This week we visit the Highland
Lake Inn in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Jack Grup, the owner,
introduces us to the retreat. It is a 26 acre resort that
has been providing lodging and wonderful dining for many
years. In the 1920's it was a camp for boys, then in the
50's a Catholic camp. It has been renovated making it ideal
for weddings, banquets, corporate meetings and lodging.
What makes this Inn so unique is they take organic food
directly from their garden to their guests plate. To be
able to see the food in the garden then on their plate delights
Sandy Wilkinson is the head gardener and tells and shows
us her garden. The garden is about an acre and a half and
all organic. It is divided into 4 levels, the top is mostly
perennial with herbs and edible flowers. The second level
is the most productive, generally producing from March until
November. the bottom two levels are more agricultural, mass
production of Tomatoes, Squash, Ornamental Corn, etc.
We start with the Nasturtiums. They are beautiful but importantly
used as a signature item in the restaurant as an edible
garnish on each plate. Although the leaves and seedpods
are edible they mostly use the flowers. They have a peppery
flavor that grows in taste with time. They wait until the
flowers are open and mature until they use them in a dish.
These flowers like well drained soil, don't give them too
much nitrogen as this will deter them from flowering. They
may have a problem with aphids, so watch that carefully.
At Highland Lake Inn they also grow Cosmos, Calendula, Malva
and Day Lilies, all are good on salads. In the spring they
have Violas and Pansies. All are edible.
Rosemary is a great herb and a super landscape plant. It's
grown in full sun, well-drained soil, they aren't heavy
feeders and is insect and disease resistant. Generally,
careful neglect works well. When pruning don't take them
down to the woody stem, it takes them a long time to recover.
Harvest them with the leaves and stems on. It is a fragrant,
leaving a nice aroma on your hands after touching.
Sandy also grows Thyme, Tarragon, Sage, Lavender and Purple
and Green Basil. Many of these herbs will be used in today's
Greens are also used extensively in their restaurant. They
grow Rhubarb Chard or Red Chard as well as others with a
variety of colors such as pink, yellow and white as well
as green. Other greens they grow are Kale, Arugala, Turnip
Greens and Mustard Greens. Sandy grows an unusual Spinach
that tolerates heat, Malabar or New Zealand Spinach. This
Spinach grows as a vine, is beautiful, has red stems, glossy
green leaves, is unaffected by disease or insects. They
serve it raw or braised. In the tropical south it would
be a perennial but in Hendersonville it is an annual. They
over winter it in the greenhouse, then transplant it outside
in the spring. Pinch a piece off and 2 or 3 vines will grow
back. It's great in the kitchen and beautiful in the garden.
Growing vegetables in the south is difficult because of
the warm temperatures, usually a lot of moisture and humidity.
Those cause fungus, bacteria and lots of bugs. Since this
is an organic garden, Sandy can't spray. She does show us
some blight on her Tomatoes, but other than the vine being
unsightly it's not really an issue. She lets the disease
run it's course and she still gets good tomato production.
She shows us one of her German Stripe Tomatoes, Chef's Pride.
It will be used in lunch today.
Josh Musselwhite is the executive chef and one of his jobs
is to select some of the vegetables that go into the meals.
Today he's picking Patty Pan Squash. The one he picks still
has the bloom. All it will need is a quick blanching in
salted water, a little fresh herbs and some butter. His
pick is not the largest squash, but ideal for hollowing
out, stuffing and roasting whole. He feels the freshness
is one of the reasons for the excellent food. He also is
selecting peppers for our meal. A typical mature bell pepper
is red, when immature it's green. He also selects purple
peppers for ornamental purposes in a salad, they add a nice
crunch and sweet flavor. They do turn green when cooked.
We then join Josh in the kitchen. He will first make a Four
Tomato Salsa. He uses the Striped German Tomato harvested
earlier and cuts it very fine. They have lots of flavor
and lots of color, they're low in acidity and are beautiful.
To this he adds a Johnny 361 Tomato (from Johnny's Seed
Company), a tear drop tomato (that looks like a pear) and
Sun Gold Tomatoes. Toss them all in a bowl, add a little
sea salt, some cracked black pepper, opal basil, virgin
olive oil, a splash of champagne vinegar and toss. He now
lets this sit so the salt will work on the tomatoes and
all ingredients will steep and marry together.
Next he addresses the Salmon. For seasoning he uses toasted
Coriander, fresh rosemary, basil, chopped chives, some tarragon
- all from the garden- coarsely ground sea salt, toasted
black pepper, a little olive oil, so it doesn't stick to
the grill and to hold everything on, then rubs it all on
the fish and puts it on the grill.
While the fish is cooking, Josh will next work on stuffing
for the Patty Pan Squash. He uses cut onions and peppers,
puts them in a preheated pan with a little olive oil, tosses
them with the olive oil and salt and pepper. He then adds
Keywa, a grain that has been precooked, a little chicken
stock to moisten and more garden herbs and gorgonzola cheese.
It doesn't need to cook a long time since the Keywa was
precooked. The squash harvested earlier has been hollowed
out like a pumpkin, it is now stuffed with the mix just
made. He places the lid back on the top and cooks at 350
for 15 minutes until golden brown.
He next address glazed carrots and braised greens. Josh
has yellow, orange and red baby carrots. The color difference
is caused by more or less Carotene. They make a very pretty
presentation. He heats Sourwood Honey in the pan then adds
the carrots. The sugar in the honey starts to caramelize
and will give the carrots a refined flavor. Add shallots
and the carrots with the heads on - it adds to the presentation
- add a little sea salt, a pinch of pepper and toss them.
Cook until tender.
Simultaneously Josh is cooking the greens. He is using some
Malabar Spinach, Swiss Chard, Arugala and Mustard Greens,
all picked from the garden earlier. In a pan he adds whole
butter a little white wine, shallots and fresh garlic to
saute the greens. When these cook down a little he adds
the greens, adds a little salt and pepper to make a Mescaline
Mix - a combination of greens. These should braise slightly,
just barely wilt them.
The plating process is then started. To a chef the presentation
is very important since people also eat with their eyes.
The Malibar Spinach is used as a garnish and placed on the
plate, then add the squash on top. Add the braised greens
in a mound, add the carrots next to the Salmon and put the
Salsa on top of the Salmon. Garnish the plate with an edible
flower, in this case a Cosmos and you have a lot of color
and an incredible meal.
By Justin Hancock, Costa Farms Horticulturist,
Photographs courtesy of Costa Farms
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