‘A feast for your eyes’.

The skill of the chef is taking ingredients that when served not only taste amazing but they also look a picture on a plate.

The ingredients

The ingredients

It is easy to forget that we not only enjoy food using our taste and smell but we also eat with our eyes. One of the intentions of setting up Jekka’s Herboretum was to have a facility where Chefs could visit, taste the herbs, then cook with the herbs that took their fancy. The first time this happened was when three chefs from The Company of Cooks  came to visit us.

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Claire, Justin and Chris

The herbs that caught the imagination were Savory, Fennel, Bergamot, Chicory and Thyme

Fennel, Chicory, Bergamot, Savory and Thyme.

Savory, Fennel, Bergamot, Chicory and Thyme.

Justin Hammett, head chef at the Opera House, created this dish with Savory; he said it reminds him of his childhood, full of mediterranean warmth  with its pungent, peppery flavour. He created a simple dish of sliced onion, sliced potato and tomatoes sprinkled with the chopped leaves of Summer and Winter Savory and then all covered in a generous drizzle of good olive oil.  This he put into a preheated oven 175C for 40 mins.

Baked, tomato, onion , potato and savory.

Baked tomato, onion , potato and savory.

It was succulent, flavoured and delicious. This simple dish could be a light supper or served , for example with a rack of lamb.

While Justin was creating his dish, Chris Handley, who develops menus and meals for The Company of Cooks, made a wonderful fresh mackerel dish. The ingredients might be simple however it was inspirational to watch him rehearse the layout of the dish before putting it on the finished plate.  This approach was very similar to the way we rehearsed our floral displays before leaving to go to Malvern or Chelsea Flower Show.

Chris platting up

Chris rehearsing the layout.

This attention to detail makes the finished meal look a picture.

Chris composing his plate.

Chris composing his plate.

Claire Clark, who is renowned for her pastry and puddings, is a consultant working with The Company of Cooks.

Claire Clark

Claire Clark

The herbs of  her choice were thyme. lavender and heartsease. Her pudding was magical, not only in looks but in flavour; the contrast of the zesty lemon cake infused with thyme , sitting on sharp clean lemon curd with the light moorish lavender shortbread was excellent.

Lavender short bread

Lavender shortbread

The finish dish not only looked a picture it tasted absolutely fabulous.

Claire puts the finishing touches to her perfect picture.

Claire puts the finishing touches to her perfect picture.

It’s that Thyme of the year.

I am a real sucker when it comes to thyme plants.  I can be found at plant fairs hunting them out, as others hunt truffles.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  They can vary in scent from wonderful spicy orange and a herby lemon to a pungent pine.  The leaves can vary from large and round to long and thin, or even woolly.  I defy any one not to want them in the garden especially when they are in flower.  Historically they have been used medicinally since Assyrian times, which was at the end of the second millennium BC.  Current research has shown Thymus vulgaris arrest the ageing process and is very beneficial in the treatment of stomach ulcers.

My collection has expanded over the past two decades to over  50 different thyme varieties and it is at this time of year they look so beautiful.

The best culinary thymes  in my opinion are, Orange scented, Thymus ‘Fragrantissimus’, Broad leaf thyme, Thymus pulegioides, Golden lemon thyme, Thymus ‘Golden Lemon’, Lemon thyme, Thymus ‘Culinary Lemon’ and French thyme, Thymus vulgaris ‘French’

If I had to just choose one it would be the broad leaved thyme as this is so useful with its large leaves that can be used whole or chopped, roasted with vegetables,

Thymus pulegioides

used in marinades, or infused in water then added to the bath to ease my aching muscles.

The  creeping varieties  are wonderful for bees and butterflies and spread delightfully over gravel and rocks. Here are just four to inspire you.

My top tip for growing thymes is to cut them back after flowering, this encourages the plant to put on new growth which helps to protect them from the vagaries of the winter.

We will be taking a lovely selection of Thymes to  this  years RHS Hampton Court , 2nd-8th July, where I am going to create a small herb garden that you will be able to walk through.  This will be situated down by the Rose Marquee site number TH/5   and near the Thames entrance.  Look forward to seeing you there.