With the environment and the economy at the forefront of most people’s minds, what we eat and where it comes from is more important than ever before.
Gone are the days of mindless food consumption, replaced with a desire to think globally, but source locally.
For many restaurants around the world, including here in Cayman, cooking now begins in the garden. Or in their own gardens, to be exact, which are bursting with organic, locally-grown vegetables, herbs and fruit.
And with an emphasis on freshness, quality and taste, this new way of cooking is designed to tempt any food lover.
It can be difficult for both restaurants and consumers to source the freshest produce in Cayman. So, when the executive chefs at The Brasserie weren’t happy with the quality of ingredients they were receiving, the restaurant decided to do something about it. The Brasserie’s owners, Lisa and King Flowers, began to create an onsite vegetable garden with the aim of providing fresh, organic produce for the kitchen as well as reducing their impact on the environment. With the help of local farming guru, Joel Walton, and head gardener, Winston Cobban, the project has proved a success, with the garden now home to a mouthwatering assortment of vegetables, fruit and herbs.
“The idea for the garden came about through the needs of the executive chefs, who encouraged us to start the garden,” Lisa explains. “Growing our own vegetables is a small step for the environment. It’s less waste, less pollution, less transportation. When you think about tomatoes, they’re picked in California, put on a truck to Florida, flown to Grand Cayman, put in a truck and taken to storage, and then transported here.”
The seasonal garden produces fruit and vegetables from the Caribbean and around the world. Nestled amongst the plot are peppers, tomatoes, carrots, sweet corn, lettuce, spinach, avocadoes, mangos, papaya, pineapple, sugar cane and passionfruit vines, as well as herbs, such as basil, bay rum leaf, curry leaf and much more.
“Our aim is to have all the products come from the garden, or be sourced locally,” says Lisa, from amongst the rows of planter boxes. “It’s about the environment and freshness. The garden is as organic as possible.
“[The garden] can only make the quality of the produce better.”
And, in the kitchen, executive chef, Dean Max believes the garden has improved the taste and quality of his dishes.
“It’s great that we have the room to be able to grow all this produce,” Dean says. “It’s a lot nicer to be able to grow everything from scratch. It will be great for the freshness of the food.”
Around the World
In the United States, vegetable gardens entered the public realm last year when Michelle Obama planted an 1100-square-foot organic patch at the White House. However, many restaurants across the country have been toiling away for years, with chefs tending to their gardens by day, and their kitchens by night. Garden to plate restaurants can be found throughout the United States, with gardens ranging from a small plot at the back of the kitchen to 80-acre farms. Blue Hill at Stone Barns, in New York, Manresa in California, and North Pond in Chicago are considered to be some of the finest in the country.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns is located within the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York. The Stone Barns Center is a working four-season farm and educational center just 30 miles north of New York City. Sourcing from the surrounding fields and pasture, as well as other local farms, Blue Hill at Stone Barns highlights the abundant resources of the Hudson Valley. Rather than source ingredients to cater to menu selections, the process has been reversed. The daily harvest delivered to the kitchen creates the menu, a culinary journey of up to 8 courses (www.bluehillfarm.com).
If you are staying in New York, take Metro-North from Grand Central to Tarrytown on the Hudson Line. It takes approximately 40 minutes on the express train. And taxis are waiting to take you on a 10 minute drive to Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Check the train schedules before travelling to ensure you have current information (www.mta.info/schedules).
Located on the west coast of the United States, Manresa, in Los Gatos California, is under the guiding hands of Chef-Proprietor David Kinch, whose pursuit of exceptional ingredients has inspired an exclusive partnership with biodynamic farm owner Cynthia Sandberg of Love Apple Farm, where all of the vegetables are grown for Manresa. Influenced by French and modern Catalan cooking, Chef Kinch finds inspiration from European traditions and refinement, American ingenuity and the vast bounty that California has to offer. His philosophy is fostered by the terroir or “sense of place” of the California coast, and the kind of ingredient-driven cooking and modern technique he studied in France, Spain, Germany, Japan, and the United States.
Travelling inland to Chicago, North Pond restaurant is nestled amidst the beautiful grounds of Lincoln Park. The original building served as a warming house during the winter months when North Pond became a popular local ice skating venue. The building was restored in Arts and Crafts tradition to create one of the most engaging restaurants in Chicago. Chef Bruce Sherman holds true to the Arts and Crafts ideal in the culinary philosophy of North Pond restaurant. Drawing inspiration from the local Green City Market, and surrounding local farms, he utilizes exceptional ingredients at the height of their season. (www.northpondrestaurant.com).
In Southern Europe this focus on fresh, garden-grown ingredients is hardly new. Indeed, the food of Spain, Italy and France is brimming with produce pulled right from the farm, creating a mouthwatering culinary experience rich with regional flavours. In England, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, set in the picturesque Oxfordshire village of Great Milton, is at the top of its game, with superb dishes created from its two-acre organic garden (www.manoir.com).
In the Southern Hemisphere, many restaurants in New Zealand and Australia have gained a reputation for providing delicious fare straight from the garden. This focus on quality and freshness has allowed critics and consumers alike to enjoy the local flavours of these countries, and define their position in the global culinary scene. The Royal Mail Hotel, in Dunkeld, Victoria, in Australia (www.royalmail.com.au), and Curator’s House Restaurant in Christchurch, New Zealand (www.curatorshouse.com), are amongst the best garden to plate restaurants in this part of the world.