There is something unbelievably satisfying about eating vegetables picked straight from your own garden and meal planning can be based on what is ready to gather. Many local Hawke’s Bay restaurateurs and chefs are now embracing the uniqueness of having ‘kitchen gardens’ so they can serve daily produce right from their own turf.

As early as the 70s a new breed of restaurant such as Chez Panisse in California was experimenting with sourcing vegetables and produce from small specialised growers and dabbling in growing and serving fresh produce straight from their own gardens. Even after decades, Alice Waters’ philosophy was and still is “that the best-tasting food is organically and locally grown and harvested in ways that are ecologically sound by people who are taking care of the land for future generations. Since 1971 Chez Panisse has invited diners to partake of the immediacy and excitement of vegetables just out of the garden, fruit right off the branch, and fish straight out of the sea.”

Another treasured cookbook for me when I was growing up was the Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, which has inspired vegetarians and vegetables lovers for generations to grow and cook simple, healthy and seasonal food. To read and cook from this old classic still gives me the feeling of cooking with a warm, witty, well-informed friend. Not bad after all these years!!

The first local kitchen garden I explore is at Craggy Range on Waimarama Road. The restaurant Terroir continues to be close to my heart because it is here that David and I first fell in love with the Bay and worked for two years back in 2002. From the then empty paddocks to the now meticulously manicured grounds, vines, gardens and lake this is a haven of calm and tranquilty.

Catching up with Andrew Saxon, the executive chef at Terroir, he explains that he intends to keep the rustic, ‘country provencal’ approach to the menu, using as much produce as possible from the garden. The day I visited, beds of globe artichokes, tomatoes, peas, celery, radishes, lettuces and scores of other vegetable were glistening in the sun ready for the pick. This delicious recipe from Andrew illustrates his food ethos of using beautiful seasonal ingredients, perfectly matched “to allow their flavours to sing”.

Even in more built-up areas it is possible to achieve high cropping out of comparatively small planter boxes. At F.G. Smith Eatery in Ahuriri, herbs and greens are gathered on a daily basis and used in salads and as garnishes. The garden creates a cool haven to view and enjoy.

At Vidals Winery Restaurant in Hastings there is also an established kitchen garden and Nathan the head chef informs me that often specials are designed around what’s been gathered and he particularly enjoys using these herbs when it comes to garnishing the fish of the day.

St Georges Restaurant is positioned on the outskirts of Havelock North. Almost ninety percent of the produce is grown, nurtured, handpicked and creatively prepared by chef Francky Godinho and guests are welcome to explore the garden and immerse themselves in the St George’s experience.

Dropping into visit my friend Chris on Lawn Road I found her weeding her extensive home garden and tending her broad beans. Generally there is a lovehate in regards to these little green gems and for me they bring back childhood memories of my grandfather and his wonderful garden at Butterfly Creek in Eastbourne. In those days it was common place to boil the living daylights out of them and then horror of horrors to put them into a white sauce. As children we would struggle to swallow them.

Times have changed and nowadays they are fashionable, with chefs removing the beans from their thick grey shells and using in a multiple of ways. Chris has a great story of presenting a supposed green dip to her family and not disclosing the ingredients. They thought they were eating avocado to find out actually it was made from broad beans. With a bag of freshly dug red skinned potatoes I drive off knowing what vegetable would be on our menu tonight.

Try preparing a healthy broad bean mash with garlic, lemon, fresh mint, olive oil and parmesan for a topping on a bruschetta or a garnish to go with roasted lamb or chicken.

Talking to Kent Baddeley from Ten Twenty Four on Pakowhai Road, he has tales to tell of being inspired by his grandmother who grew all her vegetables organically. I think it is often the case that family members pass down knowledge that filters through the generations. Kent uses flowers and herbs from his garden, ebbing and flowing the pockets of vegetarian options through his menu. He tinkers daily, but wisely mentions that first and foremost he is a chef and not a “gardener” but enjoys the additional garden aspect.

We are with you on that one Kent, and the joy of cooking at Mister D is truly enhanced by the bountiful garden produce that is grown here in the Bay.

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