First there was the farm-to-table trend. That was joined by nose-to-tail butchery, where the entire animal was assigned a culinary use. Prepare now for the latest in dining adventures – eating roots, stems, leaves and fruits of vegetable plants where appropriate.
For example, when it comes to Brussels sprouts you typically eat the mini cabbage-like sprouts. But you can prepare the leaves as you would collard greens and you can peel the stalk for yet another presentation.
Who knew vegetable plants could be so versatile and valuable?
The Jones family of The Chef’s Garden in Milan, Ohio, knew! And they’re leading a revolution.
A three-generation farm, the family started by growing vegetables, moved to microgreens and micro veggies. Today, among other things family spokesman Farmer Lee Jones is touting whole-vegetable dining. And he’s making national news for his concern about their contribution to personal health and planet sustainability.
In mid-April, the 300-acre farm (not all in production at once) is releasing “The Chef’s Garden: A Modern Guide to Common and Unusual Vegetables – with Recipes” by Farmer Lee Jones. The 640-page hardback tome introduces regenerative farming, unusual vegetable use and the future of dining.
Amazon calls the book, “An approachable, comprehensive guide to the modern world of vegetables, from the leading grower of specialty vegetables in the country.” Exactly. What they didn’t mention is how beautifully illustrated the book is.
It’s only recently that home chefs could order all the products sold by The Chef’s Garden. Before the pandemic limited restaurant dining, most of the vegetables were shipped to chefs at top national restaurants. When COVID changed the popularity of restaurant dining, the farm pivoted. They are making specialty vegetables available to home cooks. The cookbook shows everyone how to get the most from their produce … even if they grow it at home.
“The vision behind the book is to create inspiration for people to consume more vegetables as we move toward a plant-forward future to sustain our people and our environment,” says Jones. With sustainability in mind, he adds, “It’s more important to look at vegetables in ways we never have before. It’s important that we look at creative ways to consume vegetables.”
Complete with 100 recipes, Jones says, “The book is a place to inspire ways of using vegetables and reducing waste … a home cook, a chef, a farmer, a gardener can find some great tips … it’s really about inspiring people to consider the entire vegetables.”
The recipes, developed in conjunction with Chef Jamie Simpson at The Chef’s Garden Culinary Vegetable Institute, says Jones are a place to start. He encourages readers to adapt them and make them their own. “Don’t be intimidated by veggies that you don’t know,” says Jones. Jerusalem artichoke and crosnes are two examples. “Go in with an open mind and have fun. Cooking is supposed to be fun.”
For those unfamiliar with the tart spring vegetable rhubarb, there’s a story on how TCG came to get their fabulous, flavorful variety from Mr. Frye. Among the rhubarb recipes is one for Bottle-Conditioned Rhubarb Soda.
Even those who enjoy the fennel bulb usually compost the hearty stems and frilly, fragile fronds. Not anymore. A recipe for Fennel-Top Oil is a building block for Fennel Confit. And easy Pickled Fennel Stems use the rest of the vegetable.
Recipes are just part of the book’s value. It includes stories like how Chef Charlie Trotter inspired The Chef’s Garden’s explosion into microgreens. A sidebar offers basic information about fiddlehead ferns. Another sidebar explains how to grow lemongrass. And information about nutrient content is woven through the entire narrative.
The cookbook is comprehensive and compelling. Written in Farmer Jones’ folksy voice it makes complex information delightful and easily accessible. This is the kind of cookbook culinary enthusiasts read for fun, not just for cooking. It belongs on the coffee table as much as the kitchen table.
For those who don’t have access to specialty vegetables, they are, of course, available from The Chef’s Garden at The book – hardcover ($55) and Kindle ($29.99) editions – is available on in mid-April.