Wild ramp crepes with smoked oyster mushrooms.
Jordandal Farms pork loin, asparagus, rhubarb aioli and baby arugula.
Rushing Waters rainbow trout, warm green garlic potato salad and spicy baby greens.
This is not from the menu of the latest locavore hotspot. "We focus really on local ingredients and local farms," explains Promega Corp.'s "culinary experience manager," Nate Herndon. As executive chef presiding over three kitchens at the Fitchburg biotech's campus, Herndon uses local supplies to serve 200 to 300 diners at breakfast and lunch each day. But local sourcing is not the half of it.
Herndon takes this locavore drive the next step: He keeps 90-foot rows of summer squash, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, beets, radishes, tomatoes and peppers. Soon the greens, the chives and the rhubarb will be ready to harvest just outside the kitchen. "Our hope would be to have at least several items on our menu that are sustainable from our garden," says Herndon.
Herndon is not alone in creating corporate-kitchen gardens. Sub-Zero Freezer Co. had a kitchen garden until a couple seasons ago and hopes to revive it again next year, according to Heather Beal, training center manager.
At Epic Systems Corp., executive chef Eric Rupert draws on an herb garden with seven varieties of basil, eight varieties of mint, habanero peppers, rainbow and Swiss chards and kale. At times kitchen staff can be seen picking tomatoes at various spots among ornamentals decorating the company's Verona grounds. Soon, says Rupert, they'll be harvesting Jerusalem artichokes. They get hazelnuts from trees on campus and raspberries from the brush on Epic's land, and they pick edible flowers the horticulture staff plants. They're even planning to plant wasabi, a notoriously finicky rhizome.
Rupert, formerly chef at L'Etoile and at the onetime downtown beacon the Opera House, features garden items in the chef's specials on his daily rewrite of the cafeteria menu. Serving some 3,000 customers a day, however, the Epic culinary staff can hardly turn to a garden for the 100 pounds of potatoes it requires each sunrise.
"We homed in on highly flavorful, specialized things," explains Rupert, "things that replenish."
Whatever the scale of the corporate-kitchen garden, it clearly excites chefs. Scott Williams of Garden to Be, a seven-acre market farm in Mount Horeb, consults with local companies on their kitchen gardens.
"They love the idea of harvesting food at the source and using it immediately," Williams says. Garden to Be supplies clients with starts from its two greenhouses and helps design gardens. Williams and his partner, April Yancer, were approached in 2007 by Sub-Zero and by Herndon, then at Bishops Bay Country Club, for starter plants and advice.
"It's an endeavor that we're super-committed to being supportive of," says Williams. "We love to support urban environments and companies that will maintain these gardens."
Williams works with Daniel Fox at the Madison Club on its 400-square-foot terrace garden, where greens, fennel, peppers and more move from garden to cutting board. "It's the freshest way for us to get food," explains Fox. "My inspiration is to utilize the best produce available."
Herndon remembers interviewing for the Promega position seven months ago. He described the garden at Bishops Bay and shared a vision for a large garden at Promega. An executive waved an arm, saying, "Well, we have 400 acres here," recalls Herndon.
Rupert, who describes himself as "fiercely proud" of the work he does at Epic, feels gardening fits perfectly with Epic's corporate culture, and with his own drive to teach chefs. Gardening informs what Rupert calls a "deeper understanding" of ingredients and their properties.
"It's really at the core of what being a great cook is," Rupert says. "It's a terrific teaching tool for the cooks. If you grow it, if you tend to it, if you anticipate its arrival, (when) you go to cook it there's a far greater use of skill."
The gardens also fit with the self-sufficiency of the kitchens. Epic keeps a topnotch hearth bakery to feed the sandwich menu. At Promega, Herndon and his sous chef and co-gardener Pete Kelly cure corned beef and pastrami and make sausages for their menus. Growing produce and herbs seems an obvious function for a self-contained operation to embrace. Herndon looks ahead to broccoli and kohlrabi, to ground cherries and canning tomatillos.
"There are ambitions to expand," Herndon says. "There's a lot of land out here."