This week we visit the Highland Lake Inn in Flat Rock, North Carolina. It is a particularly inviting location during the heat of the summer.
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 everyone.
Sandy Wilkerson is the head gardener. She tells us about and shows us her working 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 lunch.
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.
Link : Highland