The Chef Farmer
As the seventh-graders decamped at The Farm at Glen Leven, a sustainability project of the Land Trust for Tennessee, one morning in September 2010, Tyler Brown, Executive Chef at the Capitol Grille, noticed some seemed to stay close to the bus, reticent about venturing onto the grounds.
"They seemed intimidated by this much land and trees and nature," Tyler remembers of the outing. Then it dawned on him: the kids didn't know what a farm is supposed to look like.
Tyler is determined to change that .
The executive chef of the Capitol Grille at Nashville's Hermitage Hotel, Tyler is on a crusade to encourage people to take a longer view of food as more than a commodity. To him, food is a story. It's about gardens, farms, and the people who tend them. Recipes passed down through generations. Memories evoked by favorite meals and enjoyed over a lifetime.
That is a large part of the inspiration behind the farm, a unique partnership between The Hermitage Hotel and the Land Trust for Tennessee, a private, not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving sites of natural and historic significance. A couple of years ago, the Trust agreed to allocate a small portion of Glen Leven, a sprawling estate just five miles from The Hermitage Hotel, for Tyler to use in his quest to grow organic produce for the restaurant and to engage the community in the process.
Tyler says his own personal connection to food extends beyond his career as a chef back to his childhood, when he was inspired by his mother's own passion for cooking.
"What made the biggest impression on me was just how integral a meal was to bringing family and traditions together," he says, adding, “Her cooking influences what I do every day at the restaurant.”
Chef Tyler Brown at the Hermitage.
The story of the farm itself began with a trip to California and a meal at the famed Manresa restaurant in Los Gatos. The next day, the chef invited him to see his biodynamic farm in the nearby mountains of Santa Cruz.
"When I saw it, I was blown away," Tyler remembers.
He returned from the trip with a zealous interest in biodynamic farming, which is a self-sustaining approach to working the land. He began exploring the possibility of creating a farm as a source of organic produce and beef for the Capitol Grille. The Hermitage had recently created an arrangement to help support the Land Trust for Tennessee, an organization dedicated to preserving sites of natural and historic significance, in which guests of The Hermitage Hotel could donate $2 per night of their stay to the trust. Looking at the website, Tyler spotted Glen Leven, a private estate that was bequeathed to the trust in 2006.
"I thought, what an amazing site for a garden," he remembers.
The trust agreed to let him use a portion of the land, and Tyler solicited the help of a local expert in the biodynamic farming movement to help him get started. Among the things Tyler learned from the farmer, the most useful words of wisdom were these: "He told me what his father had told him - 'The best fertilizer is a farmer's footprint.' Basically he was emphasizing the importance of just being present on the farm and observing.
"I hold that statement close to my heart," he continues, "because I believe it spills over into many areas of life. But it's certainly true for farming."
Today the farm produces an array of heirloom tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, potatoes, and other fruits and vegetables. Tyler hopes that by trying lesser-known varieties that are indigenous to the land he will encourage other local growers to do the same - increasing the diversity at the farmers' markets and piquing the public's interest.
"The more ways you can get people excited about food from whatever angle," he says, "the more opportunity we have to influence."
Meanwhile, the food grown here, which also includes grass-fed beef, serves not only the hotel and restaurant but also school nutrition programs and soup kitchens, as well.
As for the kids who were initially shy about getting their hands dirty at Glen Leven, Tyler made several trips to their classroom at Nashville's LEAD Academy to engage them in learning about nutrition and preparing meals. They, in turn returned to the farm for hands-on lessons planting garlic and other crops. At the end of the school year, they decorated bushel basket for collecting the next harvest.
“It was fulfilling to see how interested they are in seeing and learning out here,” he says. “They're curious, as children are and as all of us should be."
Special Chef Tyler Recipe:
ROASTED HEIRLOOM PUMPKIN HASH WITH CHESTNUTS AND MULLED SORGHUM GLAZE
½ Long Island cheese pumpkin diced (½ inch pieces)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Salt and white pepper to taste
10 roasted chestnuts
½ cup sorghum
4 tablespoons whole butter, cubed
¼ cup mulled cider (1 quart apple cider, 3 tablespoons mulling spice, juice of two oranges: place all ingredients in sauce pan and bring to simmer, then turn off and allow to sit 15 minutes and chill)
10 pearl onions, peeled
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss pumpkin with salt & pepper, butter, and pearl onions. Place in roasting pan and roast in oven until caramelized and al dente. It is important to keep an eye on the pumpkin as it roasts as it will go from firm to too soft quickly.
For glaze, combine cider and sorghum and reduce by half, then fold in cold butter cubes.
To finish the dish combine pumpkin, chestnut, onion and half sorghum glaze in bowl; add two tablespoons fresh sage and toss. Place in oven to reheat. Season to taste. Only use half glaze to start as you can always add more but you cannot take away. Yield: 4 servings.
Note: For chestnuts, Roland makes an acceptable canned product if you cannot roast your own. To roast your own cut an "x" in the front end of each fresh chestnut and place in a pie tin with approx. ½ cup water, then place in 350 degree oven and roast until shell starts to separate from the nut (about 10 minutes). Be careful not to overcook as they will explode. Pull them out of the oven and remove outside shell and membrane.
This recipe has been provided by Chef Brown and has not been tested by seethegood.com.