Chef Michael toured the farm, meeting and talking with the team members responsible for researching, cultivating and growing the fresh vegetables that arrive at his restaurant every week.
The Chef and Farmer philosophy is the driving force behind The Chef’s Garden, where the distance between farm and plate is a mere 24 hours or less. During Chef Michael’s tour, however, that distance was shortened to an instant, just inches beyond his fingertips.
Microgreens Taste Test
Chef Michael was treated to a smorgasbord laid out before him by microgreens expert Judit Ender. He sampled shiso, popcorn shoots, fresh herb and vegetable blooms, Memo chives, baby carrots, turnips and more, all narrated by Ender’s rapid-fire stream of knowledge.
Chef Michael sampled purslane. “Oh, my God, the lemon in that is amazing!”
He sampled lemongrass. “The bar would like this.”
He sampled Oxalis blooms. “That’s the strongest flower I’ve ever tasted.”
He sampled Lemon Verbena. “I might begin a tea service. This would fit right in.”
He sampled Begonias. “All flowers look beautiful, but if they don’t have the flavor, what’s the point?”
He sampled Memo chives and got a quick lesson on how and why the tiny black seed pods remain attached to them.
Listen and Learn
One of the questions Ender likes to ask of chefs during her stop on the tour is “How would you use this, chef?” That’s because, even though the tour is supposed to enlighten chefs about how their fresh vegetables are grown, it’s equally important for chefs to enlighten growers about what they need and want.
In response to Ender’s question, Chef Michael showed her not only photos of composed plates, but also a meticulously organized setup he arranges prior to service. He called it a “tackle box” with precise measures of each microgreen, fresh herb and edible flower tucked into individual compartments. He shared photos of herb bundles and garnishes incorporating Calvin pea tendrils and Thai basil, as well as composed dishes. “This always blows my mind,” Ender said. “It’s art on its own.”
Moving on to the field, Field Crops Manager Tom Skrovan led Chef Michael through tunnels of snow peas and runner beans in full bloom. For Chef Michael, the impossibly bright neon red flowers were a new discovery.
He witnessed the earliest crop of wisp-thin Carmellini® beans on their first day of harvest. He plucked and tasted tiny snow peas right from the vine.
Passing through tunnels and between field rows, the two – chef and farmer – strolled side by side, shoulder to shoulder, deep in conversation and mutual respect.
The Chef’s Garden mission is to provide the products that chefs want. And Chef Michael had a request.
“Have you ever grown miniature fresh black-eyed peas?” he asked.
“We’ll have to look into that,” Skrovan said.
“You should,” Chef Michael insisted.
Ask the Expert
As Chef Michael sampled and declared his favorites, Product Specialist Stephanie Daniels stood at his elbow taking notes on new products he wants to try. Daniels also recommended further options she thought he should consider.Witnessing a crop of field greens, Daniels demonstrated to Chef Michael the difference between greenhouse-grown and field-grown greens, particularly the texture and vibrancy of the latter, sharing the benefits of eating with the seasons.
“When we have it in the field, take advantage of it,” Daniels advised.
The final stop on every chef’s tour, following a stroll through the packing facility, is a long table laden with a colorful bounty of fresh vegetables, edible flowers and microgreens artfully and perfectly displayed by Assistant Production Manager Brandon Magyar.
As Magyar described each of the products, Chef Michael helped himself to the enormous “sampler platter” piled with even more new tastes arranged for him to experience.
His mind swirling with ideas and possibilities, Chef Michael then headed to the Culinary Vegetable Institute to explore the possibilities of all he’d tasted.
Chef Michael had often considered visiting the farm, and finally decided to take the plunge. “I wanted to come in spring,” he said. “Every chef should do this.”