Kitchen garden grower Jo Campbell on working to Michelin-starred standards on Gleneagles Estate
In the second of our series on growing for flavour, we visit a working kitchen garden in Scotland where head grower Jo Campbell works to Michelin-starred standards. Words Alys Hurn, photographs Jason Ingram
From a 12-acre plot outside Perth, Jo Campbell muses on the vagaries of the Scottish climate. “I’m not sure I’d want to grow here if I wasn’t in a walled garden,” she says. Jo is head grower of the garden that supplies Restaurant Andrew Fairlie on the Gleneagles Estate. The restaurant was opened in 2001 by the late chef Andrew Fairlie and in 2006 became the only establishment in Scotland to be awarded two Michelin stars.
Size is incredibly important to Jo. The ‘Tokyo Cross’ turnips she grows are picked when they are size of a ping-pong ball; the chefs scoop out the middle and fill them with salted butter. A box of vibrant-pink stems turn out to be beetroot cress, which when nibbled releases a burst of sweet, earthy flavour. Cabbages are also harvested earlier than expected, and carrots and parsnips are kept small to harness their tender taste. Jo and the chefs sample the vegetables at different stages from shoot to full size to understand how the flavour changes through the year.
Jo applies to the garden the same meticulous, Michelin-star detail expected in the kitchen. October is the start of her season. She records the progress and volume of every crop, noting when it was sown, planted out and harvested. This information helps her to use every inch of space. “I can calculate, within one or two weeks, when a crop will finish, and I’ll have my next crop ready to go in,” she says. “It means I can get the most out of the season rather than not knowing what to grow in the space next.” To extend the season further, Jo has been growing crops specifically for pickling, preserving and fermenting, such as ‘Caraflex’ cabbage, which makes excellent sauerkraut.
Having choice and diversity of produce on the doorstep has boosted creativity. The chefs have the chance to experiment with fresh, seasonal flavours and they try to use every part of the vegetable; dried nasturtium flowers, for example, are used as seasoning and the leaves are used to flavour butter. And by working closely with the kitchen, Jo can take pleasure from seeing her hard work come to fruition. “The chefs can turn the produce into a dish that is like art on a plate,” she says. “I can’t do that, but I get to see what I grow from start to finish.”