Growing for it
Published 04 February 2018

Gareth Ward picks produce from the garden at Ynyshir

Sourcing produce from local suppliers simply isn’t enough for a growing band of chefs, who are taking ‘locally sourced’ to the extreme by growing their own fruit and vegetables

At a time when food costs are increasing, many restaurants and pubs are going the extra yard when it comes to reducing food miles between plot and plate by supplying their own kitchens.

Whether it’s eating within a garden such as Petersham Nurseries Café, dining in the middle of a farm like Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall or enjoying a meal in the heart of the city with its own rooftop garden such as The Dairy in Clapham, more and more chefs are writing menus around the seasonal produce they pick themselves on the day.

At Ynyshir in Powys, head chef Gareth Ward and his team can walk a few paces from the kitchen to the Victorian walled garden and pick their own tomatoes, beans, artichokes, greens, salad leaves, asparagus, fennel, horseradish and herbs. That’s when they aren’t picking apples, plums, pears, quince, figs and soft summer fruits.

In Bristol, Birch restaurant owners Sam Leach and Beccy Massey are producing the majority of their own vegetables and fruit on a smallholding on the outskirts of the city, working there on the days they aren’t open, or visiting it on the way to the restaurant.

Bristol has long enjoyed a reputation as a city that takes sustainability and organics seriously – the Soil Association has been based there for decades – and a number of local restaurants now grow their own, including Wilsons, where chef Jan Ostle’s wife, Mary Wilson, grows a multitude of vegetables, herbs and salad leaves organically and biodynamically in polytunnels on an acre of land a short drive from the restaurant.

‘From a chef’s point of view, it’s an incredible palette to work from,’ says Ostle. ‘Having any produce that is picked that morning and served in its prime is a dream come true for any chef and it continues to excite and challenge us in a kitchen where the menu changes most days.’

More than 50% of the produce on the menu at Wilsons is grown themselves, which Ostle says can also save money for a restaurant at a time when prices are soaring and margins shrinking.

‘Some companies are using the whole Brexit thing as an excuse to make a quick buck. One supplier we were using last year increased some items by over 150% and used Brexit as an excuse.

‘Growing our own produce is a cornerstone of who we are at Wilsons and it continues to drive our business forward.’

After working at L'enclume, Kevin Tickle was used to cooking with seasonal produce grown a few yards from the kitchen and he has continued this at Forest Side in Grasmere.

Many of the ingredients are grown to the chef’s specifications and the restaurant’s kitchen garden provides about 60% of the fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables used on the menu.

The Felin Fach Griffin near Brecon started its garden with a few potato beds in 2002 and it was certified organic four years later. It has since grown to around half an acre under raised beds, as well as fruit trees and bushes.

Owner Edmund Inkin says: ‘The most productive crops on this ground tend to be broad beans, peas, onions, leeks and salads. We try to stagger the planting so that they each provide a steady flow through a couple of months but sod's law dictates that the crop all comes at once.

‘The garden can certainly inspire our chefs: the very action of going to the garden and picking is a pleasure. As each season progresses, they love the initial excitement of the first crops but I'd have to say that picking the 100th kilo of blackcurrants is, perhaps, not stemmed with the same enthusiasm as the first!

‘The uncertainty of a garden will always fuel menu inspiration, though, and the mere appearance of our own garden produce on the menu makes that menu look fresh.’

Related article; Foragers' pickings