March 20, 2013 | By: Carol Lea Spence

The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture is known for encouraging both ends of the food spectrum—growers and consumers—to meet in the middle, the middle being that moment when good food at its peak goes from soil to supper. In keeping with that, the college invites Kentucky chefs to pick their favorite heirloom varieties of vegetables and herbs to be grown in this year’s Kentucky Chefs’ Ultimate Kitchen Garden on the grounds of The Arboretum.

The idea is an outgrowth of a 2011 project spearheaded by Country Living Magazine and famed garden designer and local son, Jon Carloftis. Nationally known chefs contributed their suggestions for their preferred varieties, and Sharon Bale, UK extension horticulture specialist, located the seeds and oversaw the organic garden. The result was twofold: a multi-page spread in the April 2012 issue of Country Living and a learning experience for Bale.

“When I first worked with the chefs, I found out there were seed companies that I’d never even heard of,” Bale said. “And if you’d asked me three years ago if cutting celery would do well in Kentucky, I would probably have told you I don’t think so, because celery isn’t something that we can do. We’re too hot. Well, cutting celery does fine.”

She also learned that requests from Chef Alice Waters for Amsterdam seasoning, from another chef for par-cel and from a third for cutting celery all turned out to be the same plant.

“It was a nightmare!” Bale laughed.

Nightmare or not, she and UKAg’s Chef-in-Residence Bob Perry, are at it again, this time keeping it closer to home and inviting Kentucky chefs to participate. The garden’s contents will be a combination of the chefs’ preferred cultivars and those that Bale is interested in trying.

The chef’s garden at The Arboretum is a popular attraction. Perry said that all participating chefs and their restaurants would be noted in the garden.

Don’t expect to be able to sample the harvest in abundance at local restaurants, however.

“The garden isn’t big enough to supply 10 chefs with what they would need every day,” Bale said. “It’s more for them to taste and sample. We will donate the rest to local food banks.”

Chefs who are interested in participating should provide Perry with their choices in the following categories:

·       Tomatoes

·       Beans

·       Lettuces

·       Greens

·       Peppers

·       Eggplant

·       Onions/leeks

·       Summer squash

·       Broccoli

·       Cauliflower

·       Cabbage

·       Herbs

·       Other

For more information or to join the project, chefs should contact Perry at 859-257-1692 or or Bale at 859-257-8605 or


Bob Perry, 859-257-1692; Sharon Bale, 859-257-8605