Soul serving

17 May 2021

The move towards having large, organically farmed gardens sitting alongside hospitality venues is a growing trend in contemporary landscape architecture, where chefs and horticulturalists work hand in hand, planning menus based on what is growing in the garden. 

Sherwood, Queenstown

Chris Scott, executive chef at Sherwood Queenstown, delightfully describes his latest ‘garden to table’ dish: “A tomato tart, which is using all of the different tomatoes from the garden — we’ve got a pretty iconic black indigo rose tomato, which is stunning. We are using that with whipped avocado and our nasturtiums — we use the nasturtium leaves, we take the caper, which is the seeds, and we’ve also pickled the nasturtium flowers”.  

Situated on three hectares of rolling hillside in Queenstown, Sherwood benefits from stunning mountain views and an outlook to Lake Wakatipu. It prides itself on being a community hotel that is both local and sustainable. The 73 guest rooms benefit from a restaurant that is open all day for both guests and non-guests. 

As part of the hotel’s renovation, the team prioritised a large vegetable garden, which they farm using organic principles and a ‘garden to table’ model. The garden is their pride and joy and, as Chris Scott puts it, “[it] sits at the front of the hotel, on rather expensive real estate. It has a multimillion-dollar view”. 

The extra effort required to run a restaurant so closely interlinked with the immediate natural environment is justified by the fresh, clean harvest that is produced. 

“We sit down preseason and plan everything that goes in the ground. When it’s ready, it is on the menu, and when it is gone it’s gone,” he elaborates. “The freshness of being able to pick something in the morning and being able to have it on your plate at night — the benefits of that is huge. Obviously, there are no food miles and there’s the nutritional value. We use organic and sustainable practices — we compost, we have worm farms. 

The produce is served very simply and in a respectful way. As Chris Scott puts it, “The beauty is in itself without mucking around with it too much.”

Aro Ha, Glenorchy

Close to Glenorchy, Aro Ha is located in one of the most stunning landscapes of the world and is made up of 11 buildings across an 8.4-hectare site. 

Co-founder of Aro Ha, Damian Chaparro, explains, “Aro Ha is a wellness retreat. [The programmes] are based on holistic well-being, so we were able to take the time to design and build a facility that essentially took as many steps as made sense towards a holistic model of living.” 

In particular, Aro Ha “uses things like permaculture — adopting growing arrangements observed in flourishing natural ecosystems — and organic gardening to inspire the possibility within our guests that we can live in a different way”. 

Nourishing their guests and staff from their own land was high on the priority when they built the retreat. 

Chaparro explains: “When we had the architect and the engineers in the room and we were thinking about what we were going to build, we brought in a permaculturalist from the first design meeting … I was inspired by the model of permaculture as holding out a possibility of a different way forward.” 

Sue Veint is the brains behind Aro Ha’s gardens and she explains, “Your aim is to create a little ecosystem that is full of edible and useful plants, replicating the diversity you get in nature. We have two food forests here, and we aim to create forests of food that look after themselves over time.” 

At Aro Ha there is an intimate connection between the garden and the kitchen, and they serve a menu that is based on seasonal cycles. 

Chaparro explains, “It’s a bit of a conversation of: here’s what we’d love to have and here’s what we’ve got. The chef and horticulturalist pull together the menu. Last time we checked, about 34 per cent of our entire menu was coming from our site annually.”

What makes these establishments — focused on organic, sustainable principles — special is summed up neatly by Chris Scott, when reflecting on Sherwood: “We’d like to think we’ve got a bit of a soul”.

Words: Melanie McDaid

Photography: Aro Ha, Marina Mathews, and Sherwood, supplied

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