The Green Door Gourmet
August 3, 2010
Sylvia Ganier, the woman behind the Green Door Gourmet, has taken her years of experience at the helm of a successful restaurant and channeled that passion, drive and determination into eight acres of luscious farmland and an herb garden that will take your breath away.
“Learning to farm is like learning how to cook – you have to get out there and say, well, I probably shouldn’t have done that,” she tells me, with a laugh. It is a constant learning process and at times, a true test of patience, since issues can’t be fixed with a sprinkle of this and a dash of that.
“All things happen for a reason,” she says, referring to the the May floods that wiped out everything, requiring her to start completely over. It’s hard to imagine the magnitude of that damage when you’re standing in her pristine herb garden, the smell of sweet basil wafting in the breeze and butterflies lazily floating from plant to plant. Just three months ago these acres were a “pile of mangled mush.”
Sylvia grows an extensive array of herbs including Orange Mint, Mexican Tarragon, Cinnamon Basil, Thai Basil, Rosemary, French and English Thyme, and even Cardamom and Lemongrass, as a “plant the seeds and see what comes up” type of experiment. Her favorite is Lemon Basil, which she says is great when added to sweet basil to give pesto a lemon kick or it can be used to make lemon basil lemonade. Even better, “Cut it up and put it in lemon pound cake and get rid of the lemon extract. It’s just wonderful that way,” she says, with that natural persuasiveness of someone who has spent years in a professional kitchen.
Growing this wide variety of herbs is a “labor of love” for Sylvia. She likes to replace the salt in her cooking with herbs since not only is it healthier, but it is also more flavorful. And she says, “I kind of wanted to be the first person to introduce growing herbs into Nashville.” She explains that there are a lot of farms in Knoxville and Chattanooga that sell herbs to Nashville chefs, so she thought, “Why isn’t anyone doing it here?”
As a former restaurant owner herself, Sylvia’s first passion is to “grow the things that chefs want.” You can find her produce at about ten local restaurants including the Tin Angel and the Wild Cow. “I am very blessed to have really good restaurants who care about the produce and are creative as well.” Chefs sometimes make requests for a specific type of vegetable such as asparagus beans, and if she can, she’ll grow it for them. It keeps it interesting for everyone involved, including her farm manager and two high school aged farm interns, as well as for the CSA members since that variety ultimately goes into their box each week.
For those of you who wish to get in on a CSA in mid-season, sign up to be on Sylvia’s email list. Each Thursday she sends out an email telling everyone what will be in the box that week, and “If you want it you say ‘Yes I’m in’ and if you don’t, you just don’t respond to the email.” Simple as that. The cost is a flat rate of $20 and you get about 10 to 12 pounds of vegetables, enough for two people to make it through the week. It’s especially nice if you’re planning on being out of town and don’t want to commit to the whole season.
Somewhere in the midst of all this, Sylvia has also found time to work on a small product line of sauces that if all goes well, will be available for sale next season at the farmers market. It will include tzatziki sauce, pasta sauce and pesto – and one weekly rotating item such as a seasonal soup. This idea is an extension of how she and her husband already live their life – nothing gets wasted and anything left over gets pickled or canned.
And if you have a hankering to pickle, say, cucumbers – Sylvia would gladly provide you with the raw ingredients. “Last year everyone said they wanted cucumbers so this year I planted lots of them and now no one wants any,” she tells me with an exasperated chuckle. That’s how it goes with farming though. You live and learn – and then have to wait until next year to do anything about it.