Chef Lee Clarke: Nurturing from plot to plate

a vegetable garden
a vegetable garden

After the recent snow storms wreaked havoc for restaurant owners all over the UK, with bookings being cancelled and farmers and suppliers dealing with moving snow drifts as much as moving produce, it’s great to see that spring has finally sprung and we can put winter behind us and look forward to warmer weather – and with that weather, fantastic food.

March has always been one of my favourite months as a chef. This is when we head to the allotment to start sowing the seeds for the array of summer fruit and vegetables we use in the restaurant. From carrots and beetroot to Swiss chard and strawberries, everything will be planted over the next few weeks. Knowing what’s coming and when – weather permitting, of course, this is England after all - means our menus can be planned around our the freshest ingredients that we, and our local suppliers, take real pride in producing.

At Prévost it’s always been about serving seasonal food – we nurture our ingredients from plot to plate and this shows not only in how beautiful the food looks on the plate, but in how it tastes. You can’t beat fresh, homegrown veg and while not everyone is blessed with a big enough garden to have a vegetable patch, even if you only have a window box you can still grow chillies, herbs, radishes, spring onions and even strawberries (maybe one for the terrace rather than window box, though, as the birds will demolish them in no time!).

Our spring menu, which runs until the end of March, includes some of my all-time favourite ingredients. Cep mushrooms are in season now – I was prepping some impressive ones the size of my fist for today’s lunch service! Wild garlic is another favourite as it’s so versatile and full of flavour. We’re using it in our potato and wild garlic soup this month, and it works wonders in risottos, too.

We’re serving another versatile vegetable - purple sprouting broccoli alongside pork belly and potato gratin - it looks fantastic on the plate.

We’re also open on Sunday for our special Mother’s Day five-course lunch menu, so instead of heading to your mum’s for Sunday dinner and making her do all the work, why not treat her to lunch? The menu includes risotto of spring vegetables, aged beef Wellington and for dessert, Yorkshire rhubarb, gin and ginger soufflé.

We’re getting more enquiries from vegetarians and vegans than ever before, and although we’ve always provided an alternative to the main menus, I’m not sure our customers were aware of that until they arrived.

We do ask for 24 hours’ notice to prepare the vegetarian or vegan menu, but rest assured there’s not a veggie lasagne or nut roast in sight! Offering decent alternatives to those who’ve made lifestyle choices like going vegan means we can accommodate groups of friends, or couples with dietary differences, so nobody feels they’re missing out. I think a lot of restaurants will have to step up and cater for vegans – it’s certainly not a fad, it’s an understandably fast-growing movement, and one we’re pleased to say we’re ready for.

Lee Clarke is head chef at Prévost in Priestgate, Peterborough www.prevostpeterborough.co.uk