Gratin Lyonnais and Seasonal Envy

About this time of year, I start to get the question.  People call.  I get emails.  Guests stop me in the restaurants, or even on the street.  The question that is simmers up every year about this time is:  “When is the Gratin Lyonnais going to be back on the menu?

Trust me, I am not complaining about having to answer this question.  In fact, gives me great satisfaction when people ask for dishes that they have enjoyed in the past.  It not only lets me know that we have served them something that they enjoyed,  enough to remember and ask about, it also reminds me that one of the things I like most about the kitchen is the way that its rhythms are connected to the cycle of the year.

I think that seasonal anticipation, that envy for the thing that is not in season right now but that you love so much that you can’t wait for it to arrive every year, I think that this feeling is central to the desire to eat well.  I personally like the fact that there are certain dishes or products that are not available all year long.  I know, for example, that our local asparagus will arrive sometime in April or May each year.  When it does arrive, I eat it all the time, because it is the best asparagus I have ever had.  I can’t get enough.  Then, 4 or 5 weeks later, it is gone for the year, and I am done with asparagus until the next year.

In the same way, I am aware that  good oysters are available now all the year around, whether they be shipped from a colder clime or bred to avoid the pitfalls of the warmer spawning season.  However, this doesn’t change the fact that I only eat oysters in the winter.  When the water is cold, and the oysters are at their firm, briny best, I eat oysters.   When I think of oysters, I think of wool sweaters and cold fingers and rain on the windows and chilled Muscadet and the hot, filling, long simmered dishes that will follow a huge, glistening platter or raw oysters, ideally accompanied by grilled chipolata sausages.  I just can’t imagine eating oysters when it is hot outside (this summer’s Puget Sound outbreak of food born illness linked  to raw oysters seems to support my instinct…and  plays into my sense that  these sorts of longstanding rules about seasonal eating have their roots in pre science peasant knowledge that is worth respecting …it may not be rational but then the cult of good food is not based solely in reason).

Of course some will argue, that eating oysters when it is hot is completely natural in  many places, like New Orleans to site just one example.  But then that is really the point, isn’t it?  Eating seasonally is about a place and a time and a product and the rhythm of the seasons and knowing when a food is at its best.

Back to the question at hand concerning the Gratin Lyonnais, or “Soupe gratinée a l’oignon” as we call it at Cafe Presse: when will Gratin be back on the menu this Fall?

Our onion soup is on the Fall and Winter menus at Cafe Presse.  The Fall 2011  menu at Cafe Presse begins on Tuesday  October 18th.

At Le Pichet, the issue is a little more complicated because we change parts of the menu every 4-6 weeks.  However,  Gratin Lyonnais will find its way onto the Le Pichet menu around the middle of October.  When I know the exact date, I will post it here.

If you have a hankering for onion soup that won’t wait until October, you might want to have a look at this post with our recipe.



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