Want to garden like Skye Gyngell? Then look to the heavens
The acclaimed chef has made sure Heckfield Place’s kitchen garden is attuned to both earthly and cosmic forces
To understand today’s great chefs you’ll have to go beyond the gas burner, and consider the raw materials that make it into their kitchens. One of the freshest, simplest sources of ingredients is the kitchen garden, and one of the easiest ways to understand what goes into the best of those gardens, and what the world’s greatest chefs get out of them is via our new book, The Garden Chef.
This heavily researched, beautifully illustrated publication includes more than 100 imaginative garden-focused recipes from the restaurants featured and explores how 40 of the world's top chefs cook with ingredients they choose to grow in their gardens, and provides a unique source of inspiration for green-fingered or thumbed food-lovers.
Many of the famous chefs included in the book follow the seasons and natural cycles, yet few are quite so closely attuned to both heaven and earth as Australian-born chef Skye Gyngell, who gardens and cooks at Heckfield Place, just outside London.
“Set in rural Hampshire, England, Heckfield Place is a hotel, restaurant, and biodynamic farm that plays host to Gyngell’s extraordinary talent for making simple seasonal produce exceptional,” explains our new book. “The 5-acre (2-hectare) kitchen garden aims to produce 90 percent of the herbs, fruit, and vegetables used in Heckfield’s two restaurants, Marle, a showcase of Gyngell’s signature style, and Hearth, the hotel’s signature restaurant for hotel residents only.”
Biodynamic farming doesn’t just draw on conventional, Western agriculture, but also from more mystical, esoteric sources, as Gyngell explains in the book. "We use the biodynamic planting calendar to guide us with our work on the vegetable plots, sowing, fertilizing, pruning, and harvesting at the optimum times according to the position of the moon and planets,” she writes. “There are optimum days for each task.”
Gyngell arrived at Heckfield Place quite recently, and was fortunate enough to inherit quite a well-established kitchen garden. “When Heckfield Place was built in the 1760s, the gardens and estate, which were originally planted by [English horitculturalist] William Wildsmith, would have fully supported the house,” she writes. “When I came on board, the dream was to return the market garden, orchards, and farm to organic status. But after working with Jane Scotter, whose Herefordshire farm Fern Verrow grows solely for my restaurant Spring, in London, I fell in love with biodynamic produce, which is just going that little bit further than organic; I look at it as being completely in tune with the rhythms of the earth, and its principles make complete sense to me. So Jane has become a completely integral part of the farm here in Hampshire, too.
“The land was stony farmland lacking in organic matter when we started, so we have been slowly reviving it and we are aiming to achieve full biodynamic certification by 2020,” she explains. “It’s a big, long job to reenergize the soil and to bring it to a healthy level; it’s a living, growing thing and it will only get stronger, healthier, and more fertile. Biodynamic produce has aliveness and energy, and you can see and taste the difference.”
To find out more about that difference and to try a few of Skye’s recipes order a copy of The Garden Chef here.