International Wine Guild Blog

Chef’s Retreat: A Garden Tour with Corporate Executive Chef Sherrie Robbins

Filed Under: Chef's Corner

A few years ago, Claude and I — along with the help of Nicolas Post — created this backdrop for our son’s wedding.


 

 


This space has now become our retreat. I love having my coffee here and contemplating life after a hard day. Come along for a tour!

These antique doors really make me happy. They are all solid wood and have the original glass panes. It took me 9 months to sand them down, white wash them, and put 5 coats of a high quality sealer on them. They look as beautiful in the winter as they do in the summer!


 

 


The yard at our home is totally xeriscaped with raised beds for both vegetables and flowers. Having said that, our yard doesn't offer enough space to have a very large garden in full sun. My neighbors have too many large trees that shade at least half of my yard.

Last summer, I purchased two 2x8 foot raised cedar beds on legs for easy access. I absolutely love these planters. They are easy to access, have greenhouse covers to protect the plants from too much heat and wind, and produce a lot of food! I can start all of the lettuces in early May in these planters and be eating salad by the middle of June.


 

 


This summer I planted more than 45 different varieties of fruits and vegetables between my garden at my house and a garden I have in Firestone, Colorado.

Each place has a different micro-climate creating different sets of challenges.

The garden in Firestone is typically 5 degree’s hotter then the garden at our house. It is in full sun, has a lot of wind, and is drip irrigated.

The garden at my house is hand watered and half of it gets pretty hot as well.

In Firestone, I use little “hoop houses” that I made to protect things like celery, spinach, kale, and romaine from getting full sun.


 

 


This extends the growing season and has worked really well and has also been a tremendous amount of work. There are so many “sticker” plants around this garden that is a challenge to keep the wheels on the wheelbarrow inflated!

This is the first year I have used this space in Firestone. I made a decision early on that I was going to put 4 to 6 inches of wood chips on the entire garden to help retain moisture, keep the weeds at bay, and help build and loosen the clay in the soil.


 

 


Next year, I will just hoe a trench, plant the seeds in the dirt in the trench, and wait for them to grow a bit. Then the wood chips will just be pushed back around the seedlings.

This garden will never be tilled again. So in future years, part of the labor will be cut down because I have a good base of wood chips down now thanks to the Ramirez Family Wood-Chip Volunteer Team!


 

 


There are both chickens and rabbits at the farm in Firestone so there is plenty of fertilizer to layout in the garden.

I will begin using the “chop and drop” method of building the soil in the fall when I pull up plants that are done producing. Those plants will be cut up, and laid on top of the wood chips. A layer of chicken poop and the bedding straw will be put on top of that to decompose over the winter.

Gardening is a form of meditation for me. Much like fly-fishing, it is peaceful and rewarding. Gardening takes me back in time to standing in a garden with my grandmother. I think she would be so proud of these two gardens I have created.

I thought you might like to see some of today’s harvest!


 

 


I have got to get to work cooking the beans, shelling the peas and fava beans, making some tomatillo salsa, braising the kale, onions, and zucchini —- and freezing the garden’s bounty.

The bok choy is eaten raw and chopped up for salads or stir-fried with other veggies for yummy asian style dishes.

Basil either becomes pesto or is put in a blender with a little olive oil and then packed into ice cube tray to freeze. Once the cubes are frozen, I just pop them out and put them in freezer storage containers.

The dragon’s blood beans are cooked on the stovetop with ham or bacon scraps and onions before frozen.

I am beginning to prepare for the Guild’s “High-on-the-Hog” Farm to Table Dinner on August 13th. We will be enjoying a roasted pig and 4 courses of vegetables from the garden to round out the dinner along with a delicious dessert prepared by Chef de Cuisine Jocelyne Fay.

If you are planning on attending, reserve your spot now as space is limited. The cost is $85 per person and includes wine pairings for each course.

Chef's Corner


Feast In The Field Fundraiser August 16

Filed Under: Chef's Corner

I am cooking at a fundraiser for the American Culinary Federation's Colorado Chapter.

For this event, chefs and colorado growers are paired together.  I will be preparing a Corn Salad with lime, red peppers, garlic, jalapenos, parsley, green onions, and the Guild's house smoked bacon topped with a lime and Haystack Mountain Goat cheese drizzle.

Other chefs are preparing colorado lamb, beef, and chicken.  Several of the wineries will be at the event along with a few beer producers.

We would love it if Guild members join us for this really fun event at Chatfield Botanic Gardens.  The proceeds go to help support young culinary students who are in the apprenticeship program and also helps Denver Botanic Gardens maintain it's Chatfield programs.

Everyone can stop by the corn booth and talk to the grower, sample the Guild's corn salad and say HI!

See you there!

Chef's Corner


The Guild Garden

In February I started planting seeds under grow lights for the Guild Garden.  I have never done this before and now have a greater appreciation for the professional growers who do this.  It is so time consuming to do it as a non-professional grower.


However, it is exciting to watch the process of plant life unfolding day by day.

Planting a seed, watching it sprout and give birth to a life as a plant is a little like having your own child.  It needs light, air, water, food, nurturing, thinning, transplanting and words of encouragement along the way!  Yes, every morning I would walk into the grow light “nursery” and talk to those plants.  “Good morning ladies, how was your evening, need a drink, feeling droopy, turned around to get more light”? Slowly, day by day from a tiny seed to a 12 inch tall plant. It’s a little like watching a miracle happen in slow motion.

I am an instant gratification kind of gal.  So going through this process was a lesson in patience and persistence.  I  have always bought plants at the nursery and paid a pretty penny for them.  I have never had to be patient or persistent when planting a vegetable garden.  Well, that isn’t exactly true.  I guess I did have to have some patience and persistence when I transplanted those beautiful plants but they were already well on their way to delivering the “fruit” of the professional grower’s labor who had done all the nurturing of the plant prior to my sticking it in the ground.

I’ve been a Colorado gardener for over 25 years now but still learn new things every season and sometimes have to relearn them year after year.  For instance, Colorado is a very fickle growing area.  You have to be patient and not let spring fever get the best of you.  Planting before Memorial Weekend is very risky.  A lesson I had to relearn again this year.

I stuck the cabbage plants in the ground in April in a hoop house in the community garden that I constructed from cloth, plastic tubing and dowel rods.  A hoop house is a device that protects plants from frost.  Right after I did this we got 12 inches of snow, had a hard freeze and the plot the cabbages were in was in 3 inches of standing water for several days.  It continued to be exceptionally cold for over two weeks.  The cabbages made it through all of this but they didn’t grow and it took them quite a while to get “going”.  If I had waited another 4 weeks to plant them they would have been bigger than they are now and I could have saved myself all the trouble of building the hoop house to begin with!  Same thing with the tomato plants.  To be safe, we all should just wait till June especially if your garden is out in the open or in a windy spot like the Guild Garden

There are gardeners with a variety of experience in the community garden that the Guild has 7 plots in.  Several have years of experience but quite a few of them are first time gardeners.  It is such a hoot watching and listening to them.  I get asked questions all of the time.  Why do you water under the plant and not just spray water on the leaves, why did you build a hoop house, what’s that yellow stuff you put on your plot (sulphur, to try to decrease the PH level of the soil), why did you put plastic milk jugs over the plants and why do you take the caps off the jugs and cut out the bottoms, why do you pluck off the growth of the tomato plants that forms between the stem and a leaf?  All valid questions.  Mostly, I am just trying a variety of different techniques to see what works best.

The PH level of the soil in this garden is approaching 8+ and should be around 6 to be ideal.  Its very acidic.  So, it was supplemented with a bag of sulphur, cow manure, compost and in some cases outdoor potting soil.  It is heavy with clay and I have never seen so many rocks in a plot that you could not turn the dirt over with a normal shovel.

It was hard work and will be worth it when we have fresh grown vegetables to eat.

The other thing I’ve been experimenting with this spring is smoking my own meat.  Bacon from scratch is so easy a 5 year old could do it!  And, I am here to tell you even some of my vegetarian friends have walked onto the deck and proclaimed bacon could be the one thing that would cause them to fall off the V-wagon and join the ranks of carnivores!

This bacon is far removed from the slimy, watery mess that we get in the grocery stores.  It is meaty like ham, has little fat, is smoky and sweet depending on which wood is used during the smoking process.  I could eat a couple of pounds a week and not bat an eye!

Dr. Collins, my cardiologist would have a heart attack if he heard me say this.  I would gladly give up butter and cream for two pounds of “house smoked bacon” any day of the week!

Next on the list of food experiments is coming up with a few signature sausages.  My friend, Paul Bonaquisti and his father, Robert taught our family their family recipe for making italian sausage a couple of years ago.  It is so darn versatile and virtually fat free.  I use it is soups, chili, burgers, for breakfast with maple syrup and in all things Italian. Making your own sausage is therapeutic like kneading bread and watering the garden.  You can lose yourself in the rhythm of the process.

So, if you are in a Level I or the Level III Advanced Wine and Food Pairing class, or any of the Intensive format classes this summer and fall you can expect this Chef to be serving you food from the garden baring a bug infestation, hail, or the resident rabbits beating me to the harvest. You’ll get to sample the maple smoked bacon and the current Guild “house” sausage as well.

I will be posting new pictures of the garden each month with a little discussion about what has been happening.  Have the “girls” died, needed a haircut, gotten sick, had a sudden growing sprout, been beaten up by the elements, or thrived because of some crazy thing this gardener and Chef decided to try? Stay tuned.

 

Photo #1: 
Foreground are the red & yellow heirloom tomato seedlings
Background:  The hoop house without the cloth cover with the cabbages.  Next to the cabbages are the dwarf sugar snap peas and the purpleletta onions

Photo #2 
Left side of the black landscape cloth are the poblano peppers then to the right are the eggplants

Photo #3: 
Foreground is a piece of landscape PVC pipe that the lumber yard cut into eight lengths for me.  They act as hose guards are are hollow so I planted them with flowers.  Behind the hose guard are the grape tomato seedlings and a plot with 4 styles of onions.

Photo #4: Behind the red hoop hose guards are the delicata squash.  Growing on the left side of the A-Frame are the pickling cucumbers.  On the right side of the A-Frame are the zucchini.  To the left of the A-Frame are two rows of garlic.

Chef's Corner

Food and Wine Pairing


Success

Filed Under: Chef's Corner

Our Corporate Executive Chef, who has watched and nurtured people working towards their Guild Wine Master certification for almost 10 years has a few important thoughts on the process and being successful.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the people I know who I deem to be successful in their field of endeavor. What did it take to achieve their level of success? What did they do that was different from others?

These high achievers in my opinion have a dedication to their craft and practice every aspect of the activity that they are passionate about. Being passionate about something means you should have a willingness to do whatever it takes to learn about the thing you have a passion for. It requires deliberate practice, a well thought out plan of action, being organized, staying focused, and having great mentors and teachers to help you achieve those goals.

What does this mean for someone who wants to become a Guild Wine Master? It means becoming proficient at all aspects of your craft including practicing opening and pouring wine correctly every single time, learning something about the history of the wines you carry on your wine list, taking care of those wines properly, having a service "heart" when it comes to your customers, developing respectful relationships with your vendors and suppliers, training the wait staff about the wines, tracking the inventory so the wine is being rotated into service as it is reaching it's peak not when it is on the downside of its life. Constantly learning and taking classes, honing your knowledge base as well as tasting skills; keeping current with the industry and what is going on.

When you are passionate about something you want to learn more. The joy of learning becomes a positive "addiction" and the "reward" for the time and energy spent in the process. The more you know something, the more you realize what you don't know and you develop an intense desire to learn more! That is what separates the novice from the master.

Mistakes and failures happen on the journey to success. Hopefully you learn from them and go on. The successful people I know did not let setbacks stop them. Instead they evaluated the mistake or failure and learned from it. Sometimes it took several tries to be able to move beyond the problem.

Often students comment to me that they want to know what the Master level students or instructors know and they want to know it NOW! In the case of the Guild Wine Master Claude Robbins, I have to gently remind them that Claude's passion for wine has been a 30- year endeavor! He has practiced his sommelier skills, studied daily, prepared course material, had epiphany's and failures, got up the next day and started over with fresh new determination, and has not lost his passion for wine along the way.

He has worked in all aspects of the wine industry except for opening a restaurant. In other words, paid his "dues" by starting at the bottom of the industry and has worked his way to the top. This is part of the journey we all must be willing to do in order to be successful! Once you commit to doing the "work" necessary to become successful in your passion the rewards will outweigh the sacrifices.

How do you know that you are passionate about something? Let me answer the question this way. Have you ever been so engrossed in doing something that you were in a time warp? Hours flew by and pretty soon you realized that a whole morning or day has been spent doing the thing you were passionate about? Time seemed to stand still and you were having so much fun you didn't realize how much time you just spent doing the thing you loved? That's being passionate!

What it takes to accomplish something at an expert level:

How can these work for you and your journey to become a Guild Wine Master or successful in the wine industry?

Above all, enjoy the journey! If the Guild can help you realize your dreams give us a call! We would love to be your wine education partner.

Sherrie Robbins VP and Guild Executive Chef

Chef's Corner

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