Restaurants that cultivate and cook with produce grown from their own plots are not hard to come by in 2019. A modern obsession with seasonal, fresh ingredients and the provenance thereof has resulted in many owners and chefs creating business models (sometimes called “farm to table”) that see them invest in land rather than countless suppliers. But it wasn’t always this way. And, in a crowded field, Mr Raymond Blanc’s restaurant Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year – can lay claim to being a pioneer.
“We have about an acre and a half to grow about 90 different vegetables and herbs and we have a two-acre orchard. A hundred varieties of apples; 20 pears. We have apricots, cherries…” Head gardener at the two-Michelin-star restaurant is Ms Anne Marie Owens, who has overseen all matters flora from the beginning and, today, is as enthusiastic as ever. “When I first started here Raymond asked me what I had grown and what it tasted like. ‘We didn’t eat it,’ I said. ‘Mon dieu, mon dieu!’ I remember him dragging me into the kitchen to force-feed me vegetables. He was so passionate about everything being fresh. He was ahead of his time. He was in Oxford and dreamt of a bit of space – 35 years ago in Britain this was unheard of. When I arrived here, Swiss chard was exotic!”
Not all of us have acres of land on which to grow produce, of course. And an amateur gardener and cook cannot be expected to cultivate and cook with Swiss chard. So, we asked Ms Owens for some quick, casual beginner’s tips on getting the most out of a small city plot (or window sill).