November Feature: Gardens for Chefs and by Chefs

Photo by Emily J. Davis.

The Ranch, Anaheim

The Ranch’s 2-acre farm in the Santa Ana Mountains is every chef’s dream. Horticulturist Leo Valencia supports the five-chef team with year-round plantings from artichokes (green globe) to watermelon (crimson sweet). “We are fortunate to have a private farm that produces more than just exceptional seasonal bounties; it is our playground of inspiration,” Almazan says. Last summer, 26 varieties of tomatoes fueled the fabled heirloom tomato salad. Six kinds of pumpkins appear in seasonal sides, soups, and Cinderella pumpkin risotto. A dozen herbs season sweet and savory dishes, plus infusions for seasonal cocktails.

Photo by Emily J. Davis.

@honeygirlgrows, Laguna Beach

Those edible flowers in your drink or on your dessert could well be from Jones’ garden
or one she designed for the restaurant. “Right now, chefs want typical fall flavors and colors,” Jones says. “So I like to steer them to unusual items like colorful Chinese spinach, variegated hibiscus leaves, or shiso leaves in pinks, peach, and burnt orange.” Jones also advocates for herbs because they’re “as essential as salt and pepper for seasoning, generate their own dainty flowers, benefit soil health, repel pests, and protect plants from disease.” She longs for a day when “no one ever again needs to buy $4 herbs in small plastic containers.”

Photo by Emily J. Davis.

Nirvana Grille, Laguna Beach

We change menus three times a year, so I rotate easy, high-yield plantings to coincide. We have 12 planters at the restaurant, and I maintain a 250-foot terrace garden at home. Herbs are my favorite. We use them in so many dishes: tarragon in the beef stroganoff, parsley butter for zucchini, cilantro in chicken wontons. Sourcing from the gardens lowers costs as well, since the equivalent from a farmers market would drive menu prices even higher.”

Photo by Emily J. Davis.

Vine Restaurant & Bar, San Clemente
(And sister restaurants Ironwood, Olea, and Sapphire Laguna)

Cook oversees a west-facing back pocket garden carved from the lot’s north and west edges. “Heirloom tomatoes are hands- down the main crop in summer, but in fall we grow cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, and lots of lacinto kale because it has a great yield and it’s one of my favorite things to eat,” Cook says. “I always have several types of thyme, plus sweet basil, Thai basil, African blue basil, mints, and dill.” Beverage director Gabe Whorely uses herbs heavily in cocktails and lives nearby, so he stops by in the morning to harvest them for delivery to Ironwood, Olea, and Sapphire Laguna.

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