pumpkin, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, beets, cabbage, late harvest carrots, cauliflower, and winter kale. The flavor profile for a cook to work with is totally different and exciting.
 HARVEST OF NEW IDEAS
As the array of product changes the cook is positioned to think differently about life direction as well as the ingredients he or she is challenged to work with. “How will I adjust career goals as we enter the winter months”? Back to the restaurant – “What direction will we take to ensure relevance, competitiveness, and success?”
 HARVEST A NEW MENU
From this thought process comes a menu that adjusts to the ingredients and to the guests need for a different level of comfort. Hearty, traditional, robustly flavored, deep and rich cooking techniques will replace the lighter fare of spring and summer that focused on grilling fresh fish, salads, fresh and crisp adaptations of foods that thrive with the addition of citrus, fennel, spring onions, wild asparagus, young peas, micro greens, and sprouts. Now is the time for braising, roasting, and grilled meats that are deeply marbled, more traditional sauce work, and portions that suit the season.
 HARVEST YOUNG TALENT
Summer didn’t really provide much opportunity to build on the foundational skills that apprentices had when they first entered the kitchen in late spring. Now the chef and senior cooks can invest the time to help these aspiring cooks develop their skills and palate.
 HARVEST YOUR THOUGHTS FOR THE FUTURE
Fall is a time to contemplate where each cook is headed, where the restaurant sits in terms of guest perceptions, how the kitchen team needs to grow, and whether the current concept is inspiring to both guests and kitchen crew. From the crisp harvest air comes a new direction for all involved. This happens every fall as a right of passage.
 “PUTTING UP”
Harvest has also, for many generations, meant that it was time to “put up” or can and freeze those items that are not available during the coming shoulder seasons, but important to the style of cooking that sets the cook and the restaurant apart. Putting up will change the profile of the dish – not better, not worse, just different. This difference can become a unique aspect of the restaurants style of cooking. Pickling, fermenting, curing, and aging are all ways that cooks, since the beginning of time, have been able to extend the season of ingredients from the spring and summer months. More and more we are seeing chefs depend on this process to maintain a certain cooking signature.
Putting up is also a time of refreshing your thoughts. It is a time to put aside certain thoughts, opinions, bias, likes, and dislikes and start with a clean slate. When we give thought to our future it is always wise to put away our current perceptions and beliefs and remain open to change.
 SETTING THE STAGE
With eyes to the spring and summer next year, cooks always take the opportunity to enjoy the rich cooking traditions of the winter months. This is comfort food season, but at the same time we (cooks and chefs) always have our eye on the next season of sun and growth. Fall, to most cooks and chefs is our real New Year. This is the time to establish our way of thinking and come up with our list of new cooking year resolutions. Soon enough we will forget the sweltering heat of summer, the pasty looking skin of a cook who envy’s friends able to work on their tan, the humidity that seems to melt away pounds of winter weight and the fresh thoughts that come during harvest. Soon enough, the cook who shakes off the snow of winter but revels in the smells of braised meats and rich stocks, will begin to dream of sunshine and temperatures above 30 degrees. Fall harvest is a time of renewal and a time that allows us to forget about the challenges of warmer months in the kitchen.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training