On a sunny morning a few weeks ago, Chef Kevin McCarthy of Paul Smith’s College shepherded culinary students from his summer session into Gould’s Garden, an area adjacent to the soccer field given over to garden plots for the Paul Smith’s community. The students were there to plant vegetables that would later be harvested and served in the on-campus St. Regis Restaurant. Joe Orefice, forestry professor and instructor in sustainability studies at Paul Smith’s, directed the group to hoe, smooth and plant seeds – carrots, Swiss chard, beets – in double rows, watering them in with pond water hand-carried up a steep bank at the back of the garden.
McCarthy is one of a growing number of chefs who promote locally sourced foods in their restaurants, some going so far as to start their own farms to insure fresh produce. In other cases, chefs work closely with farmers to craft menus highlighting local specialties. Diners appreciate eating the seasonal bounty of a region, and farmers are more free to experiment with a wide variety of crops.
“We’ll tend this garden through the season, then harvest and serve the vegetables along with locally raised chickens and ducks. The students will take part in all stages of food production, including processing, plucking and preparing the poultry,” McCarthy says. “This will give them the full experience of how food gets from the producer to the table.”
This modest garden will give the future chefs a sense of what it takes to grow a beet or carrot. Meanwhile, rows of little seedlings have appeared, interspersed with less welcome plants. I’m guessing the next gardening lesson might be titled “How to Weed.”