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Vegetable garden oasis

Locally sourced ingredients can be found on the patio



Sunflower stalks tower more than two metres off the ground, raspberry canes create a privacy shield between the pool and the patio, cabbages in green and red flourish in large plant pots, zucchini flowers are flourishing too and there's even a slight hint of fresh thyme in the air.

It may sound like a perfect backyard but this garden patio has been an oasis of food for over a decade at Whistler's Old Spaghetti Factory.

The garden is the domain of Steve Ashworth, a senior waiter and resident of Whistler for the last 16 years. Ashworth's manager says he has a green thumb and he likes to use it.

Ashworth dedicates many hours a week to his garden, which features tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli, green beans, artichoke, kale, rhubarb, zucchini, currents, blueberries, oregano, mint, cilantro, chives and basil growing in the pots and beds at the restaurant.

His manager, Blaine Vernon-Jarvis, explains that the restaurant uses as much of the fresh produce as possible in the restaurant's food offerings.

The item used the most?

That's easy to answer. Mint.

Most of the mint goes into Mojitos. The secret to a good Mojito is fresh mint so Vernon-Jarvis thinks that next year the amount of mint produced on the patio will be increased to keep all the Mojito drinkers happy.

Vernon-Jarvis says the bartenders sometimes pick the mint while the person who ordered the Mojito watches. There's an opportunity there, jokes Vernon-Jarvis, to have a laugh with the customer as they learn the mint is being picked for use in the drink they ordered.

While the mint disappears into Mojito glasses, Vernon-Jarvis says the raspberries are also very popular, though customers or swimmers using the pool next door pick many of the ripe berries.

"One of the difficulties is trying to keep it here," says Vernon-Jarvis on a warm Sunday afternoon sitting on the patio under discussion.

"The raspberries are the most popular dish here. Customers use them as an appetizer," says Jarvis with a knowing smile. "They hold their kids up trying to get as many as possible before the servers come by and catch them."

Catching customers sampling the garden produce isn't a high a priority, as the whole idea of having a small restaurant garden is to raise people's awareness of raw ingredients and food origins.

"All and all it is a great way for the public, for people from the city, for people from all over the world to see what true nature is about, this is it," says the restaurant manager, as his gaze slides over to the stand of sunflowers that conveniently create a shady retreat for patio customers dining in the hot afternoon sun.

A higher priority than preventing the fresh ingredients from being harvested by customers is keeping bears out of the garden. A hard lesson was learned around pumpkin production. Vernon-Jarvis says bears love pumpkins and after a bear got into the ripe pumpkins one season past it was decided to give up growing the Halloween favourite.

The garden managers don't want it to be a bear magnet so the produce grown each year is chosen carefully to ensure the patio doesn't attract wildlife.

Vernon-Jarvis is upfront in saying that much of the produce, once it is ripe, goes home with the staff because the amounts produced just aren't high enough to provide for the restaurant.

But he adds that, chef Jeffery Domingo supports the garden initiative and does incorporate some of the garden ingredients into dishes when it is possible.

"We're trying to use more of the cucumbers and zucchini in our salads," says Vernon-Jarvis. "We've started using some cilantro and some of the different herbs in our dishes."

Like most other restaurant gardeners, Ashworth is finding that the most practical product from the garden is the herb. Vernon-Jarvis says the herbs like chives; basil, oregano and thyme are the most practical to use with regularity.

"We're all about nature up here and everyone comes to enjoy the skiing, hiking and boarding, the lakes and all the trails so why not bring that into the dining room and let people enjoy it?" asks Vernon-Jarvis rhetorically.

To make the experience as enjoyable as possible for as long as possible the restaurant provides each chair on the patio with a small red, logo-emblazoned fleece blanket.

"The Spaghetti Factory for 41 years has been all about food and we've been up here for going on 18 years in November," says Vernon-Jarvis

Next year, look for Ashworth to take the garden up another notch as each year he tries to make the garden a little more impressive than the year before.

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