Chef Michael Ruhlman’s 7 Kitchen Garden Essentials
What’s the best way to ensure that only high-quality ingredients fill your pantry? Grow your own garden, of course. Chef Michael Ruhlman shares his passion for cooking with fresh, homegrown ingredients, and reveals which seeds you should start sowing today.
Ruhlman’s culinary roots run deep: he’s written more than 20 cookbooks, including bestsellers like The Soul of a Chef and The French Laundry Cookbook. Additionally, he’s produced cooking apps, has his own line of cooking tools; he was a judge on the Next Iron Chef and Iron Chef America, and he’s also appeared on shows like Cooking Under Fire and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.
To Ruhlman, cooking is more than a profession, it’s the lens through which he sees the world.
“Once you become a cook,” Ruhlman says, “you can’t un-become a cook. It changes who you are.”
For example, working with cooking great Thomas Keller changed how Ruhlman saw ingredients. Keller would say that overcooking a piece of meat resulted in more than a wasted ingredient; the time that went into preparing it was wasted, and so too was the effort of the butcher who packaged it and the effort of the farmer who raised the livestock. Keller’s closeness to food rubbed off on Ruhlman, and now Keller’s philosophy is a key facet of Ruhlman’s writing.
“Cooking is a metaphor of how we live and make choices,” Ruhlman says. “We talk about cooking being hard and paying more for good food, but everything is like that. Things that are good are not cheap and easy. That’s part of what makes them good. We don’t see that more represented anywhere else than in what we eat.”
Like most chefs, Ruhlman prefers to work with fresh ingredients, and he says there is nothing like making a meal out of ingredients that you have grown and prepared yourself. If Tim King’s plans for the upcoming planting season have inspired you to plant a garden of your own, Ruhlman offers a chef’s perspective on what to plant in your kitchen garden.
Ruhlman suggests researching your area to learn what naturally grows best, but these plants will give you an idea of what to consider:
They’re inexpensive, easy to grow and delicious. Ruhlman grows a variety of tomatoes, big and small.
Expensive to buy in-store, but a valuable component to many recipes.
recommends thyme and tarragon, but chives, basil, cilantro and parsley are nice to have on hand as well.
Store-bought peas can’t compare to freshly picked peas, Ruhlman says.
To maximize the return on your kitchen garden, plant squash so you can enjoy fresh produce almost year round.
Ruhlman says that growing lettuce can sometimes be a challenge. It requires care and regular weeding, but the return is a fresh experience that store-bought lettuce can’t match.
Having fresh garlic readily available adds a new dimension to recipes. Fortunately, garlic is relatively easy to grow.
As for what to make with your fresh ingredients, Ruhlman recommends simple pasta dishes like spaghetti with garlic, basil, and tomato. If you are more daring, you can make an entire meal from scratch with ingredients that you have grown.
“The opportunities in the garden are to be more self-sufficient because it’s tastier and more fun,” Ruhlman says.
So, have fun with your kitchen garden and enjoy the rewards in your recipes.
Ruhlman’s newest book, Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient, is now available for pre-order. Visit Ruhlman.com to learn more about his other books, apps, and cooking products.
By Marshal D. Carper