Most chefs plan a menu by thinking about what’s in season and what’s available from their suppliers. At Five Fields, a fine-dining restaurant serving seasonal tasting menus in Chelsea, chef Taylor Bonnyman takes it further. He has a much better understanding of what fruits, vegetables and herbs are available because he helps plan what’s planted at the kitchen garden with the help of Five Fields’ kitchen gardener, Heather Young.
Focus on seasonality and incorporate into the restaurant
In East Sussex, Young tends to Five Fields’ two-acre garden in the countryside and chronicles her work on her website, “Gourmet Gardener.” Readers follow along as she plants, nurtures and harvests her crops before they travel to the restaurant, less than two hours away. “She’s a magician,” says chef Bonnyman. Many of today’s restaurants favour working with small producers and suppliers, working to develop personal relationships with the farmers that grow their produce but at Five Fields they’ve built this relationship into their business model. “It’s always been part of the plan,” Bonnyman says. “Having a farm was an embellishment of our focus on seasonality and we just wanted to incorporate that into the restaurant.” The garden has become an integral part of the three year old restaurant, in terms of menu and culture.
Become an amateur botanist
“Some people don’t know that we have a garden and they’ll say ‘there’s too much foliage on my plate’,” Bonnyman laughs. The garden produces over 100 different varieties of herbs and the kitchen does their best to make use of all of them, including the stems, buds and seeds, which means there’s a lot of greens to use. He estimates that the kitchen uses about 90% of the produce and herbs grown in the garden.
“Right now we’re trying to figure out how to use herbs that are astringent or bitter,” he says. Not knowing the flavour of some of the herbs requires him and his team to become amataeur botanists, researching herb names, properties and any adverse reactions that they may cause for diners. “We have to fact check the stuff that comes in because if we don’t know what it is then it can be dangerous,” he says. Vegetables and other produce are a little easier to manage and because of Young’s care when growing, the kitchen gets to reap the benefits of exceptional produce that can’t be had anywhere else in the city. This produce takes centre stage on the menu and allows Bonnyman to have a closer relationship to his dishes. “You really develop a full appreciation for what has been grown and we can tell the difference from produce that came from somewhere else,” he says. The impact on his cooking has been “inestimable.”
Engage staff in the process
That educational aspect of having a dedicated garden has extended to the rest of the team at Five Fields as well. Management organises trips to the garden so everyone can be familiar with where the restaurant’s food comes from. For Bonnyman, these trips have led to a more engaged staff. “Our team is pretty enfranchised,” he says. “They’re also pretty well-fed.” The produce that is not pretty enough to end up on the plate is used for staff meals in the restaurant. At the end of each growing season, he takes his experiences from the previous season and thinks about the next year. “Each year we have a sit down and plan for the next year with Heather after autumn.”
Add a personal touch
“We’re very lucky and I would recommend anyone try it,” Bonnyman says. While most restaurants don’t have the luxury of having two acres of land to plant on, a rooftop or a plot of land can be enough for chefs to play around with, he adds. No matter the size, adding homegrown produce or herbs to a menu can add a personal touch that will benefit both the staff and diners. As he says, “you can grow delicious things here in London.”
Photos courtesy of David Cotsworth Photography