Publié le 16/04/2024

New Roots: the Kitchen Garden Reborn

Hotel gardens, once purely an ornamental concern, are proudly bearing new fruits. And vegetables, herbs and edible flowers too. A new generation of chefs is seeking a meaningful link to their surroundings, and reimagining their kitchen gardens as a source of produce provides a nourishing answer.

New Roots: the Kitchen Garden Reborn

Tributary Hotel - © Modoc

Hotel gardens, once purely an ornamental concern, are proudly bearing new fruits. And vegetables, herbs and edible flowers too. A new generation of chefs is seeking a meaningful link to their surroundings, and reimagining their kitchen gardens as a source of produce provides a nourishing answer.

The humble vegetable patch represents a connection between a dish and the earth: a profound sense of freshness that is greatly appreciated in this fast-paced, modern world. From New Zealand to Switzerland, South Africa and the United States, the chefs of Relais & Châteaux are reaping more than just healthy, local, seasonal produce. They are seeding creativity and cultivating their commitment to the Association: to make the world a better place through cuisine and hospitality. 


From the ground up

Chef Ernesto Iaccarino, Don Alfonso 1890, S. Agata Sui Due Golfi, Italy

When you grow up before the age of the internet, in a village of just a few hundred inhabitants in southern Italy, nature is your playground. “As children, we played outside all day long. We picked cherries from the trees. I was so lucky,” remembers Chef Ernesto Iaccarino. Now crowned with two Michelin stars, his restaurant Don Alfonso 1890 pays tribute to the Italian culinary tradition, using produce from his own farm. His twenty-five acres/ten hectares overlooking Capri provide the restaurant with an abundance of fruit, vegetables, honey, olive oil, even chickens. For the chef, “Today more than ever, we need to consider that we are what we eat. The earth and sea must be our central focus. The quality of the raw materials that we use is our departure point.”  

© Mario Spada


A local journey

Chef Sébastien Bras, Le Suquet, Laguiole, France 

Green as far as the eye can see: that’s the vista of Chef Sébastien Bras and his team at establishment Le Suquet, nestled in the hillsides of Aveyron in France. With more than 120 varieties of plants, vegetables and fruits, his garden is nothing less than an extension of his kitchen: “Twenty-five years ago, this garden was built notably with specimens brought back from our travels all over the world. They are a complement to the wild plants that we gather.” Here, sansho – another name for Szechuan peppercorns – now flourishes in this Aubrac kitchen garden. “I use it for its refreshing citrus notes,” the chef explains. Lush, colorful plant-based cookery brings biodiversity to the heart of every dish and reveals the distinctive DNA of the house. A signature dish created by his father, Michel Bras, the “gargouillou de jeunes légumes” – or medley of tender vegetables – is a snapshot of the environment at a given moment. This is vitality at its best. “You can’t get tired of it, because it is never the same from one day to the next.

© Félix Ledru


A source of serenity

Chef Damir Pejcinovic, Meneghetti Wine Hotel & Winery, Bale, Croatia 

Chef Damir Pejcinovic’s Mediterranean garden is a picture of abundance: stretching across more than two acres/1 hectare, complete with grapevines and an orchard, it covers more than the restaurant’s needs. “Without my garden, I would lose a crucial part of the control over my procurement of fresh ingredients. But it’s not just about ingredients. It’s about our connection with the earth and the way we bring a unique, personal touch to each dish.” The chef’s commitment to this verdant patch makes it possible for him to observe and gather the fruits of his efforts in the long term. This perspective provides for him in many ways, bringing an essential balance to his extremely hectic daily life.



Precious and rare

Chef Chane Devonport, Londolozi Game Reserve, Kruger National Park, South Africa

Cultivating vegetables and fresh produce in the bush is not easy. The seasons are quite extreme, and almost nothing thrives here in the summer. And yet it is extremely important for my team and me to keep our source of food as close at hand as possible. It just tastes better that way.” This is the perspective of Chef Chane Devonport of Londolozi Game Reserve. Nestled in the heart of a South African nature reserve, this property faces specific challenges, not to mention the intrusions of baboons and other wild animals. “Believe me, when we use the fresh produce from our garden, I am truly aware of how precious they are, and how much work goes into growing them.” Chane Devonport concocts a humble style of cuisine that is respectful of the earth, and for all the limitations, her signature touch brings out the exquisite beauty of the garden’s bounty without overpowering it. 


Wonderstruck by nature

Chef Matthew Lightner, Tributary Hotel, McMinnville, Oregon, United States

Chef/Partner Matthew Lightner did not grow up working the soil. His interest in plants grew through cookbooks and gardening guides. As head chef of the restaurant ōkta, he now combines his savoir-faire with the life-giving soil of Oregon to unfurl his creativity. Drawing inspiration from the bounty of the Willamette Valley and the cadence of its micro-seasons, he crafts a highly progressive tasting menu finely tuned to the terroir of the region. “I always try to look at nature with the same wonderstruck eyes as my children had when they were two years old. The garden and farm make it possible for us to save a great deal of energy and to considerably reduce our carbon footprint. It keeps us centered and allows us to eliminate so many exterior variables.” While the garden is an effective way of keeping things under control, for Matthew Lightner it is–first and foremost–a natural source of magic. 


My own little patch of earth

Chef Silio Del Fabro, Esplanade, Saarbrücken, Germany

Nature brings me the strength and serenity that I need as a chef,” says Chef Silio Del Fabro, from restaurant Esplanade, in Germany. The culinary expert grew up close to nature, in a home where the jam was handmade, and he enthusiastically co-founded the collective farm Saarbrücker Stadtbauernhof, just off the French border, setting out to maintain a close connection with his homeland and the soil itself. “At the farm, I can grow the herbs and vegetables that perfectly complement my culinary creations, in collaboration with an experienced organic farmer.” 

© Oliver Raatz


Keeping up with the harvest 

Chef Jimmy McIntyre, Otahuna Lodge, Christchurch, New Zealand

Learning to cook with the seasons–using raw ingredients from each new harvest–was a game changer in the life and work of Jimmy McIntyre. As head chef at establishment Otahuna Lodge, the New Zealander is always on the lookout for something new. That’s how he became familiar with canning, fermenting and other ways of preserving the fruits and vegetables of his thriving kitchen garden. “I wouldn’t be fulfilled without the garden. It brings me such joy. Each year, I eagerly await the first asparagus, little zucchini blossoms, cep mushrooms, artichokes. One of my favorite things to do is to explain the ingredients of a dish in detail and to watch a customer’s eyes light up.



Nurturing a special spirit

Chef Mattias Roock, Castello del Sole Beach Resort & Spa, Ascona, Switzerland

I love the scent of perfectly ripe fruits and vegetables. They remind me of growing up on the farm.” Chef Mattias Roock is a nature lover who has always had a special fondness for the establishment Castello del Sole, overlooking Switzerland’s Lake Maggiore. “When I applied for this position, I knew exactly how I was going to use the garden produce. And so our signature menu, ‘Sapori del nostro Orto’, was born.” Dishes are principally composed of aromatic herbs, fruit, vegetables, even rice, from Terreni alla Maggia, the property’s own farm, which are complemented with locally sourced fish and meat – monkfish and porcini risotto is a stand-out locavore dish. As a final touch, every dish finds its perfect pairing with wines from the estate's vineyards.


Bathed in greenery

Chef Jauca Catalin, The Bath Priory, Bath, United Kingdom

The enchanting setting of The Bath Priory is an inspiring place to work for those who are attuned to it. Such is the case of Chef Jauca Catalin, who conceives of each dish with regard for the garden. He works hand-in-hand with Jane Moore, the estate’s head gardener. “The kitchen garden is not just a fabulous source of produce. It is a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of our lives, if only for a few minutes, surrounded by the beauty of the plants, herbs and vegetables which inspire so many dishes.” Among the delicacies, a sorbet of fig leaf, quince and black kale bring a delicate touch to a loin of venison from the nearby forest, while the garden’s fennel and a saffron-tinged citrus vinaigrette brighten the Loch Duart salmon. 


Close bonds with those who work the land

Chef Masahiro Tanabe, Hikariya-Nishi, Matsumoto, Japan

In Nagano, in central Japan, a particularly unusual restaurant proposes ‘natural cookery’. This establishment is run by Chef Masahiro Tanabe. “I grew up in the countryside, surrounded by mountains and fields, and I often helped my grandfather at harvest time,” he remembers. Today, his connection with nature occupies a place of honor in his work at the Hikariya-Nishi restaurant. “It is very important for me to have an intimate understanding of who grew the vegetables and what their intentions were. That’s why we maintain a special relationship with the people who grow our food, whether in the garden or at the nearby farms.” Those bonds with local farmers have grown, little by little, and today Chef Masahiro Tanabe maintains a close connection with more than 350 farmers in the area. 

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