Generally a fan of January when he can look at everything afresh at 1921, chef patron Zack Deakins is holding on to that energy for whenever he can open his doors to diners again
January. . . Not a month that many look forward to, but it’s one I tend to be a big fan of. It always feels like a time for a fresh start. That feeling feels accentuated this year.
It was a weird Christmas period for most of us and it certainly didn’t feel like the big celebration we would normally have. That weird limbo period between Christmas and New Year where no-one knows what day it is has felt exaggerated this year as well, I suppose as none of us have been able to fill it with visits to friends and family as the reality of staying home again sets in.
But for me January brings fresh promise, the longest day of the year is behind us, we can turn a corner and start afresh. I am already dreaming of spring mornings and bright sparkling sunshine. I think the current ‘lockdown’ restrictions we are living with will be made so much more bearable when the light has cut through the dark grey days.
January in the restaurant is also very exciting, and perhaps it is my body naturally gearing itself up that brings that positive energy – I will just have to find different ways to use it this year.
We would normally be reopening this week after our Christmas break, with renewed energy and enthusiasm. We would need that energy, too. . . it is never a quiet month at 1921, so we always need to hit the ground running, especially as part of the fun is we usually start with a completely new menu. It is pretty much the only time of the year we can truly start from scratch as we are starting with completely empty fridges. Although the season won’t have really changed as far as ingredients go, it will have changed in our mindset. We can leave those Christmassy flavours behind, usually looking for something fresher – we can really just let our imaginations go and start the new year with a bang.
Although still the middle of winter there are still some top, top ingredients around, some of my favourites, too. Jerusalem artichokes, salsify, beetroots are wonderful and go so well with, say, venison which is also in abundance. It is also a great time of year for beautiful shellfish.
There are two ingredients that come through in January that really get me excited though. Blood oranges and forced Yorkshire rhubarb are just magic and normally I would get a couple dishes together using them and then build the rest of the menu around that. They are showstoppers.
As is so often the case they go particularly well with other ingredients that are particularly good this time of year. Think duck and rhubarb or perhaps beetroot and orange, flavours you can’t go wrong with. They also both pair beautifully with chocolate. Rhubarb is probably the less obvious choice, but it is a combination I love.
Put blood oranges and rhubarb on a plate together and their beautiful bright colours are reminiscent of the warm summer sunsets I look forward to.
Both of them have a relatively short season, both finishing in March at the very latest. It remains to be seen if we will have them on our menu this year, but if we are not permitted to open in time there are still plenty of other seasonal delights and combinations to look forward to throughout the year.
So as soon as we are able to get our doors open we will throw all of our January energy and enthusiasm at whichever season we find ourselves in. I for one can’t wait.
Zack Deakins is chef patron of 1921 Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds