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CHEF'S TABLE: Secrets of the flavourful and 'divine' garlic bulb

'I can’t count the number of times in the kitchen when someone would walk in just after the garlic hits the hot oil and I’d hear them exclaim, 'Oh man, what’s that smell? It’s so good!''

Garlic is prized for its holistic and culinary attributes. This cousin of the onion is thought to have been first cultivated by Sumerians on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea more than 5,000 years ago.

Yet there are other sources that claim it was first grown on the eastern plains of the Caspian Sea, later spreading to Asia.

Either way, garlic is now one of fundamental flavour builders in kitchens around the globe.

What is it about the rich aroma of garlic sizzling with a little butter that makes one’s appetite ignite?

I can’t count the number of times in the kitchen when someone would walk in just after the garlic hits the hot oil and I’d hear them exclaim, “Oh man, what’s that smell? It’s so good!”

Fresh garlic has always been a mainstay for most of my cooking. Having spent a good portion of my career cooking Italian-inspired dishes, one should expect as much. It’s the key to a great tomato sauce. You can’t have a big platter of fresh lobster without a hot dish of garlic butter!

And have you ever tried a little garlic salt on fresh popcorn? Good for you, bad for the vampires! If you’re looking for one of the most decadent ways to enjoy the full pleasure of this amazing allium, head to downtown Barrie and book a table at il Bucco Restaurant. The roasted garlic appetizer they serve is a rich, creamy indulgence that showcases the sweet flavours that can only come from a slow-roasted bulb of garlic.

As a cook in training, you will learn lots of tips and trick when it comes to secrets of the bulb. One thing is for sure. Chef Anthony Bourdain was correct in saying: “Garlic is divine. Few food items can taste so many distinct ways, handled correctly. Misuse of garlic is a crime... Please, treat your garlic with respect... Avoid at all costs that vile spew you see rotting in oil in screw top jars. Too lazy to peel fresh? You don't deserve to eat garlic.”

Several years ago, our hospitality team here at Georgian College started up a project called Growing Georgian. We have had several garden plots built and have been working to develop the edible landscape and urban agriculture here around the campus.

I’m looking forward to telling you all more stories in future columns about this exciting and rewarding project as it develops. So, since we have this great garden space and garlic is an ingredient that we use so often the choice was made to try our hand at garlic farming!

Last fall, our purchasing team sourced and ordered some great local garlic for our kitchens. This was a hard-neck variety and had big, beautiful bulbs. Just the kind we wanted to grow.

Having never grown garlic before, I got to work and after a little digging… (sorry for the garden pun) I found a great resource in the Innisfil Seed Library. With a great website and a fantastic library of locally made “how to” videos, I quickly became versed on the ins and out of garlic farming.

I learned about prepping the bulbs for planting, proper placement and cover, and the ideal conditions to get our crop growing. The thing about this crop is it’s in the ground for fall and you must put it to bed and wait... and wait… and wait some more.

We all know just how long the Barrie winter can be. And lo and behold, early May and there they were! Our first little garlic shoots popping up through the mulch. The sight brought great excitement and promise of flavourful cooking to come.

As the season progressed, we watched and weeded taking care to trim the garlic scapes when they curled (lovely when lightly pickled or in a simple stir fry!) until the garlic was finally ready to be picked.

At last, we had a small crop of our very own garlic. We have since saved and processed our haul, and are again ready to plant for next year's crop.

And the remainder? Well, it’s to be put into our kitchens for our new crop of culinary students to have their chance to learn the secrets of the bulb.

Daniel Clements is the chef technologist at Georgian College’s School of Hospitality and Tourism.

Daniel Clements

About the Author: Daniel Clements

In his bi-weekly Chef's Table column, Daniel will be looking at everything from local crops and trends in the business to seasonal delights and the local restaurant scene
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