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Mise en place

The Culinary Connection

by Laurel Blomquist, Head Gardener | A lot of people ask me how I got into farming. It’s not exactly a glamorous profession. I was certainly not encouraged to pursue it by my grandparents, who operated a farm while I was growing up. In 2009, I was in my second year of culinary school  at Madison College and I had a few hours to fill one semester. I noticed that they were offering an organic farming class. I decided to take it as a way to better understand how to control the quality of ingredients in the kitchen.

Farming, it turns out, is complex and engaging because it marries the sciences (botany, geology, entomology, meteorology, and biochemistry, just to name a few) with the arts (the beauty of well-planned fields, the creativity of adjusting to the weather, and the culinary arts,) as well as business marketing and social skills. One of the professors of the class suggested that if we were intrigued by farming, we should apply to work with Claire Strader, who then ran an intensive internship program for young farmers interested in diversified organic vegetable operations. After one season, I was hooked.

Mise en placeFlash forward to 2018. A few weeks ago, we hosted a group of students from Waukesha County Technical College and their chef, Andrew Tenaglia of Lagniappe in New Berlin. The students had lots of great questions: they asked about the flavor of different varietals, how the growth habit of plants affects how often it is available to harvest, and how organic growers deal with insects. They tried new things in the field, and then took them back to school to use them in the kitchen. Linda & I are going to eat at their dining room soon. You can make reservations here: Waukesha County Technical College Culinary Dining Room

Two weekends ago, I met with James Beard Best Chef Midwest Finalist Justin Carlisle to discuss how Gwenyn Hill could provide produce for his restaurant, Ardent. Justin was my supervisor at a culinary internship I did in 2008 in Madison. I would like to think that the chef / professors that introduced us would be very proud of the fact that we are now working together to bring high-quality produce and food to the citizens of Milwaukee. Partnering with chefs is a wonderful thing for farmers, because they are often the harbingers of change in the way Americans eat. After all, growing this food doesn’t mean much until people eat it, which is why I do recipe demonstrations and tastings each week at CSA pickup. Gwenyn Hill looks forward to partnering with many more chefs, culinary schools, and restaurants in the years to come.

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