Thursday, June 2, 2011

Gardening at the Grant

Farm and fork are growing closer in proximity. Chefs searching for even more inspiration for their dishes are taking on a new role as gardener. It's no longer good enough to buy from the farmers market when you can actually select seeds, then grow and harvest your own produce.

San Diego is seeing a proliferation of restaurant gardens and even farms. I just visited Bistro West and West Steak & Seafood's one-acre farm in Carlsbad--at the same time that my friend Trish Watlington, owner of The Red Door and The Wellington was breaking ground on her property in Mt. Helix on a large garden for the restaurants, designed by Karen Contreras of Urban Plantations.

It's not just a suburban phenomenon. Last week I visited the U.S. Grant Hotel in the heart of downtown San Diego to see the rooftop garden that a company called Brickman installed last summer. Now the garden has become the passion and responsibility of Grant Grill Chef de Cuisine Chris Kurth and Mixologist Jeff Josenhans. The two are literally watering, pruning, feeding, and harvesting their little culinary oasis.

What are they growing? They're heading into a new season, but when I was there tomatoes and peppers were ripening. There was cabbage, broccoli, fennel, and the remnants of Brussels sprouts. Dwarf kumquat, tangerine, and Meyer lemon trees were dripping with fruit. And, there were lots of herbs: basil, cilantro, thyme, chives, tarragon, and anise--all grown from seed.

It was impressive to taste the bounty, too. I sampled a lovely light Persian cucumber soup (see recipe below) and a petite tomato tart, both made by Kurth.

Josenhans was handing out Cinnamon Basil "French" Julips, made with Pierre Ferrand cognac, Moet Chandon, muddled cinnamon basil, and orange blossom sugar. And, there was the Rooftop Garden Tour, a cocktail combining Angelica-infused Tangueray Sterling vodka, muddled Russian tarragon and Florence fennel, and white peach puree.

Grant Grill's Cucumber Soup
(printable recipe)

Serves 4

16 peeled and seeded Persian cucumbers, roughly chopped
2 yellow bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped mint
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped dill
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons kosher salt (add more or less, depending on taste)
1 1/2 cup yogurt
1 cup sour cream
3 teaspoons tarragon vinegar (add more or less, depending on taste)
Extra virgin olive oil to taste (about 2 tablespoons)

Add all of the ingredients except the oil and vinegar into a high-speed blender and blend until smooth. Pour the soup into a mixing bowl and adjust the seasonings. Next add the olive oil and vinegar to taste. Chill one hour before serving so the flavors can meld.

If you'd like to get a taste of the garden, mark your calendar for the week of July 15, when the Grant Grill, located at 326 Broadway, will be holding harvest/mixology dinners.

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