A Day in the Life of Culinary Gardener Tucker Taylor

Tucker Taylor
Tucker Taylor

At Kendall-Jackson, master gardener Tucker Taylor works hand in hand with the culinary team, growing all of the produce that is used at the winery. He also scours the globe for new and interesting crops to grow. Taylor loves sharing the garden with visitors from around the world and hopes to educate guests on the importance of fresh food—and inspire them to plant gardens at home. Before Kendall-Jackson, Taylor ran the culinary garden at The French Laundry, so he’s one of the Bay Area’s most well-known and sought-after farmers. He’s also an Instagram influencer whose artful images of edible flowers and ice lettuce have attracted a following of 45.3K food lovers. Taylor currently resides in Healdsburg, California, where he tends to his bonsai collection and enjoys preparing dinner with fresh produce from his garden—and a nice bottle of Pinot Noir! Here, Farmer T shares a day in his life.

5:30 a.m. Gardening with Mother Nature most of my life, I have always enjoyed waking up naturally with the seasons. This naturally changes throughout the year, waking up later in the winter months with shorter days and earlier in the summer months with longer days. Today I am waking up feeling grateful and refreshed after a healthy dinner and a good nights sleep. I have a morning ritual of preparing fresh eggs from our garden hens, toast with bread from my friend, Mike the baker, and pour-over coffee. I enjoy and relish this quiet time eating, then watching and listening to the tufted titmice and goldfinches on the bird feeder and at the birdbath in my backyard—it’s calming and centers me for whatever the day may bring.

7:00 a.m. Arriving at Jackson Family Gardens, I meet with David, who has been farming this land for over 18 years, and Javier, who has been doing the same for over 16 years. Today is harvest day, so we discuss the orders and relay the harvest chronology to the rest of the team.

The garden at Kendall-Jackson estate
The garden at Kendall-Jackson estate

7:15 a.m. We begin, harvesting the more delicate crops, such as our edible blossoms like calendulas, verbena, borage, and bachelor buttons. We move on to harvest the ingredients for our spring salad mix, something I am very proud of. It’s beautiful and colorful, consisting of various lettuces, mustards, arugula and other greens along with soft herbs such as tarragon, parsley, and dill. These are all triple washed, spun dry, and then a mixture of flower petals is gently folded in. Once the mix has been boxed up it is hydro-cooled in our walk-in cooler, which, along with healthy soil, helps lengthen its shelf-life.

8:00 a.m. We continue harvesting our more delicate crops such as micro greens, mâché, claytonia, petite lettuce rosettes and petite bok choy and tatsoi. One of our most popular micro greens right now is shungiku or chrysanthemum. It has a unique, peppery flavor that adds a nice subtle bite to almost anything. Our micro red-veined sorrel is also quite popular right now. Not only is it one of the most beautiful greens that we grow with it’s lime-green leaves and deep red venation, but it is also one of the tastiest, with a bright, citrusy flavor. Some of my favorite specialty crops to harvest are oyster leaf (which originates in the Moors of Scotland and tastes just like oysters), ice lettuce (a succulent from coastal Africa with a briny flavor and crunchy texture) and kinome (a beautiful compound leaf with a zesty citrus flavor originating in Japan).

#negi for the #kind @ramengaijin

A post shared by Tucker Taylor (@farmert) on

10:00 a.m. This is my meditation time, once again listening to the birds, seeing the plants move as the breeze blows through, watching the bees as they collect pollen from the perennials. . .  just being immersed in the garden. By mid morning we begin to harvest the hardier crops all of which are often requested for crudités; such as baby carrots, baby fennel, petite turnips, petite radishes and celtuce (a lettuce grown for its nutty flavored stalk), as well as baby beets, spring pearl onions, baby leeks, spring garlic and spigariello (an Italian leaf broccoli).

11:30 a.m. I have family lunch with the garden crew, prepared by the Jackson Family Wines culinary team with ingredients from our garden nearly every day. It’s a special time to break bread with the team, discuss the ingredients of the day and life outside the garden. Today we are having our spring salad mix with perfectly roasted chicken.

A bounty from Taylor's culinary garden
A bounty from Taylor’s culinary garden

12:00 p.m. As the produce is washed and packed, I begin checking the cases. I continually critique the crew as a way of teaching quality control. As we are growing produce for some of the most discriminating chefs, we too must have high standards of quality and consistency. Winding down harvest, we turn to other farm chores—some of the team weeding our newly planted beds. I find that is easier to remove the weeds while they are still seedlings. Once they become more established, they are more difficult and time consuming to remove. We use a wire weeder designed by the amazingly talented Elliott Coleman. This is one of my favorite hand tools in the garden because it allows me to weed with finesse, getting close to the plants without damaging them. It also allows me to stand up straight while I weed and at 6’1″, my back thanks me.

3:00 p.m. As it happens, we do receive late orders from time to time and today is no different. Try as we might to discourage it, shit happens. Sometimes it is just too hot to harvest at this time of day. The plants are already stressed and harvesting them in such heat would result in a shorter shelf-life with overall poorer quality. Today happens to be fairly mild, Mother Nature is kind and we are lucky to pull away other projects, return to harvesting, washing and packing.

Farmer T with just-harvested carrots
Farmer T with just-harvested carrots

4:15 p.m. I always take a moment to check on the chickens. These are bantam Cochins, which have feathered feet. There are buff (sand) colored, barred (black and white striped) and red ones. I have been caring for them since they were about three days old, so they see me as the mother hen. They always come running when they hear my voice. Cochins look quite funny when they run, putting a smile on my face when I see them.

5:00 p.m. Tonight is something special. On a normal harvest day I would likely get to bed after sundown but a friend is in town and we have a bit of dinning fun ahead. I have reservations at my old stomping ground The French Laundry with my good friends Susie Heller, chief of global content for Simple Feast, Nancy Hopkins, the senior deputy food and entertaining editor at Better Homes and Gardens, and Justin Wangler, executive chef of Jackson Family Wines. Heading back to Healdsburg to get spruced up, I am excited about tonight’s experience!

#aboutlastnight #nightmoves @_tfl_ @chefthomaskeller   A post shared by Tucker Taylor (@farmert) on

6:15 p.m.  Justin and I travel through Anderson Valley passing the quaint Jimtown Store and beautiful Stonestreet Winery—I always love this drive to the Napa side with the farms and gardens peaking out every corner. Picking up Nancy along the way, we arrive early to explore the culinary garden. It seems like yesterday I was walking through the space with chef Thomas Keller discussing my ideas about the redesign of the garden. It was my desire to create a culinary garden as truly an extension of the restaurant, open to the public, and a design that would draw people in. Not everyone may have the chance to dine at The French Laundry, but anyone can stroll through it’s culinary garden and that is a legacy I am proud of.

8:00 p.m. We arrive, meeting Susie, immediately jumping into a tour of the new wine cellar, which is quite stellar. I see bronze stars of recognition for many friends on the walkway. Just before dinner begins we are welcomed in the courtyard with Champagne. I can’t help but reflect for a moment with much gratitude—I love to farm, to spend time growing food I am proud of, food that nourishes us and even more, to have my office outside in nature! Dinning here tonight is a treat and a reminder of the culinary craft I love beyond the garden.

8:30 p.m. Tonight’s experience begins with a beautiful 2015 Sancerre from Francois Cotat chosen by my friend Erik Johnson, head sommelier. One of my all time favorites is a classic Thomas Keller dish, the oysters and pearls. This decadent dish consists of a creamy tapioca sabayon and a perfect Island Creek oyster topped with White Sturgeon caviar. The standout dish of the evening is the “salade verte” consisting of Brokaw avocado mousse, sweet onion relish, garden cucumbers, dill crème fraîshe and tender herbs. . . so silky. I am always a sucker for fresh produce!

11:30 p.m. Just before midnight the pastry comes—exceptional chocolate candy bars—with toasted macadamia nut ganache and caramelized marshmallow. I have always had a sweet tooth and RARELY skip dessert. As we finish enjoying our delectable mignardises, we are asked if we would like to see the new kitchen and speak with the chef. I am stoked to see my old friend, Elliot Bell, who is one of the sous chefs. Coincidentally, I had just run into him at the Shed in Healdsburg the week before. I have much respect for his calm and exacting talents. As we prepare to leave, we are greeted at the famous blue door with parting gifts (which are always fun to enjoy the next day). As we head back to Healdsburg, I am happily satiated—looking forward to another day in the life.