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Our Isle of Wight Tomato Salad is one of our best sellers during the summer season. We catch up with head chef of The Stables and The Glasshouse Andrew Parkinson to discover the story behind its success.
The British weather might not be playing ball, but for The Grove’s restaurants spring has kicked off with a bang. From baby gem lettuce to fresh asparagus, there’s some delicious seasonal produce making its way from farm to plate this year. For head chef Andrew Parkinson, it’s the Isle of Wight – The Tomato Stall tomatoes that are the real star of the show.
The first time Andrew visited The Tomato Stall on the island in 2013, he was with a group of apprentices from Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen. “Some of these young people were from disadvantaged background and had never even left London before,” he explains. “The experience gave them the chance to see food come to life in a totally different environment. They learned about how the business worked and the pride and hard work that goes into creating such a great product.”
The farm produces around 40 different types of tomato in its large greenhouses, four of which are used in The Grove’s restaurants. Chemicals are strictly prohibited in this organic environment, and instead the fruits are pollinated by an army of British bumblebees, giving them the rich flavour they’re famed for. Known for its commitment to ethical production and sustainability, the nursery has Conservation Grade status, and gives 10% of its land back to natural habitats including wild flower meadows and animal homes. The extra sunshine in the south helps the tomatoes to grow, and now the company is supplying some of the UK’s best restaurants, as well as popular foodie havens like Borough Market. “They bring real passion to their production,” explains Andrew. “It is really inspiring to see and you want to bring that energy and passion back into your own cooking.”
After his first successful trip, the supplier became a firm favourite for Andrew, and he’s kept that strong relationship going since joined the culinary team at The Grove. Just like any other business, he says trust is key, and he knows he can rely on The Tomato Stall to produce the very best.
Fast forward to 2018 and Andrew receives an 80 kilo delivery of fresh tomatoes from the Isle of Wight every week from the start of the season in April, right up until mid-September. “It’s so important to deliver good quality, seasonal food. I’d never serve a tomato salad in the middle of November because the ingredients would not be the same at this time of year.” They form the basis of several recipes served in The Glasshouse and The Stables, including the chef’s famous tomato salad. While a small selection are slow roasted overnight for garnishes, others are used in the potato al forno, which is served with rosemary and olive oil. “I don’t tend to use the tomatoes in complex dishes, because the flavour will be lost. When you have good quality ingredients, simplicity is enough to make a dish taste fantastic,” says Andrew.
The Isle of Wight tomatoes are some of the best around, but the restaurants are keen to add that ‘Grove’ touch when they can. “In the summer I mix up the tomatoes with some of our own tomatoes, which are grown on the Walled Garden. The season for these is quite short but of course it’s great to use some of our own produce when we can.”
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