Gate to Plate at Swinton Park : the Chef with green fingers

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Gate to Plate at Swinton Park : the Chef with green fingers
Date: 2nd March 2005
Provenance is something of a buzz word in the hospitality industry at the moment, but whilst it is a cause championed by chefs across the country, in most cases their concern is that they struggle to find a consistent and reliable source of produce.

Not so if you are the chef wielding the secateurs…..

Andy Burton joined Swinton Park as Head Chef in 2004, at a time when the planting programme for the walled garden was in its infancy. The restoration of the parkland and grounds at the hotel has been pioneered by Susan Cunliffe-Lister, who is highly regarded in her field, with her gardens at Burton Agnes in East Yorkshire voted one of the top ten in the country by viewers of Gardener’s World in 2003 and she was also awarded Country Life Gardener of the Year in 2001.

Working together, Andy and Susan have had carte blanche to create a working kitchen garden that is more than ornamental. It is the largest hotel kitchen garden in the country and delivers fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs throughout the year.

Four main crops were selected – artichokes, asparagus, autumn fruiting raspberries and blueberries – the aim being to produce something unusual and not readily available for sale, with low maintenance and a long fruiting period. In addition, various other crops have been planted such as squash, courgettes, rhubarb, cardoons, strawberries, alpine strawberries, Jerusalem artichokes and a very wide range of herbs.

A combination of sheep fleeces and permeable membrane laid over the soil ensures that this is a well fertilized and virtually weed and spray free garden. The ancestors of the Cunliffe-Listers used to employ a team of seven gardeners in the grounds; today Susan, Andy and his team are the labour force you will see in the garden, responsible for getting the produce into the kitchen.

Without a gardening background of his own, the learning curve for Andy has been steep. “What came as a surprise to me was the rate of growth of some of the produce – such as the asparagus. We have to be in the garden every day so as not to let anything go to waste. I have also had to learn to adapt my menus to what is available, which is not always that predictable and it can sometimes be a case of feast or famine. My team have all had to learn with me too, there were a few that didn’t know that a marrow was an overgrown courgette!”.

The surrounding 20,000 acre family estate is also a source of high quality produce for the hotel including venison, beef, lamb and game.