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Choosing to invest in an on-site garden takes a level of commitment not every chef has. Locating dedicated space, additional time and knowledge of what the chefs opt to plant are only a few factors considered. Then there are individuals who extend their love of fertilizer even further and grow in their own backyard. Chefs Michael Reed of Poppy & Seed and Jared Cook of Sapphire are ambitious home gardeners who prefer to get their hands in the dirt.

Anne Marie Panoringan

Voice of OC’s food columnist — reporting on industry news, current events and trends. Panoringan’s prior work includes writing about food for 8 years at the OC Weekly in which she interviewed more than 330 chefs, restauranteurs and industry professionals for her weekly “On the Line” column. She has been recognized by the Orange County Press Club and she also is a recurring guest on AM 830’s SoCal Restaurant Show.

Michael Reed at Poppy & Seed

Manning the kitchen at his new Anaheim eatery, Michael Reed receives inspiration by visiting Poppy & Seed’s on-site garden. Except for a nadapeno pepper and a couple of mint varieties, his curated space is comprised of heirloom plants. Mouse melon cucamelons, long scarlet Cincinnati radishes, lollo rossa lettuce, costata romanesco squash, edible mahogany flowers and sorrel (a special request from chef) are a sampling of the diverse range Reed has at his disposal. Next month he’ll be adding Minnesota midget melons to the mix, thanks to his culinary gardening consultant.

Reed’s mother always tended to the family garden, making the transition to his very own plot a familiar one at an uncertain time … last year during the pandemic: “That was the first time as an adult I had a garden of my own. I started small, with milk crate planters and hydroponics, and eventually grew my garden to what it is now.” 

Three raised beds hold a farmer’s market of fruits, vegetables and herbs. For starters, there’s the serrano and cayenne peppers with kung pao chilis: “I basically planted a salsa bar and peppers I can later make fermented chilis with.” Fruits include honeydew, three types of blueberry bushes and grapes. He’s also planted banana, apricot and fig trees. White Russian fingerling potatoes, artichokes, a duo of sage, tomatoes designed for canning, beets and fennel are an inkling of the garden’s occupants. 

A fan of Australian-based Subpod (an underground composting company), Reed sources his compost containers from this innovative technology group, with three units at the restaurant and one at home: “It’s a solid product and contributes to keeping our garden healthy and nutritious.” He also frequents his local Armstrong Garden Center for non-GMO heirloom seed varieties, plus welcomes any seeds from his gardening consultant, Ashley Irene.

Owners Kwini and Michael Reed of Poppy & Seed. Credit: Photo courtesy of Max Milla

Chef Reed advises new gardeners to relax and take their time: “Gardens can be expensive, so start small and have patience – don’t do it all at once.” Suggestions on starter plants include tomatoes, zucchini and herbs in general: “Most herbs are really hearty, easy to grow and don’t take up a lot of space.” Once you reach a certain comfort level, begin to expand your garden. 

Jared Cook of Vine

As executive chef and partner of four establishments (Vine, Ironwood, Olea and Sapphire), Jared Cook rotates between the properties. However, San Clemente’s Vine Restaurant & Bar is where his bountiful harvest is located. Tucked away in the back, it’s a tomato-lover’s oasis. Cook has roughly 60 heirloom plants growing – varietals include Cherokee purple, Goliath, hillbilly potato leaf, Kellogg’s breakfast, green zebra and striped German. Herbs are also abundant, such as African blue basil for the cocktail program, four types of thyme, lemon verbena and mint. Chilis and several citrus trees round out Vine’s inventory. 

Over at his residence, it is a different story. Cook is the proud caretaker of carnivorous plants: “Some extinct in the wild, some endangered and some very rare man-made hybrids. I have a few hundred varieties.” Some of the more recognizable types are flytraps, pitcher plants (Sarracenia), Cobra lily and sundews. Growing up in the country, gardens were a way of life. Being out in nature was always a beloved pastime for Cook.

Cook’s recommended resources for gardening include Shore Gardens in San Clemente, Plant Depot in San Juan Capistrano and Green Thumb in Lake Forest. The carnivores are exclusively sourced from personal collections of gardeners around the world, although he suggests a great online carnivorous plant marketplace based in Mission Viejo. For care and maintenance, Cook assures that California already possesses the optimal climate for nearly all vegetables and fruit to grow: “People love to overcomplicate things. Plants need food, water and sunlight. You would be amazed at how many people don’t fertilize their plants, and then wonder why they look like [explicative].” For edible gardens, Cook recommends an organic fertilizer such as Dr. Earth. 

Lastly, water them as needed. “People love to overwater things for some reason– especially tomatoes.” Chef waters once a week deeply: “Maybe two to three times if we have sustained weather over 100 degrees.”

Now Open: Poppy & Seed, Anaheim

Earlier this month Anaheim’s Packing District welcomed full-service dining establishment Poppy & Seed. Occupying the former Cultivation Kitchen space, its greenhouse structure is apropos for the style of cuisine chef Michael Reed presents to guests.

Featuring a collection of garden beds coordinated by Santa Ana-based culinary gardening consultant Ashley Irene (a.k.a. Heirloom Potager on social media), Poppy’s offerings are naturally guided by the current season’s produce. Omnivores are appeased by two and four-legged proteins, plus umami accents in a few compositions. I dined on opening night to explore the dinner selections.

Despite a bespoke garden setting, Poppy & Seed doesn’t expect guests to gravitate toward meatless options. Instead the kitchen prefers to have diners partaking in a shareable feast where vegetable-forward tapas sometimes incorporate meaty components. A prime example would be Caesar fried brussels sprouts with its crackled bits of chicken skin lending savory satisfaction to each bite – a pleasant take on the often overused cabbage. This particular cooking style of having proteins serve a supporting role rather than starring one reminded me of a favorite restaurant in L.A.’s Koreatown where it’s a vegetable-driven, prix-fixe concept offering proteins as supplements.

There were a couple of meat-centric tapas to choose from. The meatiest of small bites, lamb meatballs are double in size of what was expected. Market price prawns are generously-sized crustaceans. Ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms, normally on the dainty side, pack a substantial mouthfeel. An unassuming vegetable salad is sprouting with complexity from fennel, asparagus, sunchokes and a trio of contrasting greens. 

Large format offerings come in the form of seafood, smoked duck, a trio of steak dishes and housemade pastas – our favorite being a cheesy ravioli decorated with ham, English peas and mint. The absence of dessert can be remedied two-fold: sip a fruity libation from a stocked bar or post-dinner stroll to neighboring Packing House for a scoop from Han’s Homemade Ice Cream. 

Pascal Olhats Sets Final Date for Café Jardin 

Saturday, May 22 is the scheduled date for Café Jardin’s final service at Corona del Mar’s Sherman Gardens, according to chef Pascal Olhats. The closing notification appeared recently on the garden’s website. Jessica Roy, who has been working alongside Olhats at Café Jardin, will open a new restaurant in its place: Cultivar. I stopped by for lunch service shortly after making the discovery to speak with both Olhats and Roy.

Chef Pascal Olhats prepares to close Cafe Jardin at Corona del Mar’s Sherman Gardens. Credit: Photo courtesy of Pascal Olhats

Although Olhats intends to continue cooking, restaurant ownership is no longer a goal. He has been in the hospitality business for 50 years and running his own concept for 35. It’s time for something new.

Future plans for chef Olhats are to further develop the existing culinary program with Saddleback College. Olhats elaborated with designs for a professional apprentice program plus additional changes which will be revealed when the college is ready to share details. When asked about his current online curriculum, Olhats remarked, “I watch Jacques Pepin videos all the time and I love him. If I can do something like he does, good.” He is currently working to have tutorials available on both Saddleback’s and his own YouTube channel, with the hopes it will encourage individuals to sign up for classes.

While the Jardin concept may be coming to a close, ways to continue enjoying Olhats’ cuisine include private catering, his line of coffee beans (which he’s considering opening up an online Etsy shop for), and at the Orange Home Grown farmer’s market in upcoming months. “People will still be able to get my food. They’re not done with me,” Olhats said when questioned about retirement. 

With regards to Café Jardin, Olhats is having chef Roy take over the space to create a brand new experience: “[In the] back of my mind, I said, ‘Hey, if one day I can give the opportunity to someone to have a restaurant, that’s fine.’ And you know, pre-retirement has been on my mind after I recovered from my sickness (T-cell lymphoma).” The ability to operate his cafe surrounded by a spacious garden environment in its Corona del Mar neighborhood was a success last year, but it’s still long hours on one’s feet. Olhats recently acquired the website domain pascalcuisine.com for his upcoming projects and brand update.

Chef Jessica Roy Rebrands On-site Dining

Before working alongside Pascal Olhats at Café Jardin, chef Roy was executive chef at the Renaissance Hotel in Newport Beach. She’s also competed in (and won) the Food Network show “Guy’s Grocery Games.” The Huntington Beach native began calling Café Jardin home in the summer of 2019: “What brought me here was that I know Pascal is an amazing chef.” The gardens also played a major role in her decision making, as Roy enjoyed frequenting farmer’s markets. 

An avid home gardener, she built three raised planter beds with her mom to accommodate her plant collection. She grows all her own herbs, summer zucchini and countless tomatoes. But it was the deserted garden during lockdown that ultimately became the inspiration for what was to come. “It sounds funny, but it was speaking to me so much,” she said. “It completely transformed my lens as a chef.” Sometimes the flowers and plants would “tell” her what to create: “It could be a color or the lemon verbena is blooming; I just did a lemon verbena sorbet.” Chef Roy is always seeking ideas to incorporate into her dishes.

Cultivar, Roy’s upcoming concept, is a culmination of the effort she’s put in the past decade to develop her kitchen style and culinary voice. By definition, cultivar is a plant that is selected for the best attributes: flower, fragrance or foilage. That is how she intends to cook: “By selecting the best ingredients, coming up with the best flavors to pair them together and work it into something that is superior.” Initially, there will be a transitional menu: “I want to make sure that I retain the captured audience that we have, while also building a whole new audience.” It will be Californian-inspired with a seasonal menu. 

The auxiliary committee at Sherman Gardens will partner with her moving forward, coordinating crops to plant. Roy also has a purveyor who will acquire ingredients from local farmer’s markets to supplement the on-site garden offerings. This literal garden-to-table cuisine exemplifies who she is as a chef. Even before choosing a culinary career, Jessica Roy appreciated botanical gardens. A costly, long-term goal is a full bar as she’s getting more into mixology: “I really want to do an amazing cocktail program that incorporates the herbs and blooms from the garden right into the cocktail.”

If someone had asked Roy five years ago who she was as a chef, she would’ve had a difficult time responding. Last year solidified her answer: “Now it’s not confusing to me. I don’t ever limit myself. This place is unique and special. We want to create a boutique experience.”

Amuse Bouches

Delilah Snell’s book on food preservation is now available. Credit: Image by Darren Muir

“Beginner’s Guide to Preserving,” Now Available

Proprietor of Alta Baja Market at Santa Ana’s 4th Street Market, Delilah Snell’s breadth of knowledge with regards to preserving food is second to none in this region. Receiving her certificate as a master preserver from the UC Cooperative Extension in 2009, she is known for her educational courses and has been featured as a lecturer in years past at South Coast Plaza’s home and garden show. 

Her first book, “Beginner’s Guide to Preserving,” was released on May 11. Not only does Snell offer clear instruction on how to accomplish this task, but she includes corresponding recipes for each preservation method so users can practice their newfound skills. Chapters are organized by method, with focuses on fermenting, smoking, salting, dehydrating, pressure and water bath canning and freezing. Practical illustrations, explanations of frequently used vocabulary and a focus on safety make this guide an essential for all levels of practice.

Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at ampanoringan@voiceofoc.org.

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