Herb gardens have been part of many kitchens’ arsenals for a very long time. A rosemary bush or a potted thyme plant was not an uncommon sight in many kitchens. The idea of having fresh herbs at one’s fingertips allowed for fresh flavors to be added whenever needed. Fresh herbs are one thing, but restaurants are now planting serious gardens, growing lettuces, vegetables, and a few fruits for exclusive use on their menus.
Melissa Kelly lives the credo of an organic lifestyle, and is one of the most gifted chefs I have ever met. She believes that running a restaurant carries responsibilities far beyond great food and service. Her flagship restaurant Primo in Rockland, Maine is certainly off the beaten track, but is right at the center of the organic movement, with a huge on-property garden and even two elite-breed pigs that assist with the kitchen recycling. (Primo’s prosciutto is excellent by the way…) Using the Maine location as home base, Melissa shuttles back and forth from Maine to Primo Grande Lakes in Orlando and Primo Starr Pass in Tucson, both at JW Marriott hotels.
Primo Grande Lakes has a huge garden. Throughout most of the year the garden teems with herbs, vegetables of all kinds, and incredible tomatoes that are picked and served nearly immediately. The cooks all share in the harvesting and garden care responsibilities, and are led by the charismatic and gifted chef, Kathleen Blake, Melissa’s hand picked envoy is the essence of Primo. Now doubled in size from its original 20 beds, the garden has weathered 3 hurricanes and 5 years of development and is a primary supplier to the restaurant’s ever changing menus. I spent an afternoon with Kathleen in February, and had a chance to walk through the garden with her. She feels a direct connection to the food she serves, and just a few minutes with her leaves you with a sense of that same connection. All organic, there is nothing more local than a salad that was grown 50 feet away from the restaurant, and probably picked by the chef who just prepared it. Kathleen’s enthusiasm is contagious; the staff of this incredibly talented restaurant echo the boss’ philosophy of local food, with an organic sensibility. Primo uses the best ingredients possible and is a huge supporter of local and small farmers, and fishermen. Check it out if you are in Orlando or Tucson.
What’s on YOUR plate today?