An Appetite for Innovation
A chef’s daily challenge to serve customers consistent creativity drives a quest for new ingredients and innovative food combinations. Just ask Mike Ramsey, Executive Chef at Jacksonville Golf and Country Club, who is always seeking out unique additions to his menu. While a segment of his members have traditional tastes, his daily specials and frequent menu changes appeal to those who are more adventurous. Several years ago, when he was invited to tour GYO Greens, a new farm in Palm Valley combining traditional aquaculture with hydroponics, Ramsey quickly became excited by the varieties of microgreens, specialty vegetables and edible flowers he could add to his plates.
“I went out to the farm with some of my kitchen and front-of-the-house crew. It was easy to say I wanted to buy the farm’s stuff. It was unique for us, but I could see how things like the red-veined sorrel or purple basil could make a sensational garnish,” Ramsey said. “The microgreens are great because they’re still growing when we get the trays and stay alive until we use them up.” That visit initiated a relationship from the early days of GYO Greens, with both the chef and the farm evolving to accommodate each other’s needs. Because the farm is small, custom orders are easy to grow for the chefs.
Given this relationship, Chef Ramsey eagerly agreed to contribute to the farm's first cookbook, due out mid-2018. GYO GREENS owner Helga Tan-Fellows approached Ramsey, along with 20 other chefs, about participating in the project. “I had this cookbook in mind since day one,” Tan-Fellows said. “Every single chef who is featured in this cookbook has been significant to our growth. We wanted to include those businesses who have contributed to our success, to highlight the relationship we have with them and how they have helped us grow.”
Chef Ramsey knew exactly which microgreen he wanted to feature in his recipe – garlic chives. This was an ingredient that spoke to the origins of his relationship with the farm. “As dull as garlic chives can be, it was important to me because it reflected my history with GYO,” Ramsey said.
“At the farm, someone pulled a pod of garlic chives out to show us the roots, which were about 1½ to 2 feet long! Holy moly! On the spot I grabbed some of the roots and ate them. I snipped off some of the roots, dusted them with seasoned flour and fried them up. The flavor is like garlic chives only more concentrated, more vegetal and clean. With garlic chives, I knew it was one ingredient we could use every bit of in the dish.” The resulting recipe, Garlic Chive & Bone Marrow Agnolotti, Celery Root Silk, Sunchoke Confit and Fried Roots, holds true to the promise of total utilization and dramatic presentation.
Chef Chris Robert of Royal Palm Village Wine and Tapas also started working with GYO Greens products early in the farm’s history. He has experimented with red amaranth, lemon sorrel, pea shoots and edible flowers such as marigolds and nasturtiums, though the selection has changed according to the season. His dish for the upcoming cookbook, Black Garlic and White Anchovy Bagna Cotta with Raw Oysters, features quick-pickled chard, crispy broccoli leaves and Tokyo bekana (a variety of bok choy) and reflects the variety of produce available.
“When I started building the farm, I had no idea if people would show up, or if the chefs would like it, and here we are four years later and we are having a lot of fun. The chefs are so passionate, they are always pushing us to grow new things,” Tan-Fellows said. “With the cookbook we told these talented chefs, just go out there and have fun, the only requirement being to use one of the products you get from GYO Greens.”
The cookbook is a collaboration that demonstrates big, and delicious, results do indeed come from small packages.
Want to get your hands on a copy of GYO Greens Cookbook? Visit their website for more information.