Brenda Jessup
Ministry of Food

In 1988, when hospitality legends, Brenda Jessup and Tony Lynch, stumbled across a deserted Civil Service Cafeteria in the Bowen State Building in Wellington, a creative vision was born. With little experience and loads of passion, the team took on a lease and a loan and got to work. 28 years later, The Ministry of Food continues to thrive. In January, 2016, MOF moved to their new premises at 105 The Terrace which is now the equally excellent, Ministry of Food Bar & Kitchen.

Lured by a love for snowy mountains and Central Otago pinot noir, Brenda and Tony moved to Wanaka in 2001 and opened a second restaurant, Missy’s Kitchen, which they ran until 2010. A key catalyst for moving was the prospect of spending more time in nature, including growing their own bountiful garden. Stone fruit, saffron, hazelnuts, tomatoes, greens and herbs are among the many delicious morsels Brenda and Tony continue to harvest for themselves and for their chefs to work their magic with as well.

Brenda and Tony picking strawberries.

Describe your garden. What makes it super awesome?
We started a garden here in Albert Town on the banks of the Clutha River in 2004 on a ¼ acre section that had nothing growing and pretty stony riverbed type soil. We planted trees, composted and irrigated. The trees are now up to 5 meters high and we have a productive vege garden along with fruit and nut trees, perennials, roses and a good variety of herbs. We keep it pretty natural. I like to let plants run to seed and let them come up again where they choose or pull them out for green matter for the compost. I guess I would describe it as cottage garden with a native backdrop.

Mum taught me about flowers and herbs and the names of lots of plant varieties, along with cooking too of course.

I grew up in Johnsonville, Wellington and loved spending time in the vege garden with my dad. There are so many things you can grow in Wanaka that you can’t grow in Wellington so the seasonal changes and colour of Central Otago are magic for me. Hot is really hot and cold is freezing here. I love the mix of native plants with the colourful introduced trees and flowers. I have cornflowers self seeded in with herbs and alpine grasses, an Iceberg rose covered in white flowers against an astelia and a cabbage tree.

Fire prep station and parsley patch.

What got you into gardening?
My Dad and Mum. Dad still goes hard in his garden on the Kapiti Coast and supplies the Ministry of Food with fresh herbs. When he has visited us in Wanaka he has planted out flaxes on the river bank that he has brought down with him. They are really big now and offering the good things to that little bit of river bank. Mum taught me about flowers and herbs and the names of lots of plant varieties along with cooking too, of course.

What’s your favourite fruit to grow / eat?
I have a blackcurrant that’s loaded with fruit. They will be put to good use!

Flowering zucchinis

Do you grow any spices?
I am pretty proud of my saffron bed. April is an exciting month, I’m always out harvesting the little blue flowers that pop up over the day. Picking out the strands is a time consuming job. I make a coffee and listen to the radio while I pick away. The quality of saffron is excellent. I leave the coriander to go to seed and I have collected that on occasion.

What does a typical garden-grown meal look like for you?
It will vary lots as what works one season might not do so well the next but there will always be fresh herbs. Last night we had some rocket and some potatoes I sneaked out from the patch. It very much supplements every meal with the likes of spring onions, cavelo nero, Italian parsley and whatever other greens are prime for extracting. I have a batch of hazelnuts to use but they need shelling. That’s a good job for the family who are about to descend on us for Christmas.

What is your favourite Almighty juice?
After much consideration I’m going with the guava. I love the balance of the basil with the fruit and then a zing of lime at the end to counter the sweet. Exotic and satisfying.

Almighty gardening tip?
Have a herb garden. Then you will always have fresh flavour and good nutrients to cook with at no cost.

Herb harvest

Brenda making a bouquet garni

the seasonal changes and colour of Central Otago are magic.

Chill out zone