How Nurtured in Norfolk is making big waves in the food world with tiny veg
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
If you have been lucky enough to dine in a Michelin-starred restaurant recently, the chances are the beautiful garnish on your dish or the mini vegetables in your side salad were grown in Norfolk.
A nursery on the outskirts of Dereham is leading the way in micro-veg and edible flowers and is getting chefs around the world excited by the weird and wonderful varieties it is producing.
Nurtured in Norfolk was started seven years ago by chef Allan Miller and his wife Sue in just one greenhouse in their Toftwood back garden.
Mr Miller was head chef at Rare on Unthank Road in Norwich and started growing a few vegetables to take into the restaurant.
But when wholesalers started buying his surplus he realised there was a mini revolution starting in mini veg.
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Now the business occupies two huge greenhouses at the back of Toftwood Garden Centre with more than 50 staff, has three farms in South Africa and two in Israel growing for them, and an annual turnover of around £5 million.
'I always enjoyed growing, but never thought it would be on a commercial scale,' said Mr Miller. 'It has gone way beyond any imagination. We thought when we moved here the site would be too big but we already need to expand.'
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He said food consumption in the UK had changed dramatically in the past five years. 'It is more of a social event rather than just a need to fill your bellies,' he said. 'We think of ourselves as instrumental in driving fashions and chefs bought into that. They want something a bit unusual, not run of the mill and anything new and innovative they jump on it.'
Growing in South Africa and Israel means they can have flowers available 365 days of the year and if there is any produce they want to scale up they now have the capacity to do it.
Everything is done by hand from the planting to watering, cutting to packing and as some plants can go from seed to ready to cut in just six days timing is key.
The Millers' son Alex Drane is now nursery manager and is keen to promote the produce to a wider audience.
'In terms of longevity I think there will be a market for some time,' said Mr Miller. 'It is easy to diversify and if something doesn't work you just try something else.'
Hitting the screens
Nurtured in Norfolk is already becoming a bit of a TV hit as cookery shows have started taking an increased interest in the nursery's produce.
North Norfolk chef Galton Blackiston took a film crew for the BBC food show Saturday Kitchen which aired in April.
Now Mr Plant Geek Michael Perry, a regular on ITV's This Morning and Good Morning Britain, and Skinny Jean gardener Lee Connelly who has contributed to a number of TV shows including Blue Peter and Channel 4's Sunday Brunch, have been out to Toftwood to film with Mustard TV's Ellen Mary.
They are working on a new series aiming to put the fun back into gardening and finding new and innovative ideas. 'It's going to be a relaxed show that says not every garden has to be a Chelsea Flower Show exhibit,' said Mr Perry. 'I have done a lot of research into edible flowers but I have learned new things here.'
Tiny but tasty
Some of the weird and wonderful varieties grown by Nurtured in Norfolk include:
Butterfly sorrel - eat the flower or the leaf and it turns into lemonade in your mouth
Buzz Button - the flower bud has a numbing and strong tingling effect, also known as the toothache plant due to its natural analgesic
Cucamelon - shaped like a tiny melon but has a sharp, cucumbery taste
Okahijiki - land seaweed is a gourmet speciality in Japan, juicy with a crisp texture and a tart, salty flavour
Peruvian marigold - one of the micro cresses, it mixes a zesty grapefruit and vibrant peppermint flavour
Sweet cicely - a sweet, aniseed-flavoured herb which is a very good sugar substitute
Variegated amaranth - green leaves streaked with red/purple with a mild spinach flavour
Viola - white, orange, burgundy, yellow or purple bringing a burst of colour onto any plate.
To find out more visit the website here.