What better way to celebrate the start of spring than to shine a spotlight on fresh herbs? We sat down with Australian chef Mike McEnearney, from Kitchen By Mike, to talk about his love of herbs and where he draws his inspiration from…

Vitamix: How did you come to be a chef? What was it that drew you to food?

Mike: I grew up in a household where food was just something to put in our mouths, and we often ate the same food over and over again. I grew bored of eating lumpy mashed potato and peas and started to cook at home from the age of 14. My mother encouraged me by buying me cookbooks and, before I knew it, I was cooking some amazing, complex food.

I never thought I’d be a chef, growing up I enjoyed maps – I wanted to be a cartographer. I very quickly realised that I’m not an academic and so it wouldn’t suit me to go to university. I’ve always enjoyed working with food because I’m more of a creative.

Vitamix: What do you enjoy cooking? What sorts of flavours do you like most?

Mike: Although I have a background in fine dining I’m not drawn to that. What inspires me most of all is the produce I work with. I believe that less is more and reflect this by showcasing the integrity and the purity of the product. Whenever you eat, whether it’s at home or at a restaurant, you’re paying for the produce not the fancy tablecloths, and this is reflected in my cooking.

Vitamix: Could you tell us a bit about your herb garden - What is it that you love about herbs? Where did this passion come from?

Mike: For a time I was based on my mother-in-law’s organic farm in the UK – a totally self-sufficient, off-the-grid farm. At the top of the kitchen garden there were four beds that had been roped off. I later learned this was a Hippocratic garden, a space that focuses on herbs for their nutritional and health properties according to different parts of the body.

I brought this idea back to Australia with me and started my own physic garden a few years later. My garden is divided into five sections also: musculo­skeletal and cardiology; gastro­enterology; neurology; ear, nose and throat; and dermatology. We use this space to teach people about gardening and growing herbs.

Vitamix: What are your favourite herbs to cook with?

Mike: There are so many. Lemon verbena is fantastic, it’s really soothing and calming, and every morning I start my day with a tonic made with this.

I love oregano freshly chopped and mixed through a beautiful salad or cooked into sauces. Oregano is quite pungent but it aids digestion.

Finally there’s chilli, which is a great way to add spice to a meal, as well as aiding digestion and helping to relieve migraines and muscle pain.

For more information on Mike’s garden, visit his website.

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