I finished all my strenuous work today by noon. I prepped two mini tv appearances for George and made rice krispie treats. Man, I am exhausted…(not really, but I”m trying to act like this job takes a professional!). I licked my fingers clean of marshmallow goo, rinsed my hands and rushed out the door to drive to the Chef’s Garden. Normally you need to schedule tours in advance, but I called and dropped a few names (oh yeah, I know Farmer John, and er, you know all those local farmers from New York…). And it worked. They set me up for a tour and I intended to be on time.
I drove over an hour to look at plants. But not just any plants. Chef’s Garden is one of the best suppliers of micro herbs, petite lettuces, edible flowers, and mini root vegetables throughout the nation. They approximate how much product should be grown in relation to their customers’ needs. The focus is on quality, not quantity. It is an exciting farm to visit because the passion is tangible at this family owned operation!
Mike Ineson was the first to greet me and was in charge of taking me on the tour. He first had me sit in on a meeting with a farmer who was speaking to the sales people. He let them know what was going on with his stock now that the first frost had come, what needed to be sold within the next two weeks, and what new items were going to be coming in now that the weather was getting colder. Then Mike took the stand and passed around boxes of micro white pea shoots, amaranth, thyme and several other herbs so the salespeople would have a reference to the items needing to be sold.
After my taste tests upstairs in the meeting room, we went down into the greenhouses to sample the items right from where they grew. I sampled anice hysop (more delicious than fennel), micro tarragon (which is more delicate than non-micro), five varieties of sage, black basil and many others. We began talking about yellow pea shoots and how delicious they are. Mike then pulled out a box of popcorn shoots which were green–I had only ever seen the yellow ones and was taken by surprise. Sometimes it just takes a minute to put two and two together. They are grown in the same way as white asparagus or white pea shoots. The yellow are wildly popular because they are so much sweeter than the green. They are grown in the dark, so photosynthesis can’t take place and the sugars therefore cannot produce chlorophyll… and since the sugars have no where to go, the white popcorn shoots taste just like candy. Next time I’m at the movies, I think I’ll try to sell that idea to the candy counter.
After grazing on herbs for about half an hour, we went on to taste some of the more unique items. One large leaf looked like a squash leaf but in fact was named “root beer leaf” for its distinctive root beer aftertaste. Another fun item was the Sichuan button, which I already surprise attacked my roommates and several friends with a few weeks ago. For a fun prank, pull off a pinch of the yellow buds, tell your friend to swish them all over their mouth..and enjoy their reaction. It’s like biting into a Sichuan peppercorn. That reminds me, I must find George! The last really interesting item was Wintergreen berries. These beautiful rosy berries really surprised my tongue and transported me both to my bed on a sick day and Halloween in elementary school. Wait, let me explain. The first sensation from these mealy berries is a chalky pepperimint taste: Pepto Bismal. After much contemplation and squinting of the eyes, we deduced that the last flavor was exactly like those big, red, wax lips you plaster to your mouth on Halloween. Two flavors in one berry. But I’m not saying I want to use it in a recipe anytime soon..
I walked through all the operations of how the seeds are planted, watered, stored, washed, packed and shipped. It was a huge operation, but methodical and efficient. It’s also tucked away into a beautiful part of Ohio. The drive to the chef’s guest house was breathtaking. We wound down roads through pastures, corn fields, passed tiny white churches and saw no other cars on the road. Sometimes it’s so nice to step away from the city. I scooted around the house, petted the Viking range (so maybe I miss being in the kitchen a little), and lingered in the library wishing I had more time to go through the expansive cookbook collection. Just glancing around I saw books that dated back to the mid nineteenth century! Who knows what treasures you could find in there! I do plan on going back one day (hopefully as a guest chef?!), but until then it was such a pleasure to see how this farm has grown and continues to grow while providing some of the best produce around.
The Chef’s Garden 9009 Huron-Avery Rd., Huron, Ohio 44839