Sourcing inch-long flageolet beans that sprout within a 24-hour window is a challenge at even the finest farmers' markets, but the world's top chefs -- many of whom cook at the world's top hotels -- rely on just that type of exacting ingredient to create award-winning dishes. A proprietary farm can be a secret weapon, and daily conversations with culinary gardeners often direct new, experimental plantings that ultimately showcase the expertise in the kitchen.
These Michelin-starred chefs are heralded for their innovative use of ingredients and their impeccable technique. Christopher Kostow, a three-star awardee at Napa Valley's the Restaurant at Meadowood, relies on a small plot to produce things like shiso for housemade yogurt and lilliputian vegetables of unmatched freshness for crudités. "We meet and talk about the garden every day," says culinary gardener Christine Kim, who runs Meadowood's organic plot. Chef Jeff Bland of the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, revives centuries-old agricultural practices by taking his guests on foraging trips in the Scottish countryside and harvesting wild mushrooms, rose hips and hawthorn berries.
Produce, however, is just the beginning at these properties, many of which run entire agricultural programs to breed heritage cattle, sheep and pigs through sustainable methods. A former sheep and cattle station, Otahuna Lodge in New Zealand is nearly self-sufficient, meeting 90 percent of the hotel's kitchen needs with ingredients from its own farm. Sweden's Angavallen hotel doesn't import a thing for its 765-square-acre farm, where free-range cows, sheep and pigs forage year-round, ultimately adding to the stocks of veal, lamb and pork sausage. "We're successful because people are so much more interested in quality ingredients and experiences," says owner Rolf Axel Nordström, a ceaseless advocate of sustainable agriculture.
Whatever the methods used, hotel guests reap the benefits of a restaurant helmed by a chef who sows his or her own row. Here are our favorites (slideshow).