MORE and more, chefs are getting back to basics and for them that means soil, seeds, growing and harvesting right on your doorstep. Or even on a rooftop…
Miyazaki, the tiny Japanese takeaway on Evergreen Street with a cult following, sits in the middle of the urban Cork sprawl. And yet, in a small space on the roof grows mustard, courgette, borage, radish, chives, pak choi, rocket, cornflower, beetroot and nasturtium.
Takashi Miyazaki’s ethos has always and ever been about using what is local and best and transforming it into exquisite dishes; not wasting anything — famously using trout bones in a dish, pickling and fermenting as much as possible. All things that lend themself to the authentic taste of Japan.
These days Takashi is mostly focused on his newest venture, ichigo ichie, entrusting his eponymous restaurant to his team of young and enthusiastic chefs headed up by colleagues and friends Victor Barrado and Mike McGrath. It was this pair who, over a post-work pint in Sin É, first mooted the idea of utilising the empty roof space above Miyazaki to work as an urban garden.
“We wanted to add something to our dishes that was vibrant and fresh to deliver different flavours,” says Mike.
“We also wanted something to challenge ourselves to grow, and it does taste more authentic so it was a no-brainer to grow our own where we can rather than buy in.”
Having something that was home-grown and picked at the start of every service was an exciting prospect.
“We wanted to attract more people in, so we note on the menu boards when we are using our own grown produce,” says Victor.
“The size of the space makes it hard to have a constant supply for our own customers at the moment, but we grow as much as we can,” says Mike.
“For the first year, we are just seeing what grows well in that space, what we can use and how.”
Victor joined Miyazaki two years before Mike. Their shared idea for urban growing struck a chord.
“It was on my mind for a while to do something. I said to Mike, we got a great space out there, so we started to talk about using it,” said Victor.
“We even looked at the possibility of using the shed at the back of the restaurant to convert it into a curing room,” says Mike, “but with how busy Miyazaki is, the garden is as much as we could do at the moment anyway.
“I would definitely be interested in getting more space and doing more. If we had an allotment, we would be able to create a ready supply for the restaurant most of the year.”
There is a sense of ambition, or at least the realisation of what the ability to grow you own can open up for the duo. And with Takashi standing back more from the day to day running of Miyazaki, it has created a space for the team of young chefs to get their own creative ideas flowing.
“We were thinking how we could improve the restaurant,” says Victor. “That’s basically where the idea from the garden stemmed from. We figured it would be good to have a garden on site; good for our customers and good for us because we could learn something new.”
“Our next challenge is to get everything ready for winter crops,” says Mike. “Pickling is a massive part of what we do here, so to be able to plant, harvest and then pickle what we can’t use fresh would be fantastic.”
“Fermentation too,” says Victor. “Especially Kimchi, but also our own vinegars. To grow and then pickle using our own vinegar that we have fermented, well it’ll take a while to get to that stage but that’s where our heads are.”
I like where their heads are — and it fits perfectly with the ‘use everything’ ethos that Takashi carefully crafted from the beginning: taking an unused space to create a garden; harvesting what you can use fresh, pickling what you can’t and fermenting the rest.
Takashi is still there of course, mentor-like, making sure that his young team develop their ideas in keeping with the authentic Japanese experience that so many diners have to come to know and love.
“Catering colleges should add on a whole extra module to teach about growing food; where the food comes from and how growing it affects the flavour,” says Mike. “If chefs knew how to grow food, they would have more respect for it.”
It’s a wholly unarguable point; naturally I agree.
THE RISE OF THE RESTAURANT
Across the county, chefs are finding a space to grow their own for use in their restaurants…
Richard Milne, Dillons, Timoleague
“We are taking full advantage of the polytunnel built in the garden at Dillon’s Restaurant and the benefits of sustainability, decreasing our carbon footprint and the added control I have to grow produce that concentrates on flavour, rather than yield. The kitchen garden also gives our customers improved nutritional value. A vegetable that is cooked hours, if not minutes after picking, has a much higher nutritional value than vegetables sitting in crates for transportation for days or weeks.
“Our vegetables are naturally grown without the use of pesticides and chemicals.”
Rob Krawczyk, The Chestnut, Ballydehob
“Out the back of our building was a small space that we wanted to utilise and create an urban garden. For us, walking through it brings daily inspiration; seeing what is in bloom and going out during service to pick the edible flowers for example and to place them on the dishes that you have just created up is wonderful. It’s our own living larder!”
The Market Lane Group & Green Space, Cork
Ellie O’Donovan of Green Space mixes traditional growing method with aquaponics to grow high yields of quality veggie crops year round. Ellie partnered with Market Land Group for the supply of veggies from her own commercial garden close to the city centre, and has established restaurant gardens such as the growing plot supplying Castle Café at Blackrock Castle.
Cork Food Policy Council
Sustainable food and accessibility are key tenets to the mission at Cork Food Policy Council. The Council encourage Urban Growing and Urban Greening in any little untouched or unloved corner of the city to grow as many edible plants, veggies and herbs, as possible.