The Christiane Chronicles: The tyranny of seasonal eating, and 10 spices to kick to the curb

Raves and rants from veteran dining authority Christiane Lauterbach
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Illustration by Zohar Lazar
Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Rave: Seasonal, Schmeasonal
I’ll just say it: Seasonal eating has become tyranny. Although I love the first crunchy radishes of spring, the ripe tomatoes of summer, and the versatile varieties of winter squash, too many chefs today feel they must marry their entire menus to Mother Nature, offering dishes for as long as a sunset. It’s excessive, and I’m grateful for the kitchens that keep making trusty year-round standbys.

When was the last time you ate a baked potato piled high with chives, crumbly bacon, and a fistful of sour cream? Finding one of those on special at the Imperial in Oakhurst—where I also order the loaded baked potato soup whenever it shows up—is every bit as thrilling (and perhaps more fulfilling) than trying to score an elusive plate of fresh peas with mint or an order of pumpkin ravioli. And maybe Buckhead Diner has lasted as long as it has because of its proudly nonseasonal scores, like the perfect iceberg lettuce wedge or best-in-the-city housemade potato chips with Maytag blue cheese.

I can’t think of a life where—on the principle of seasonal eating—I wouldn’t enjoy tofu at Sobban, Rosa Mexicano’s guacamole made tableside (the only thing worth ordering there), or a bourbon pecan Atomic Ice Cream Sandwich at Candler Park Market, all available each and every month of the year. But please, can we be done already with kale? The nonseasonal vegetable of choice has become a marker for lazy chefs who keep it around because it’s green and sturdy but do nothing to explore its possibilities. It’s the one year-round food I’m ready to let go.

Photograph by iStockphoto.com
Photograph by iStockphoto.com

Rant: My Spice Hit List
Cumin Public enemy number one. Smells like feet, and unless artfully combined with other spices—preferably toasted and simmered—its acrid flavor is disturbing.
Rosemary Nothing is more dated than a sprig of that piney herb sticking out of a pile of food.
Thyme See above. Redeemed only by an appearance in cocktails or a fresh orange salad.
Cinnamon Love it with meat, especially squab, but hate it with sugar. Don’t care if it supposedly cures diabetes.
Chipotle Leave it in the cooking of Mexico and the Southwest.
Turmeric Wonderful as a fresh root. Annoying as a bitter dust sure to dye your clothes bright yellow.
Lavender Store it in the linen drawer, not the pastry kitchen.
Oregano Acceptable only on Greek pizza.
Poppy seeds Why would anyone want to pick their teeth after eating a bagel or a bun full of pesky little black seeds?
Wasabi Delicious as it is expensive when freshly grated, but truly odious as the pasty green stuff chefs like to stir into mashed potatoes or slather atop sliders.

Field notes

  • The new Grand Champion BBQ stall in Krog Street Market is perfect for people like me, who just want to grab a standout brisket sandwich and get on with their day.
  • Brits have a phrase to describe places like Grain, a minuscule new bar-forward spot in MidCity Lofts: “too clever by half.” The collaboration between Cypress Street’s Bill Streck and Seven Lamps’ Drew Van Leuvan and Kevin Braggs may be fun if you like “edible cocktails,” but the space-age techniques don’t jibe with the casual design.
  • Kudos to chef Marvin Woods at Asante. The terrifically juicy and clean greens he grows on the patio in a vertical aeroponic system are worth their labor.

This article originally appeared in our March 2015 issue.

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