Chef Graham Kerr gallops into edible gardening
"For so many years I lived in the tyranny of the urgent, with deadline after deadline," the chef says. "But planting the garden allowed me to slow down and watch the miracle of life and nature unfolding."
Hear it from the source
Graham Kerr will make two appearances Feb. 26 at this year's Northwest Flower & Garden Show:
"My First Ever Kitchen Garden!" at 11:15 a.m. and "Incredible Edibles" at 3:30 p.m., both in the Rainier Room at the Washington State Convention Center.
AT THE AGE of 76, Graham Kerr decided to rip out his front lawn and plant a kitchen garden. And with that seemingly simply act, he set out to change the world. Again.
Kerr first made his mark as host of "The Galloping Gourmet," a television program that ran from 1969 to 1971. The effusive chef charmed audiences with his quick wit, British accent and heavy hand with booze, butter and cream. His cuisine was so fat-laden and unhealthy, he was awarded the Broken Spoon Award by Weight Watchers International.
Life was good, but when wife and childhood sweetheart Treena suffered a stroke, Kerr reformed their eating habits and became a champion of healthy eating. He wrote a boatload of books and traveled around the world, proselytizing the public to make better food choices. The American Dietetic Association invited Kerr to keynote at one of its conferences, and he was inducted into the American Culinary Hall of Fame.
But, perhaps oddly for someone who'd cooked just about everything edible, Kerr had never actually tried growing fruits and vegetables himself.
That changed in 2008, when Kerr met with 35 fellow members of Hillcrest Christian Fellowship church and some of his Mount Vernon neighbors to "talk about and pray for and think about" a solution to the world's pressing problems — economic collapse, the rise in diabetes, global warming and the carbon footprint. The farm-to-table movement was on the group's radar as well.
Three ideas came out of the ad-hoc think tank. Eat wisely (more plants); move more (to gain stamina); and know your neighbors (their needs and their wisdom).
Kerr reasoned that by planting a kitchen garden, he could grow his own food and become more physically active. Extra produce could be shared with the local food bank to help those less fortunate while building a sense of community.
Almost immediately Kerr "went home and called the greenhouse guy." They met in February and "had to get on with it, since planting had to begin in March and April."
He consulted with fellow gardeners (a generous group whom he refers to as his "circle of local knowledge providers") and read 24 books on his newfound passion.
Within just one growing season, Kerr converted his south-facing lawn into "a verdant vegetable garden" that he farmed in a sustainable manner.
"Inspired (and a little sore), I carried my beloved plants indoors and, for the first time ever, cooked what I had grown — amazing!" Kerr recounts.
In a nod to the modern age, he documented his garden's first year of life in a series of videos and posted them on YouTube. The videos germinated the idea for his 29th book, "Growing at the Speed of Life: A Year in the Life of My First Kitchen Garden" (Perigee, $27), which debuts next week at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show.
Although Kerr uses an iPad to read his e-mails, he eschews computers. So, as with previous books, he wrote "Growing" by hand, and with a mechanical pencil, no less. In places, his exuberant tone rings with almost childlike wonder, while the book brims with practical information and whimsical illustrations. Kerr explains his reasons for growing his first kitchen garden and why you should grow your own. His 13 "need-to-know" items cover practical topics such as soil preparation, seed germination and EarthBoxes.
Descriptions of 60 common (and some not-so-common) garden vegetables and fruits are accompanied by illustrations and simple-to-prepare recipes complete with nutritional analyses. Toward the back of the book, the Basic Recipes section includes 14 ethnic spice mixes, Kerr's trademark Yogurt Cheese, healthy grains and starches and even a butter-and-flour-based pie crust.
The chapter on Cooking Methods for Maximum Flavor and Nutrition explains everything from drip-stewing to thermal (a.k.a. hay-box) cooking. The herb chapter, which runs 25 pages in the 300-page tome, is alone worth the price of admission.
Reading through the book, and taking a nod from its title, you get the sense that Kerr is frustrated by what he refers to as "the constant deluge of information" as well as the fast pace of life these days.
"For so many years I lived in the tyranny of the urgent, with deadline after deadline," he says. "But planting the garden allowed me to slow down and watch the miracle of life and nature unfolding."
Even his legendary cooking has changed for the better.
Knowing how fruits and vegetables grow, "I understand food properly for the first time, so I cook with greater understanding and simplicity," he says. "Now you can't hold me down. I finally discovered what enthusiasm for food really means."
Braiden Rex-Johnson is a Seattle-based cookbook author, food and wine columnist and blogger. Visit her online at www.NorthwestWiningandDining.com.
Carrot and Parsnip Purée
1 pound carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 pound small parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Steam the carrots and parsnips 15 minutes or until very soft. Mash roughly and stir in the salt and black pepper.
3. Place in a small, ungreased baking dish and scatter the sesame seeds over the top. Bake 20 minutes or until good and hot and the sesame seeds turn nicely brown.
Nutritional information: Per serving: 168 calories, 1 g saturated fat, 31 g carbohydrate, 4 g protein, 8 g dietary fiber, 221 mg sodium.
— from "Growing at the Speed of Life: A Year in the Life of My First Kitchen Garden"