Lichfield chef Jack Dubberley, of Dubberley Delicious, takes a look at some of the best seasonal produce available right now – and how to make the most of nature’s larder
With progress being rapidly made on Dubberley Delicious’s new premises in the heart of Lichfield, on Tamworth Street, Jack Dubberley is preparing for a busy spring.
His unique chef’s table concept – which has been making waves on the local dining scene since he launched in a tiny cabin at The Plant Plot garden centre in 2021 – is undergoing a revamp with the change of location. As well as being able to accommodate larger bookings for his bespoke tasting menus, Jack is aiming to open the venue up for lunchtime walk ins, offering a daily changing menu.
When he’s not overseeing the new restaurant project or designing menus for his chef’s table events, Jack is on the lookout for the best produce to use in his dishes.
“In terms of foraging, it’s now getting to the point that wild garlic is coming through properly,” says Jack. “It’s been early this year because of the milder weather, and the early leaves are the strongest ones because when they start getting bigger they start to lose their intensity.
“It’s something you can really make the most of; I’d use it for garnishing dishes at this point, just for a bit of greenery on the plate, but you can use it instead of normal garlic in stir frys, or in a chilli or a bolognaise just for that lovely garlic flavour.
“Now, the wild garlic season could go though to the end of June, again depending on the weather. We’ve already seen the buds coming through, which you wouldn’t normally see until April, but this year has been very early.
“Elderflower will be the next thing, usually around May but again it may come early because the flowers tend to come out quite quickly.
“If the weather stays as it has been, everything will be early this year, and that even means the things people are planting in their gardens and allotments.”
As spring reaches full bloom, the first British fruits start to make an appearance.
“Forced rhubarb is just coming in now, predominantly from Yorkshire; Yorkshire rhubarb is what chefs are going crazy for at the moment, so much so that it’s become harder to get hold of,” says Jack.
“There’s a family in Yorkshire who’ve been growing forced rhubarb for 80 years. It’s grown in the dark, with just candlelight, which is the forcing element, but it’s still outside, grown in a sort of metal shed so you still need to be past the freezing weather – it can’t be grown all year round.
“The produce is amazing; it has such a beautiful, vibrant colour – it’s much brighter than normal wild rhubarb, and because the stems are thinner it’s softer and more tender, and sweeter too. You don’t even have to peel the forced stuff, just give it a quick wash.
“Obviously, the most traditional thing to do with rhubarb is a crumble; just roughly chop it then cook it with some sugar until it starts breaking down, and it’ll still have that bright pink colour.
“I love to cook it in batons and serve with lemon curd, shortbread crumb, some lemon verbena shoots and a toasted almond ice cream; because the rhubarb is still slightly sharp, and there’s sharpness from the lemon then creaminess from the ice cream, it creates a lovely dish for this time of year.
“A lot of chefs do rhubarb with seafood; mackrel’s a good one, and scallops which is something I want to try. Sat Bains has got top-and-tail rhubarb, featuring it in his first course and last course because he really wants to celebrate it.
“At this time of year there are no other British fruits in season which is why you’ll see forced rhubarb on most fine dining menus now.”
A couple of British favourites are on horizon for spring too, as asparagus and Jersey Royals come to the fore.
“Asparagus could come in April, again if the weather stays like this; it’s normally April or May, and we’re lucky to have New Farm here where we can get the freshest asparagus right on our doorstep,” says Jack.
“A couple of years ago we had asparagus on the menu at our first barbecue event in April; it was just in time, we were going over to New Farm and checking on it all the time, and they picked it the week of our barbecue.
“Jersey Royals come in at the start of April too; you can definitely taste the difference, they’re a beautiful ingredient and they cook really well. They come into us covered in dirt so they just need cleaning up and then cook them as they are in a nice buttery emulsion. You can then have them with anything; fish, lamb, they’re great in salads. In fact, they also go brilliantly with wild garlic pesto f.”
Jack’s top seasonal tips:
Forage for: Wild garlic – it’s in full swing from now until late May, with elderflower to follow
Cook it now: Forced rhubarb is a spring highlight for chefs and will be featured on many a menu at this time of year, while Jersey Royals are a lovely seasonal accompaniment to spring lamb