The smell of smoldering apple wood signals winter in the air at Southall, as chef Tyler Brown cracks the door of the smokehouse to check on the progress of sock sausage that is slowly working its magic. Nine days of smoke should be good, he says, but it could be…Read More
To say that everything at Southall starts with a seed is not hyperbole. Almost every aspect of the property has germinated from a seed—the seed of a bountiful harvest, the seed of an idea for an agriculturally-rooted resort, the seed of a grand vision.
From the greenhouses that first catch the eye to the meal that ends up on your plate, Southall’s literal seed-to-table process began several years ago from the mind of a visionary chef.
In 2016, Chef Tyler Brown began plotting and planning the agricultural landscape at Southall. The first few seasons mostly involved gardening, with the aim of collecting data and research on both production and technique. The team spent those early years planning and arranging for an efficient and productive kitchen garden; preparing the soil for a production field; working to graft 40 varieties of apple trees to root stock and then planting a 1,300-tree orchard; studying distance between garden rows; determining which cover crops perform best in these soils. In some cases, the team saved seeds from the plants that were grown. In other cases, they harvested the end result for consumption. In all cases, Chef Tyler and the team took copious notes, documenting every yield, measurement, and growth cycle, as well as every success and failure, in order to better understand the land, and to improve from one year to the next.
It all started with a few wish lists. Having worked closely with a kitchen garden in the past, Chef Tyler came into the project with a long list of ingredients he hoped to see growing on the property. He started dropping ideas into a spreadsheet, plotting out where he’d procure seeds, adding new plants and ideas as he researched, and including columns for which plants would get started in the ground and which would get started in the greenhouse.
“That’s how all seasons will start,” he says. “It’s a long list of what we want to eat, serve, highlight, and celebrate. It always starts with the list.”
It’s not just about knowing how many radishes, turnips, tomatoes, and fennel plants to grow within a certain amount of space—it’s understanding all of the ways those ingredients will then be used when they’re at the peak of harvest. Whether they land in a salad of fresh greens, set beside a locally sourced protein, or preserved and later shaken into a cocktail, each ingredient will find its place on the table in its more perfect form.
“I think that’s what’s most exciting about all these aspects being in one place at Southall. It’s not just how do you plant that seed and make it grow, but then how do we apply it from there,” Tyler says.
As springtime creeps into view, the kitchen gardens become the focus, with planting rows being tilled, and plastic-covered hoop houses going up over the field. Details like whether the grass strips running between each garden row should be 24 inches or 36 inches to maximize the access, are all taken into account.
“I want guests to feel that this is a place where they are always welcome. It should be a shared space,” Tyler says.
The seeds themselves are integral.
“In my experience, getting beet seed from a certain source means we’ll have the most consistent seed stock from a germination standpoint, as well as a uniform vegetable and flavor. Most people might wonder, ‘why be over the top with this detail?’ But I think there’s something to it. It’s that appeal, it’s that excitement. That’s why it’s important.”
Of course, the end goal is getting that seed and fully-grown ingredient on to the plate or into the glass. All of this early legwork, Tyler says, is about creating a strong foundation and understanding of what the lands around Southall are able to provide.
“The reason that we have been in such hot pursuit of the farm has been that when we open, I want to have something that guests can touch right away,” he adds.
As the lands around Southall are cultivated and production increases into a continuous cycle, the potential for what ends up directly on the table increases exponentially—all thanks to the work that started years ago, and a few prosperous seeds.