Last week we were treated to a day of excellent company during an enlightening tour of Corgi Castle, the slice of paradise where Girard Gourmet owner, Francois Goedhuys, grows the fruit and vegetables served at his establishment. There was more to this experience than great hospitality, though. Our afternoon culminated in a very special lunch cooked by our host’s good friend, Michel Stroot, a man who also happens to be the former Executive Chef at the ‘Golden Door’ for over 25 years, as well as a contributing chef for the Tomorrow Project.
After a long walk through the garden, learning about all the different herbs, vegetables and fruit growing in the soil around us, it was quite something to experience, first hand, what a Master Chef could do with all this natural goodness – we would quickly learn that it was a lot like giving a pyrotechnics expert a box full of explosives. On the porch outside, facing the mountains and meadow, we enjoyed a four course meal that blew our minds into another world.
The Lunch Menu
First Dish: A Light Salad
The salad was made from an assortment of tomatoes, basil leaves, ricotta and a homemade dressing. It was simple, but the perfect way to set the tone for what lay ahead.
Second Dish: Purslane Soup.
1) It’s very, very, very nutritious.
2) It grows like wildfire – in Francois’s own words, it has colonized his garden.
What he didn’t mention was how delicious it is in a soup, mixed with a few hand-picked spices. As winter approaches, this is going to be a dynamite item on the Girard Gourmet menu.
Third Dish: Melody Of Grilled Vegetables
I don’t feel sophisticated enough to explain what Michel did to transform this simple dish into the culinary equivalent of a Metallica song. The zucchinis and tomatoes were alive with flavor, juicy and succulent, balanced with herbs, spices and a touch of witchcraft. His secret base was a the shitake and almond mushroom mix, which is available through the Tomorrow Project.
Desert was a simple mix of bakes pear and chocolate sauce. So simple, but so amazing. If not for the dignified company, I would have picked my plate up and cleaned it like a dog. No lies.
What ‘Organic’ Really Means
Before we got lunch started, Vanessa and I sat down with Augustine (or ‘Augie’) Bola and Bob Reidy, two farmers who play a vital role in supplementing the stock levels at Girard Gourmet when the produce from Cargo Castle isn’t enough. Augustine runs a garden in North Park, while Bob has a garden in Julian. Both are independent farmers who also assist with the all-important transport process of taking stock from Corgi Castle to La Jolla and back again. Throughout the day, we’d been hearing a lot about the growing process and how much effort goes into cultivating organically grown vegetables in quantities that can support a commercial venture like Girard Gourmet. But what does organic really mean – aren’t all vegetables organic in one way or another?
Blue Book: Is farming a labor of love?
Augie: It has to be – otherwise it’s a hard work. You have to really enjoy some solitude, because most of the time it’s just you and the plants. Also working with your plants and getting your hands dirty. You have to like it.
Blue Book: What tips do you have for first-time gardeners?
Augie: You should start with something you really like and then you try it. I think the most important thing is to feed the land – if you give it food, it’ll produce.
Blue Book: When it comes to growing Vegetables, what does ‘Organic’ really mean? Isn’t all fruit and veg technically organic?
Bob: There’s a legal definition and there’s another one that some of the smaller growers use. In legal terms, you’re still allowed to use some pesticides and chemical fertilizers. So even though something might technically be ‘organic’ in a legal sense, some of the soul of it is lost. ‘Organic’, in its purest form, means working with nature and not fighting it. So that means feeding the soil and not your plants. To do this properly you’ve got to focus on getting the right things into the ground, things that support life below the surface, because there’s a lot more life under ground than above it. There are so many small microorganisms that remain completely buried, and those provide life to the plants.
When we bring back scraps from the restaurant to compost or feed to the chickens, we’re feeding the soil and putting life back into the ground (even the chicken manure) and this supports the soil life. You know, you’ll get faster results if you head out and buy a chemical fertilizer, but you lose out on nutrition and flavor. Growing organically just means looking at everything (the Big Picture) and working with it – improving nutrition and flavor.
*Again, we would like to thank Francois, Diana, Michel, Alfredo, Bob and Augie for a fantastic day that turned out to be as educational as it was entertaining. It was a real privilege to get a tour of their beautiful sanctuary.