|Farmer Lee Jones|
soil, which was formerly lake bottom, is sandy and fertile. This combination offers the perfect micro-climate for "growing vegetables slowly and gently in full accord with nature."
I completely agree that the produce is special and even the land. I disagree, however, with what makes it so. Lake bed aside, someone had to love this land enough to fight for it and lovingly work it to help it produce its bounty. I have come to believe it is the people here at Chef's Garden who make this particular land special. With love, caring and devotion to each other first, with the land in common. And, they do it with people too. I think if you picked up this team and moved them anywhere, they would have the same result. It was my pleasure to sit and discuss with Lee, on this occasion of the celebration's 10 year anniversary, how it, this farm and this unique family came to be what it is today. He brought me back in time.
|The Jones Boys: Bob Sr., Lee & Bob Jr.|
"My parents were nondrinkers, nonsmokers, and didn't miss a day of church in 25 years," Farmer explains proudly, "When they made money, they reinvested back in the farm. When interest rates hit 23 percent and the storm devastated our crops, we started over from almost nothing. I saw my dad very broken spirited," Lee remembers, "I left college, worked 10 years with no paycheck and helped put my brother and sister through college. I can't imagine doing anything else. Working with my dad is amazing."
To many chefs, Farmer Lee embodies The Chef's Garden. Perpetually clad in his trademark overalls and a red bow-tie, it is not uncommon to see Farmer Jones at the culinary industry's top shows and events. We spoke about his choice of attire just hours before the festival. "I've been everywhere in my overalls, Iron chef to The James Beard Awards, where everyone was in a tux and I had on my overalls," he paused, "a new pair of course but, they were still overalls." Lee has been featured in numerous national publications, including Bon Appétit, Cooking Light, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine and The Washington Post. The farm has been featured on The Martha Stewart Show, Food Network's Roker on the Road, CNN Business Unusual, and ABC World News. He was also the first farmer ever
In the farming business for more than 50 years, Bob Jones, Sr. has led The Chef's Garden to innovate how vegetables are grown, harvested, packaged and delivered to the kitchen door of top chefs around the world. It was Mr. Bob, as he's fondly referred to on the farm, who recognized the value in meeting the needs of chefs who were driving a return to sustainable agriculture, a reconnection with food producers and a focus on quality and flavor. Lee explains further, "Well the real story on how we came to be a chef's garden is a bit different than most think. All our literature says it was a family decision," winking he added, "but let me tell ya how it really happened. When that hail storm hit, we lost everything except for 6 acres. Out of 600. We were devastated," he recalled. "I had a met a French chef who had asked me about growing some vegetables, particularly, squash blossoms. The chef was looking for the same quality product available in France, so we took care of this chef and others as well. At this time we had a big decision to make, being down in acreage. Do we stick with the farmers markets or do we specialize in chefs and their needs? My dad put it to a vote. 5 hands around the table, including mine, all voted for the farmers markets. My dad looked around the table, slammed his hand on the table and shouted. "Then it's final...we're doing chefs!" That is the real story of how the 'family' decided to cater to chefs," he laughed.
|Bob Jones, Sr.|
|Lee, Michelle Obama, Robert Irvine|
|The Famous Red Bow-Ties|
|It's True! Just overalls & white shirts.|
It is here, basically in Farmer Lee's front yard that the tents and trappings of the festival take place. It seems fitting, almost like it's just a big ol' barbecue with a few hundred of your closest friends and some world famous chefs and culinary personalities thrown in. This year's headliners were Restaurant Impossible's, Robert Irvine, Top Chef Just Desserts', Johnny Iuzzini, BBC America's Clair Robinson, Madison Cowen from No Kitchen Required and Amanda Freitag from Chopped to lend it some sizzle.
|Johnny Iuzzini, me, Lee, Clair Robinson|
We have all heard the phrases, 'out of the mouths of babes' and 'everything has its start at the head and trickles down." Well, as I prepared for the day, Lee offered his home as my base of operations covering the festival, and as it was a hot day, with my physical limitations, a place to rest and take a break from the festivities. As I got myself situated, behind the island in the kitchen was a cherub faced little girl, about 8 yrs old, with red curly hair, wearing a chef's coat that said "Chef's Garden.' She introduced herself as Mary Grace, Lee's granddaughter. I introduced myself as well and she asked if I would care for something to drink. I replied, "That would be nice, yes please." She then turned her back to me, took something out of her pocket and stood hunched for a few seconds. Then she whirled around and handed me a hand written list, on a small message sized paper on which she had written five or six items to choose from, such as Water, Juice, Coke, etc. I placed my order, which she wrote down on a separate piece of paper and then she proceeded to get my drink and serve it to me, asking, "Would you like anything else?" I said no, thanked her and handed her a dollar, eliciting a big grin, and polite thank you. I later heard that she was telling everyone who would listen about the experience. I guess it was a special to her as it was to me. This, my friends, embodies the spirit of every person I met over the course of this celebration. Warm, engaging, real and well, downright hospitable.
The Chef' Garden
|Chef's Garden Herbs|
|Clair Robinson, Johnny Iuzzini, Madison Cowen|
The Culinary Vegetable Institute
Sitting on approximately 100 acres, the Institute includes a 1,500 square foot state-of-the-art two story Kitchen designed by Mark Stech-Novak with full audio-visual capabilities for demonstrations; a 1426 square foot Dining Room with 22 foot ceilings (capable of seating 90); an Executive Chef Suite with luxury amenities; accommodations for visiting chefs’ teams; a Culinary Library; Root Cellar, Wine Cellar and it also includes an experimental vegetable, forest and herb gardens.
Visiting chefs can utilize the CVI’s facilities and gardens for educational, team building and retreat purposes. With the farm nearby, chefs can experience The Chef’s Garden planting and harvesting methods, pick vegetables themselves and return to the CVI for relaxation or to experiment in the kitchen. Today, the CVI continues its commitment to its chefs, but they have also opened their doors to the community by sharing their facility with corporations, organizations and people who seek a unique venue for the finest in agri-culinary experiences. For more information, visit CVI's website here.
|Robert Irvine cooks with Veggie U kids|
As always, bon appetit,