Thursday, July 28, 2011

Back to the Garden

For many chefs, there can be a disconnect between the produce we use in the kitchen and the farm, ocean, or forest it comes from. This was brought home to me last weekend, as I spent some time in my friend Heather's garden. She has a verdant green thumb and is as passionate about gardening as I am about cooking. I helped her dig her garlic harvest: huge beautiful bulbs fragrant, white and firm. Heather has been cultivating her garlic for about 4 years. Each year she singles out the largest bulbs and propagates them for the next crop. We dug about six rows and they yielded about 150 heads of garlic. It certainly wasn't difficult work and any time spent outside is relaxing and actually quite therapeutic after a busy week in the kitchen.

It did make me think, though, of the amount of work that goes into the food we use in our kitchens. And it made me think yet again that we need to treat all of the food that comes through our doors with respect and celebration. Even an everyday item such as garlic can be used in wonderful and creative ways. Roasting a whole head can be a sensual pleasure, both in the fragrance it throws around the kitchen and the rich, mellow flavour spread on warm bread with soft goat cheese.

To roast garlic just take 3 heads of garlic and cut off the top 1/4 inch to expose the top of the buds. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the garlic in an ovenproof baking dish and drizzle with about 1/2 cup of good olive oil. If you wish you can place some herbs like rosemary and thyme in the oil along with about 12-14 whole black peppercorns. Cover the garlic loosely with tinfoil and place in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until the garlic is soft and lightly browned. Remove from the oven, cool the garlic and squeeze the heads. The garlic will slip out and you can use it for all sorts of things. Reserve the oil for cooking as it will impart a lovely light garlic essence to whatever you are cooking.

I firmly believe that any chef or apprentice should spend time every growing season on a farm helping and seeing the work that goes into the production of their food. I also think it would be a good thing for farmers to spend a day in the kitchen to see what happens with the fruits of their labours.

My friend Ian at Mariposa Farm in Ontario has worked closely with chefs to raise cattle, pigs and vegetables. This experience gives young chefs an awareness that every part of the animal should be utilised and that it often takes more skill to make an off cut edible. Anyone can fling a filet mignon on the BBQ and it will be tender. But to take cross ribs and braise them properly with deep complex flavours and coax tenderness out of them until they are falling off the bone, now that takes some chops.

So I'm heading back outside to set the garlic to cure and go for a swim in the ocean. Does life really get better than this?

No comments: