Farmer Lee Jones
Food + Drink

Farmer Lee Jones’ ‘The Chef’s Garden’ Celebrates the Beauty of Produce

Part art book, part recipe collection, this nearly 700-page tome from northwest Ohio’s famous farmer shows vegetables, herbs and more in all their glory.

Farmer Lee Jones’ new book, as its name makes clear, is a guidebook first and a cookbook second. And what a beautiful book it is: Yossy Arefi and Michelle Demuth-Bibb’s photos of the lowly leek and the modest mint elevate these plants to contemplative works of art.

But unlike some recipe books in which photos serve to tease and tantalize (could I really hope to make such a gorgeous souffle?), in the case of The Chef’s Garden: A Modern Guide to Common and Unusual Vegetables — with Recipes, the beauty is the point. 

“It’s about inspiring people to look and to consider vegetables that they’ve never considered,” says Jones, who helms The Chef’s Garden, a 350-acre family farm in Huron that provides both professional chefs worldwide as well as home cooks with seasonal specialty vegetables, microgreens, herbs and edible flowers. 

“Think of the amazing plant of a Brussels sprout; all this amazing canopy to protect it from being sunburned,” Jones adds. “We just pick the little sprouts and all the rest is wasted. But they’re in the cruciferous family, the same as broccoli, cauliflower and kale. ... Peel off the outer skin, inside of that is a delicate stalk with an asparagus look and a broccoli-stalk texture.” 

The recipe for Wood-Roasted Stalk of Brussels Sprouts appears on page 155 of Jones’ weighty 639-page book, with an introduction from Jones himself: “We envision a day when we serve a full stalk of Brussels sprouts in the dining room, with the lead cook carving them at tableside.” 

The dining room is at The Culinary Vegetable Institute at The Chef’s Garden, which welcomes chefs to learn, experiment and create, and also hosts food events. The book is the culmination of years of Jones’ collaborating, including with The Culinary Vegetable Institute’s head chef, Jamie Simpson, and author Kristin Donnelly. 

“We talk about respecting an animal by eating all the parts of it,” Jones says. “Why not [look at] plants in same way? … This book is a way to do that.”

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Carrot pot roast and The Chef's Garden book (photo courtesy of Penguin Random House)

Carrot Pot Roast 
Want a sample of Farmer Lee Jones’ new book? Try this recipe that makes a garden staple the star of a delicious dish full of fresh flavors. 

Carrot Pot Roast | Serves 4

Vegetable oil
12 (2 ounces each) carrots, tops removed, roots scrubbed
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 ounces pearl onions, peeled
4 garlic cloves, halved 
24 petite potatoes
1 (2 ounce) leek, white part only, thinly sliced (save the greens for stock)
1 cup dry red wine, such as cabernet sauvignon
8 sprigs fresh thyme 
12 black peppercorns
1 cup Roasted Vegetable Demi-Glace (see below)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Turn on the exhaust vent, if you have one. In a large skillet, heat a thin coating of vegetable oil until very hot. In a large bowl, toss the carrots with the salt and flour. Add the carrots to the skillet, and cook over high heat, turning occasionally, until they are deeply browned all over and even black in spots, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a medium ovenproof braising pan, about 10 inches in diameter.

Reduce the heat to medium-high and add more oil to the skillet, if needed. Add the pearl onions and garlic, and cook until deeply browned and black in spots, 2 to 3 minutes. 
Transfer to the braising pan.

With the heat still on medium-high, add the potatoes to the skillet and cook until charred, about 12 minutes. Transfer to the braising pan. Add the leek to the skillet and also cook until charred, about 3 1/2 minutes. Transfer the leek also to the braising pan.

Add the wine to the skillet and cook, scraping up any browned and black bits from the bottom. Add the thyme and peppercorns, bring to a boil, and cook over medium-high heat until reduced by half, about 3 minutes.

Transfer the reduced wine to the braising pan. Add the demi-glace to the braising pan, then transfer the pan to the oven (uncovered) and cook until the carrots are fork-tender, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly. Remove and discard the thyme and peppercorns.

While the oven is still hot, heat four serving plates. Use a slotted spoon to divide the vegetables among the plates. Set the pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop. When the liquid is just barely simmering, add the butter, slowly, whisking until melted. Spoon the liquid over the vegetables and serve.

Roasted Vegetable Demi-Glace | Makes 1 quart

1 large red onion
5 large garlic cloves 
1 leek
2 parsnips
2 carrots
1 golden beet
3 sunchokes
1 eggplant
1 kohlrabi
3 celery stalks
1 head of cauliflower
1/2 cup tomato paste 
Vegetable oil
8 cups filtered water
3 bay leaves
1 bunch thyme
1 tablespoon pectin powder

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with foil. Using a mandoline slicer or other slicer, thinly shave all the vegetables, keeping the onion, garlic and leek in a separate bowl from the others. 

In a large bowl, whisk the tomato paste with just enough oil to loosen it to the consistency of pesto. Add the onion, garlic and leek and toss, then spread the mixture on one side of one of the baking sheets. Drizzle some oil on the remaining vegetables and toss to coat well. 

Spread the vegetables on the remaining spaces on the two baking sheets. Roast the vegetables for 40 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes, until the onion, garlic and leek are well browned. Scrape the onion mixture into a stockpot. Continue roasting the remaining vegetables, stirring every 20 minutes, until they are very dark but not burnt, and are mostly dehydrated, about 40 minutes longer.

Transfer the roasted vegetables to the stockpot. Add the water, bay leaves and thyme. Cover and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook gently for 1 hour. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl; whisk in the pectin. Return the stock to the pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until concentrated, viscous and reduced to 4 cups. Stock can be refrigerated for up to 10 days or frozen for several months.

NOTE: If some of these vegetables are unavailable to you or you have others aging in your refrigerator, substitute them. Just avoid red beets, purple carrots, leaves of any sort, starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes, or watery vegetables like cucumbers.

Recipes reprinted with permission of the publisher.