Plant Life Balance

Book Club #1: what we’re reading in April

A bounty of books that feed our soul, help us grow, and plant us firmly in the moment.

Words: Maggie Scardifeld

Things to do: Quit day job and go in search of teardrop peas from the Basque country.

Things to remember: There’s only a few days to harvest them in spring. And it’s best to gather them in the morning before the sun rises. That’s when they’re at their most tender.

The seasonality of teardrop peas is but one fascinating titbit in The Garden Chef that made us grin. Part how-to, part cookbook, part behind-the-scenes journal, it documents – in outstanding detail – 40 of the world’s top chefs getting their hands dirty, and finding inspiration, in kitchen gardens.

Whether organic rooftop potager, shipping container, cliff-side allotment, orchard or tropical greenhouse – no two of these kitchen gardens are the same, and naturally, nor is their bounty.  

The lineup of plot-to-plate-loving gardeners hail from all corners of the world. Globally acclaimed chefs such as Alice Waters (Chez Panisse, California), Michel and Sébastien Bras (Bras and Le Suquet, France) and wild man Magnus Nilsson (Fäviken, Sweden) speak firsthand about a garden’s power to fuel creativity. While closer to home, Australian chefs including Peter Gilmore (Quay), Dan Hunter (Brae) and Ben Shewry (Attica) share growing tips, favourite heirloom plant varieties, and valuable advice on minimising waste.

The stories are heartfelt and personal, the photography breathtaking, and the design thoughtful. There’s a whopping 80 farm-to-table recipes to try your hand at, too. Some are pretty cheffy and perhaps best to just appreciate, rather than attempt at home (we’re looking at you, catfish baked in birch bark). But others, such as The Agrarian’s roasted baby carrots with yogurt tahini dressing, for example, or the zucchini fritti with crisp sage leaves from Petersham Nurseries, could fast become new favourites.

At the end of the day, whether you’re a cook or a gardener, this book is all about building more of a connection to plants. It certainly had us thinking more seasonally and sustainably about our veggies – stems, shoots, leaves and all.

When you’ve experienced the patience that goes into growing a plant, you don’t want to waste a single bit.

It’s also a beautiful reminder that gardens are spaces to escape, meditate, breathe, educate and socialise, as much as they are places for hard work.

Rodney Dunn, of The Agrarian Kitchen Cooking School and Eatery in Tasmania, sums it up perfectly. “Go back,” he says. “Back to the source, back to the earth, for this is where all flavour begins.”

The Garden Chef: Recipes and Stories from Plant to Plate

Phaidon, flexibound, $59.95