When asked what he loves the most about being Head Chef at a boutique restaurant with rooms in the Scottish Borders, Alistair Craig’s reply is that he can cook the style of food he loves for a small number of guests, that he can cycle to work through lovely countryside and that he has a kitchen garden, where he can get to grow some of the food that he cooks.
With Noma, voted the World’s best restaurant a few years ago, relocating so that it can have a kitchen garden, the spotlight has been thrown on how crucial this is for a restaurant aspiring to offer menus using the freshest and best of ingredients.
When Alistair arrived at the Horseshoe Restaurant with Rooms at Eddleston near Peebles in 2013 there was no kitchen garden at all, but there was land, and so Alistair set about creating a kitchen garden from scratch.
Over the coming months, Alistair will be keeping you up to speed with what is happening in his kitchen garden: what he is growing and how he uses ingredients from the garden.
In this first blog post, Alistair offers not only garden tips for any green-fingered readers out there, but also shares some amazing ways to cook your carrots that elevate them from the humble boiled or steamed variety we’re probably all so used to.
"Two months ago we decided, at pretty short notice, to have a special dinner to show case some new wines which we’ve recently added to our wine list. There were six wines, so I needed six courses. The new wines were all either organic or bio-dynamically made, all from very small producers and each tasted very distinctive.
I headed up to our kitchen garden to see what was looking good. It’s been a rubbish season for growing this year and I wasn’t surprised to hear some local farmers be-moaning what has been, for them, the worst summer since nineteen eighty something.
Like the wines that were featuring on the dinner, our kitchen garden is worked organically and is something we started from scratch, three years ago. Behind the former Victorian schoolhouse, which we’ve converted into eight en-suite bedrooms, there is a south-west facing slope of grass, which we’ve set about terracing.
In the first year we grew potatoes and some greens and planted a dozen old Scottish variety apple trees. Three years on and we’re starting to get more adventurous and more of the grassy slope has been terraced and put to use. Additionally we’ve taken a piece of the car park, fenced it off and had our local joiner build us a handful of large raised beds which are sited on it.
The garden is quite a sun-trap and a high, old stone wall at the top reflects back more heat but the down-side of working organically is the vegetables we grow tend to be smaller than average and pests like slugs and butterflies can be a nightmare. This year however we largely got around these two problems; netting off the area where we would grow things that butterflies would go for and encircling other produce with numerous halves of orange. A simple but effective way of dealing with slugs and, since we squeeze oranges every day for breakfast, we’ve loads of used oranges for this job."
"This year we grew beetroot, carrots, horseradish, wasabi, radishes, fennel, beans (French, broad and Borlotti), pak choi, chard, kale, courgettes, globe artichokes, broccoli and leeks. The results have been mixed. The scarlet kale and chard were great; all the beans were slow to get going.
The cobra climbing beans took ages to take off. The wasabi failed but the horseradish worked. The taste of freshly grated horseradish is fabulous!
The carrots seemed to be taking forever to grow but when I checked them now, they were at last ready. We’d planted rainbow, purple sun and chantenay varieties and all were ready to harvest, so I decided that at least one course of the special wine dinner menu would feature carrots big-time."
"Back in the kitchen with the carrots harvested, washed and sorted, I talked with my team about what we might do with them. The idea quickly took shape that we could actually do one of the six courses for the menu using only carrots.
Some of the carrots we buried in coffee beans and roasted for a few hours. Some we made into a carrot and orange reduction. Others were pickled with lime and rice wine vinegar. We made a carrot sponge, not using flour, but just egg whites, almonds and carrots. Some of the smallest carrots we cooked in cocoa butter and finally some of the carrot purée we dehydrated to make into crisps.
Well the final dish, simply called, “Garden Carrots” was paired with a full bodied, white wine from the Domaine de Montcy made from eighty year old vines of the rare, romorantin grape variety. I thought the flavours and weight the wine had balanced well with all the carroty twists and turns.
And, whilst the wine prompted a lot of conversation, I think the coffee flavoured carrots provoked even more discussion.
If anyone would like a recipe for any of the carrot dishes, tweet me @horseshoe_inn using #kitchengarden and I’ll post it on our Facebook page."
• Find out more about the Horseshoe Restaurant with Rooms in Peebles at www.horseshoeinn.co.uk