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ANYTHING GROWS – Local chefs find global flavours in their own back yard


Chef Ken Nakano grows some exotic ingredients for AURA restaurant at the Inn at Laurel Point.

From lemons, avocados and passion fruit to daikon radishes, Japanese greens, goji berries, olives and even saffron, its possible to grow more in BC.


Words and Photos

By CINDA CHAVICH


Chef Ken Nakano stops in his lush rooftop garden, gazing across the Victoria harbour where float planes touch down and international ferries dock each day.

The world arrives at our doorstep, in the form of both people and products, but Nakano is intent on shortening that supply chain, at least when it comes to some foods for his restaurant kitchen.

“This is sudachi,” says Nakano, pointing to a small Japanese citrus fruit and describing its tart flavour. “It’s used mostly for its oils and zest, so great for our desserts and the bar program.”

The kitchen garden at The Inn at Laurel Point is impressive, with diamond shaped beds on the broad terrace filled with herbs and edible flowers that make beautiful backdrops for outdoor summer weddings. But Nakano has taken the garden in a more ambitious direction in the last few years, with everything from baby corn to purple cauliflower in some garden beds and many fruit trees — bearing exotic Japanese yuzu and sudachi, sour Philippine calamansi, Asian pears, Iranian Cornelian cherry, fuzzy kiwi and Indian blood peaches.

Food gardens at The Inn At Laurel Point in Victoria

Even in early spring, before new crops are planted or trees have blossomed, there are lactino kale plants, the size of small shrubs, leeks and potted wasabi plants.


Nakano grows exotic Japanese yuzu, sour Philippine calamansi, Asian pears, kiwi and Indian blood peaches

“Garlic grows well, so we have scapes in spring then bulbs, and there’s guava berries, lemon grass, shiso, ginger and ume plums that I salted and dried for umeboshi,” he says as we wander past the small tree that produces the apricot-like fruit. Berries are big — currants, josta berries, service berries, raspberries, sea buckthorn — and the garden yields lots of herbs and salad greens.



“Last year we harvested about 300 pounds of various fruits and vegetables from this garden,” says Nakano, adding discovering the garden’s protected corners and unique microclimates is an ongoing experiment.




And though it’s not nearly enough to feed the restaurant’s needs, Nakano says he relies on his garden to create carbon neutral menus for events at the Inn at Laurel Point, the first and only certified carbon neutral hotel in BC.

“That’s a new opportunity, events that feature sustainable ingredients,” he says, “but it’s also about education, and that’s the biggest benefit.”

“Our cooks come out every morning to harvest vegetables, the guests see this, and it starts a conversation.”


ASIAN EDIBLES

Whether you’re one of their weekly box program subscribers or buy Japanese groceries at Fujiya, the Japanese vegetables grown at Umi Nami Farm in Metchosin are a cut above. The flavour of their pristinely fresh organic mizuna, juicy daikon and Hakurei turnips truly trumps all imports, and its why discerning chefs at restaurants like Uchida in Victoria or Wild Mountain in Sooke are loyal customers.

Japanese vegetables at Umi Nami Farms in Metchosin

Founders Yoshiko Unno and her late partner Tom Suganami began growing Japanese specialty crops in 1996. Today, the certified organic farm is run by Heather Ramsay with Unno’s help — their vegetables thriving in 26 unheated greenhouses and outdoor plots, bordered by towering trees.

Even in mid-winter, huge daikon radishes are happily growing outside under floating row covers, while inside a steel and poly greenhouse, the temperature stays at a humid 10 degrees and rows of feathery mizuna, sturdy komatsuna and bold mustard greens are sprouting. It’s living proof that this sustainable but labour-intensive farm, with a low carbon footprint, can produce a lot of interesting crops year-round.




Unheated greenhouses at Umi Nami Farm produce greens year round

“By capturing heat and with wind protection, it’s like an old English walled garden,” says Ramsay of the passive solar system that warms the greenhouses. Cold season turnips and carrots grow inside, with leeks bristling in outdoor raised beds. Summer brings Japanese eggplant, Chinese cabbage, slender cucumbers and shishito peppers. In fact, this pioneering farm may be the reason why other market gardens now grow Japanese turnips, mizuna and Asian vegetables in the region today.


CHEFS' CHOICE

Chef Oliver Kienast of Wild Mountain Food + Drink in Sooke says the vegetables from Umi Nami Farm are as pristine as they come. Their Japanese greens, many from the mustard family, often appear on his menus, along with the juicy daikon radish and tender white Hakurei turnips.

“Their Hakurei turnips are by far the best,” says Kienast, who recommends slicing raw turnips into thick rounds for canapes topped with local seafood or charring them lightly (he uses his wood-fired outdoor oven) for salads.

“What I’ve noticed about all of their greens is they don’t need to be cooked,” he adds, describing adding the delicately bitter and spicy greens to a light fish broth, or lightly simply softening them with salt. “I always love to serve the slightly bitter tops with the sweet bottoms, it’s a nice compliment.”

Daikon from the farm are a favourite for Wild Mountain’s lacto-ferments — brined and combined with their own spicy pepper paste for a quick kimchi.

“That’s become a real building block for our cuisine,” says Kienast. “It’s the juice we use to bring up the umami in bases, sauces and broths.”


GOING GREEN

Many chefs choose locally-farmed ingredients with sustainable food systems in mind. Imported products may seem cheaper at the outset, but there are other hidden costs, including impacts on the environment due to large-scale, conventional farming methods and transportation. Buying locally also supports communities, jobs and protects the food supply.


Chefs buy fresh arugula from local growers at The Plot

But it’s not all an altruistic exercise — chefs get fresher ingredients, giving customers a tastier experience.


Take salad greens, says Jami Wood, owner of Niche Grocerant, a grocery/café that focuses on local food products. When the price of lettuce spiked last fall (due to unseasonably high temperatures, drought and fires in California) Wood says Niche chefs didn’t even notice.

“Everyone was freaking out about romaine and greens, saying how expensive they are, and they look like garbage,” she recalls. “We get our greens from The Plot Market Garden and our greens are the best ever, completely reasonable, the price never went up, and there was never a problem getting them.”



“We are an island and being part of the food security here on the island, that’s incredibly important,” she adds, noting that stocking local meats, vegetables and other food products gives her business it’s unique niche in the community.


PIONEERING PRODUCERS

But could we really grow all of the foods we’ve come to enjoy from the far corners of the earth? What about Chinese goji berries, kiwi fruit, rice, olive oil, saffron, avocados, lemons, pomegranates and exotic passion fruit and Buddah’s Hand citrus?

Check that. Each of these crops is already being grown commercially in BC, albeit on a small scale.

At Pluvio restaurant in Ucluelet, chef Warren Barr has added passion fruit and finger limes to his island-centric pantry, thanks to The Garden, Jane Squier’s innovative farm and greenhouse project on Salt Spring Island.

Squier is a horticulturist who spent most of her career in the hydroponic greenhouse business, producing lettuce and basil for supermarkets. But in 2014, she embarked on a new project, focusing on rebuilding her soil and growing a variety of subtropical plants and trees in a 6,000-square-foot greenhouse with minimal energy inputs. Concrete pools of rainwater retain and release heat, generated by a highly efficient wood gasification stove, and thermal walls keep her exotic crops from freezing.

“I’m growing anything that I can grow that’s somewhat subtropical and can tolerate one degree centigrade,” says Squier who has 125 citrus and avocado trees in the greenhouse (37 varieties of citrus, ranging from yuzu, lemons, finger limes and Buddah’s Hand to eight types of mandarin oranges) plus guava, pomegranate, banana and pistachio trees.

Squier sells fruit directly to a handful of chefs so you may find her on other menus, too — from the chicken with local grilled lemons or Thai curry with kaffir lime leaves at The Woodshed Provisions, to the beautiful catered menus from chef Dayna Smith at Lulus Apron, or the hyper local dishes at Oxeye and Pilgrimme on Galiano Island.

Haidee Hart, chef and owner of The Woodshed Provisions, has been cooking with Squier’s citrus fruit for many years.

“As the diversity of local citrus increases and the harvest becomes more abundant, we are incorporating local citrus into more and more of our recipes,” she says.

Chef Haidee Hart of Woodshed Provisions on Salt Spring Island cooks with citrus from Jane Squire's greenhouse. (photo Haidee Hart)

Squier offers regular workshops on regenerative farming and new sustainable technologies, teaching other growers about her ongoing experiments with exotic fruits, and sharing her findings on her YouTube channel.

“This is very much early stages,” she says, adding her sustainable greenhouse model for a mixed subtropical orchard is well suited to small farms or local community gardens, and a good way to rejuvenate the abandoned greenhouses in the region. But it’s a slow, experimental process — it takes years for trees to bear fruit and climate change is bringing more extreme temperatures to the west coast, adding ever-evolving challenges for growers.


THE FUTURE IS EXOTIC

Industry experts say supply disruptions are “the new normal” for the restaurant business, and though it takes more effort to connect with local growers and find exotic local foods for the menu, expect more gardeners and farms to keep pushing crop boundaries.

Island kiwi farms already sell their fuzzy fruits to local grocers, there’s an olive farm producing local BC olive oil, and a grower of saffron on the lower mainland. And while tropical and Mediterranean crops are still a new niche, some BC farmers are proving it’s both possible and financially viable.

At the very least, says Squier, it sparks the conversation around local food security and food production, and helps us all imagine how we might grow more food — and more unusual ingredients — closer to home.


RECIPES:


CHARRED ROOT-TO TIP HAKUREI TURNIP AND GREEN APPLE SALAD

Chef Oliver Kienast of Wild Mountain Food and Drink in Sook takes sweet Hakurei turnips into new territory with this salad that combines charred turnips and green apple with fermented daikon kimchi, hazelnuts, anchovies and salted duck egg yolk. He cooks the turnips in his wood-fired outdoor oven but says you can use a wood or charcoal fire, a gas grill or even a hot cast iron pan to quickly char the turnips and greens for this dish.


Salad:

4 large hakurei (Japanese) turnips with tops

Bit of oil and salt

1/3 cup toasted hazelnuts

¼ cup diced fermented daikon or kimchi – see note

8 white anchovy fillets

2 cured duck egg yolks (4 chicken egg yolks) – see note

1 large Granny Smith apple diced


Vinaigrette:

2 Tbsp grape seed or a neutral flavour oil

1 Tbsp ferment juice (from daikon ferment or kimchi)

1 tsp hazelnut oil

1 tsp warm honey

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

1 tsp Dijon style mustard

Good pinch of salt


Start your grill — a charcoal or wood grill preferably — and let burn down until there’s just coals.

Cut greens off turnips. Toss in a bowl with preferred oil and salt. Grill whole turnips and until quite dark brown but still hard in the middle.

Grill tops until they just start to char.

Meanwhile, roast hazelnuts on a baking sheet in a 400 F oven for 10 minutes. Place the roasted nuts in a clean towel to remove the skins, then toss with a dash of hazelnut oil and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

Whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients and set aside.

While still hot, cut both the tops and bottoms into large bite sized pieces and toss in a bowl with vinaigrette and let cool. Add toasted hazelnuts, diced apple and fermented daikon and toss to combine.

Divide salad between four individual plates. Place 2 anchovy fillets on top of each serving, with thin slices of cured yolk to finish plating. Serves 4.


NOTE:

· For lacto-fermented daikon, combine chopped daikon with a salt brine (1.5-2 tsp. salt per cup of non-chlorinated water) in a jar, loosely covered, and ferment at room temperature for at least 5 days. To create a homestyle radish kimchi, include hot pepper flakes, garlic, ginger and green onion.

· To cure egg yolks, place separated yolks on a bed of salt, cover completely with salt and cure for 24 hours. Rinse then place in a dehydrator, and dehydrated for 8 hours on High setting, until dry firm to the touch. Once cured, the yolks will keep, refrigerated for at least a month.


CHICKEN WITH LOCAL CITRUS AND OLIVES

This simple and impressive recipe, from Chef Haidee Hart of Woodshed Provisions on Salt Spring Island, is one of the best I've received from a chef in a long time, and a dish I love to prepare as a weekday meal with bone-in chicken thighs, or featuring a local free range roast chicken for a dinner party.

At Woodshed Provisions, Chef Hart has weekly menus featuring locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients, including the citrus fruits from local greenhouse grower Jane Squier that's featured in this dish. It's is a favourite dish in her shop — easy to prepare and delicious as part of an elegant dinner, or to serve cold at a picnic.



Start with local free-range chicken, says Hart, use good quality olive oil and wine, along with lemons, oranges or grapefruit, or swap out the citrus for local plums or grapes in season.


one 4-5 lb organic or free range chicken, cut into pieces (many butchers are happy to do this)

1 orange, sliced, seeds removed

1 lemon, sliced, seeds removed

1 cup of your favourite olives (we use Castelvetrano as we love their buttery flavour and great texture)

1 orange, halved, seeds removed (to squeeze over the chicken

1 cup white or red wine

3/4 tsp salt

1 Tbsp brown sugar

1/4 cup good quality olive oil

Fresh herbs if available (Hart recommends tucking a few fresh bay leaves in between the pieces of chicken, or adding sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme)


Pre-heat oven to 400 F.

In a 9-10-inch cast iron pan or ceramic baking dish, arrange the chicken pieces in a single layer, skin side up. Tuck the sliced citrus and olives in between the chicken pieces. Squeeze the orange halves over the chicken, watching for any seeds, then pour the wine over as well.

Sprinkle salt and brown sugar evenly over the chicken, then drizzle the olive oil over the chicken and citrus.

Bake at 400 F for about an hour, until the chicken is golden brown and the juices of the chicken run clear when tested.

Allow to rest for a few moments before serving — you can also and remember that this is a fantastic picnic dish served at room temperature the next day! Serves 4-6.


JAPANESE SALMON BOWLS WITH MISO MUSTARD GREENS

This marinade for salmon starts with kasu, the lees left after making sake. Look for locally made sake kasu from the artisan sake makers on Granville Island (who grow their own sake rice in BC) at Fujiya Japanese food market. Fujiya also carries vegetables like mustard greens and Japanese turnips grown locally on Umi Nami Farm in Metchosin, and other Japanese ingredients.


Salmon:

1 pound salmon fillet, cut into 4 portions

1 tsp coarse salt

4 Tbsp sake kasu

1 Tbsp white miso

2 Tbsp mirin

1 tsp brown sugar


Rice:

1 cup short grain Japanese rice (white or brown)

1 ½ - 1¾ cups water (more for brown rice)

¼ tsp salt


Miso Greens:

4-5 cups mixed Japanese greens (mustard greens, turnip tops, komatsuna, etc.), coarsely chopped

1 Tbsp neutral oil

2 tsp white miso

½ tsp Asian chili paste


Garnish:

sesame oil

furikaki (Japanese seaweed and sesame seed seasoning)

White Japanese Hakurei turnips, shaved thin or cubed

small cucumber, sliced diagonally


Sprinkle salmon with salt and set aside for 10 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels.

Combine kasu, miso, mirin and sugar, and rub over salmon fillets. Marinate, refrigerated, for 1 hour or overnight.

Place salmon on an oiled rack set over a baking pan, and broil salmon at medium high heat until nicely browned, about 4 minutes per side. Salmon should be lightly charred and barely cooked through. (You can also cook it quickly on a hot cast iron griddle pan or skillet.)

To make Japanese rice, rinse short grain rice well (or soak in cold water for 10 minutes and drain). Combine rice and water with salt in a small pot with a tight-fitting lid, bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and simmer 15-20 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes to steam, covered, before fluffing with a fork.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saute pan over high heat and cook the greens quickly, until just wilted, tender and bright green. Stir in miso and chili paste, and remove from heat.

To serve, spoon hot rice into serving bowls and top with greens and salmon, broken into large chunks. Drizzle lightly with sesame oil. Sprinkle furikaki over top. Garnish bowls with Japanese turnips and cucumber. Serves 2-4.


PICKLED DAIKON AND CARROT

Marinate daikon and carrots in rice vinegar, salt, sugar and chili pepper for a quick pickle. You can cut the vegetables into matchstick pieces by hand, or use a spiralizing machine to create thin, spaghetti like strands that are perfect to pile onto sandwiches, scatter over salads, or serve alongside grilled meat or fried fish.


2 cups daikon radish, slivered, spiralized or cut into fine matchsticks

1 cup carrots, slivered, spiralized or cut into fine matchsticks

1 Tbsp salt

2 Tbsp granulated sugar

1⁄4 cup rice vinegar 1 Tbsp light soy sauce 1/2 cup water


Put the vegetables in a colander and sprinkle with the salt. Place the colander in the sink and let the vegetables drain for one hour to remove excess moisture. After they have drained, rinse in cold water, then pat dry with paper towels (or spin in a salad spinner).

Place vegetables in a covered container (or seal into a zippered freezer bag), add the sugar, vinegar, soy sauce and water, and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight.

Drain to serve on Vietnamese-style sandwiches or as a salad. This pickle keeps well in the refrigerator for at least a week. Makes 3 cups.

TIP: For an Asian-inspired slaw, toss your pickled daikon and carrots with shredded Napa cabbage, sliced pickled sushi ginger and a drizzle of sesame oil.



©Cinda Chavich

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