Sprouting with Chef Dean Thomas

Inspired by his father’s passion for gardening, Chef Dean Thomas of the New England Culinary Institute offers students hands-on experience in his herb garden. Sowing and harvesting his own herbs is part of the pride Thomas puts onto each plate.

| October/November 1999

  • Last summer, Chef Dean Thomas added a 20-by-20-foot bed devoted solely to herbs.
    Photograph by Carolyn L. Bates

  • 1. Ipomoea ‘Royal Ensign’ and creeping zinnia 2. Nasturtium ‘Moonlight’ 3. Sweet Italian peppers 4. Strawberry mignonette 5. Lavandula angustifolia rosea and Lavandula vera lilac 6. Anagallis monelli 7. Ipomea ¥multifida 8. Adenophora bullyanna 9. ‘Sweet Genovese’ basil 10. ‘Lavendar Lady’ 11. Lemon grass 12. Rosemary 13. Flat-leaf parsley 14. Sage 15. ‘Red Rubin’ basil 16. Nasturtium 17. Bronze fennel 18. Licorice basil 19. Parsley ‘Envy’ 20. Parsley 21. Perennial phlox 22. Nasturtium ‘Jewel of India’ 23. Nasturtium ‘Alaska’ and ‘Empress of India’ 24. Nasturtium ‘Wina’ 25. Corn ‘Red Stellar’ and Ipomea ‘Royal Ensign’ 26. Ipomea ‘Scarlet O’Hara’ 27. French tarragon 28. Assorted daylilies and Ipomea 29. Chives, garlic 30. Van Hout spirea 31. Green ash 32. Spirea japonica

Editor’s note: this is the first in a series on chefs’ herb gardens.

Lemon-Chive Vinaigrette

Two green thumbs and a passion for food are essential ingredients in Dean Thomas’s garden. “My father gardened, and he inspired me to keep my fingers in the ground,” says the executive sous-chef at the New England Culinary Institute (NECI) in Essex, Vermont.

Thomas, who has been a chef for twenty-three years, previously cooked—and grew his own herbs—at Westin ­Resorts in Tucson, Arizona, and Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and at ­Caneel Bay in the U.S. Virgin Islands. At NECI, an accredited cooking school, he oversees the food and beverage operations of the on-campus Inn at Essex and offers 100 student chefs per year firsthand experience in growing fresh herbs.

When Thomas moved to Vermont with his wife, Nicole, and their three children four years ago, he discovered that NECI’s kitchen garden was a small plot of poor soil on the shady side of a building. He staked out a vegetable and herb garden in an open field about 100 yards from the kitchen door. “We had to till the soil and remove all the high field grass and rocks,” Thomas recalls. He added compost made from kitchen scraps and buried fish heads to improve the fertility of the site’s clay soil.

Chiles and sweet and ‘Dark Opal’ basils line the stone path that winds through the herb garden from its trellised entrance to a stone wall at the opposite end. Thyme and rosemary grow toward the end of the path, and chives are a mass of mauve flowers in early June. Colorful ­nasturtiums keep company with tarragon, sage, thyme, cilantro, parsley, oregano, and chervil, while a few squash plants add a vertical element against the walls of Butler’s Restaurant.

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