Growing restaurant group branches out

Milestone Restaurant head chef Luke French tends the garden plot near to the eatery, which is in Green Lane, Sheffield.
Milestone Restaurant head chef Luke French tends the garden plot near to the eatery, which is in Green Lane, Sheffield.

by Lesley Draper

lesley.draper@jpress.co.uk

@LesleyDraper

One of Sheffield’s most successful restaurant groups is branching out – by growing its own fruit and vegetables.

And Luke French, executive head chef of the Milestone, Wig & Pen and Fancie, doesn’t believe in doing things by halves...

Not content with a herb garden on the pub roof, he has taken over a former industrial site at Shalesmoor and set up a market garden stocked with more than 30 tonnes of soil and 900,000 seeds.

Horticulture is nothing new to Luke, who comes from a farming family.

The ambitious grow-your-own project began when he got chatting to a local landowner, who offered to let them use an area of wasteland surrounded by derelict works buildings.

“We’d been growing our own micro leaves on a small scale on the rooftops and in greenhouses out the back, but it was a bit inaccessible,” says Luke. “This was a whole different scale.”

He roped in boss Matt Bigland and assistant manager Alan Smith to clear the side of weeds and debris – helped by members of the kitchen and front-of-house teams.

Then they bought in 15 hefty lengths of tanalised timber to create a series of huge raised beds.

One of their regular customers, a farmer, supplied 24 tonnes of soil; and finally they ordered enough seeds to provide a steady supply of produce over the coming months.

“It’s a really good ethos for us as a restaurant,” says Luke. “Not only is it fresh and top quality, with no food miles, but it enables us to grow absolutely anything – we’re not restricted by what we can get hold of from our suppliers.”

So alongside the courgettes, tomatoes, turnips and salad leaves are a host of more unusual ingredients. There’s saltwort, an exclusive type of land-grown seaweed; apple marigold, an aromatic, spiky-leaved garnish; and a whole range of edible flowers.

“It’s really rewarding, particularly with the growing business,” says Luke. “I love it; it’s very therapeutic.

“We’re now at a level where we can grow what we want to, including more specialised varieties, which makes us a bit more unusual.

“People can come to us and eat things they may not have had before... It puts us up there with Fischer’s and Chatsworth.”

A part-time gardener has now been recruited to oversee the garden. Next on the agenda is a 21ft poly-tunnel, which will enable them to continue growing throughout the winter.

Luke hopes eventually to supply all three restaurants, buying in only bulk produce such as potatoes.