Green Thumbs in the Kitchen

Chefs Kevin Furmanek and Victor Carducci talk with farmer Craig Weiner, who runs The Organic Farm owned by The Cliffs, a consortium of private clubs with properties in North and South Carolina.
Chefs Kevin Furmanek and Victor Carducci talk with farmer Craig Weiner, who runs The Organic Farm owned by The Cliffs, a consortium of private clubs with properties in North and South Carolina. The Cliffs

Sometimes local sourcing comes straight from the chef’s garden.

Name a chef who doesn’t source at least some fresh produce, meats, and other products from local, sustainable farmers and producers. As the fascination with fresh and local grows, it may be impossible to name such a chef. What might be easier nowadays is to name chefs and restaurants who have added their own on-site gardens and even small farms. This hyper-local trend seems to be catching on, but growing and managing a garden is no easy task. It requires a special skill set in horticulture that some chefs have taken upon themselves, or have partnered with others to adopt. Here’s how two chefs are managing their gardens. 

Fresh in Florida

Chef Kevin Fonzo, owner of the 15-year-old K Restaurant in Orlando, has had a green thumb as long as he can remember, from when he was growing up in the Catskills of upstate New York. This talent came in handy when he opened his first restaurant and wanted to start growing herbs for the kitchen. 

“The original restaurant location was at a strip mall, so I got in trouble for having a bunch of pots all up and down the sidewalk,” Chef Fonzo says. Now at a larger space in a freestanding house-turned-restaurant, complete with a wrap-around patio and converted parking lot, Fonzo has been able to expand his garden to include three planting beds and a 20-foot by 15-foot in-ground soil garden. About 15 percent of the menu comes from what’s grown right on site, and the garden is also aesthetically pleasing. The outdoor garden has been equipped with patio concrete and furniture to be able to hold receptions, garden dinners, and other events. 

“We’re lucky to have four growing seasons so we plant year-round,” says Fonzo, who will grow hearty cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and other vegetables in autumn; beets, radishes, fava beans, string beans, snow peas, heirloom carrots, and broccolini in winter; and watermelon and cantaloupes come spring. Year-round he grows a variety of peppers, including hot ones and shishitos, plus a ton of herbs, from oregano to rosemary, basil, lemon verbena, and mint. 

Chef Fonzo does it all himself with the help of the line cooks he’s trained to work in the garden—and who find it just as relaxing as he does to get out of the kitchen. “Part of the line cooks’ schedule is to weed for half an hour in the garden before washing up and coming inside,” he says. They also weigh in on what should be grown next. Most recently, the team experimented with kohlrabi and with Romanesco, a cauliflower and broccoli hybrid. They have also grown some fruit, mostly in the form of raspberry and blueberry bushes and citrus and fig trees. 

When there’s extra harvest, Fonzo will make herb pesto sauces or a ton of Eggplant Parmesan, but other scraps, like egg shells and trimmings not used for stocks, get tossed into the garden’s compost pile. That collection is turned into the soil every few days to keep the dirt aerated (not stinky), rich, and fertile for replanting. Chef Fonzo makes sure not to add any bones or animal fats, because these can interrupt the composting process. 

The garden is open for guests to visit, smell the produce, and pick and taste things when they are dining at the restaurant, and it is also available for local school children to visit. Nine years ago, Fonzo helped update the cafeteria program at a local school, and he partnered with Chef Alice Waters through her Edible Schoolyard program to enhance the education about gardening and eating local, healthy food. Now, students will take field trips to the garden and the restaurant, where they get to try the food. 


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