Farming, Dreaming and Talking Turnips: 24 Hours with SingleThread’s Katina Connaughton

19 April, 2021
Katina Connaughton

Photo: Fine Dining Lovers Artwork / iStock/ Colin Peck

When we come in with a bin of all these things and so much enthusiasm, it translates so much better, it really stokes the creative flames and creates conversation.Often, the unique finds go directly on the menu that evening, which is exciting for us.

There’s so much joy for me to see the dishes put out and see how deeply appreciative the kitchen is of the hard work of the farm team. It’s such a wonderful moment for me. Something I love so much being both a farmer and knowing our guests are receiving these ingredients that are so nutrient-rich because we selected them in the morning. They go straight into the kitchen and into the chefs’ hands for the guests. 

Floral is also a big part of what we do, as well as the guest experience. It’s an opportunity to really anchor guests to their sense of place and connect them to what’s happening right here and now, today in Sonoma County, California.

I’m a bit flower obsessed. We grow lots of cut flowers, which we’ll pick along with our culinary harvest. There’s something rather magical about going through rows and rows of blooming flowers and being able to translate that beauty through the restaurant and guest rooms. We tend to view beauty, especially in the form of flowers, as something supplemental but it’s so integral to how we feel, and it informs our inner and outer joy.

The very first course the guests' experience is ‘hassun’ and it’s really symbolic of what’s happening right now. Those beautiful foraged wooden boards that we created are typically covered in moss, lichen and little branches, which I’ve foraged in the hills that morning served on multi-textural boards, on which the kitchen put all the small dishes.

From about noon till 8pm or so, I’m typically at the restaurant. At 2.45 we have a meal, as a restaurant family. It’s usually Japanese-themed and will often be miso soup, rice and fish and all manner of vegetables. Any offcuts or any produce that’s grown too big for the chefs’ liking always makes its way into the family meal. It’s an opportunity to sit with the service team and share the story behind the produce. So, when they’re talking about the turnips that day, we can dive a little bit deeper into what those varieties are and their flavour profiles as well as discussing some of the exciting ancillary finds.

It’s also a moment to sit and relax with the team and enjoy a meal. This last year, with Covid, we all took a path we didn’t expect, but I think we learnt so much. We got through a lot of hardships together. We learnt how to take better care of each other and how to take better care of our community.

Later on, I try to be there for the line-up and to be part of the conversation that happens with the team. Kyle is an educator and a visionary; he’ll have a wonderful tale to tell, and I always feel like I learn so much from him.

Typically, I’ll go back out and work until sundown when it’s very quiet and peaceful. The rest of the team has left, and I can be at one with the field and really make that connection. There’s a lot of peace in those moments.

At the moment my days are spent creating and building new plans for the new 24-acre farm. Right now, it’s a field of dreams and promises. It’s exciting but also completely overwhelming. It takes a good five years to understand a piece of land and allow it to speak to you. This is our first season. We have a long road ahead of us. It’s a lot of walking and dreaming about what the farm can be.

Working in the natural world is challenging. It’s hard, we’re not in control of everything, clearly. But it’s extraordinarily rewarding. Sometimes things just don’t go as planned.  Mitigating those challenges by what we’ve learned previously and using intuition and reading into what a crop is telling us at that moment helps.

Usually, the day ends around 9.30 and then there’s always stuff to do at home. I’m not very good at doing all the computer work so I’m trying to carve more time out for that necessity. Often, I’ll do the cooking because Kyle works later than me, and we’ll have donburi, a rice bowl, with all manner of things on it - grilled veg, fish and pickles - or we’ll do hotpots, which are symbolic of our time in Hokkaido. Living in California we’re not opposed to enjoying tacos or grabbing something in town. We have some ex-chef friends who’ve opened a bakery and are doing Friday night pop-ups. It’s really exciting to enjoy the wonderful food our international chefs are creating when they’re off-site.

I haven’t figured out how to relax in the evening yet, I’m working on that. I try to shut off 30 mins or so before bed. We’re running a business and there are a lot of moving parts between the farm, restaurant and floral business. I’ll just put my feet up and snuggle with the dogs and have a bit of a moment.

We don’t really have days off, but Tuesdays and Wednesdays are restaurant closure days. Kyle and I are typically at home, reading and doing computer work. Often we go for a hike. If we’re able to get away to the mountains, that’s our moment to decompress. We really only take proper days off when we’re not in town. When Kyle walks through the door, which is almost always after me, we try not to talk shop. We do have this unspoken rule after 4 years, we’ve definitely decided that it’s best not to re-cap the day.

I try to be in bed by 10.30. I tend to fall asleep quickly but have issues staying asleep. I think that comes with having an active mind and having a lot of things to think about. I’ll wake up at three and think about what needs to happen the next day and beyond. Dreaming about what the farm can be.

The days are long, but we love them so much. We choose to do this, we love it, it’s what fuels us, what drives us, and sometimes keeps me awake at night.

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