Nature – and evolution proves the point – is trying to create diversity, not consistency. But from a food producer’s perspective, consistency sells. Standing at the market trying to explain the difference in the texture and amount of fat in my pigs from week to week was hard enough. Imagine a restaurant or fast-food outlet trying to justify why sometimes their meals just aren’t the same.
Of course, consistency can be achieved. You do it very simply, by making sure that the worst day of the worst week of the year is your standard. You can’t afford to pretend to be consistent otherwise.
So, by definition, consistency is the enemy of greatness. It is the guarantee of mediocrity. If you’re a grower, to be consistent means you must provide a lower standard than the best weeks of the year. As a restaurant it means you can only be as good as your worst produce and your least trained staff member. Aiming at being consistent means you are aiming at mediocrity. I used to see it at restaurants when I was a food critic, especially those with multiple outlets so the head chef can’t be in all places at all times. And I see it now when I look at my strawberries, my kale, my carrots.
Our carrots are inconsistent. We grow them orange, purple, white and yellow in colour. Some for cooking, some for eating fresh. Sometimes they’re fat and short. Sometimes they’re long and bent. Don’t tell me that consistent products are good products. Any gardener can tell you otherwise. Seasonal variation, and variation between plant types, between gardens, between farms and between years – that is perfectly normal and perfectly good.
I can tell you that our summer raspberries are far superior to our autumn ones; but if we can ripen strawberries in May, they’re even better than in the first week of December. I believe there’s about a week when our broad beans are at their absolute best, even though we have to eat them for a month either side. I’m okay with that. And we now know that "overwintered carrots" have sat in the ground as it gets frosted over and, as a result, are the best and sweetest carrots all year. There’s only one thing you can guarantee from our carrots, however, and that is they won’t be consistent.
This is an edited extract from The Dirty Chef by Matthew Evans, published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99. On sale now.