Meet The Gardener

Executive Chef Michael Smith introduces our very talented professional gardener, Polly Carter, who is responsible for bringing that extra touch of seasonal colour and flavour to many of our dishes…

Michael: “From my early days here at Porthminster Beach Café, I dreamed of creating a coastal kitchen garden. There was a plot I had my eye on directly opposite the restaurant; it was on quite a steep slope and the area was bisected by an off-shoot of the coast path, but I couldn’t help wonder whether one day we could transform it into a fabulous source of flavour and colour for our dishes.

“Luckily for me, around 8 years ago the parents of one of our young apprentice chefs – Jim and Julie Horn – were both passionate and knowledgeable gardeners. I craftily planted the seed of the idea and they ran with it, clearing, weeding and terracing the plot to make way for fresh herbs, fruits, edible flowers and vegetables. Over the years several dedicated gardeners have been charged with its upkeep and development. That task currently rests with Polly Carter, a freelance gardener whose training includes a National Trust traineeship in Heritage Horticulture (including kitchen gardening).

“Kitchen gardens are relatively common – at country house hotels for example where they have plenty of space and existing in-house gardening skills. I don’t know of any other restaurant gardens quite like ours, and it certainly presents its own challenges, as Polly explains:

Polly: “The plot here is north-facing, but sheltered and protected from frost by its proximity to the sea. The soil is relatively poor (we are working on enriching it this year using a homemade compost combining seaweed from the beach and comfrey). There are two distinct areas; the lower half gets plenty of sun, so we grow Mediterranean plants and herbs there; further up in the shade we’ve planted fruits and also encourage things like ramsons (wild garlic), sorrel and horseradish. These crops support the chefs foraging efforts – they like to pick wild food from the surrounding area, but we also propagate what we can to give their legs a rest!

“The biggest challenge is ensuring that the garden is productive all year round, so that Michael and his team can find fresh flavours and inspiration in this little plot, week in week out. I focus on crops which regenerate and benefit from being cut regularly, and I also sow the same seeds over successive weeks to make sure they are replenished ready for those scissor-happy chefs! We don’t have much room, so every tiny area yields something useful, and I under-plant wherever I can.

“Michael is adamant that everything must add something to the dish or drink (some of the flowers and leaves are used in cocktails or as fresh teas) so I’ve developed the garden by focusing on flavour, not just adornment. Although I do think it is still a thing of beauty, especially in the summer. In fact, the view from here is probably the best in all of St Ives!”

The following, amongst others, can be found in the garden: Tagetes (the edible petals and leaves have a pronounced fruity  flavour), Borage, Broad Beans (apparently the shoots are good when stir-fried), Courgettes (mainly used for the flowers, which are stuffed with various good things and deep-fried), Blackcurrants (the chefs use the leaves like vine leaves) , Gooseberries, Nasturtiums, Calendula, Eciums (good for bees), Thyme, Olive Herb, Black Mustard (a common weed which is encouraged in the garden because of its strong, punchy flavour), wild strawberries, watercress and various types of sorrel. There are also pear, apple and crab apple trees – the chefs use the blossom as well as the fruit.

Michael – “To a certain extent, having a kitchen garden dictates the flow of the menu. It means that we naturally take our lead from what is in season; our chefs get quite excited when something new is ready to pick!”

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Summer by the Sea

Summer is upon us and the Cafe is a hive of activity from morning to night, as it’s white-washed walls bulge contentedly at the seams with a constant stream of staff, deliveries and guests. Amidst the mountain of prep, we grabbed a few minutes with Executive Chef Michael Smith, to find out what’s on the menu this summer….

Garden

“At the moment the garden is giving us an abundance of rhubarb, globe artichokes and watercress, sage, mint and fennel. The blackcurrants and raspberries are just ripe; the pastry chefs couldn’t wait to get their hands on them! We also have some gooseberries and there is plenty of elderflower to be found in the garden and beyond – our dessert special tonight is Elderflower & Raspberries, with Puff Pastry, Creme Patisserie and Gooseberries.”

summer

Foraging

“There’s plenty of common mallow, wild mustard, wood sorrel and pennywort around, as well as edible flowers for garnishes. We’re also using a supplier called Foodswild for things like purslane which we love using.”

Fish

“With lots of day-boats going out at the moment, we’re receiving excellent quality whole fish from our suppliers straight off those boats. This means an awful lot of filleting but it’s worth it! Line-caught sea bass and pollock from Wild Harbour is particularly good at the moment, and local stocks of cod and mackerel are strong and currently regarded as sustainable. The majority of fish we are using is handline-caught. We’re lucky enough to have lobster all the time at the moment too.”

Pastry

“Our Pastry Section is going great guns, with loads of creativity flying around! The guys have reinvented some of our classics, such as Caramalized Bananas and Naked Chocolate Brule, and put some absolute triumphs on as specials, including Deconstructed Jaffa Cakes!”

Blackcurrant Dessert Special

Blackcurrant Dessert Special

We hope to see you down at the beach this summer. And remember, if we happen to be full for lunch and dinner, you can now visit us for breakfast instead!

Forage & Feast At Porthminster This Spring

As those who frequent the coastal path and beach near to Porthminster Beach Café will know, not a day goes by without a foraging excursion by our merry band of chefs. Periodically they can be found scampering perilously over slippery rocks or disappearing into a prickly hedgerow in pursuit of edibles, occasionally alarming passers-by and certainly winning some perturbed looks.

cafe for web

Despite the occasional scratch, sting and the odd broken ankle (!), it’s a rewarding task. The immediate area yields some great finds; leaves, flowers and herbs which enhance dishes with their vibrant, fresh flavours and contribute to the Cafe’s push for sustainability and task of nurturing it’s stunning surroundings.

 

Fat Hen 1This spring, you can learn more about what the chefs look for, where they find it and how they use it during two very special Forage & Feast days. In collaboration with ecologist and forager Caroline Davey of The Fat Hen, these courses will highlight the diversity of wild food available along the coast in springtime. Cookery demonstrations will show how Executive Chef Michael Smith uses this bounty in adventurous and innovative ways, and guests will enjoy a feast of fresh flavours in celebration of their day’s efforts.

Forage and Feast – 11th and 25th March from 10am. £50pp including coffee and pastries, a two hour forage and a three course lunch. To book, click here.

More Info:

Participants will meet at the Café for coffee, before beginning their foray along the beach and coastal path. Botanical expert Caroline will guide the group through the secrets of harvesting delicious wild food full of flavour, whilst keen forager Michael will explain what his chefs look out for on their daily ventures as they gather plants, herbs and seaweed from their immediate environment.

Fat Hen 2

“This will be a great time of year to really get to grips with what the coast path and the beach have to offer for the wild food enthusiast” says Caroline, who will be looking out for things like Alexanders, Navelwort, Sorrel and Japanese Knotweed. “This day course is perfect for anyone keen to discover the amazing produce growing all around them, and how to use even just a small touch of foraged ingredients to transform the way they cook at home.” The courses have been timed for low-tide, so seaweed can be gathered and its uses explained.

Once back at the Beach Café, Michael will cook up a feast. Using the foraged ingredients to create a three course meal, participants will have the opportunity to see him in action, and learn about the techniques which bring those fresh flavours together. This late lunch will be served to the group in the Café, overlooking the beach.

Mick1

“We forage daily around Porthminster Beach at all times of year,” explained Michael. “That knowledge of the local environment has transformed the way we cook and this, along with our policy of using sustainable fish, reflects our interaction with the stunning setting of St Ives Bay. The Feast and Forage courses will be giving some of our secrets away, about where to find fantastic wild ingredients and how we use them in our kitchen.”

View from the Garden

In the first of our blogs focusing on Porthminster Beach Cafe’s garden, we meet the man responsible for its upkeep and find out what it’s like to garden in this unique location.

Davey plays a crucial role in what we do at Porthminster Beach Cafe, and yet he is rarely seen by guests. It is the more green-fingered diners who find their attention caught by his work in the compact, terraced garden nestled behind the cafe, the source of fresh herbs, fruits, flowers and vegetables used every day. This slope was waste ground until a few years ago, when it was transformed with stunning results, principally by Jim and Julie Horn, who’s son was one of the original apprentices in the kitchen. Jim and Julie have since moved onto pastures new, and Davey has taken over the task of nurturing the project.

“It’s a great location in many ways” says Davey, who spends many hours in this green enclave, perched above the beach, with the hustle and bustle of the cafe going on below. However it’s also far from ideal from a horticultural point of view. “The slope is north-facing and there are several large trees at the back which limit sun exposure,” explains Davey. “To an extent I can combat this by planting the most sun-loving plants at the front, where they’ll get the most light. We just have to be careful that these plants don’t grow too high and themselves create shade.” Mint and chives do a little better in shadier spots so they go at the back. A stream runs down the edge of the plot and is the source of watercress for the kitchen.

Chefs enjoy the garden before a busy service

Towards the front of the slope, thyme, oregano and rosemary take over. “In recent years we’ve moved to more Mediterranean herbs because the soil is sandy and full of rocks. It drains very quickly” says Davey. This can be helped by heavily composting (the garden is organic, and kitchen waste is used to nourish the soil). “We need intensive measures for the courgettes – it’s been the worst year!” Usually Courgette Flowers are a sought-after favourite in the cafe (stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, goat’s cheese and pine nuts for example) but this year they’ve been in like gold dust due to the poor weather.

Elsewhere in the garden Davey grows horseradish, wild rocket, jerusalem artichokes, lemon balm and verbena. Colourful chard emerges in springtime and in the winter garlic and shallots from the garden supply the cafe. Fruits include raspberries (red and golden), blackcurrants (the chefs also use the leaves) and wild strawberries. Mustard, thyme and chives flowers, as well as borage, are colourful garnishes for an array of dishes, and Davey plans to introduce more edible flowers next year – nasturtiums and hollyhock for example.

“We’re always changing and trying to find new ways to get the most out of this unique site,” says Davey. “It’s rewarding to see the chefs come up here before service to gather herbs, fruits, flowers and use them straight away.”

If you’re visiting the cafe you’re welcome to take a closer look at our garden and you might be lucky enough to spot a chef or two gathering ingredients for your meal!

Herbs and flowers picked fresh daily

Welcome to our new blog

Here we’ll be keeping you up to date with all that’s new and exciting from our bustling café by the beach. It’s a unique place in many ways; a theatre of flavour, creativity, and frenetic activity, where the shifting seascape provides a constantly changing backdrop to many a memorable meal.

You can expect to hear from our passionate team of chefs, who are never happy unless they’ve perfected a new dish, discovered an ingenious new method, or strived all day to be rewarded with great feedback from customers.

That end result is what we all work towards, and yet it begins a long way beyond these white-washed walls. Quality, locally sourced produce has become such a commonly rolled-out phrase, yet it is the simple imperative for fresh and flavoursome cooking.

Lobster Pot, near Zennor

Here you’ll discover how we take this mantra to new levels, pushing our own boundaries and often counting our food metres rather than miles. The kitchen garden is developing and surprising us with every season that passes, and foraging from our location offers exciting possibilities which motivate our chefs to explore the coastal path each day; risking life and limb in pursuit of pennywort. Finally our commitment to sustainable fishing grows, as the immensity of the decline in fish stocks is fully realised and the issue comes to the fore of conservation agendas worldwide.

Our location is unique, looking out over St Ives Bay towards Godrevy Lighthouse, a view which of course inspires great literature and art, as well as great cooking. So please indulge us whilst we also write about St Ives itself and (some of) what we get up to in this light-enhanced little town in Cornwall.