Bernard’s Backyard Bounty
A chef’s secret garden source––Bernard’s and Sarah’s Wine Bar
Bernard Bouissou in the extensive vegetable garden aside his eponymous fine French restaurant on West Lane.
Photos by Deborah Hayn
For Bernard Bouissou, owner and chef at Bernard’s and Sarah’s Wine Bar, the concept of “farm to table” isn’t a recent restaurant trend. Growing your own food was part of the culture in France where he was raised. “I’ve gardened all my life. We never bought vegetables,” says Bernard, in an accent as thick as a Hollandaise sauce.
When Bernard and his wife Sarah, also a renowned chef, bought property on West Lane in Ridgefield, the sizable lot had some unused space, which the couple transformed into a vegetable garden in 2012. Now with over 27 beds, the garden supplies a significant amount of the restaurants’ produce.
Bernard grows for three seasons of the year: “Spring is always a challenge,” he admits. “After everything is in place, it gets easier.” Summer months, however, bring the bounty. “We grew 600 pounds of 15 varieties of tomatoes,” Bernard comments. Harvesting continues through the fall. Cases of apples and squash are stored in the wine cellar. Even in winter months menu items come from his garden: he cans and pickles what he doesn’t use right away.
Gardening in Fairfield County comes with challenges: namely, deer. Bernard constructed a large, ten-foot fence to keep the deer out and uses locally purchased organic products to deter the smaller critters. “For a couple of days,” he says, “it really smells, but it works great.”
Bernard has gotten creative with his growing practices. He uses metal-pipe framing to support the tomato plants. He also keeps rabbits to eat the restaurant scraps and provide fertilizer. Most ingenious is the “bean castle,” which consists of a wood-frame dome covered with mesh netting.
The plants grow up the sides and the beans fall through the holes. The beans are picked from inside the castle, “Much easier on the back,” Sarah notes.
The menu at Bernard’s and Sarah’s Wine Bar fluctuates daily as well as seasonally, influenced by what’s growing. Often, Bernard’s morning harvest will dictate the day’s menu. Green lettering indicates items on the menu that are grown on the premises. Crabmeat stuffed zucchini blossoms and a roasted heirloom beet salad are two delicious sounding examples offered during the late summer months.
Customers and restaurant reviewers appreciate the freshness of the ingredients. “When you grow it yourself, you know what you put in there,” Bernard says.