As you know, pretty near everything about The Chef’s Garden has a story behind it, including some of our vegetables. By now you may be familiar with the legacy of Mr. Frye’s Rhubarb® and the chefs who are the namesakes of our Memo® Chives and Carmellini® Beans. All three are inextricably linked to stories about the people who inspired them.
Believe it or not, though, there are still some stories we haven’t told yet, and we think it’s high time we did. So pull up a chair and let us tell you the story of Mr. Bob’s Vegetable Blend, a legendary vegetable tradition inspired by the man who inspired it, “Mr. Bob” Jones, Sr.
Back in The Chef’s Garden’s early days, when the entire farm spanned the space of a single field and we were still called Farmer Jones Farm, Mr. Bob had an idea. Now, it’s no secret that Mr. Bob generates ideas like a machine, but this one was particularly intriguing. Why not throw a field party? Invite our chefs and our own teams and all of their families to gather for a day of food, friendship, farming and fun.
“It was just one of those things that we developed early on that the family enjoyed,” said Farmer Lee Jones.
Initially the gatherings were modest. “Our first ones were just us,” Mr. Bob remembered. “And eventually we started inviting other purveyors of different merchandise like cheese and dairy. We tried to make quite a production of it.”
Before long, the event grew to attract hundreds of hungry party-goers. “It was always a struggle to figure out what to feed ‘em,” Mr. Bob said. “We couldn’t really decide.” But decide, he did, and Mr. Bob’s Vegetable Blend was born.
“We wanted vegetables incorporated in because we love vegetables,” said Farmer Lee. “We love to grow ‘em. We love to eat ‘em.”
So up went a tent and, on a homemade farm grill, sizzling alongside the hamburgers and hotdogs were the hand-selected, farm-fresh vegetables of Mr. Bob's Vegetable Blend.
“We started out with two 55-gallon barrels that we cut in half, and we made some griddles that sat right on the top so we could have two batches going at one time,” Mr. Bob said. “And we tried to make it out of all the crops that we had on the farm at the time. And we tried to get as much of a mixture as we could.”
With his sons Farmer Lee and Bob, Jr., and wife “Mrs. Barb” as his prep cooks, all of Mr. Bob’s fresh vegetables were chopped and prepped for him ahead of time and organized into separate containers for a farmer-style mise en place.
“When we mixed it, we just put a handful of this or a handful of that. It was nothing scientific,” Mr. Bob said. “If somebody came up and said, can you fix a batch with a few more onions in it, why, we’d do that. If somebody came up and said, wow, I really don’t like onions, can you mix me up some without onions, we’d do that. It was all very individualistic. For the first three years I did all the cooking myself.”
“At that time we didn’t use any greens in it,” he added. “It was made up of a lot of root crops, a lot of leeks. It had almost every root crop we had in it. At that time, we were growing some garlic. So we put some garlic in it. We cooked it all and grilled it. And it really was a nice tasting mix. Or I thought so, anyhow. It was mostly farm stuff ─ almost entirely farm stuff. And it was good.”
Farmer Lee and his dad both agree that Mr. Bob’s Vegetable Blend “wasn’t anything fancy,” and definitely not “tweezer food.”
“It was a moment in time, of what was coming from the land, and what looked good on that particular day,” said Farmer Lee. “It was hand selected. You took the pick of the day of what looked best at that given moment. So, it could change up. You could never expect to see one mix exactly the same two days in a row. It was about what’s coming from the earth today, on the farm at The Chef’s Garden.”
Over time the event expanded to include horse-drawn wagon rides and ice cream from a borrowed bicycle-driven traveling ice cream bar. “We were doing the ice cream,” Farmer Lee said. “We had Toft’s dairy make it up with nasturtium and pistachio.” And, without fail, everyone was welcome to eat their fill of Mr. Bob’s Cut Vegetable Blend.
As an homage to that special time in The Chef’s Garden’s history, we are proud to introduce Mr. Bob’s Vegetable Blend. Staying true to the spirit of its heritage, the mix is an ever-changing selection of the season’s best. “We’re going to walk the fields and see what looks good and what seems to make sense as a good mix of colors, textures and flavors,” said Farmer Lee. “So, it’s going to be sort of this moving thing.”
In keeping with tradition, we’ll even stand in as your prep cook and deliver your carefully selected vegetables washed and cut so you can start using them straight from the package, saving you valuable time and manpower. And make no mistake, Mr. Bob will still have a hand in selecting every veggie that goes into the mix.
Thirty years ago, the only way to experience Mr. Bob’s Vegetable Blend was to join the crowd on that one lucky day of the year. Now The Chef’s Garden is bringing the experience straight to your kitchen. We hope you’ll try it and help us bring a Jones family tradition into your modern kitchen.
Mr. Bob’s Vegetable Blend. “It’s farm stuff, and it’s good.”