Eating in Season: Poco — Broadway Market

We chatted seasonal eating with Ben Pryor, director and drinks chief at Poco Tapas Bar.

Since its birth in 2004 Poco has toured the UK’s best festivals, preparing mountainous feasts for hungry revellers. Their charcoal grilled fish, meats and wraps bursting with colourful superfood salads have become legendary with festival goers and crew alike.

In Autumn of 2011 Tom Hunt, Jen Best and Ben Pryor Poco set up Poco’s first cafe in bricks and mortar in Bristol’s Stokes Croft. In 2015 they opened up shop on Broadway Market and brought to Hackney a devotion to seasonality, locality, great food and atmosphere with a core passion for sustainability which has seen them gain widespread acclaim and numerous awards for both their ethical practice as well as the quality of their food.

Tom, Executive Chef of Poco, is also founder of Forgotten Feast, a Social Enterprise working on projects throughout the UK to revive our cooking heritage and help reduce food waste.

  1. How does seasonal food influence your menu?

Every aspect of our food is led by the season we’re in. We completely limit ourselves to produce that is in season and locally grown (with the exception of our organic Sicilian lemons) so that gives us a defined selection of produce to work with. In that sense perhaps rather than being ‘influenced’ by seasonal food, we’re more ‘dictated’ to. It gives us a finite palette to work with that, rather than being limiting, we find stimulates creativity.

2. What are your main motivations for cooking with seasonal produce?

Our commitment to working with seasonal produce stems from a few key principals:

Firstly, flavour; any ingredient is at its best, richest, sweetest and most delicious in its natural season. We have become ever more ingenious at persuading our crops to fruit and ripen out of synch with nature which is born of demand from consumers and supermarkets. It’s undeniable though that produce grown out of season has a fraction of the flavour of its seasonal counterpart. Think of the aroma of a midsummer tomato, vibrant red and abundant in the greenhouse compared to the bland and flavourless fruit you might buy in the winter.

Secondly, working with local farmers and growers, as well as giving you the freshest, most flavourful and seasonal produce, connects you to the ebb and flow of the seasons as well as allowing you to build real and reciprocal relationships with the people growing your food. The farther removed you are from where your food is grown, the farther removed you are from any understanding of who grew it, how they went about it and how the people that harvest it were treated. Seasonality and locality go hand in hand.

Finally, as I mentioned, limiting yourself to what’s in season narrows your choices but by so doing stimulates creativity.

3. What food do you look forward to coming into season the most?

Probably PSB [purple sprouting broccoli] or asparagus. That said nothing gets me excited more than crisp autumn mornings spent scouring woodlands for Ceps and Chanterelles.

4. How conscious do you think Hackney residents are of seasonal eating?

I think there’s a good awareness here of the benefits of seasonal eating but certainly there’s room for improvement. The more people engage with where their food is grown the more I’m sure they’ll come to value seasonality.

5. Do you have a top tip for buying seasonal produce in Hackney?

Broadway Market has a wide range of the most incredible traders, including local dairy, meat and cheeses as well as several local organic farms who sell their own fruit and vegetables here. Short of visiting one of the city farms I can’t think of any better place to see the best of what the season has to offer.

6. Avocado on toast is everywhere at the moment. What British alternative would you like to see rival it?

If you’re feeling a bit indulgent then roast beetroot with buratta and thyme is a favourite or just garlic rubbed sourdough with fresh tomato if you want to be a bit healthier. That said though, given avocados high fat content (higher than any other fruit) it is hard to find a vegan option that approaches avo for the same richness.

Poco Broadway Market, 129 Pritchard’s Rd, London E2 9AP,

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