Steamboat Springs The morning sun glinted off Gayle Lehman's gardening clippers as they flittered through the thick growths of herbs and spices at the Yampa River Botanic Park, sheering away buds and stalks with a surgeon’s precision.
It’s just natural, Lehman explained as she crawled, tucked and twisted through a section of the Steamboat Springs park. “Herbs are meant to be used."
Her small plot of green and brightly color herbs and spice plants is being used. On Thursday, she deposited her haul into grocery bags, and after washing the harvest that afternoon, she dropped another week’s worth off at Mambo Italiano, the downtown Steamboat restaurant that’s sponsoring her herb garden this summer.
Mambo is just one of several area restaurants that have turned to local providers for their herbs and other garden fare. Some even are growing produce themselves, including bistro c.v. and Harwigs/L'Apogee.
For chefs at the restaurants, that locally grown produce has proven plenty popular.
“Local foods are much better than ones that have to get transported from all over everywhere,” Harwigs chef Ryan Hoth said. “It’s about quality, and locally produced food provides more quality for us.”
Hoth said Harwigs' efforts to grow its own produce is a project four years in the making and one the restaurant still is trying to perfect.
Several summers ago, the restaurant had hoped to land fresh, local supplies by tending a garden on a patch of Strawberry Park, but that plan met failure when an unwitting landowner spread weedkiller on the plot.
The staff currently harvests a handful of herbs and some lettuce and squash from several gardens tucked behind the Lincoln Street restaurant. It’s previously pulled in tomatoes from a greenhouse there, as well.
“But that was more of a prototype,” Hoth said about the greenhouse, which isn’t in use.
Instead, the restaurant gets tomatoes from providers across the state, including some from Routt County such as Tasty Tomato. That company cites on its website local restaurants it supplies, including Mambo, bistro c.v., Harwigs, Cafe Diva and Laundry.
Hoth said that the restaurant provides much of its own lettuce, chives, mint and squash but that it can’t stockpile enough to make much of a dent in winter consumption.
“For that, we do have to look other places,” he said.
Brian Vaughn, of bistro c.v., wrote in an email that his restaurant has been growing its own vegetables for a couple of years and is in the process of expanding the types of produce it grows. Vaughn wrote that the downtown restaurant uses several growing methods, including aeroponics and hydroponics, which don't use soil, as well as the traditional soil method using composted waste from the restaurant as fertilizer.
Mambo chef Hannah Hopkins said her restaurant’s association with the Botanic Park has provided such a bounty that she barely knows how to use it all.
The river-adjacent patch provides Italian oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, tarragon, parsley, chives, mint and basil.
Lehman, the Botanic Park supervisor, said the herb plot has had other sponsors in the past — including Harwigs — but it went without one last year. Simply pruning the garden left her with so many herbs that she was convinced that they had to be put to use, and she eventually signed Mambo on for the sponsorship.
“I don’t know what to do with it all,” Hopkins said, laughing. “We’re making herb pestos. We’re throwing it in all of our soups and stocks. We use as much of it as possible.
“This is our first year, and it’s really been great.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com