“It also gives me an opportunity,” Farmer Lee adds, “to thank each and every one of you for your support. We are honored to have the opportunity to serve you, to be your personal farmers, and we look forward to what exciting things will happen in 2020 and beyond.”
So, without further ado, here are the ten most popular posts of 2019!
Farm Intern Learns Lessons About Agriculture and About Life
This is the heartwarming story of Robert Lagrosas, who spent a year being fully immersed in The Chef’s Garden’s student internship agricultural program before returning to his native Philippines. When he returned, Robert took with him the practical experience and knowledge needed to start his own farm, which included seeding, harvesting, soil making, and food safety and packing.
“The best part of being the student on the farm is that you get hands-on experience in different areas,” Robert said. “Supervisors are there to guide and teach you in order for you to learn the importance of the certain area and how it contributes to the farm.”
The keys to future success, he said, is the most important lesson he learned from his mentors at The Chef’s Garden. “With hard work and dedication, surely you will be successful in business and in life,” he said. “Just be resilient, diligent, and focused. I think I can make it a long way.”
Carrots Are in Fashion at Chef’s Harvest Dinner Menu
Talk about an incredible tag team experience! Early in 2019, Chef Jamie Simpson of the Culinary Vegetable Institute and Executive Chef Jessica Biederman from The Bristol inside the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston collaborated using farm-fresh carrots from The Chef’s Garden. This gave the duo a chance to use unconventional processes to create brand new dishes, and here’s some of what Chef Jessica had to say.
“Like Vera Wang, you tailor the plate to fit the Chef’s Garden carrot,” she said. “With other carrots, you tailor the carrot to fit the plate. That’s the kind of approach that we’re taking. We’re taking each carrot individually and making a dish that we feel best represents that carrot’s flavor and its shape and all kinds of things.”
The team dehydrated carrots to make flour, then pasta dough out of the flour. Next, they inlayed carrot tops into the pasta. “The pasta is super thin, so it cooks really fast,” she explained. “It comes out looking like stained glass.”
Then, they sandwiched micro tarragon and viola petals between layers of pasta along with the carrot fronds.
Farmer Lee Jones: “Why the Bibs and Bow Tie?”
That’s a question, Farmer Lee admits, he gets asked “pretty darned often. Sure, some people might simply see it as a costume, a funny get-up or gimmick. And I know I’m kind of the farm mascot. And I’m okay with that. But there’s a lot more to it.”
You’ll have to read the entire post (it’s not all that long) to get the entire explanation, but we can tell you that he was inspired in high school by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
“That book,” he shares, “really resonated with me. It’s about a family that lost their farm during the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s. They lost absolutely everything. So, to make a living, they packed up whatever scarce belongings they could carry on their dilapidated old truck and headed west to California following the promise that they’d find work picking fruit. But the promises turned out to be lies. Work was scarce, conditions in the migrant camps were miserable, and the pay was so low that the family could barely afford to buy enough food to survive on. It was a humiliating and degrading existence.”
There’s a poignant scene where the determined farmers and their families put on their best clothes, remaining hopeful—and, to honor what the men wore, Farmer Lee dressed in that style.
“I own 18 pairs of overalls and 18 pressed white shirts,” he admits. “I wear clean ones every single day to always keep our family’s spirit of resilience and determination at the forefront of my mind. Because, no matter how bad things got, we never accepted defeat. With hard work and persistence, we faced an uncertain future with our heads held high, and the result is The Chef’s Garden.”
The Chef’s Garden Team Pulls Together for New Year’s Rush
The lead-up to New Year’s Eve is easily the busiest week of the year at The Chef’s Garden. The uptick in volume hits us hard. So, every year, office rats who work at desks from 8 to 5 show up two hours early, put on boots and hairnets, and volunteer to pitch in wherever we’re needed on the farm. You could say it’s “all rubber-gloved hands on deck” in order to get every chef’s order from greenhouse to box to kitchen in time for year-end revelry.
Our new supervisors are always a little leery of us interlopers, and rightfully so. These guys run watertight ships, and there is no room for do-overs. It has to be right the first time, every time, or you’ll have to walk the plank. Here’s what happened during last year’s New Year’s rush!
The Science of Flavor
In April 2019, we provided information about the on-site agricultural research facility we’d recently opened. This new lab and updated equipment will expand our researchers’ ability to conduct soil and tissue tests to gather information about nutrient content, soil health and other flavor-influencing factors without wasting precious time.
The presence or absence of specific nutrients, such as calcium and potassium, for example, can have a significant impact on shelf life, which can in turn affect the long-term flavor of stored vegetables. And, the work that can now be done in our on-site lab will maximize our ability to grow the best vegetables possible.
This is just one more example of our pursuit of perfection, led by “Mr. Bob” Jones, Sr. who never rests from his quest to find a better way to grow a better vegetable.
“Everybody thinks a carrot’s a carrot’s a carrot—well that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” Mr. Bob said. “You can have a carrot that tastes like cardboard, and you can have a carrot that is just wonderfully sweet and melts in your mouth. We test every carrot we can find—the competition, grocery store, wherever. We’ve got the best tasting carrot around. We have that now. But we think it can be even better.”
Chef Andy Hyde Brings a World of Experience to the Table
We wholeheartedly stand by what we’d written in our original post—that, if Chef Andy Hyde’s joy and excitement for food doesn’t ring your bell, then your clapper is broken.
Chef Andy calls himself the “wild child of Naples,” and we agree that his infectious enthusiasm is palpable, even over the phone. If you could hang out with our product specialists when Chef Andy calls, you might hear someone says that, no, “enthusiasm” isn’t a strong enough word for his abundant energy. One specialist might suggest “fervor,” while another may say “zeal” fits him better.
No matter what word you choose, this upscale private chef, the man behind Chef Hyde Gourmet, is worth writing about—and reading about, too.
Miracle of Edible Flowers
Creative chefs from all around the globe are using edible flowers in their soups and stews, salads, desserts, candies, flavored oils, vinaigrettes, drinks and much more. At the Culinary Vegetable Institute, our team uses them in tinctures and bitters to create unique cocktails and mocktails. And, although usage of these flowers is clearly experiencing a well-deserved surge in popularity, culinary flowers have been used for centuries.
To find out more, we encourage you to read our popular post, Miracle of Edible Flowers, and to also explore which deliciously edible blossoms might fit best into your culinary dishes and menus.
Benefits of Cover Crops: Giving Back to the Land
Cover crops are Bob Jones, Jr.’s area of expertise. These types of crops are integral to the health of our soil, as well as the health of our vegetables, giving the soil that contains them a chance to rest and get super-healthy again.
Here’s what Bob, Jr. has to say about how cover crops help our soil. “Soil is no different than you and I. Soil is a living, breathing organism just like we are, and you have to treat it as such. It needs food, air and water to be able to be productive. And, if you really want it to be productive, you’ve got to give it rest. The same things we need.”
Taking care of soil to the degree that we do is somewhat of an anomaly. As Bob, Jr. puts it, “Most traditional agronomic farms don’t go to this length. We are doing all of these things. We are establishing best practices and trying to set the bar. You do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.”
The right thing isn’t always the less expensive thing, however. But in the final analysis, he said the expense of intensive sustainability and stewardship practices are worth the investment.
“In the big picture of what we’re trying to accomplish—healthy soils, healthy crops, healthy people—we can’t afford not to,” he said. “The soil is another crop. The land has to rest. It has to be reinvigorated.”
Taking Our Farm on the Road: Edison Local Schools for Edison Works
This post allows us to shine a light on part of our mission that we don’t talk about enough—and that’s to “shape and redefine sustainable agriculture in our country by creating a template that will attract, inspire and retain young farmers. Through our own traditional farming practices and philosophy, we hope to encourage the next generation of farmers to value, protect and if necessary, restore America’s farmland in order to ensure that our fields continue to produce the safest, most nutritious and flavorful products possible. We hope that our legacy will be the establishment of a national farming model that ensures safe and sustainable growing practices that serve to protect and enrich the consumer for generations to come.”
And, over the past few years, we’ve been putting that into practice in an especially rewarding way, being part of the Edison Works program. This program was created to help local students succeed by showing them what kind of work takes place at a particular business—and what jobs may be available for them when the time comes.
Propelling Team USA to the Bocuse d’Or Podium
The day that Chefs Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud arrived at The Chef’s Garden and The Culinary Vegetable Institute as headliners at a fundraising event to support Team USA on the world stage at the 2021 Bocuse d’Or culinary competition was one of the most special days in Farmer Lee Jones’s entire life.
That day, six chefs shared the CVI kitchen, preparing their individual contributions to an exquisite multi-course meal. Each chef created a signature cocktail and dish for the main menu, with each of them being part of the patriotic village that is raising financial support to contribute to the team’s success.
The Bocuse goes far beyond being “special,” and it’s hard to find the right words to describe this event. Chef Jamie Simpson has attended a Bocuse event as a spectator, and he called that
experience “the most patriotic thing I have ever done as a human.”
“If you can, imagine a world stage,” he adds, “with 24 countries behind you waving flags and drumming drums and blowing whistles and dancing and doing chants and national anthems and fireworks. It’s mind blowing, the patriotism that happens. It’s a beautiful place.”