If you’ve dined at Bellecour during the summer months, chances are you’ve tasted produce grown in a Wayzata plastic surgeon’s backyard just a mile away.
When he isn’t doing eyelid lifts or tummy tucks, Dr. Ralph Bashioum of Bashioum Cosmetic Surgery Center (nipntuck.com) spends the lion’s share of his leisure hours tending his huge organic kitchen garden, which covers about a third of an acre.
“It’s my relaxation,” said Bashioum, 66. “It’s nice to come out here and clear your head.”
In summertime, “it has to be dark before he comes in for dinner,” said his wife, Lindsay.
Gardening was a way of life for Bashioum while growing up in Pennsylvania.
“My parents had a garden, and I was conscripted,” he recalled with a grin. They taught him to appreciate good, fresh food. “The only way to get premium-quality ingredients is to grow them,” he said. “There’s nothing like produce picked fresh right off the plant. My parents were foodies before I knew what a foodie was.”
But Bashioum isn’t content to grow the same-old garden-variety veggies that appear in most Minnesota backyards. His garden is filled with fruit — about 40 different kinds — unusual varieties from all over the world. And his veggies include Jerusalem artichokes, French squash and French beans for cassoulet.
“I try to grow things you can’t find in a grocery,” he said, including white and yellow strawberries, orange apples, white figs, Elberta peaches and French melons, persimmons, kiwi and Toka plums.
He even grows citrus fruits, including limes and Meyer lemons. In Minnesota, that requires hauling the potted trees into his garage every winter and shipping in colonies of bees to pollinate them there.
“The bees come in February,” he said. “In March, the whole house smells like citrus.”
Bashioum single-handedly grows so much produce that he and Lindsay can’t possibly consume it all. So he gives a lot of it away. That’s where Bellecour comes in.
“I give them to Gavin [owner and executive chef Gavin Kaysen]. He appreciates the quality of the ingredients,” Bashioum said. He gives his produce at no charge to Bellecour and only Bellecour.
It just gives him satisfaction to share the fruits of his labors with the French bistro’s diners. “So much of food and wine is experiential,” he said. “In some small way, I’m adding to the experience.”
Last year, Bashioum’s white strawberries even made it onto a plate served to the Dalai Lama, at a private lunch catered by Bellecour, when the Tibetan spiritual leader was in the Twin Cities for a panel discussion on compassion.
Bellecour garnishes some of its dishes with Bashioum’s white strawberries, and even created a special dessert starring the pale berries with vanilla ice cream, topped by a pour of Sauterne.
“We don’t have it on the menu,” said Kaysen. “But we have a handful of local regulars who know about that dessert.”
Bashioum’s contributions give the restaurant access to ingredients it couldn’t get any other way, said Kaysen.
“You can’t find it in stores — even from specialty purveyors. We couldn’t even purchase them.”
Bashioum’s gardening became a lot more ambitious about 20 years ago, after he was inspired by a kitchen garden he visited in France’s Loire Valley. It was outlined by espalier apple trees, pruned and tied to frames to control their growth.
“They were so small, yet bearing fruit,” he marveled. “It was a formal garden, so well controlled.” He left France, returned to his own garden, and thought, “I can do this.”
He began teaching himself about growing fruit in Minnesota. He read information from the University of Minnesota, and began experimenting with grafting.
He’s discovered he can’t keep his espalier trees as petite as the ones he saw in France. (“Here the snow gets too deep, and mice eat the trees,” he said. “Mine are taller.”)
But he’s found ways to produce bumper crops — even without pesticides.
“This year, for the first time, I haven’t sprayed for apple maggots,” he said. Instead, he coats apples with a mixture of kaolin, a mineral, and clay. “It keeps the bugs away,” he said. And the slightly chalky coating easily brushes away from the surface. “It’s easier for home gardeners to do organic now.”
An electric fence around the garden keeps rabbits, raccoons and deer away from his produce.
But Japanese beetles remain “a scourge,” he said. He uses a scent trap, filled with a substance that smells like clove and lures the bugs into the bag. “I can have 20 pounds of Japanese beetles in the garbage.”
Extending the season
Over the years, Bashioum has learned lots of tricks for making the most of our short growing season. He starts his French melons inside, from seed, in April, then plants them in the ground after laying black plastic and cutting holes for his plants. “It keeps the roots warm,” he said of the plastic. And it’s worth the effort. “The best melon you’ll ever have.”
He uses raised beds for some produce because the soil in the beds warms up quickly. And he covers some plants with cloches to extend the season.
Fortunately, he doesn’t have to do a lot of watering. His property sits on a marsh, so the soil is wet. Once plants get established, they tap into the marsh water.
That’s why blueberries are the one crop he can’t grow. “The soil is not right,” he said. “Blueberries need well-drained soil.”
Now at the height of the growing season, Bashioum’s garden is in overdrive, filling the couple’s kitchen with produce.
“I bake a lot of pies,” said Lindsay. “The secret to the best pie is to use all different kinds of apples.”
And Bashioum continues bringing his leftover abundance to Bellecour.
“At the peak of the season, he’s bringing something every other day,” said Kaysen. “He just dropped off some melons. It’s pretty awesome! It’s a gift to a restaurant to have such a resource. We’re really blessed he’s found us.”