By Paris Wolfe- Prospective Member WRHS
In mid-April, Milan, Ohio, farmer Lee Jones released The Chef's Garden: A Modern Guide to Common and Unusual Vegetables--with Recipes. The 640-page hefty hardback focuses on plant-based dining, unusual vegetable use and regenerative farming. AND it includes information about herbs and edible flowers.
If you don’t buy the book, at least borrow it from your library for the powerful prose and fabulous photos. It will give you a chef’s eye view on emerging vegetable and herb opportunities.
For example, you probably already knew that you could eat certain marigold (Tegetes tennifolia) flowers. But did you know you can eat the lacy leaves, too? The Chef’s Garden has dubbed these “Citrus lace” as they have citrusy fragrance and orange-soda-like flavors.
And you’re probably familiar with the basil family – sweet green, dark opal, Thai, lemon, lime, cinnamon and more. But did you know you can eat the seeds? The book describes the flavor as floral, almost vanilla and suggests using gelled seeds as a garnish on sashimi or chilled desserts.
The herb information isn’t easily delineated in one section but woven throughout the book. The first reference starts in the Onions section, page 66 with chives – standard and garlic. The final reference is on page 609 with a recipe for Herb Kombucha. And the book has so much information and many recipes in between.
Consider recipes created by Chef Jamie Simpson, like poached peaches with basil syrup, basil oil and basil seed crackers or lavender-scented cauliflower soup.
The book’s grand finale is a section on edible flowers. Again, these aren’t just the obvious like dianthus and violas. They include vegetable and herb blooms as well, things like arugula flowers, fava blossoms and Oxalis.
It’s only recently that home chefs could order all the products sold by The Chef’s Garden. Before the pandemic limited restaurant dining, most of the herbs and vegetables were shipped to chefs at top national restaurants. When COVID changed the frequency of restaurant dining, the farm pivoted. They are now making specialty herbs and vegetables available to home cooks. The cookbook shows everyone how to get the most from this produce … even if they grow it themselves at home.
Complete with 100 recipes, Jones says, “The book is a place to inspire ways of using vegetables and reducing waste … a home cook, a chef, a farmer, a gardener can find some great tips … it’s really about inspiring people to consider the entire vegetable.”
Recipes are just part of the book’s value. It includes stories like how Chef Charlie Trotter inspired The Chef’s Garden’s explosion into microgreens. A sidebar offers basic information about fiddlehead ferns. Another sidebar explains how to grow lemongrass. Information about nutrient content is woven through the entire narrative.
The cookbook is comprehensive and compelling. Written in Farmer Jones folksy voice it makes complex information delightful and easily accessible. This is the kind of cookbook culinary enthusiasts read for fun, not just for cooking. It belongs on the coffee table as much as the kitchen table.
The book – hardcover ($55) and Kindle ($29.99) editions – is available on Amazon.com in mid-April.
Picture from the Chefs Garden