JAMES STRAWBRIDGE: FLAVOURS OF CORNWALL

PUBLISHED: 10:23 03 June 2015 | UPDATED: 13:02 30 August 2017

Photo 20-11-2014 09 01 17

Photo 20-11-2014 09 01 17

Cornwall's perfect growing conditions make it the ideal place to grow your own says James Strawbridge

TV chef James Strawbridge gets excited by homegrown produce as he heads to the Padstow Kitchen Garden.

When a professional gardener starts getting excited about summer being on the way you just know that it’s time to start celebrating. This month I caught up with the inspiring Ross Geach from Padstow Kitchen Garden to discuss growing vegetables and learn about the art of salad growing.

For many of us growing vegetables is a lovely hobby but to transform that passion for homegrown food into a business is a scary step. Ross is a trained chef and comes at food from the kitchen angle first. He is a professionally trained chef who spent more than ten years developing his skills with Rick Stein. As such, he understands what produce chefs need and appreciates the high standards they expect. I think that this Garden Chef approach is why his business is doing so well because not only does he love growing top quality food - he loves cooking and eating it!

My main bread and butter is still salad bags but I want to be more than that,’ says Ross. So from baby leeks and baby herbs, to kales and edible flowers, Padstow Kitchen Garden supplies an enticing variety of delicious and high-quality produce. After years of experimentation (and a few mistakes) knowledge of cheating the seasons, and the use of polytunnels, Padstow Kitchen Garden can extend the availability of items throughout the year. What is also unique about Ross is he grows all the unusual things such as padron peppers and dragons eggs (type of delicious cucumber that tastes like a young melon) but this means sometimes he’s ahead of the game... Chef’s love specialist ingredients but once he tells me it took a story to break in a Sunday paper and a twitter exchange with a top London chef before everyone in Cornwall demanded his exciting ingredients.

If you visit the Padstow Kitchen Garden you will be blown away by the view, the beautiful fresh produce and by the intoxicating passion of a young family man who is running a thriving business on the hill overlooking the River Camel. Ross supplies the very best chefs in Cornwall today and he grows a huge variety of vegetables which find their way into some of the county’s finest restaurants and cafes including Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant and St Petroc’s Bistro, Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, Michelin-starred Number 6 and The Driftwood.

Ross’ reputation for producing outstanding and unusual vegetables is growing rapidly. A year ot two ago he appeared on ITV’s Hungry Sailors with me and my dad and also Hook It & Cook It with Nathan Outlaw. What is great news for aspiring gardeners and keen cooks is that Ross is now starting to run courses and workshops from his kitchen garden.

If you’ve ever dreamed of growing your own vegetables to create fabulously nutritious meals, why not spend the day with Ross at beautiful Trerethern Farm in Padstow and learn how to establish your own kitchen garden. This fun but informative course is for gardeners of all abilities and no previous experience is required, although a passion for all things green-fingered is a bonus! Former head chef, Ross, will also prepare a scrumptious lunch made with ingredients sourced from the farm. Ross is keen to tailor the day to suit the participants’ requirements.

Over introductory tea/coffee and delicious home-made cake, he will ask each person what it is they would like to learn. Ross explained to me that someone can come with little vegetable experience or with the ambition to set up their own kitchen garden’. He starts the day with an informal chat - sort of level assessment and then everyone gets what they need to out of the day’.

Instead of just looking at his impressive 25 metre rows of vegetables with green envy, Ross has also deliberately invested in raised beds - so people can relate how they can build in their back garden’. The key isn’t experience on one of his courses but wellies and waterproofs and a desire to get stuck in’. If you are lucky enough to get a place on one of his desirable courses then you’ll learn how to sow seeds from scratch, grow what you want to eat instead of potatoes because dad grew potatoes’, and go away equipped with the know-how to grow things that you’d eat in a restaurant’. A gourmet picnic lunch cooked by Ross is included and also some great chef tips on how to deal with gluts: making pickles, preserves, and real skills like making clamps.

One of Ross Geach’s best bits of advice is not to get too hung up on how to sow evenly but instead with things like leeks, fennel or radishes - eat the thinnings! Just go for it and sow then enjoy being a garden chef and use your baby leeks with seafood or your fresh shoots in a salad.

Micro Kitchen Garden

All of us who have grown vegetables and herbs from seed have been part of the process of pricking out rows that appear too overcrowded, and then laboriously transplanted small seedlings into larger pots to bring them on.

There is a great deal of work that goes on to get a cabbage from a cabbage seed, or a leek from a leek seed. Watering, potting up with compost, weeding, pest protection and harvesting. Before I talk about a more unusual way of growing, I’d like to say that I wouldn’t swap traditional growing methods for the world, however I do like to try out new techniques and then work together the best of the old with the best of the new.

When a seed sprouts it needs very little feeding as there is so much goodness contained within the small seed case. Light, water and heat are all essential after the initial germination period in the dark. It is at the young stage, after sprouting but before it becomes a vegetable when a seedling is at it’s most alive. Indeed the tastes are intensified and the seedlings are packed with beneficial antioxidants. It takes some time to get used to the idea that micro greens are worth growing and harvesting but once you’ve tried a few varieties you won’t look back. The growing times range from 7 - 29 days and this means that you have a quick turnover with less initial capital needed. Plus, because they only grow to about 5 cm tall they are incredibly easy to harvest with just a pair of scissors. Using micro herbs and tiny salad leaves sounds like something very fancy that only chefs would do, but you can easily add a selection to a salad to add aroma and flavour or eat a healthy handful straight from the garden. The most well known example nowadays are pea shoots which people add to salads, or use as an attractive garnish.

Sow seeds for micro greens tightly together in square foot blocks. The closer together you sow them, the more they will want to grow upright and be uniformed and straight - much like a willow coppice but on a smaller scale. In my opinion some good varieties to start with for a cross section of colour and flavour would be; purple basil, mustard, peas, coriander and dill. Enjoy them and remember that small is beautiful’...

Topics Include:

Growing vegetables in the ground, raised beds, pots and a polytunnel

Growing vegetables and herb plants from seed or cuttings

Growing and harvesting seasonal veg

How to grow baby veg and herbs for dinner parties

Continuity sowing

How to deal with gluts

How to correctly store your veg for example in clamps (see picture)

How to build a propagator

How to build a hot-bed

The importance of crop rotation

How to make your own compost

How to deal with garden pests and disease

Cooking tips

These fabulous courses are restricted to just 12 people to ensure each participant receives a thorough understanding of how to create a kitchen garden. Call Ross on 07974 697191 or email ross@padstowkitchengarden.co.uk

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