By Alan Smith (Produce gardener and Front of house at The Black Swan)
After nearly 2 years working in rural North Yorkshire one thing that I have learned for certain is that I know very little about gardening, food or wine.
At first glance this may seem like a major problem for someone that works full time in the restaurant industry. Especially for someone that spends a large amount of his day maintaining a large restaurant garden, but I don’t think it is a problem at all.
It is the beginning of harvest time in Oldstead and Tom Banks has been preparing to harvest his crops on the family farm next door to the restaurant. He has been servicing the combine and drying machinery, regularly checking the crops for moisture and ripeness and most importantly checking the weather forecast for that window of opportunity to harvest the crops at their driest and most ripe. It is a process and a gamble that many farmers take year on year to leave the crops until they are just perfect, but one day too long and a the weather can turn ruining a whole crop.
Tom has learned when to harvest his crop from a lifetime of farming. Knowledge has been passed down from his father, from making mistakes and learning from them. The aim being to consistently get the best product year on year and this only comes from experience and understanding what constitutes the ‘best’ produce.
When we are growing for the restaurant it is a different story. None of us have a lifetime of experience growing this array of produce on this scale and a lot of the species and varieties we have never even heard of, never mind grown. This is what I mean when I say I know nothing. It is not until you begin to think you know something that you realize how much more there is to learn.
This is what keeps our job exciting, we thrive on finding a product we have never grown, working out how we can grow it and then experimenting with it in our kitchen. This is what keeps our menu changing and keeps the excited glint in our eye when we are explaining a plate of food or a drink to our customers.
Unlike Tom’s farm where he can tell you the exact characteristics of his crop, we are in the exciting position that until we cut into our Minnesota Midget melons, pick our ripe japanese wine berries, dig up our crop of oxalis tubas or take our fresh field grown Tomatillos out of their protective capes, we have no idea how we are going to use them or how they will taste.
This sense of discovery is what comes across as our passion and puts a smile on our face when you come to eat at the restaurant.
There is no better moment for me than asking a question that needs an answer.