Growing the Gardens at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua Print
Written by Ann Shepphird   

Chef McDowell in gardenIn the last year, Maui’s Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, has added an extensive array of organic chef's gardens – starting with herbs and then fruit trees and, ultimately, vegetables (175 varieties of vegetables, to be exact). The gardens were the brainchild of Executive Sous Chef Marc McDowell, who offers a personal tour of the gardens every Monday at 3 p.m. that also includes instruction on making a raw food spinach-and-berry smoothie he promises is “delicious.”

In undertaking the project, McDowell has found that growing the food for his kitchens is a lot of fun and inspiring. He’s also found that gardening can be a lot of work, but work he’s found a real passion for -- something he may have gotten from his mother, Mary, who was an expert rose gardener and able to see her son’s project come to life before being diagnosed with stage four cancer and passing away this summer.

I recently spoke with McDowell about the new gardens and some of the things he’s learned along the way. He’s also provided recipes for a cilantro-and-macadamia nut crust and a tropical citrus marinade, both of which can be used on fish, chicken or tofu. (Click “read more” for the whole article and to see the recipes, which are also listed under the “Recipes” tab.)

How did the decision to put in the gardens come about?

Last July we had a big hike in food costs and in analyzing it I realized we’d spent $30,000 a year in just herbs. So I thought there’s no reason we can’t grow our own herbs and last August we put in an herb garden: a couple different kinds of basil, oregano, thyme, parsley, lemon grass, chives, whatnot. It was very artsy but not really large enough to sustain us so we planted a larger garden behind Jean-Michael Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment Center.

This January, we got 35 different varieties of fruit trees from a gentleman on the Big Island and planted those. Then right around Earth Day, I got the crazy notion to experiment with growing vegetables.


What have you learned?

The weather is perfect, the moisture is perfect but I’m constantly battling insects so companion planting comes in to play a lot. It’s a godsend because if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have anything growing.

The lettuces are doing well, so we’ll do more of those. Onions do well. Beets are great. Carrots okay. Cucumbers do okay as long as they’re next to the radishes – the cucumber beetles come pretty quickly once the radishes come out. If I grow the tomatoes near onions and carrots, the bugs won’t bother them. Eggplant does well.

Melons are the hardest thing because of the fruit flies. Recently I got lucky and on a trip to San Francisco sat next to a woman from the Big Island, Carol Noel. She’s a master gardener and told me about a bucket that you can paint with GF120, a chemical that kills the male and female variety of the fruit fry.

What’s the best thing about having your own gardens?

I love the fact that I know what’s sprayed on my vegetables and herbs and fruits. I use Fox Farms Fertilizer Company, whose owner, Willie Winer, helped me get the farm going and donated all the fertilizers – I’m 100 percent behind his company. If I can’t grow something I try to get it from the local farmers on Maui. I’ve met them and visited their farms and feel comfortable.

I also love the ability to have something like African blue basil, which I ordered from Richter’s Seeds in Canada. I give cuttings to people on the island so they can grow it as well. I make different flavored oils and vinegars out of it and the other culinary basils. It’s turned into a gigantic thing. In addition to Richters, I’ve used Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, Companion Plants Inc., The Cook's Garden, Territorial Seed Company and Seed Savers Exchange.

How has it affected the work in the kitchen?

It’s excited me to work with new things in our cuisine. We can take a recipe and switch out some of the herbs and give it a new twist and reinvent things a little bit. Many of the cooks have been somewhat hesitant to use new flavors at first because they can be intimidating but they benefit by experimenting with them in order to craft a new taste of their own.

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Here is Chef McDowell’s “easy recipe for a tropical citrus marinade that is great for fish, chicken or tofu. Also a macadamia and cilantro mixture I use as a crust. It’s wonderful and full of flavor!!”

Cilantro and Macadamia Nut Crust for Fish, Chicken or Tofu

Ingredients:
6- 5 oz. portions of Mahi Mahi
1/3 Cup of Macadamia Nut pieces
1/2 Cup Cilantro Stems, chopped
11/2 tsp. Ginger, peeled & finely chopped
11/2 tsp. Garlic, minced
0.5 oz. Lime Juice, fresh
1 oz. Vegetable Oil
1/2 tsp. Serrano or jalapeno Chili, chop with seeds
1 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Preparation:
1. Combine the cilantro stems, macadamia nuts, ginger, garlic and Serrano and process in a robot coupe or food processor for 15 seconds.
2. Add the lime juice and oil, season and process for another 20 seconds.
3. Taste and adjust as necessary.
4. Marinate the fish, chicken or tofu in tropical citrus marinade 6 hours, drain off excess. Season with salt and fresh ground white pepper and sear in a hot saute’ pan with 1 Tbl oil on both sides. Remove and let chill slightly until cool enough to spread 1-2 Tbsp. of crust on top.
5. Place in 375 degree oven for 6-7 minutes and remove and serve with nice fresh pineapple salsa.

Tropical Citrus Marinade for Fish, Chicken or Tofu

Ingredients:
Zest and Juice of 1 Lemon
Zest and Juice of 1 Orange
Zest and Juice of 1 Lime
1 tsp Lemongrass pulverized
3 each Kaffir Lime Leaf Pulverized
2 Tbl. Cilantro, chopped
1 tsp lime or lemon thyme leaves                                                           
2 tsp lime basil leaves                                                                     
1/2 Tbl  Garlic, chopped
1/2 Tbl Ginger, chopped
6 oz. Salad Oil

Preparation:
1. Place all ingredients in a blender and emulsify for 15 seconds. Or mix in a bowl with whisk for a temporary emulsion.