I'm adding a full scale garden to our repertoire at the restaurant this year.
To those of you who have been to the restaurant before or follow my philosophies, this might not see like that big of a deal. If you read on, I'll describe how it really is.
Since I've been at The Sheppard Mansion, we've grown some items for our kitchen on the property in various guises. In our first growing season, we produced not only herbs, but also some limited vegetables(scallions, radishes, etc.). Due to the success of the restaurant and the space that we have, we had to limit our growing on the property to simply herbs and flowers simply to keep up with how much we were cutting the plants!
This year, we're going to go back to my roots and plant out a full garden. I can hear you already 'what does he mean, back to his roots'? Let me explain.
Before I landed back home, I was the chef at a restaurant in Bucks County, PA called EverMay on the Delaware. Maybe you've read about it (click here) At EverMay, my dad helped me build what I thought were some amazing gardens.
So, that's how we get to the 'roots'. You see, I'm inspired by so many things that occur naturally in a garden. Our gardener at EverMay, Robert Lazaro, one time spotted me constantly raking and smoothing a small patch of dirt in my garden. He came over and asked me what the hell I was doing and I told him that I not only liked the look of perfectly cultivated dirt, but I liked the smell of it, the touch of it.....etc. He nodded, looked at me like I was crazy and went about his tasks. See that's the thing: I love the feel of warm dirt on my hands, the smell of tomato leaves, the way dew beads on vegetables first thing in the morning, the snap of raw peas eaten straight from the vine, the eternal fight with weeds. I used to take guests on a guided tour of my gardens before each dinner service and was always very happy to see how they reacted to seeing the vegetables that were making it on to their plate growing in front of their eyes. It's pretty amazing stuff!
So, I'm going back to my roots. I don't intend to fully supply the restaurant with produce this year or even in the years to come. That's a job for the pros like Kathy Glahn and Samuel Martin. However, what I do hope to get out of this is to get back to a more informed and inspired way of cooking and creating menus. You see, when you get your produce off of a truck or even from a super high quality grower, you can tend to lose the perspective of exactly how hard it was to produce those amazing products. Sure, you admire them and think that you're doing the best you possibly can while you're cooking them, but I'm here to tell you from experience, until you've cooked products that you've taken months to grow, you have no idea. None.
Here's the spot.
I've always wanted to write a cookbook inspired by my gardens and food called 'Playin' in the Dirt', but since nobody from Random House or Artisan is beating a path to Hanover to sign me up, this blog will have to suffice. I toyed with starting a separate blog to chronicle simply the garden process, but thought that was stupid because a major point of this project is to talk about how the garden work informs and inspires the food. So, this will be the spot to check for updates regarding 'Garden 2010'.
I encourage all of you to start your own gardens and cook from them. Also, seek out restaurants and chefs who are looking to their work in the field to inspire what they put on the plate. Two chefs that I really enjoy following are Christopher Edwards and Kyle Lee McKnight