Hyperlocal: At Pippin Hill, the produce is just outside the kitchen door

Over the past three years, the chef's garden has grown from a few herb beds into a small farm that provides a diverse bounty. Photo: Eric Kelly Over the past three years, the chef’s garden has grown from a few herb beds into a small farm that provides a diverse bounty. Photo: Eric Kelly

Chef Ian Rynecki and gardener Diane Burns modestly refer to their creation at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards as a kitchen garden, but the result of their collaboration is nothing less than the ideal template for farm-to-table cooking.

Before making his way to Albemarle County in 2017, Rynecki had climbed a ladder with a basket on his back to harvest from a rooftop garden in New York City, cruised the abundant farmers’ markets of San Francisco (where he worked at two Michelin-starred restaurants), and plucked fresh ingredients from the beds outside Connecticut’s Farm Restaurant, where he was chef de cuisine. The vegetable and herb gardens at Pippin Hill, managed by Burns since 2016, were a big draw for his move to the winery.

Over the past three years, Burns has expanded Pippin Hill’s collection of herb beds into a micro-farm. Vegetable and fruit plots embrace the tasting room and spill down the hill to a deer-proofed garden of raised beds. This year, she has added cut flowers to the mix, and has been managing a flock of chickens and overseeing a pollenator meadow to support the winery’s first beehives.

Rynecki and Burns plan the menu and the garden together each January. Recent additions include Niseko, a small white turnip with exceptional greens, red and white Kiogi beet, and dwarf gray sugar peas for shoots and flowers, all of which can be sown in spring and fall. Burns also grows one of her favorite combinations of ornamental and edible flowers, African blue basil and Little Gem marigolds.

In its abundant immediate array of edibles—from flowers to fruits, vegetables to honey, eggs to herbs—and in its serendipitous collaboration between chef and gardener, Pippin Hill offers fresh local cuisine and gives us all a garden to dream of.

Gardener Diane Burns tends to one of the many beds that produce ingredients for chef Ian Rynecki’s menu items. Photo: Eric Kelly

Diane’s harvesting tips

• Snip basil from branches in the center of the plant to encourage regrowth and a bushy habit.

• When harvesting parsley, loose-leaf lettuce, kale, and other greens, remove the big outer leaves first. Leave one to two inches of growth at the base so the plants
will regenerate.

• Head lettuces will usually grow another head after harvest when one to two inches of stem are left.

• Thin carrot, turnip, and beet seedlings to two to three inches apart when the tops are four inches tall. These baby root crops are great for salad toppings, and those left in the ground will have room to grow.

• Grow peas just for the shoots and flowers, which have a concentrated pea flavor. Cut the shoots/tendrils to the first set of leaves when the plant is about eight inches tall. This will also encourage branching out and the growth of more shoots.

• With summer squash, harvest some of the male flowers for stuffing in the kitchen. You can easily distinguish the male flower because it does not have the small fruit growing at the base.

Other area chef’s gardens

Barboursville Vineyards: Horticulturalist Robert Sacilotto works full time to provide herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers for the winery’s fine dining restaurant, Palladio.

Boar’s Head Resort: At the recently renovated Mill Room and other property restaurants, executive chef Dale Ford uses greens harvested from a hydroponic greenhouse.

Farm Table at Monticello: The newly named cafe uses a bounty of fruit, vegetables, and herbs from gardens originally planted and tended by enslaved workers at Thomas Jefferson’s estate.