28 Jul 2014

Kitchen Garden Experts - Inspiration from plot to plate!

I'm not one to rush into things but I have excelled myself this time by only just writing about a book I received a goodly while back, 'The Kitchen Garden Experts'. I'm aware it's been reviewed elsewhere but let's look again, shall we?



It's a rather nice book about the collaboration between twenty UK-based restaurant chefs and the chosen ones on whom they rely to grow their veg. It's hard to categorise this book; after an introduction to each restaurant, it's part biography, part garden inspiration, part cookbook. It explores those restaurants that have thrown their weight behind the idea of home-grown/local, sustainable and seasonal food for their kitchens and how they achieve that throughout the year. The author, Cinead McTiernan, has obviously had unparalleled access to both gardeners and chefs alike as each chapter is full of their expertise, with the balance tipping slightly towards where it all starts - in the garden.

It's beautifully written with more than a passing glance into the reality of life in a large kitchen garden. It has particular relevance now, in the summer, as the garden starts to produce plenty of food for the kitchen but I'd not be unhappy to get this book for a bit of autumn or winter reading, at a time when we're all deciding what to do with our various plots in the following year.




Propagating geraniums to ensure plenty of plants for making Rose Geranium Panna Cotta with Blackcurrant Sorbet

The concept of plot to plate food of the freshest quality is not new - my grandfather grew all the veg for the kitchen in his enormously long back garden - but it wasn't a trend then, it was how you fed your family.  Of real interest in this book, for me, is the way that the chefs and gardeners work together to put seasonal, no-to-low miles food on the menu of their various gaffs; they listen to each other's ideas, growing and creating food with a modern combination of flavours.

My typed extract from the book

Putting the end product aside for a moment, I was fascinated to read the methods that the gardeners use to get the best from their gardens and how to get the quantities right. That's real talent, keeping enough seasonal salad leaves on the go to provide for meal after meal. Sounds a nightmare to me but there are golden nuggets of information to be gleaned here.

For gardeners like me, always keen to experiment and get the most from the space I garden, it certainly provides a good read; by choosing restaurant gardens located throughout the UK, from Perthshire to Padstow, there's a range of climates and situations that will surely offer inspiration and insight to a wide range of growers. There's even a map if you want to explore the restaurants and their gardens for real. There are tips throughout from gardeners speaking of their experience, advice on growing specific ingredients and an additional page per chapter devoted to 'kitchen garden secrets'.  A good index at the back will take you straight to a featured plant - either gardening or recipe, although the range is limited. (This is not an allotment how-to book.)



By showcasing both the head gardeners and the chefs together, with the restaurant that they work for (or own!), there is a nice continuum from plot to plate. Not all the recipes appealed to me but then I don't cook dinner party fare, just hearty fill-your-boots food for teenagers.  That doesn't mean that I wouldn't like to try raspberry cranachan or rose geranium panna cotta. There's a delicious recipe for a classic summer stew of ratatouille (what to do with that courgette glut!) and I quite fancy the rainbow chard and bean soup as well.

On the flip side, I could leave recipes such as the plate of 'Beetroot textures'; undoubtedly eye-pleasing, it's firmly in the fancy restaurant dish category - a meal of style over substance.  But that's just me - someone else might need a menu to impress and find this perfect.

Although my training is taking me towards garden design, I'm plot to plate obsessed and will always be first and foremost a food grower. I'm fascinated by every aspect of it, from foraging to unusual edibles to the benefits of growing your own and hunt out and save recipes using food that I grow.  A garden visit is made so much more appealing if there's a kitchen garden included and I'm curious to know how such food growing spaces are managed for effective production.  For all of these reasons, I found 'Kitchen Garden Experts' an absorbing read; it's a definite bonus that the book is visually beautiful* and engagingly written. I'm more than pleased to add this to my gardening bookshelf.



Here's a little taster of the 40 recipes to be found within:

Yorkshire pudding with puréed parsnips and roasted vegetables
Scorched onion with crispy rocket and pesto (with details of growing wild rocket)
Baked gooseberries with lemon verbena ice cream and flapjack
Baby courgettes with a garden herb mayo
Poached rhubarb with buttermilk pudding, honeycomb and ginger wine
Rosehip syrup (to serve with cheese and salad leaves)
Plum and almond flan
Leeks vinaigrette
Ratatouille
Two way runner beans
Fig Mozzarella and basil salad
Sorrell frittata

Hopefully, this black box below will work as a slideshow of a few recipe photos to whet your appetites!


There are many more recipes, of the type that you might find on Masterchef, eg Whitby lobster with quail's eggs and garden beans, and all the recipes have detailed instructions on how to prepare the food.  An opportunity to brush up on dinner party skills perhaps?


* photos by Jason Ingram who won the Garden Media Guild Photographer of the Year award last year.

Disclaimer: My thanks go to the publisher, Frances Lincoln, who sent me the book to review; it is available through their website or the usual online retailers.

18 comments:

  1. Those recipes sound lovely and the pictures of them are so good too. Sarah x

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    1. Don't they just, Sarah! The photos are wonderful and really draw you in. Both the author and photographer are gardeners themselves and it shows in the detail of the book.

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  2. It sounds like a lovely book, although like you I tend to cook simpler food. I always like to find the vegetable garden when I visit a big garden as well. I like the idea of producing more food throughout the year - all mine tends to come in June to September! Must try harder. CJ xx

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    1. That's why recipes like the ratatouille, frittata and soups appealed, CJ. I like quick, easy to prepare food but, just sometimes, it's nice to spend time making something really special - and good to know how!

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  3. As I'm not a foodie and my cooking is basic and simple I don't think that this book would merit more than passing interest from me. However for those who grow and cook well then I'm sure it's well worth reading, especially in view of your excellent review. Flighty xx

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    1. Thank you, Flighty. As both cook and gardener, I was very absorbed by this book. Even if the restaurant recipes don't appeal, the gardening aspects are informative for people who might enjoy a jolly good kitchen garden read.

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  4. Being an impractical person, I'd love a book like this. First I'd pretend I'd grown all the veg. in it. Then I'd have an imaginary feast pretending I'd cooked with the recipes.

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    1. Hahaha - that's the spirit!! Although there's a glorified omelette in there that even I could make!!

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  5. That does sound like an interesting book. I must look out for it. I too am obsessed with growing my own, I couldn't imagine a year without home grown. xxx

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    1. It makes me very happy to carry home a basket of veg straight from the veg garden for my supper (or lunch!). Even being able to add freshly cut herbs to an omelette or recipe feels better than unwrapping a plastic bag. Don't know why everyone doesn't do it!

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  6. The amazing thing about that book is that 20 restaurant chefs have actually CO-OPERATED! They are normally a bit too arrogant for something like that.

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    1. Yes, I'm amazed that they found the time; after all, running a kitchen for paying diners is a bit like a military operation, from what I've seen on tv. I'm sure they must have their moments (like all of us!) but a lot of the chefs appear to be jolly nice people, made nicer for having that s-l-o-w connection to the food growing seasons.

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  7. Thanks for such an in depth review Caro and for making me feel rather peckish :) May well be tempted by this title once my year trying not to buy any new books is over.

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    1. Yes, it made me want to head towards the kitchen too! Or, more precisely, wish I had the cash to try out some of those restaurants! :) Definitely worth checking this book out - I can't imagine not buying any books for a year (do secondhand ones from Amazon count, I wonder?) - although it may do my budget a world of good to do the same! C x

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  8. Spotted this in a bookshop the other day and had a quick browse. Nice book with some impressive looking recipes for the keen cook.

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    1. And good advice for gardeners, too! I thought this book would make a lovely gift and provide a nice gentle read - I can imagine sitting outside in a comfy chair, supping tea and having this to read. Nice.

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  9. I think I'd find the tips about how to judge how much to grow and the snippets of how these kitchen gardens are organised fascinating. I didn't do fancy food either, but I do love eating what I've grown. I think for me this would be a library book rather than one to own.

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    1. I love the idea of being able to support my local library by borrowing books; it would be a good alternative to buying all the books I want to read. Sadly, our library services are being cut back so it's increasingly hard to get the titles you want. I agree that it's a good idea to be able to review books before buying - I have a lot of repeat information on my bookshelves!

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Comments on my posts are much appreciated and help to build an online community of blog friends. Everyone is welcome! However, I have turned comment moderation on so that I can delete spam comments before they hit my blog. I hope this won't deter real blog friends from commenting! :)
Caro x

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