The same commitment to organics and biodynamics practiced at Summerhill Pyramid Winery also extends to the Sunset Organic Bistro.
And, like Summerhill wines, his dishes all start in the soil, Chef Jesse Croy says.
Jesse insists that each new growing season really begins with the last one.
“We start off by putting the garden to bed in the fall,” he says. “And, when you are doing permaculture and biodynamic we have to know what we are going to be planting before the snow even comes off. We need to know where each crop is going, where it’s going to be situated in the garden.”
With about two-thirds of the food used in Jesse’s kitchen coming from gardens of Summerhill and nearby neighbours, there is a heavy emphasis on using seasonal produce.
“We always make sure we have a lot of some crops, like tomatoes. Tomatoes are really important for us. If you’re going to be purchasing tomatoes at the rate that we use them it’s a huge expense. We like to grow a lot of varieties—at one point we had 30 varieties, including heritage types.” Any chef worth his, uh, salt loves herbs and Jesse is no exception.
“A big part of our garden is the basil patch. We usually have 4-5 types and we preserve a heck of a lot—I’m still using basil from our garden right now. We have pureed basil that will last us right up until June. In the herb garden we grow tarragon, thyme, rosemary, all sorts of mint, lovage, chives, flat-leaf parsley, coriander, dill–pretty much anything you can imagine.”
Summerhill produces many of its own ground crops—squash, zucchini, eggplant—as well as carrots, beets and cucumbers.
Condiments like ketchup, mustard and mayo are all made on site, from scratch. It’s all part of a plan to put as much locally grown food as possible on each plate.
“If something is unavailable in a season, you won’t see it here,” Jesse says. “In a grocery store a customer is used to finding bell peppers and corn on the cob all year-round. At Summerhill you might get them for three weeks.”
Changing customer expectations demands flexibility—lean grass-fed beef instead of marbled grain-fed, and ancient grains, brown rice, lentils and quinoa play an important part on the menu.
Planning to use locally grown products in season has its challenges.
“We have an events department and I need to make menus for the next year. I have to say “suggested” on a menu a lot of times because I can’t be sure of what will be available.“
And he never knows when foragers like Gabe Cipes might arrive with a basket of rosehips, rose petals, wild lettuces, mushrooms or wild herbs.
Of course wine is at the forefront of all of Jesse’s menu planning, he says, “We are a winery and a winery restaurant, so at the end of the day what I do is to showcase the wines, what (winemaker) Eric von Krosigk does with the grapes.”
~ Lorne Eckersley