Paula Garrett, chef de cuisine at Broadfield, A Sea Island Sporting Club and Lodge, creates custom culinary experiences that highlight the ingredients grown on-site.
By Katherine Duncan
Where did you grow up?
I grew up on a farm in Sparta, Illinois. … We had everything on our farm: guinea pigs, rabbits, horses, cows, chickens, goats, dogs, cats, a peacock and pigs. We did harvest products from them, so inadvertently we were sustainable and living off the land. We raised animals and planted a garden as well. We grew corn, ice potatoes, green beans, melons, peaches, crab apples, plums [and more]. My grandma taught me to make bacon, as well as canning methods and herbal uses for medicinal purposes.
Can you tell us about your professional culinary background prior to Sea Island?
I went to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Mendota Heights, Minnesota and I loved it. That really opened up French food to me. I combined the fundamentals of cooking with my curiosity and heartland homestyle cooking to take my cooking to a whole other level. I was also a sous chef for five years and have owned two restaurants; I got my start at Sea Island as an intern during the G8 Summit.
What about heartland food inspires you?
It’s totally different than anything else you’ve ever had, whether you’re in New York or the South. It’s really farm-to-table—we are used to growing and nurturing the food until it comes to fruition and then we’ll pick it at its ripest to create a dish. The canning and preserving side of it is my focus, and now I’m also into the homeopathic side, where food is the cure for whatever ails you. It really is comforting and it’s something that ignites you to feel better, to do better, and just rest, relax and enjoy the day. I think you can have the world’s most important conversations over a good meal.
How does the farm-to-table approach work at Broadfield?
When Sean Nelson, the gardener at Broadfield, starts planning what to plant in the garden, she and I will discuss which ingredients I hope to cook with during that season and what I’d like to can during the spring, because the season is never going to be the same twice. Whether it’s pickled chicken eggs—we have a wonderful group of chickens here—or something that will accommodate what my mind is focused on for the next big meal or creation, I always want to create a dish that no one else has ever made. I’m chasing that goal every year.
How do you develop the menus?
Each season, I challenge myself to create a dish for Broadfield. Then, I discuss options with the Broadfield members and guests. We’ll discuss ideas until they are satisfied with their menu.
Are all of the dining experiences at Broadfield custom?
Yes. I work with our gardener to find out what we have growing—because that will always be implemented in every menu—then we will go from there. I’ll go back to the popular items; whether it’s pork belly tacos, fried chicken, braised short ribs or duck, I try to keep it focused on the hunting side of it, like venison chili.
Do you cook with game caught that day?
No, due to regulations we’re not allowed to prepare game that members and guests caught; however, they can take their game home. We provide quail on the menu, which may be fried as an appetizer, for example. I make chutney out of the produce that grows in the garden. Right now we have a pineapple-jalapeño chutney that goes with the quail, and we’re going to have a satsuma-lime chutney. I have a shelf in the kitchen of things that I’ve canned, preserved and produced for members and guests to purchase, and I’ll also use those in the meals.
Do the members and guests have hands-on culinary opportunities?
Cooking classes can be set up when making reservations for Broadfield. We take participants on a tour of the garden and allow them to harvest items for the class, then they return to the Lodge and prepare a recipe using those items, and the dish is served during the appetizer or dinner course. They receive recipes to take with them as well. The classes are also available during the hunting season, but they get booked up quickly.