Want to garden like the world’s best chef? Then break the rules
In The Garden Chef, Mauro Colagreco of 2019’s World’s Best Restaurant Mirazur, urges you to go a bit wild
Mirazur, the southern French restaurant founded by the Italian Argentinian chef Mauro Colagreco, just took the top spot at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards in Singapore not only thanks to this talented innovative chef, but also thanks, in part to his kitchen garden.
The 2019 citation for the number one spot on the list praises the restaurant’s “three levels of cascading vegetable gardens” in which Colagreco and his team cultivate “the sweetest produce.”
Yet these tiered, seaside beds weren’t always planted with squashes, chickpeas and citrus fruit. When Colagreco founded the restaurant in 2006, these one royal gardens were in a far wilder state.
“Originally, it was a formal, ornamental garden of a luxurious villa — said to have belonged to the King of Belgium — featuring fountains, pools, and flower beds,” the chef writes in our new book, The Garden Chef: Recipes and Stories from Plant to Plate, “but when I first came here, nature had reclaimed its rights and it was a true jungle.”
Colagreco partially tamed the pools and terraces, but also worked with the ruins, planting them to suit his seasonal, seaside kitchen. “We grow mint, garlic, and purslane in former fountains. We let squashes spread in the former ponds, in the 50-year-old mandarin trees, up and over the stone balustrades,” he writes. “We also use the small streaks of shade created by the balustrades to grow rhubarb and cover some walls with strawberries, or we let beans and peas climb up them.”
The chef also lets the changing nature of the plants inform his exquisite seasonal cookery. “Growing in close proximity to the kitchen you can taste a plant at all stages of its development,” he says, “cilantro’s leaves, flowers, green seeds, and dry seeds all taste very different.”
Colagreco and his gardeners follow some agricultural conventions, such as mulching. “We use our own compost, which is made with the restaurant’s vegetable waste.” Yet they also working on more avant-garde techniques. “We are experimenting with terra preta—a very fertile soil enriched with biochar that was originally developed in the Amazonian basin by pre-colonial civilizations.”
In fact, he even believes that, by breaking a few gardening rules, he has managed to improve Mirazur’s produce. “Always be curious in the garden; chickpeas are supposed to be an annual in France but we decided to keep some of the plants through the winter just to see,” Colagreco says, “Not only did they survive the winter, but they also are the ones producing the most.”
To learn more about his chosen gardening techniques, and to gain access to three, delightful, garden-fresh Mirazur recipes, order a copy of The Garden Chef here.