I was hoping that Peter Gilmore would offer to whip me up something for lunch. Just something simple, like this plate of peas:
After all, how often do you get to be in garden (and kitchen) of one of the world’s great chefs! Sadly, no lunch, but plenty of high quality snacking in the garden. And, as you’d expect the snacks on offer weren’t as straightforward as a cherry tomato ripe on the vine. First – silver sorrel.
This is the silver-leafed form of true French sorrel, which is also called buckler-leaf sorrel, Rumex scutatus. The pretty little heart-shaped leaves are blue-green with cloudy grey markings and they taste like sour green apples.
Next, the creamy-lemon petals of a daylily called ‘Joan Senior’, which are sweet, with the faint onion bite of a leek. Par-cel, a hybrid of parsley and celery, tastes like the pale inner leaves of celery heart, but look like ruffled bright green parsley.
Unlike most gardeners, Gilmore, whose restaurant Quay, has been part of S. Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants for five years in a row, doesn’t grow food for the family. Instead, his four 10-metre long raised beds are experiments in flavour, texture and beauty. “I grow different things every season, things I haven’t tried before,” he says. “There’s so much to explore. This gives me a huge platform to surprise people.” Here are the beds, the spring plantings just coming up, and the highly divided kale going to flower for future seed.
It was the humble pea that entwined Gilmore in a love of gardening. He writes in his new book, Organum (Murdoch, $100) about the awe of watching the seed develop and the revelation that all parts of the plant were edible at all stages of its development. (See dish above – hot buttered peas with fried pea blossoms, fresh bean, pea and carrot flowers and sprigs of agretti, which, following the current trend, is called Garden peas, cultured butter, sea salt, crisp pea blossom. )“Vegetable beds took over the garden,” he says. “I bought the kids a trampoline as compensation, but then I planted around and under that too.”
The goal of the garden is delicious novelties, which ironically enough are not new at all, just unknown. This season he has high hopes for an heirloom melon from Rajasthan. If it works out, he’ll pass his experience and seeds on to his growers, Tim and Elizabeth Johnstone, who’ll grow it for a season to get to know it, save the seed, then grow it the following year for use in the Quay kitchen.
The sources for his vegetative exploration are seed merchants: Diggers, Cornucopia and Eden here in Australia; Gourmet and Kitazawa in the US; Seedaholic in Ireland; and others, all stored in plastic containers in a cupboard in the kitchen.
Gilmore eschews seed-raising beds, preferring to sow direct into beds prepared with his own compost. Plants are mulched with lucerne, which feeds the soil as it breaks down, and the beds are rested for a month at the end of winter and refreshed with occasional cow manure.
The garden also has space for an orchard, planted into hollow water pipes to mitigate against the very steep slope and poor soil. There are figs, pomegranate, Seville orange, West Indian lime, a purple-fleshed peach, apricots, a Cox’s orange pippin, and right down the bottom, a white mulberry. We pluck the ripe dangling fruit. It’s sweet and fragrant and has the surprise and elegance to score a role in a Peter Gilmore dish. ‘How good is that!’ he says with quiet satisfaction.
I’ll just have to get to Quay to see how they become lunch!