Direct from Garden to Kitchen at Brix Print
Written by Ann Shepphird   

It’s pretty much a given today that the top chefs are looking to use the freshest produce in their cooking. Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to follow chefs as they traveled to local farms or scoured farmers markets and talked to the gardeners to find just the right ingredients for that night’s meal.

Brix, the well-regarded restaurant in the Napa Valley town of Yountville, has taken that symbiotic relationship of gardener and chef a step further by having its own two (actually 16, if you include the vineyard and orchard) acres on the property set aside for produce to be used in the restaurant.

I recently talked to Guillermo “Memo” Rodriguez (above), the master gardener at Brix and started by asking what the chefs had come to pick from his garden that day. The answer was English peas, plus some tarragon and parsley and thyme for an English-pea risotto that Executive Chef Anne Gingrass-Paik was looking to put back on the menu. The peas were also being used in a chicken pasta that was already on the menu. (If anyone was lucky enough to eat that dish at Brix on May 29, please let me know how it was …)

In order to have them ready for that May 29 dish, Rodriguez had planted the English peas on March 6, first starting them as seeds in his greenhouse. All of the produce at the Brix garden starts as seeds. For most it takes maybe 1-2 weeks for sprouts to grow; with fava beans and English peas it’s just a couple days.

Rodriguez and Chef Gingrass-Paik work together to determine what will be grown and, most importantly, when. “We talk about what’s going to be in season at a particular time of the year,” said Rodriguez. It helps that they’ve been working together for a long time. The two have worked together at Brix for six months now but, before that, worked together at the Hawthorne Lane restaurant in San Francisco.

Two of the items Rodriguez is growing in the garden for the summer menu are cucumbers and tomatoes. The tomatoes went in the first week of May and should be ready by the end of June. Rodriguez said that in his part of the Napa Valley tomatoes should go in anywhere between the last week of April to the first week in June. The last week of April they expected rain so he waited because, as he said, “they don’t like to be completely wet when you put them in the ground.”

Indeed, one of his big tips to growing tomatoes is to be very careful with the irrigation. “Feel the ground every day and make sure it is not too wet,” said Rodriguez. “Basically you need the right amount of water and sun -- but making sure there’s not too much water is number one.” Rodriguez says watering once a week should be enough and pruning yellow leaves is a good idea because they create extra work for the tomato plant without any pay-off.

With cucumbers the water is also important. “The water has to be right on the spot where the trunk of the plant is because cucumbers don’t have a lot of roots,” said Rodriguez. He also recommended putting them in high (at least 4”) beds or on a hill so they have room to wander down and hold onto the ground. This is also good for melons and squash.

Rodriguez mentioned two recipes he thought the cucumbers and tomatoes might ultimately be used for in the kitchen: a tomato-and-English-cucumber gazpacho and a tomato salad with burrata and pesto. We hope to have those recipes to share soon but at the moment have the restaurant's lemony quinoa salad to share. It uses tomatoes, cucumbers, mint and parsley, which should be ready to harvest in all our gardens soon.

If you have any questions for Rodriguez, please send them to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . We hope to talk to him again soon to check in and see what other tips he has for us as the summer season continues.

For more information on Brix, visit their Web site at: http://www.brix.com

BRIX
Executive Chef Anne Gingrass—Paik

LEMONY QUINOA SALAD WITH FRESH MINT AND PARSLEY

Yields 5 ½ cups

1.5 cups    Quinoa
2.25 cups     Chicken stock
1.5 cups    Tomato, seeds removed, small diced
1.5 cups    English cucumber, peeled, seeded, small diced
1 cup    Parsley, roughly chopped
1 cup    Mint, chiffonade
? cup    Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
.25 cup    Extra virgin olive oil
To taste Kosher salt and black pepper

Method:
1.   Rinse quinoa, drain and add to boiling chicken stock.  
2.   Reduce heat to low, cover, and let cook for 15-20 minutes or until al dente.  
3.   Shut off heat, let sit for several minutes, then fluff with a fork and allow to cool on a sheet tray.  Gently fold remaining ingredients into cooled quinoa and season to taste.